teach me how to sing

Note to readers-- If you're avoiding tour spoilers this blog will not be safe from here on out.

I'm ususally grateful for the age of the Internet, but I kind of wish I didn't know that we were supposed to have gotten "Original of the Species" last night and that U2 had planned to close not with "'40'" but with "Bad."

One start on what I'm finding interesting: two new endings. One of them was already happening in Europe, and that's "Sunday Bloody Sunday." I couldn't quite tell at first, but I'm now pretty sure the song is regularly closing with "To claim the victory Jesus won, when death itself will be undone, on Sunday Bloody Sunday." Although last night it sounded like "To understand the victory Jesus won when death itself was undone." A nice way of concretizing the reference and linking it more explicitly with the dismantling evil theme.

The other is one of the real shocker additions this tour: the decade-old "The First Time." Off the Zooropa album, from the band's Ecclesiastes phase, it had its world premiere last month. The text has a reverse Trinitarian structure, with the first verse describing the narrator's relationship with the Spirit, the second with the Son, and the last with the Father. A very minor live change that's getting made to the Son verse ("life" instead of "time") allows a new play on the double meaning of the word "spend." But it's the Father verse that interests me. Drawing on the parable of the Prodigal Son, it depicts "my Father" as a "rich man" with "a rich man's cloak" who offers "keys to his kingdom" and a home among "many mansions" with "many rooms" -- but just as we're marveling at this tender generosity, the narrator abruptly declares, "But I left by the back door and I threw away the key."

People who enjoy attacking the band on religious grounds (and who take any artistic creation as baldfaced autobiography) have had a field day condemning this sentence. I've never really understood the objection: the son does after all leave in the parable, U2's musical setting at that moment is ineffably sad, and a faith-filled lovefest resolution would have been way out of place on Zooropa. Besides, the liturgical form for sacramental confession with which I'm most familiar puts words in your mouth that directly echo these lyrics: "Father, you clothed me with the shining garment of Christ's righteousness, and established me among your children in your kingdom. But I have squandered the inheritance of your saints, and have wandered far in a land that is waste." Some of us tell God regularly that we left by the back door, and telling him is considered a prescription for spiritual health.

However, all these years later in a live context, this poignant ending just isn't playing out the same way. Bono is experimenting with the verse to see what can be delivered authentically in the more religiously-assured context of the Vertigo tour. First off, there's a new call-and-response chant: "Love... (Love!) Love... (Love!)" In Chicago, the ending became "Hope I didn't throw away the key" plus a return to the Spirit verse (U2log has a little of it in this post.) And last night, we got "I threw away the key cause only Grace could lead me back to Thee," which almost invites us to redefine the "key" in some sort of Pauline way: whatever it is we do or believe that we selfishly think guarantees us some right to open our own doors into the Father's house. Watch for further developments.

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