March 17, 2008
"Walk On" is a fabulous song, and it's one that I particularly love to include in U2charists. It's also a particularly good one to do live.
One of the best reasons to do it live, I think, is that recorded versions tend to be out of the vocal range of most people in most congregations. People who can sing the chorus almost always find the verses too low. And the few of those who don't find the verses too low find the bridge ("Home ... hard to say where it is if you've never had one"), which is even lower, absolutely impossible to sing. People can always drop things down or put things up an octave, but most people find it difficult to do several times in a single song.
However, if you do "Walk On" live, you can change the key to anything you like, and can even tweak the melody, as I often do to make it easier for congregations to sing.
But is it hard?
Nope. "Walk On" can be done with a total of four chords: D, A, G, and Em (the same chords as "Yahweh," incidentally). Capo it where you like to change the key easily.
Do you need fancy guitar effects?
Nope. U2 themselves were doing it acoustic -- just Edge and Bono -- on the Vertigo tour. I've got fancy guitar effects, and I almost never use them for this song; I go back to my acoustic guitar and play it through a nice, clean (simulated -- I use Guitar Rig 3 and keyboard amps) jazz or acoustic amp.
And I particularly love doing "Walk On" live as a closing hymn -- you can end the song with "Hallelujahs" as U2 do in "Walk On (the Hallelujah Mix)" and on the live DVDs from the Elevation tour, then have the guitarist or band keep playing the song softly while a service leader offers a brief spoken dismissal, and then have the band or guitarist go back up to full volume again and resume singing the "Hallelujahs." It ends the service on a distinctly high note, sometimes with people still singing hallelujah as they spill out the door and toward their cars or the bus or subway stop.
"Walk On" works in all kinds of places in the service -- I think the lyrics fit for absolutions as well, for example -- but the very end of the service is still my favorite place to put it for that reason. It's quite a community feeling singing those "hallelujahs" with a couple of hundred people while walking together from the site of the U2charist. It's a feeling I don't get in many other places - except for when crowds spill out of arenas still singing the chorus of "40" after a U2 concert.
February 10, 2008
When Love Comes to Town
"When Love Comes to Town" is a great song for U2charists. While it isn't one of U2's most popular songs, and therefore a lot of people won't be familiar with it going into the service, the song is simple enough and has a simple enough structure for people to catch on quickly. And it works particularly well if you're doing the music live rather than having people sing along to records. It's not hard to do live, either; this is one of the easiest U2 songs to play, with easy chords and no elaborate guitar effects. If you've got someone in your youth group who can play the chords E, A, and B -- and that's a classic blues structure that most guitarists know -- you can do a good version of "When Love Comes to Town." Some of the advantages of doing this song live:
- You can eliminate the guitar solos -- which is particularly good to do considering that there are two guitarists soloing.
- You can do the "hey yeah yeahs" as a call and response with the congregation, which is something that even those who are totally unfamiliar with U2's music can catch on to very quickly, and that can really build energy in the congregation.
- You can include, if you'd like, spoken elements of the liturgy (see below) in the middle of the song or play the song just instrumentally while the congregation says spoken elements of liturgy at the beginning or end of the song -- and keeping the music going can help to keep the momentum of the service going.
So if you're doing this song, where best to put it? Some people have used it as an absolution. That makes some sense, as it's definitely a song about sin (actions the character speaking in the song regrets) and redemption (particularly in the chorus). I think it works MUCH better as a confession of sin, though, for the following reasons:
- The song is set entirely in the past and hints at a future "when love comes to town," but for the most part is NOT set in the present. Absolution is about receiving forgiveness in the present; confession is about things that have happened in the past and amendment of life one intends in the future. In other words, the time frame in which the song is set matches the pattern for confession almost perfectly, and absolution not particularly well.
- "When Love Comes to Town" fits the pattern of confession darn near perfectly: its verses catalog regrettable things the speaker has done, and the chorus -- the part of the song that speaks of the future rather than the past -- talks about the speaker's intent to undergo amendment of life (instead of being lost, breaking promises, and standing idly by in the face of Christ's suffering in the world, the speaker wants to get on board with love "when love comes to town"). It fits the pattern of confession too well, in my opinion, to ignore for that spot.
- Finally, and most importantly, "When Love Comes to Town" is spoken entirely in one voice -- the voice of the speaker, who has done these regrettable things and hopes to change. An absolution speaks of someone else (God) offering forgiveness for sins committed. Without a voice in the song other than that of the contrite speaker, "When Love Comes to Town" only hints at absolution, in my view.
So, for all of these reasons, I think "When Love Comes to Town" works very well, and works best as a confession, or as part of one.
October 24, 2007
Where the Streets Have No Name
Personally, my top choice for a U2charist communion hymn is by far "Where the Streets Have No Name." Thematically, I think it's perfect for that point in the service as a reflection on eschatology, on reconciliation as the completion of our story and the world's story. And musically, I think it's got just the kind of feeling needed for a climactic moment in the service. I find the opening organ chords and guitar arpeggios followed by the rush as the bass and full drums come in to be an excellent fit for the transition from invitation to the table to the congregation's responding by coming forward. It's wonderful to see people surging forward at a point when at a U2 concert they'd start jumping up and down to the beat -- it seems appropriate to me to match music in this kind of way with the physical response the congregation is invited to make.
When I plan music for U2charists, I often find it helpful to look at where in their set lists U2 -- who are masters of crafting playlists that build momentum or provide more quiet moments of reflection at just the right points -- place songs that I'm considering for the service. "Where the Streets Have No Name" is a song the band has talked about as being a moment "when the Holy Ghost walks in the room," and in tours after the Joshua Tree tour (in which "Streets" was traditionally at the opening of the band's first set) "Streets" has tended to appear about three-quarters of the way through the total concert time, and I think that's an excellent guide to where the song fits best in a U2charist -- either as the processional hymn at the start of the service or as the first communion hymn.
And I know it's sometimes used as a prelude, but that doesn't work well for me personally. "Streets" is often the very peak of energy at a U2 concert, and it's a song that brings the crowd together like no other. Playing it while the congregation is just coming in strikes me as being a little like using Handel's "Hallelujah Chorus" as a prelude. Your mileage may vary, of course, and what's important is that you do what works for your congregation, but for preludes I lean more toward quieter songs with a very gradual build-up of energy, such as "The First Time." "All I Want Is You" is another good one in terms of energy for a prelude, but I like it so much as part of the absolution -- an invitation to reunion after promises broken -- or as a final communion hymn that I usually don't use it as a prelude.
What do you think? Where has "Streets" worked best in U2charists you've been to?