March 12, 2008
"Please," from the Pop album, is the song that gave us the title to the book Get Up Off Your Knees: Preaching the U2 Catalog. It's a plea to people so convinced that they're in the right that they'll support or engage in violence for the cause they believe to be righteous.
It's not a big singalong song, but especially if you're doing a U2charist with live music and you're strongest in resources for acoustic (or solo acoustic) music, "Please" could work well as a confession of brokenness, though it does require, I think, the congregation to imagine themselves as the "you" in the song.
If you're curious as to how "Please" could be done acoustically, check out this version from Elvis Costello (on a classical guitar, no less -- be patient through the narration, which is in German, at the beginning) or this version from U2 on the Elevation tour in Miami.
Staring at the Sun
"Starting at the Sun" is one of my favorite songs from Pop, which I still hold to be U2's most underrated album -- especially as an album with spiritual lyrics. Pop is, I think, most U2's explicitly spiritual and Christian record since October, though its lyrics are more along the lines of psalms of lament and Romans 7's "who will rescue me from this body of death?" than it is like the exuberant "Beautiful Day."
It's also one of my favorite U2 songs live -- and it's definitely a song for which you do NOT need a full band if you want to do it live at a U2charist. U2 themselves don't do it with a full electric band. If you want to see why, check out this video of them trying to do the song with full band at the opening of the Popmart tour. Then check out the version on the Popmart DVD, or this YouTube video of U2 live at Slane Castle on the Elevation tour.
"Staring at the Sun" is much, much better acoustic, in my opinion. And its lyrics work, I think, as a confession of brokenness in oneself and in the world -- in other words, as a confession. It also works as an acoustic prelude. I like to introduce people gently to the full volume and singalong potential of the U2charist by starting with an acoustic prelude -- just acoustic guitar and vocals, and maybe (if you've got a percussionist) a shaker. It's especially good if it's a song that includes some opportunities to sing along on something very simple, and preferably with lyrics no more complicated that "oh." "Stay (Faraway, So Close!)" is one such song; you can draw out the Edge's soaring "Oh"s before the final verse to get the congregation singing along, and so introduce them subtly to the idea that, this being rock and roll, they can unglue their eyes from the service leaflet or screens, and it also brings into full participation people who don't know U2's music at all, but who can sing a line of "oh" if it's repeated a few times.
The acoustic version of "Staring at the Sun" as U2 does it live doesn't have such an opportunity, but it's the easiest thing in the world to add it back in: just do the line of "oh"s that Bono does at the end of the album version, and do that line several times, at least one of which the singer sings away from the mike with hand cupped over ear, or with arms in a gesture of "c'mon!" invitation toward the congregation.
So if you've got at least one youth group member who can play bar chords on an acoustic guitar (and the song can even be adapted not to require bar chords!), you can do "Staring at the Sun" live.
We did two preludes at the Hancock UCC U2charist last week, the first being "Stay" (as the acoustic prelude) and the second being "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" -- which works really well in that spot, since (as we did it that night, anyway -- this song can also be done acoustic) it starts with just a light guitar riff and optional shaker or light tamborine, and has the full band coming in later, and since it also has great singalong potential (just do the chorus multiple times at the end).
But the next live U2charist for which I do the music, I think I might have "Staring at the Sun" as the acoustic prelude. It's a gorgeous and deeply moving song.
February 22, 2008
"Stay (Faraway, So Close!)" is a gorgeous song off of U2's all-too-frequently overlooked album Zooropa. It works very, very well with nothing but one guitar and one voice to lead it; indeed, U2 often do it acoustically with just The Edge and Bono, and I've found that congregations can with coaching do The Edge's vocal part fairly easily.
I think it works as a Confession of Need (as in need for healing), but thus far, I've placed it in U2charist services as a prelude -- something that does a bit of tone-setting as people are coming in. U2 fanatics sing along, and since it was never a big single, others tend to join in mostly when invited to do so explicitly by the usual concert cues -- the singer (and this is one reason to do it live!) can step away from the microphone or point the microphone toward the congregation and just sing loudly enough for the first 15 rows of people to hear singing without amplification. Ear-cupping works as well. It's not the orans position -- indeed, that gesture doesn't have a Latin name at all that I know -- but it's about leading worship in a way that invites full participation from everyone present. And "Stay" is brilliant as a prelude, not only because it's a very cool song that can be done solo and acoustic (and therefore won't steal thunder from an opening hymn), but also because there's this part, normally sung in U2 concerts by The Edge just before and during the final verse, that's just a series of soaring "ohs," and congregations do that almost instantly when invited.
So "Stay" is a potential tone-setter in multiple ways. It's one of U2's more explicitly "God-talky" songs among their recent material, while still being very grounded in everyday realities. And doing it as a prelude live -- and inviting the congregation to sing the "ohs" at least -- can introduce the congregation to your intention that this is a worship service, not a concert, and that everyone will be invited to participate.
Along those lines, I also have started offering to do a session before a U2charist (either a week before at the same time, or two to three hours beforehand, so I can rest my voice and hands before the service) in which people who are intrigued by the concept but don't actually know U2's songs very well (there are quite a few people who fit that description -- especially when it comes to U2 songs, such as "Yahweh," which are great for U2charists but have never been singles or gotten much radio play). It seems to do a great deal for the congregation's experience of the service. If you've got a worship leader in your congregation who can do that -- even if s/he's doing it to a backdrop of recorded music -- that pre-service opportunity can be very helpful.
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.