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?