May 08, 2008

guitarist hint: Jekyll & Hyde pedal

I've had the opportunity to try out a guitar effects pedal that provides overdrive, distortion, or both: Visual Sound's Jekyll & Hyde. It's fabulous. On fairly gentle overdrive (the "Jecyll" side of the pedal) it's wonderful for that warm tone in "One" or "Pride (In the Name of Love)" after that chimey harmonic intro, and the distortion side (the "Hyde" side) will give you as much as you need for riffs in "The Fly" or the slide work on "Love and Peace (Or Else)."

I admit that this information is useful to guitar geeks only, in all likelihood, but I couldn't resist sharing it. Non-guitarists, don't panic; the vast majority of information here is for those planning U2charist services -- not necessarily just for the musicians. :)

May 8, 2008 in Guitar tips (electric), Music tips (live) | Permalink | Comments (2)

March 17, 2008

Walk On

"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.

Good stuff.

March 17, 2008 in Absolutions, Acoustic music, Closing hymns, Dismissals, Music, Music tips (live), Playlists/song choices, Postludes | Permalink | Comments (0)

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.

March 12, 2008 in Acoustic music, Confessions, Music, Music tips (live), Playlists/song choices | Permalink | Comments (0)

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.

March 12, 2008 in Acoustic music, Confessions, Music, Music tips (live), Preludes, Small bands (i.e., songs that work without bass and/or drums) | Permalink | Comments (0)

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 22, 2008 in Acoustic music, Confessions, Music, Music tips (live), Playlists/song choices, Preludes, Small bands (i.e., songs that work without bass and/or drums) | Permalink | Comments (0)

February 19, 2008

what if I want to do music for the U2charist live, but don't have a full band?

A lot of folks would like to do some or all of the music for their U2charist live, but don't have access to a full band. No problem! Obviously, having a bass player and a lead guitarist with good effects (U2's trademark sound is in large part about The Edge's use of multiple delay effects) is nice. However, most U2 songs are very simple -- two or three chords, in many cases -- and can be done quite well with just a competent rhythm guitarist and a drummer (djembe/congas, even). Here are some songs that I've done with that arrangement:

  • All I Want Is You
  • I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For
  • Walk On
  • Peace on Earth
  • I Will Follow (playing the full chords E and A instead of just the two strings The Edge uses for the song -- with just the two strings and no bass, the song sounds very thin)
  • Gloria (again, with full chords instead of high lead tones)
  • Wake Up Dead Man
  • Stuck in a Moment
  • Sometimes You Can't Make It on Your Own
  • Yahweh
  • God Part II (done as a blues song, with the rhythm guitarist giving more of a bassy feel by playing the A-string two frets higher with her/his pinkie on the 2 and 4 beats)
  • Sunday Bloody Sunday (listen to the solo acoustic version The Edge has done live)
  • Desire
  • Stay (Faraway, So Close!)
  • Staring at the Sun
  • Bad
  • Running to Stand Still
  • "40"

Believe it or not, I've even done "MoFo" from the heavily-electronic album Pop as a solo acoustic blues song.

This isn't an exhaustive list by any means. If you want some more ideas about songs that work well without a full band or with acoustic instruments only, I highly recommend checking out what songs U2 has done in acoustic sets in concert. U2's concert DVDs are one way to see those acoustic sets, but fans have also posted U2 doing songs acoustic on YouTube. If you do an advanced Google search for pages including all the words "U2 guitar tabs" and the exact phrase "[the title of the song you want]," you'll find you don't even have to work to figure out what the chords are for most songs.

In short, if you've got one person in your youth group who can play the chords 'E' and 'A' and who owns a capo, you can do a lot of U2 material live, provided you meet the criteria U2 have set up for doing so (i.e., it's billed as a worship service and not a concert, and all money collected at the service goes to an organization working to advance the Millennium Development Goals).

And know that if you've got questions, you can email me; I do my best to answer such questions promptly.

February 19, 2008 in Music tips (live), U2charist F.A.Q. | Permalink | Comments (0)