Analogue Music | A Memorial Day in America: U2 and Hamilton: The…

Memorial Day in America: U2 and Hamilton, The Musical

By Mark Geil

If someone asked me to pick an event to go see, I’d rattle off two right away: U2, in concert, and the musical, Hamilton.

Well, God smiled upon me, and I managed to see both. And though the tickets were bought months apart, and months ago, the shows somehow lined up on back-to-back nights.

As the dates drew near, I wasn’t particularly focused on any grand thematic confluence of the two disparate events. I was more concerned with details: which hype music to listen to, when to leave, where to eat. Sunday evening was Hamilton, with my family, a collective dream and the most anticipated musical any of us have seen. Monday – Memorial Day – was U2 with my brother, a reunion of sorts from the first time the two of us saw them, 31 years before. I wore my original concert T-Shirt from that night in December, 1987.

Now it’s Tuesday, May, 2018. I’ve had a most musical theater experience and a most theatrical music experience, and I’m stilled by the stories both told about our country. They were a profound Memorial to America: her struggle to be born, her innocence and experience, her moments of demarcation, precipices, and the feeling that we’re on one right now.

Hamilton was sublime. I knew the soundtrack backwards and forwards, but the staging, choreography, lighting, and the shared experience brought a new buoyancy to the songs and the story. The cast was outstanding, adding nuance to established roles even while navigating so many difficult numbers. And it’s not just that this is such a great musical, it’s our history. I appreciate a painting so much more when I know a little of the craft, context, and symbolism. I appreciate our country so much more when I meet the rag-tag immigrants who founded it.

Photo Credit By Mark Geil
Photo Credit By Mark Geil

U2 was also sublime. Although they’re my favorite band, I’d only seen them twice before. This time was a spectacle. The arena-length “barricage” brought multi-dimensional depth to the performance and allowed the band to occupy so much space. The set list was thematic: songs of innocence, like “Gloria” and “Beautiful Day,” followed by songs of experience, like “Desire” and “Acrobat.” Bono shared his belief that the experience can make us wise and help us regain our innocence. The band is in fine form. They don’t slow any tempos or duck under the highest vocals, hoping no one will notice. They attack their songs with the same enthusiasm of their much younger selves, who first played our city back in 1981.

Near the end of “Hamilton,” the ten dollar founding father cried:

Legacy? What is a Legacy?
It’s planting seeds in a garden you never get to see
I wrote some notes at the beginning of a song someone will sing for me
America, you great unfinished symphony,
You sent for me

Near the end of the U2 concert, the million-dollar showman sang:

It’s not a place
This country is to me a thought
That offers grace
For every welcome that is sought

By contrast, the first act of “Hamilton” told of the partial victory won at the battle of Yorktown, when John Laurens says, “Black and white soldiers wonder alike if this really means freedom,” and Washington definitively declares, “Not yet.” And in the same song I quoted above, “American Soul,” Bono sang: “There’s a moment in a life where a soul can die, in a person, in a country, when you believe the lie.”

We have learned lessons through discourse and battle, without and within, and we must not forget them.

Our nation was founded on the greatest of ideals, and it was founded at great cost. Since that founding, we have lost our innocence, our naiveté (if we ever had them), but we’ve also realized many of those ideals and achieved extraordinary things. We have learned lessons through discourse and battle, without and within, and we must not forget them.

“Hamilton” portrayed thoughtful debates and senseless duels. U2 portrayed difficult images of Charleston immediately followed by heartening scenes of MLK.

During the encore, Bono said, “I’m one fourth of the artist I can be without Adam, Larry and Edge. We need each other, and it’s okay to need people. I’m half the man I can be without Alli. I depend on her. It’s okay to depend on people.” Then he sang, “We’re one, but we’re not the same. We get to carry each other.”

Photo Credit Mark Geil
Photo Credit Mark Geil

From Washington’s “Not yet,” to the world turned upside down, from KKK to MLK and back again, from the Schuyler Sisters to #MeToo, it was a Memorial Day so sweeping in memory I could scarcely comprehend it all.

The two-day musical memorial closed with an admonition, and I noticed its significance to the black woman on my right in the Infinite Energy Arena. She was a stranger to me, but after the lessons I learned, I felt a little more of her struggle, for her race and her gender in a nation still trying to build a more perfect Union. She stood, her cell phone panning an arena in America, in a City of Blinding Lights. And the Irishman sang a hopeful plea to a hopeful country: “If there is a light, don’t let it go out.”