This past summer U2 embarked on a massive stadium tour to celebrate the 30th anniversary of its landmark album, The Joshua Tree. The band is well known for its continual attempts to one-up themselves, sometimes to a fault (recent examples include the iPhone album release or the 360° tour). And these shows were no deviation, featuring a revolutionary high-resolution LED screen that spanned a whopping 200 feet by 45 feet. The screen provided crisp images set to each song, so picturesque that the video often overshadowed the music itself.
But at these well-attended performances, this mammoth video projection became the great equalizer. The views from the worst seats in the stadium were equally majestic as those from the front row. In this, U2 created intimacy by building one hell of a colossal theater.
Local U2 tribute act U2 Zoo set out for a similar goal, albeit on a much smaller scale, this past Wednesday at Turner Hall Ballroom. Just like its counterparts on the latest stadium tour, the band performed The Joshua Tree front-to-back—for a cover band, an unconventional choice. Arena rock staples like “Where the Streets Have No Name,” “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” and “With or Without You” transitioned well to the cozier space.
However, it’s quite jarring to see a group imitating a band that takes huge chances to create immense spectacles. It’s sort of like seeing McDonald’s take on the delicate courses at a three-Michelin-star restaurant. Recreating a similar experience is seemingly impossible at this scale.
Indeed, U2 Zoo was at its worst when it attempted to directly bring the visual elements from The Joshua Tree tour to the Turner Hall stage. A video screen, although infinitely smaller and much lower-resolution, projected images behind the band. For the first few songs, the screen featured grainy live footage taken from the crowd at this summer’s U2 tour. It was an odd choice, watching an imitation band while the real bandmates were shown performing the music in the background.
But once the projections reverted to simple images from the album, the band found its groove. Noisier tracks like “Bullet the Blue Sky” fit the club atmosphere even better and provided an experience that no U2 fan could currently get from Bono and company — an intimate performance for more than a tenth of the price.
Tribute acts often get a bad rap in Milwaukee. Even though their gigs find an eager audience, critics write off the performance as pandering, unoriginal and unwarranted of editorial attention. While U2 Zoo is nowhere near as revelatory as their stadium-playing analogues, their performance on Wednesday night warrants consideration and proved that a good imitation still requires that you be yourself.