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U2 ‘Live in Paris’: Back With a Purpose

HBO’s U2: Innocence + Experience Live in Paris, originally scheduled for Nov. 14, was sure to be a memorable night of television for a band that can ably fill a stage, an arena, a TV screen. With the concert pushed back to Dec. 7 due to the terrorist attacks, the horrific events are likely to bring the emotion, and the performance, to another level for a band that has long been lauded for its activism and its empathy, and its sense of a big occasion.  

“So much that was taken from Paris on the tragic night of November 13th is irreplaceable,” said singer Bono. “For one night, the killers took lives, took music, took peace of mind–but they couldn’t steal the spirit of that city. It’s a spirit our band knows well and will try to serve when we return for the postponed shows on December 6th and 7th.”

We spoke with Hamish Hamilton, director of numerous Super Bowl halftime shows (featuring Madonna, The Who, Katy Perry), as well as the U2/HBO film, before the attacks. (He was unavailable to speak this week.) Hamilton said he was a fan of the band dating back to their classic early ‘80s albums, “War” and “October”, and was stunned when U2’s Bono contacted him after Hamilton directed U2 at awards show The BRITS back in 2001.

“Not many people get to meet their heroes,” said Hamilton. “Fewer get to work with their heroes.”

It’s a “surreal experience,” he added, to be sitting in a room with the band members—Bono, Edge, Larry Mullen, Adam Clayton—and have them ask his opinion on something.

Hamilton has directed several U2 concert specials before, including Elevation: Live From Boston, and has at least 20 cameras at his disposal at AccorHotels Arena in Paris Dec. 7. U2 is always game to shake up the concert experience, such as the band’s “360°” approach around the world in 2009-2011, which allowed the audience to surround the stage. The Innocence + Experience tour brings concert-goers back to the band’s childhood in the outskirts of Dublin, with an arena-length LED screen serving to transport to a different time and place.

“It would be an understatement to say that U2 has a legacy of extraordinary shows throughout their career,” said Nina Rosenstein, senior VP of programming at HBO, before the attacks. “The Innocence + Experience tour is simply groundbreaking.”

Hamilton said it’s a show you can see a half dozen times, and still come away with something new each time. “It’s incredibly poignant material framed by a sense of artistry that’s never quite been attempted before,” he said. “Viewers are able to see a band in its absolute prime, redefining the arena experience.”

The film is produced by Done And Dusted, with executive producers Hamilton, Simon Pizey, Davis Guggenheim and Guy Oseary.

Paris is six hours ahead of New York, so Live in Paris will be shot live, as the title suggests, and air on HBO some hours later. “If you’re a U2 fan, it’s just f***ing brilliant,” enthused Hamilton. “If you’re not, it’s all the reasons you should be.”  

Whether it’s Bono’s ONE foundation to address AIDS and extreme poverty or the band spotlighting social injustice around the globe in its concerts, U2 has always sensed that a rock band can be way more than that. It can be a driver of change, or a unifying force amidst tragedy.

Said Bono, “We’re going to put on our best for Paris.”