In 2009, U2 released a gorgeous album - No Line on the Horizon.
Its complex music, richly layered vocals, globally nuanced themes and deep spirituality reflected the character, wisdom and experience of a seasoned band.
The album's cover featured Boden Sea, a work by Japanese photographer Hiroshi Sugimoto.
Two Lines On The Horizon
The CD's cellophane wrapper included an equal sign superimposed over Sugimoto's photo of a boundless sea meeting a never-ending skyline, accentuating the seamless interface of heaven and earth, giving weight and significance to both.
The symbol also calls to mind one of Bono's favorite scriptures, found in the Lord's Prayer from Matthew 6:9-13: "Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven."
Equal Sign On The Horizon
U2 continued using the equal sign on a variety of album configurations, promotional material and clothing associated with the 360 tour. While touring across the globe, the band reminded us of our connectedness. Four hundred tons of girder and audio/video system functioned as part space ship and part post-apocalyptic cathedral, calling the planet to lament and celebrate both its humanity and divinity.
"At the moment of surrender, of vision of over visibility," passersby and rock stars are equal. One.
I Could See In The Reflection
Bono has often said that the songs write him rather than the other way around. Maybe that's true of logos too. Whether intentional or not, the equal sign took on new meaning one morning while brushing my teeth. I was wearing my 360 shirt and there it was. Staring at me in the mirror. "US." As in, "There is no them, there's only US," a phrase that Bono had flirted with in the past, but firmly anchored in the I+E tour's linchpin song "Invisible." (Wanna see it? Click on the U2 logo.)
There is no them There's only us
U2's followup to No Line was the 2014 release of Songs of Innocence. In 2015, the band hit the road with its Innocence + Experience tour, an emotionally compelling retrospective that called special attention to U2's formation in the midst of a violent Ireland. This tour featured a symbol that might be considered an extension of the last: a plus sign.
City of Blinding Lights
As the show moved through multiple themes -- from dingy punk venues, to the violent Troubles, to a wall of separation, to restored unity and celebration -- a series of of vertical and horizontal lights (reminiscent of Robert Irwin's "Light and Space" installations) descended in a seemingly random fashion. But once settled, usually during "City of Blinding Lights," the symbols became evident. More than just a series of plus signs, these crosses hovered above the audience, annointing the arena. No single cross appeared the same. Every concert-goer had a unique perspective.
Crosses in the Sky
True colors fly
In blue and black
White crosses in the sky
We can't go back --"Bad," Vancouver, May 15, 2015
Bono made the sign of the cross while he sang. But only from the upper deck of the arena could we really see what was happening. Not just the sky... the whole stage had become a cruciform. Night after night: creation, deluge, division, separation and restoration played out on the cross.
Cross in the Middle
The I + E tour is not... the Innocence "and" Experience tour, the Innocence "&" Experience tour,
the Innocence "plus" Experience tour.
It's the Innocence "cross" Experience tour.
In a pre-tour brainstorming meeting, U2 and a team of creative designers sat around a table considering a myriad of symbols spread across the band's career. Mark Fisher, U2's longtime stage designer, threw down a challenge in a moment of frustrated dialogue, "Why don’t you just do it, and put a fucking cross in the middle of the stadium?!”
And they did.
And that might be the best use of the f-bomb I've ever heard.
I can’t think of two symbols that better represent U2 in the last decade: the cross and equality, both of them right there on the same computer key. And one more thing. What action is necessary to move from equality to the cross on that computer key? Hint: it’ll take a “shift” in the way we think. Isn't that, also, what U2 have been trying to get us to do their whole career--to see things differently?