Directed and produced by Morgan Neville (20 Feet from Stardom, Won’t You Be My Neighbor?) and featuring the singer and guitarist of U2 – bassist Adam Clayton and drummer Larry Mullen Jr are thanked for letting their band’s other half “go rogue” on this one – Bono & The Edge: A Sort of Homecoming, With Dave Letterman brings the longtime Late Night host to Dublin for conversation and a concert in the round featuring reworked versions of classic U2 material.
BONO & THE EDGE: A SORT OF HOMECOMING, WITH DAVE LETTERMAN: STREAM IT OR SKIP IT?
The Gist: With a new record out that deconstructs and reworks a selection of their existing catalog, U2 decided to invite Dave Letterman to their hometown for some live performances of those new arrangements, plus a little chat. And as Bono and The Edge rehearse for the concert, which will be held at the city’s intimate Ambassador Theatre, Dave walks around and explores Dublin like the host of a travel documentary. In these segments, the 75-year-old Letterman is a version of himself that blends his traditional demeanor from Late Night with the bemused probing of something like The Reluctant Traveler, the recent Apple TV+ docuseries with Eugene Levy. But he always finds his way back to quiet conversation with Bono and Edge, either together or separately.
In songwriting, Edge tells Dave, you have to find the chords before you get to melody. And Bono, as an inveterate buttinsky, must playfully disagree. “Think about what you just did to ‘One,’ the singer says. “You changed the chords. Same melody. Same words.” and Edge sighs. “I didn’t. We changed the key but not the chords.” And Bono says they made it nearly 50 years, but the band just ended. It’s a funny exchange, led by Letterman, that illustrates the ease on display in Sort of Homecoming. These guys know each other, after all – U2 once did a five-night residency on Dave’s old show.
With the new concert as its anchor, Homecoming also explores U2’s formative years, and their lasting connection to Ireland’s national identity. Bits of archival footage appear, too – from Rattle & Hum and various world tours, but also an ancient live performance and U2’s legendary 1983 set at Red Rocks – and Edge illustrates for Dave how he constructed the introductory riff to “Where the Streets Have No Name.” There’s an inviting quality to the interview material here. But it’s the music that should stand out for U2 heads, especially as it tries on new forms, like the Edge singing and playing piano for “Stuck in a Moment You Can’t Get Out Of,” or a stripped-down take on “Beautiful Day” that approaches sacred music in its sincerity.
What Movies Will It Remind You Of? Disney+ also features If These Walls Could Sing, which explores the 90-year history of Abbey Road Studios from the perspective of documentary filmmaker Mary McCartney and her father Paul. And Keith Richards, who Bono drifts into a humorous impression of midway through Homecoming, is profiled in another Morgan Neville-directed music doc, Netflix’s Under the Influence.
Performance Worth Watching: Dave takes time out to announce the same in Homecoming, but the city of Dublin deserves a shout-out here. From its shopkeepers and polar bear swimmers to the everyday folks Dave encounters in the pub, Dublin’s civic character adds the same vitality to this film that it does to the biography of its favorite sons U2.
Memorable Dialogue: “‘Where the Streets Have No Name’” is an unusual brew of a song.” When Bono starts to cook with his signature flair for description and phrasing, you gotta let him roll. “The lyric is not very fleshed out. But the suggestion contained in the lyric is gigantic. And what it seems to suggest is, there’s a transcendent place we can go together. Do you want to come?”
Sex and Skin: None.
Our Take: “See, that’s what’s interesting. When did the tongue go into the cheek? ‘Cause I think that’s what saved U2.” One of the best segments of Bono & The Edge: A Sort of Homecoming features Dave Letterman riding the DART with singer-songwriter Glen Hansard, who’s known the members of U2 since they were all kids in Dublin. “And they kinda got the rock star thing,” Hansard continues, “and the humor entered what they were doing. Because they were the pilgrims. They were the guys going to America with a Christian’s mindset, and suddenly they were the rock stars. Suddenly they were on a different train, and it really worked.” Hansard offers real insight to one of the narrative throughlines here, which is U2’s evolution alongside Ireland as the country gave up traditional conservatism for its more open society of today. Faith, universalism, and rock ‘n’ roll fervor made them into the band they’ve become over nearly five decades.
Dave’s traditional interview style is well-represented here, too. “Like many things in my life, I’m operating from a position of ignorance,” he says at one point – Dave asks a question, from big picture to the most basic (“How do you write a song?”), and then he gets out of the way and listens. But beyond its patchwork of warm conversational moments, Homecoming ably evokes that intimacy in the performances it captures. At the Ambassador in Dublin, songs like “Out of Control,” “Vertigo,” “One,” and “Bad” are arranged mostly for Edge’s acoustic guitar and an accompanying cellist, and the theater-in-the-round format allows Bono and his stage moves to roam. But it’s also key that Homecoming doesn’t just stay inside the concert. When Dave, Bono, and Edge join Hansard and a rangy group of folk musicians at a Dublin pub, “All I Want Is You” becomes a clamoring, strident groover led by fiddle and a rousing group vocal. U2 has a new record to promote, which speaks to this doc’s function. But the film joins the band in finding new ways to hear and even see their material.
Our Call: STREAM IT. Bono & The Edge: A Sort of Homecoming, With Dave Letterman arrives just in time for St. Patrick’s Day, with Ireland’s most successful exports illuminating their biography and song catalog with insight, humor – Letterman remains a singular wit – and subtle touches of performative power.
Johnny Loftus is an independent writer and editor living at large in Chicagoland. His work has appeared in The Village Voice, All Music Guide, Pitchfork Media, and Nicki Swift. Follow him on Twitter: @glennganges
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