As spectacular as the ZooTV concerts were, even that stage wasn't big enough to contain Mr MacPhisto. Here's a look at some of the other things he's gotten up to over the years.
After ZooTV... | Hold Me Thrill Me Kiss Me Kill Me | GoldenEye? | PopMart
Halls of Fame | Elevation | inTO the Heart | The Devil is in the Detail?
Innocence + Experience | Jimmy Kimmel Live! | Shadows of the Past
Experience + Innocence
In his wonderful book U2 At The End Of The World, Bill Flanagan recounts an amusing post-concert incident partway through the Zooropa tour, on 12th June 1993 in Cologne, Germany. When the Zoo crew find themselves starving hungry and unable to attract the attention of the hotel staff, MacPhisto takes matters into his own hands...
A Visit to the Vatican
After playing two nights in Rome during the Zooropa tour, MacPhisto and his colleagues decided to do a little filming before they left town. This began with a photoshoot at the Hotel Majestic on 8th July 1993, and the recording of a special video message which (to my knowledge) has sadly never seen the light of day – if you know better, please get in touch! B.P. Fallon describes it all in his book U2 Faraway So Close:
The following day, locals and tourists were confronted by the peculiar sight of the Devil wandering around the Vatican City. Bono recalls the occasion in U2 By U2:
B.P. Fallon once again accompanied him on this mischievous outing, and shares the amusing details in his own book:
Photographer Kevin Davies also posted some memories on Instagram:
Rare video footage of MacPhisto posing with fans in the Vatican Square ("I think there should be photographs of me with the children from all over the world"), and by the mirror in the Hotel Majestic, can be seen at 11:13 in a Naked City feature about the Zooropa tour, broadcast in the UK on 6th August 1993. It appears as Bonus Material in the Super and Uber Deluxe editions of Achtung Baby released in 2011, and also includes an exclusive backstage video message from MacPhisto, in which he quotes Irish poet Brendan Kennelly at 5:30 ("'To serve the age, one must betray it'... or something like that. For these and other pretensions, tune in to the Naked City") and Louis XV at 16:31 ("Après moi, le déluge").
This sublime Zooropa track is surely the U2 song most strongly associated with MacPhisto. Not only did he bring it to life marvellously on the Zoomerang tour, he also played a starring role in the song's promotional video, released in September 1993.
Directed by Mark Neale, the video is an homage to the Victorian photographer Eadweard Muybridge, the first person to successfully capture fast motion on film (and inventor of the appropriately-named Zoopraxiscope!). The Lemon video was filmed mainly in black and white against a grid-like background in tribute to his work, and imitates his studies of humans performing a variety of tasks, each described with a simple caption at the foot of the screen.
Bono as himself is almost completely absent from the video (visible only in a couple of brief group shots) – instead it's his alter-egos MacPhisto and The Fly who feature alongside his bandmates. MacPhisto takes on singing duties, while The Fly is seen getting up to his usual antics of posing with a mic stand, channel-hopping, spinning around with a handycam and so on.
MacPhisto appears in the video without his horns, but is instantly recognisable from his suit, make-up and theatrical behaviour! He sings up close to the camera, smirking devilishly in between lines, displaying his full range of facial expressions from playful to tragic. At other times (mainly during the atmospheric chorus), MacPhisto and the band members are seen amid swirling smoke, standing apart from one another as the camera glides around them. These scenes are particularly beautiful, with MacPhisto drifting elegantly between them, even clinging tightly onto Adam at one point. The video wonderfully captures his exaggerated movements as he gestures to an imaginary audience or throws his arms into a statuesque pose. Another nice moment is the slow-motion shot as he sings "slowly, slowly, slowly..." after the first verse. MacPhisto is given the descriptive captions "Man singing", "Man gesturing", "Man holding hand over face", "Man waving", "Man putting hand to brow", and the best one: "Man fluttering fingers"!
In his commentary on the Best Of 1990-2000 DVD, director Mark Neale opines: "The MacPhisto side of it is probably the most remarkable thing about the video. Muybridge was originally doing what he called studies of the human figure in motion. And I think that this is a study of MacPhisto in motion." He goes on to say that "Bono as MacPhisto, I think, did something that he'd never done before, which was to become unrecognisable", and that he's struck by the combination of him looking "so utterly bizarre" with the use of the wide-angle lens. He reveals that Bono was initially "freaked" when he saw the footage and seemed unhappy with the video, to the point where Neale was worrying it would be scrapped. Thankfully when Larry arrived, he simply told Bono "I think this is the most amazing performance footage I've ever seen of you", which was enough to change the singer's mind and save the video!
Along with its fellow Zooropa singles Numb and Stay (Faraway, So Close!), Lemon certainly stands out as one of U2's best videos ever. You can watch it on U2.com here. There is also a video for the Bad Yard Club Mix, which includes some extra footage.
Bono's fabulous duet with Frank Sinatra was released as a double A-side with Stay (Faraway, So Close!) in November 1993. In the promo video, Sinatra can be seen briefly morphing into MacPhisto and back again at the 0:20 mark. There is a further clip of MacPhisto in concert at 2:23, raising his arms to the crowd.
In his Sydney speech, MacPhisto promised to be with us always – and he has indeed outlived the original tour.
Sometime after ZooTV came to an end, Bono and his demonic alter-ego seemingly had a bit of a falling-out. The singer was interviewed at the Q Awards on 9th November 1994, with the transcript published in the magazine's 100th edition. It included the following exchange:
More on the Batman story in a minute...
Happily, it appears that Bono and MacPhisto managed to resolve their differences. When asked again about his stage persona in March 1996, Bono told Juice magazine:
Altogether now: awww. :)
It's true: Hollywood beckoned for Mr MacPhisto, when the creators of Batman Forever expressed an interest in giving him a movie role.
There are conflicting stories as to what exactly they had in mind, and who eventually decided against it happening. Director Joel Schumacher told the media that Bono "asked to be in the movie" and that "I wanted him in it", but there wasn't a role for him. An old U2 FAQ states that the film's producers "very much wanted Bono to make a cameo appearance as MacPhisto, supposedly singing his heart out atop a piano". They are said to have been fascinated by the character and felt they could make him fit within the movie, but alas Bono declined the offer, instead proposing to contribute a song to the soundtrack. Schumacher confirms they discussed the idea of him performing in a party scene, although he says nothing about Bono refusing to resurrect the persona: "I thought I could have him standing on a piano in costume as MacPhisto. But I wasn't sure it would work out for him to sing an entire song and advised him the idea wasn't a good one for him. He agreed."
ShowBiz Ireland go one step further and suggest that Bono was "up for the lead role as an evil villain", but Schumacher was forced to drop him after casting the roles of The Riddler and Two-Face. The director is quoted as saying: "I met with him while I was putting Batman Forever together and he wanted to play a villain in The Riddler's world. But we had Jim Carrey and Tommy Lee Jones and I didn't have a part for him. He understood my reasoning and then he wrote that fabulous song for us which was wonderful."
Whatever the size of the role, it would have been truly fantastic to see MacPhisto immortalised on the silver screen, but sadly it wasn't to be. This decision wasn't all bad, though, as it did result in U2 contributing one of their greatest songs to the film's soundtrack – Hold Me Thrill Me Kiss Me Kill Me, released as a single in June 1995. And thanks to its animated video, MacPhisto got to become a comic supervillain after all!
The video, directed by Maurice Linnane and Kevin Godley, combines clips from the movie with cartoon scenes of U2 in Gotham City. The Edge has said that the band were interested in "Batman, the icon" and the fact that superheroes are the ultimate stars: "So we wrote the song kind of about stardom. And when we were thinking about doing the video, it occurred to us that it was kind of interesting and legitimate to include some of the superhero characters that we've created along the way: MacPhisto and The Fly. And we felt that the best way of doing that was animation."
MacPhisto is the first animated character to appear, grinning evilly and dancing on a rooftop that resembles the ZooTV stage, where the rest of the band are performing (à la the Streets video). Lightning flashes and "The BAT must DIE" is seen scrawled on a wall, mimicking the film's original (deleted) opening scene in which Two-Face escapes from his asylum cell, leaving this message behind. MacPhisto and his bandmates seem to be in league with the villain, whose helicopter is flying overhead; The Edge's guitar playing shatters a mirrorball, revealing a disguised wrecking ball that smashes through the wall of a bank.
While Bruce Wayne jumps into action as Batman, another black-clad persona – The Fly – is also on the move, crawling like a fly on a wall down the sheer face of a neon sign that reads "THINGS" (sliding down the surface of things?). He drops to his feet and is immediately ambushed by MacPhisto, whom he turns to face, but the showdown is interrupted by another scene from the movie, now throwing Edward Nygma (The Riddler) into the mix. Bono's two alter-egos take it in turns to sing lines from the chorus, smirking as they emerge from the darkness and disappear again.
More film clips introduce Nygma's 'Box' invention, which beams immersive TV images directly into people's brains while stealing their neural energy and secret knowledge. The same fishing programme is on the ZooTV screen behind Adam as The Riddler joins them on the roof, hooking his device up to U2's equipment to mesmerise the crowds below while MacPhisto watches from the shadows (perhaps an idea for the planned alliance between the two characters). The band play on while Two-Face's helicopter carries off a safe with Batman locked inside. The Bat-Signal shining in the sky morphs into a similar logo depicting MacPhisto, which then appears on all the screens.
During the bridge of the song, The Fly loses his sunglasses whilst leaping between buildings, and finds himself vulnerable to the dazzling glare of approaching media flashbulbs. This cuts to a flashback scene about the character's origins, after the backlash against U2's earnest '80s image. Accompanying the lyrics "They want you to be Jesus, they'll go down on one knee / But they'll want their money back if you're alive at 33", a comic strip portrays Bono complete with saintly halo, declaring "This man is a so called rock star!? So Pure! So Righteous! So Honest! SO WHAT!" The singer rips up a newspaper article about himself and seems to be in free fall, having tumbled off his pedestal – until he removes the halo and cleverly fashions it into those famous bug-eyed goggles, representing the shield of irony and humour the band adopted in the '90s. This impenetrable mask made his real personality much harder to read.
Back in the present, the cornered Fly falls off the roof, but is saved when Larry switches sides and throws the shades of power back to him – turning him into a confident, agile superhero as soon as he puts them on. He returns to confront MacPhisto, who looks stunned to see his rival irreverently swinging from his telephone line! At that moment, the Batwing bursts through one of the 'BatPhisto' screens (just as it flies through the Bat-Signal in the film), and is amusingly attacked by Edge and Adam wielding guitars that double as flamethrowers. MacPhisto jumps into his own flying car with hubcaps bearing his symbol, and flies through the city with Batman in pursuit.
The next sequence is another flashback, this time focused on how MacPhisto came into being. The four band members are walking outside Mr Pussy's Café De Luxe (the Dublin cabaret club jointly owned by Bono and Gavin Friday – renamed 'Mister Swampy's' for the American video), when they are caught up in a car chase involving the Batmobile. Larry, Edge and Adam leap out of the path of a speeding vehicle, but Bono wanders across the road with his head buried in a copy of The Screwtape Letters, and is consequently run over... by Elvis! The singer is strapped into a hospital bed with electrodes attached to his head, in a scene reminiscent of Frankenstein; he appears to flatline, but is revived by a mysterious bolt of red lightning that strikes the building. His shirt turns red, his head sprouts a pair of horns, and he is able to break free of his constraints (a metaphor for the freedom the character allowed him). As he clicks his fingers to a new rhythm, the hint of a gold lamé sleeve indicates the transformation is complete – much to the shock of his bandmates and doctors!
Clips from the film show Batman's final battle with The Riddler, during which the hostages – his sidekick Robin and love interest Dr Chase Meridian – are dropped towards their deaths. Batman dives after them, but not before MacPhisto's flying car has zoomed down there too. As the song draws to a close, an angry and frightened Chase, still bound and gagged, finds herself dancing with the Devil in the pale moonlight – for a jubilant MacPhisto has brought her onto his rooftop stage for a waltz, with his crashed car on its side in the background. The lush strings of the outro are played by an orchestra of identical shadowy Batmen, and MacPhisto tears off a series of masks and outfits, repeatedly switching forms between himself and Batman until it's impossible to tell which is the disguise and which the true identity – hero or villain. This was, of course, the whole intention behind the ZooTV characters: leaving people unsure as to where the shady caricatures ended and the "real" Bono began.
The conflict between Bono's two personas was apparently intended to parallel a major theme of the movie; Dr Meridian is a psychologist specialising in dual identities, hence her fascination with both Two-Face and Batman. Interestingly, a later music video based on a film – 2001's Elevation, from the Tomb Raider soundtrack – would revisit the concept of Good U2 versus Evil U2.
In the directors' commentary on the Best Of 1990-2000 DVD, both Godley and Linnane express their appreciation of MacPhisto. At one point the former remarks: "Thinking back on it, alter-egos aside, MacPhisto ranks alongside The Riddler and The Penguin as a perfect Batman character, doesn't he?" Linnane replies "Absolutely".
Something of an "unofficial" appearance, this, but worth mentioning to followers of MacPhisto. The theme song to the 1995 Bond film GoldenEye, performed by Tina Turner, was written for her by Bono and The Edge, and the original demo versions sung by Bono have since been circulated online. He delivers the lines in a deliciously creepy faux-English accent, alternating between wistful and sinister, with plenty for falsettoholics to enjoy. Slash fans have also appreciated the homoerotic undertones as he sings lyrics written from a female POV. Though MacPhisto has never been formally linked to the project, a number of fans have commented on the similarity of the vocal, to the point of it being widely attributed to him. It's certainly a track that his admirers will love! One of the demos is accompanied by a slideshow of MacPhisto pics on YouTube; the other can be heard here.
The 1997 PopMart Tour was another multimedia extravaganza intended to rival ZooTV. Whilst Bono's stage personas no longer made explicit onstage appearances, it was clear that the band had not forgotten about Mr MacPhisto – his presence could still be felt during certain moments of the show, most notably when Hold Me Thrill Me Kiss Me Kill Me was performed live. As the audience waited for the final encore in a dark and (relatively) quiet stadium, they were suddenly greeted with loud sirens – similar to the intro of the Bad Yard Club Lemon remixes – and MacPhisto's version of the Bat-Signal lighting up each section of the screen. This affectionate reference to an old friend was invariably met with screams of delight from the crowd. As the music kicked in, Bono would emerge cackling evilly before descending into a violent coughing fit.
Several more images from the promo video would be displayed on the screen, including MacPhisto's car and horns. During the bridge, with its lyrics about the pressures and contradictions of stardom, Bono often paused to mime a pair of devil horns and then a halo with his fingers, as if to ask the audience which suited him better! (I'd go with the horns every time...) This can be seen on the PopMart Live From Mexico City video, also available on YouTube. MacPhisto's spirit seems to pervade the rest of the performance, especially the doleful tone in which Bono sings "Star...", and the devilish smirk on his face after he stares deeply into – then kisses! – one of the cameras.
The song would then close with a rapid-fire montage of troubled and tragic celebrities such as Charlie Parker, James Dean, Buddy Holly, Marilyn Monroe, Patsy Cline, Judy Garland, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, Ziggy Stardust / Aladdin Sane, Elvis Presley, Marc Bolan, Sid Vicious, Ian Curtis, John Lennon, Bob Marley, Marvin Gaye, Phil Lynott, Freddie Mercury, Michael Jackson, Kurt Cobain and Tupac Shakur. Completing this ill-fated line-up was none other than MacPhisto himself – the very personification of fame's corruptive influence, of rock 'n' roll excess taken to its most extreme. As well as including his cartoon image in the mix of famous faces, the gigantic screen would show a clip of the real MacPhisto preening in the mirror with an arrogant smile.
Thanks to one of his fans, MacPhisto even made a physical appearance at one show on the third leg of the PopMart Tour. At the concert in St Louis, Missouri on 8th November 1997, halfway through Bullet The Blue Sky, Bono picked out a fan in the crowd who'd come along in full MacPhisto costume. To everyone's surprise he pulled this lookalike up on stage (prompting huge cheers!), and as Bono recited the "So this guy comes up to me..." section, the two stared each other down as if preparing for a fight – 'MacPhisto' backing slowly along the walkway as Bono continued to approach him. The singer's body language was aggressive, defending his territory against this intruder and rival, while MacPhisto postured defiantly, challenging him to do his worst.
The pair circled one another as Bono intoned "And he's peeling off those dollar bills...", with MacPhisto miming the "Slapping 'em down" motion. Indeed, the fan was getting into the routine so brilliantly that Bono allowed him to perform the traditional dramatics as he cried "One hundred! ...Two hundred! ...Three hundred!" Knowing this was always followed by Bono's golf swing joke ("FOUR...!"), MacPhisto automatically adopted the pose, leaving Bono looking slightly taken aback – he briefly assumed the same position with his stars-and-stripes umbrella, as if to huffily imply "That's MY punchline!", then changed his mind and handed the umbrella to his demonic guest. MacPhisto did the honours with perfect timing, swinging it round delightedly before handing it back to Bono.
As Bono continued with "I can see those fighter planes...", they began to circle each other once more, MacPhisto cautiously twirling away from him. Clearly very familiar with the song's usual choreography, the fan even started confidently acting out the lyrics ("Turn the key, unlock the door... A man breathes into a saxophone... And through the walls, we hear the city groan"). Bono and his alter-ego stared into each other's eyes throughout this sequence, before standing so close together that when Bono said "Outside, it's...", he only had to stretch out his headset for MacPhisto to respond "America!" The second time, he gleefully yelled "AMERICAAA!" whilst holding his arms up to the crowd. Totally in character, he bowed and blew kisses to them while Bono looked on incredulously.
And then it happened. "Lights... camera..." Bono called ominously, handing his umbrella back to MacPhisto. The crowd cheered in amazement as Bono swapped his hat for the fan's devil horns, and the two exchanged jackets. "Action!" he concluded as he slipped into that old familiar gold lamé – and the true MacPhisto was back on stage for the first time since the end of ZooTV nearly four years earlier. As a fan from the U2 Wire mailing list remarked: "The Last Popstar is back, and as big as the PopMart screen." He raised his arms triumphantly, leading the crowd in a clapping rhythm. And with his doppelgänger still there as well, there was double the fun – the fan helped him to work the crowd, whilst still carrying the umbrella. (The eyewitness account describes how he "twirls it royally over his shoulder – he knows it's inside out and he doesn't care. In fact, he likes it that way".) Bono gave his old friend a final wave as he headed back toward the main stage and they went their separate ways.
This incident is mentioned as a highlight of the show by many people who attended, with everyone praising the costumed fan for playing along so wonderfully! You can see the whole impressive performance on his YouTube channel. (I once came across his own write-up of the experience, probably on this defunct website which unfortunately wasn't archived. Please email me if you happen to own a copy of it – I would love the chance to read it again!)
So, what ever happened to the original "very special jacket" worn by Mr MacPhisto? As the century drew to a close, his outfits began finding their way into various rock exhibitions where fans could see them up close.
From 1999 to 2001, items from U2's history were displayed at the Hot Press Irish Music Hall of Fame in Dublin, including a certain gold lamé suit, purple shirt and glittery platform boots (some pics here). This unfortunately closed down due to poor attendance.
Meanwhile in the USA, another of MacPhisto's suits – this time with the red shirt – was acquired by Jim Henke, chief curator of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland, Ohio. They had teamed up with the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City to create 'Rock Style', an exhibition celebrating the relationship between rock music and fashion. It premiered at the Met's Costume Institute from December 1999 to March 2000, then appeared in Cleveland from May to September 2000, before travelling to London's Barbican Art Gallery where it was on view from October 2000 to January 2001. The exhibition featured over 100 outfits from more than 40 rock legends, organised into five sections; the gallery Brilliant Disguise, dedicated to superstar stage personas, included half a dozen of Bono's costumes from the ZooTV and PopMart tours. A description and photographs can be found here.
In February 2003, the Cleveland museum unveiled 'In the Name of Love: Two Decades of U2', which Jim Henke described as "the most comprehensive exhibit the Hall of Fame has ever mounted on one artist". It occupied the building's top three floors: one for videos, photographs and graphic design; one for items from the early days to Rattle & Hum; and one for items from the '90s and '00s (including animation cels from the Hold Me Thrill Me Kiss Me Kill Me video). Photography is banned in the museum, but Ruth Barohn was permitted to take photos of the band memorabilia for U2log.com, including MacPhisto's suit and other ZooTV costumes. The U2 retrospective closed in March 2004 so that other artists could be featured, but the outfits remain in the museum's collection, and can be seen in this video at 3:04 and 4:00.
MacPhisto's suit was loaned to Graceland from March 2012 to February 2013 for 'ICON: The Influence of Elvis Presley', which marked the 35th anniversary of the King's death by examining how he has inspired other artists. It can be glimpsed at 2:03 in this video, and was chosen to illustrate several articles about the exhibit, with one describing it as "a brilliantly detailed merger of Presley's famed double-breasted 'If I Can Dream' suit and his famed gold lamé jacket".
In 2001 the band embarked on the Elevation Tour, a stripped-down affair which could hardly have been more unlike their hi-tech '90s outings. Gone were the massive screens, outrageous wardrobe and tongue-in-cheek political humour... but despite this radical change of direction, Bono continued to acknowledge Mr MacPhisto by interacting with cosplayers in their audience.
Immediately after their second Toronto show on 25th May 2001, U2 travelled to the headquarters of Canada's MuchMusic channel for a live TV special called U2 Does Much, hosted by George Stroumboulopoulos. During a break in the interview, they ventured outside to meet the fans who were gathered there. One person in the crowd had come wearing horns, make-up and a gold suit – and Bono not only spotted him, but interrupted a group singalong to point him out and address him. It happens at 31:31 in the video.
Bono: "George... George... This is somebody I've always wanted to meet."
George: "Yourself? ...MacPhisto."
George: "As Bono goes in the crowd..."
Bono: [to 'MacPhisto'] "I just have something to say to you. One day, all of this could be yours." [gestures toward the CHUM-City Building, home of various TV and radio stations.]
The line is a humorous reference to the temptation of Christ (Luke 4:5-7), in which the Devil showed Jesus all the kingdoms of the world and claimed that if he would worship him, "all this will be yours". It would reappear three years later as a lyric in Vertigo.
Rather surprisingly, this was not the only conversation about MacPhisto in the programme. Shortly afterwards (at 38:09), George commented on Bono's reaction to an airing of the Lemon video, as MacPhisto's arm gestures had apparently made him laugh. Bono responded by explaining how they had "discovered" the character in a Madrid nightclub (with several fans clapping and cheering at the mention of his name).
Two more notable incidents took place on the European leg of the tour. At one concert, Bono reportedly recognised a fan who had worn a pair of horns at every PopMart show she attended – he mimed horns with his fingers and pointed at her, laughing when she revealed that she still had them on beneath a hat! When he saw her again at the Cologne show on 13th July 2001, he asked to borrow the horns during a performance of The Fly. This can be seen at 35:29 in a bootleg video; while singing the chorus, Bono makes a horns sign to the hat-wearing fan in the front row, who takes them out of her bag and hands them over. He poses in them for a few seconds, but takes them off and returns them before heading elsewhere for the second verse. Susanne Kempf and Matthias Muehlbradt both managed to snap photographs of him wearing the horns, uploaded here and here!
A couple of weeks later, there was almost a repeat of St Louis '97 when another MacPhisto impersonator was invited onto the stage. This time it was Hungarian fan Adam "LeMon" Horvath who hoped to catch Bono's attention with his homemade outfit ("the power of the Devil"!) at the concert in Berlin's Waldbühne amphitheatre on 29th July 2001. He certainly got himself noticed before the show, even getting a mention on the radio ("there's a bloke in a golden suit running around"!) – and the dream came true when Bono pulled him onstage for the start of The Fly. LeMon describes the amazing sight of "Bono's half kingdom at my feet", and took the opportunity to give them all a MacPhisto-esque wave. :) Bono stared into his eyes and the two danced in circles through the song's soothing intro, face to face, even singing into the same microphone – you can read the full story at his website (make sure popups are enabled). LeMon has also uploaded pics and audio to YouTube, and there is footage of him in a bootleg video, plus photos here and here. Sadly on this occasion, Bono didn't try the horns or jacket on himself!
Saturday 6th November 2004 was the date of a most unexpected return. Just when
MacPhisto fans had resigned themselves to the unlikelihood of him making any more
"official" appearances, an MP3 surfaced on the Internet which took everyone by surprise
– it was nothing less than a brand new, genuine MacPhisto phone call! Yes,
eleven years down the line from ZooTV, it seems that everyone's favourite showbiz devil
was still unable to resist the lure of an answering machine.
And that could have been the end of the story... but it turned out that somebody else had a few words to add! At 8:18pm, a second message was left, and this time it wasn't Bono's voice...
So there it was – proof, if any were needed, that dear old Mr MacPhisto was very much alive and well in the 21st century! Sounding older and more gravelly-voiced than ever, but apparently still enjoying that rock 'n' roll lifestyle. ;) The MP3 of the phone calls could previously be downloaded from the inTO the Heart website.
For over a decade there were disappointingly few sightings of MacPhisto, although the band were clearly not averse to celebrating – and indeed recreating – some of the joys of ZooTV. On the Vertigo Tour of 2005-06, the nightly encore opened in the same way as the '93 concerts, resurrecting the brilliant Zoo Station / The Fly combination to mindblowing effect. (At the first Chicago gig in September 2005, The Fly ended with a rare snippet of Daddy's Gonna Pay For Your Crashed Car as requested by a fan.) Zooropa space babies popped up on a giant fruit machine, the dizzying rapid-fire slogans were back on the screens, and Bono even became The Fly once again, with his high-kicking, goose-stepping, Nazi-saluting routine. For those of us too young to witness the original tour, who feared we had missed out forever, it was a dream come true. Suddenly, anything seemed possible!
The group's autobiography, U2 by U2, was published in 2006 to mark their 30th anniversary, and gave both Bono and The Edge a chance to fondly reminisce about MacPhisto.
From December 2008 to March 2009, while promoting new album No Line On The Horizon, Bono experimented with wearing eyeliner for photoshoots and live performances. Intriguingly, he told Rolling Stone magazine that he was working on yet another Elvis-inspired persona:
Alas, the idea seemed to have been quietly dropped by the time the U2 360° Tour began that summer. There was also a sorry lack of MacPhisto despite the return of Ultra Violet (Light My Way) followed by With Or Without You in the show encores! As ever, though, some fans wore little reminders that occasionally drew Bono's attention and approval. At the second Toronto show on 17th September 2009, during a speech after Elevation, he pointed out a Mexican fan who had apparently come as MacPhisto: "Looking good, mate! ...Man here dressed up as the Devil." (The remark is caught on video here and here.) Days later, at the second concert in Foxborough, Massachusetts on 21st September 2009, there was a promising moment when Bono requested a fan's devil horns during the second verse of Vertigo. He made no direct references to MacPhisto, but wore them for a little while, put them round his neck for most of the bridge, then transferred them back to his head as he sang "Just give me what I want and no-one gets hurt", before throwing them back during the final chorus. Gerry Spear shared a photo here, and there are videos here and here.
On 4th October 2009, U2 and Joel Grey were among the artists at 'An Evening With Gavin Friday And Friends', a (RED)NIGHTS benefit concert held at New York's Carnegie Hall to celebrate Gavin's 50th birthday. Widely mentioned as a highlight of the gig was Bono's solo cover of The Last Song I'll Ever Sing, a dying showman's farewell, from Gavin's 1995 album Shag Tobacco. The song's poignant lyrics can be found here. One reviewer described it as "A perfect chance for him to release the tortured torch singer inside of him", and Bono seems to be channelling all of MacPhisto's passion and pathos towards the end – quite appropriately, since Gavin has said there is "an awful lot of MacPhisto in me".
When the 360° Tour resumed in August 2010, one old MacPhisto song was switched for another in the encore, with Ultra Violet (Light My Way) replaced by Hold Me Thrill Me Kiss Me Kill Me on most nights – a further treat for fans who missed out on the '90s tours! The PopMart visuals were sadly absent, but a few distinct hints of MacPhisto were evident here and there. Bono sometimes gave a short cough before speaking with an English accent: in Helsinki he says "Why thank you!" during the intro and "Showtime!" at the end; in Edmonton he says "Good evening, how are you?" during the intro; in Cape Town he says "Oh yeah..." at the start of the bridge; and in San Sebastian he laughs like MacPhisto just before starting to sing. He often threw himself into the role of Batman villain, cackling and coughing while he swung on the microphone during the outro (see Athens and Perth for examples). He comes on laughing evilly in Miami, and sings a snippet of the U2 song Miami in MacPhisto's voice while swinging at the end. Some performances, such as those in Horsens, would end with a theatrical bow or perhaps a tired old pop star's hobble. On the last night in São Paulo, he changed the lyric to "In the headlights of a crashed car, you're a star".
For the 2010-11 legs of the tour, Bono also brought back his leather-clad Fly look; he would prance about the walkway during Return Of The Stingray Guitar, striking rock star poses and doing a version of his old Zoo Station sideways dance. His gold-suited alter-ego failed to make a similar comeback, but the Athens show on 3rd September 2010 provided an intriguing glimpse of a Fly/MacPhisto hybrid – or maybe the transitional stage between the two characters! – when Bono once again borrowed a pair of horns from the crowd. He posed in them at the end of Vertigo (video here and here), and kept them on for nearly 3 minutes while performing the first part of I'll Go Crazy If I Don't Go Crazy Tonight. His moves during the "Everybody needs to cry..." verse were not unlike MacPhisto's, and were immediately followed by another of his pointed coughs and a smirk. He finally removed the light-up horns after the chorus, even giving them a kiss before returning them to their owner. There are photos by Matthias Muehlbradt here, here and here, and photos by solon99 here, here and here! This was not the last time Bono would put on a fan's horns; it happened again at the Cape Town show on 18th February 2011, making it three years in a row that his inner devil had briefly manifested. A photo by Steve Cook can be seen here; if you were at the show or have seen a video of it, please let me know which song they were playing at the time.
Like the Vertigo Tour before it, the last few months of the 360° Tour became increasingly ZooTV flavoured. The title track of Zooropa made a triumphant live return, with Bono rolling the R's in "Zoorrropa!" just like MacPhisto used to do. And U2 headlined Glastonbury Festival on 24th June 2011, with the opening act of their set described by Willie Williams as "restaging ZooTV in a farmer's field" – the first few songs of the '93 setlist (minus Zoo Station), complete with the original video sequences. Needless to say, it was awesome.
September 2014 saw the release of the excellent album Songs Of Innocence, exploring the band's formative years in Dublin and borrowing its title from William Blake. Bono soon began dropping hints about what to expect from the follow-up album Songs Of Experience and the Innocence + Experience Tour, which would start in 2015. In interviews with BBC Radio 6 Music and Rolling Stone magazine, he stated that SOE would feature a protagonist with a more contemporary perspective, sometimes having a conversation with his younger self from SOI. (As expressed in the second verse of Volcano, he feels that teenage Bono would not approve of the way he turned out 40 years later!) They also wanted the live shows to have "some sort of cross-talk" between the two characters, where they could appear together and argue with each other. In the official tour announcement, Bono mysteriously promised to "have some fun playing with the idea of innocence and experience". This suggested the intriguing possibility of rival stage personas – all the more interesting since Mr MacPhisto's last official public appearance had seen him mocking the lyrics of early U2 song Into The Heart and observing that "Innocence has turned to experience"! Could the voice of experience have an English accent, perhaps...? ;)
In the end it was nothing quite so exciting, but the tour was again reminiscent of ZooTV in many ways, and did include the first explicit references to MacPhisto for some time! There were strong narrative arcs in both halves of the show, some powerful anguished acting from Bono (not unlike 1993's "heart of darkness" set), impressive and sometimes playful use of the giant screen, fragments of book pages scattered over the audience like the Zoo money fired from cannons, and yet another reappearance of The Fly's quick-fire slogans when a remix was played during the intermission. (Is it too much to ask that they sneak MacPhisto's name or catchphrases into that video someday?)
A clear highlight of the production was its fresh take on Bullet The Blue Sky, which dealt with the subject of rock star activism and was used in Europe as part of an emotive sequence about the plight of asylum seekers. It was accompanied by a ZooTV-style barrage of images and text, too fast to process everything you saw – warzones and refugees, protesters with signs (some referencing the Eurozone debt crisis), police in riot gear, and the bodies of drowned migrants used to create a chilling parody of the EU flag. (Bono's sarcastic singing of the 'Ode To Joy' anthem strongly recalled the opening montage of ZooTV shows, which used that tune over a jumble of clips culminating in the flag's collapse.) This song was also where the promised argument between Bono's older and younger selves occurred, taking the form of a lengthy rap in which he alternated between the two characters, cleverly twisting some of the original lyrics into scornful criticisms of himself. Partway through the North American leg, he began delivering the more "experienced" Bono's response through a megaphone, and this prop was found to be hiding a very special surprise... not a subliminal Batman, but a subliminal MacPhisto! The face of a certain "very rich pop star" was spotted adorning the speaker, as can be seen in this photograph by Mark Peterson. We can only speculate on what this was intended to represent, but it seems he was indeed considered appropriate to the theme! The image disappeared when the megaphone's flag design was replaced for the subsequent European leg.
In a more light-hearted section of the show, fans were regularly invited onto the 'e' stage to play an instrument, dance, and/or film the band with a mobile phone for a Meerkat live stream. At the second Berlin show on 25th September 2015, Italian fan Mauro Tonon was chosen to dance and sing with Bono during Mysterious Ways... while dressed as MacPhisto! This was (as far as I'm aware) the first time such an imitator had been brought on stage since LeMon on the Elevation Tour, 14 years earlier in the same city. The whole performance can be seen here on YouTube, with "MacPhisto" visible in the front row from the start; Bono acknowledges him during the second verse at 1:24, and he is helped onto the stage at 2:29. As is now customary on such occasions, the two circled and postured for a while, both removing their sunglasses to stare each other straight in the eyes. MacPhisto was allowed to sing a few words into the microphone, before Bono directed him along the catwalk to strut and pose for the crowd until the end of the song. Once again, Bono wasn't tempted to swap outfits with him, but did address him as Mr MacPhisto and afterwards remarked: "Wow. Haven't seen him in a while!" Mauro spoke about his joyful experience in an interview with the fansite U2start.com, revealing that he was inspired by seeing a life-size MacPhisto sculpture in The Little Museum of Dublin. Some more photographs can be found here, here, here and here, and there are several other videos filmed from different angles: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5.
Another Italian fan, Daniela Caprera, wore MacPhisto horns on stage while dancing to Mysterious Ways and filming Elevation at the second Paris show on 11th November 2015 (proshot video here). Bono didn't borrow or comment on her glowing headgear, but she wore them again when she returned to the stage at the final Paris show on 7th December. Dany was among nine former e-stage guests who were invited to appear in this televised concert, later released on DVD – you can see them all partying to Elevation here. (One of the male fans is also wearing horns and muted MacPhisto colours, but I'm not sure if it's Mauro or someone different – if anyone can confirm his identity, let me know!)
In December 2015, the first annual (RED) SHOPATHON was held, raising money for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS. Celebrities including Bono appeared on a special episode of Jimmy Kimmel Live! to offer once-in-a-lifetime experiences via charity auction site Omaze – in Bono's case, the chance to join him for a bike ride through New York's Central Park, where he'd been seriously injured in a cycling accident the year before. A video was uploaded to promote the competition, and MacPhisto fans may get a kick out of Bono's affected accent and gestures in the last few seconds of it!
As it turned out, the (RED) SHOPATHON would provide us with something even more thrilling in its second year. The 2016 Jimmy Kimmel Live! special was pre-recorded three days before broadcast, and when a behind-the-scenes image was shared on Twitter, some fans spotted Bono in what appeared to be a MacPhisto-like costume. Could it possibly be...?! The Internet then exploded on 22nd November when a teaser trailer was posted on the show's Facebook page, clearly showing Bono in devil horns, whiteface, lipstick and a shiny jacket, performing a song with members of The Killers. There was no doubt about it: 23 years after his Tokyo farewell, MacPhisto was actually back in the flesh!
Preview articles began to appear online, complete with better quality photographs of this reincarnated MacPhisto. He had swapped his gold suit for a glitzy red one befitting the occasion, made some curious changes to his make-up (acquiring large, sparkly black eyebrows and sideburn-like markings), and now had fluffy brown hair as currently favoured by his alter-ego. Bono revealed that he would be joining The Killers for a Christmas song "to end all Christmas songs", written by Jimmy Kimmel and Brandon Flowers, and featuring the line "If you don't help people with AIDS, you're going to Hell".
For most of the episode Bono appeared as himself, duetting with Halsey and advertising this year's prizes. The comedy song entitled 'We're Going To Hell' was to be the show's grand finale, with all the celebrity guests performing together as 'The (RED) Pack'. Bono was notably absent from the group for the first 4¼ minutes, while Jimmy Kimmel, Kristen Bell, Halsey, Neil Patrick Harris, DJ Khaled, Brandon Flowers, Julia Roberts and Channing Tatum sang about their extravagant lifestyles, acknowledging that they were bound for Hades if they failed to put their money towards the fight against AIDS.
And then, the moment we'd all been waiting for... the studio lights turned red, the cheery sing-song was interrupted by the sounds of breaking glass and loud rock music, and fireballs erupted on the screen behind the piano. Through a cloud of smoke, a very familiar and welcome visage could be seen, surveying his kingdom and sipping champagne from a bottle... whilst lounging in a bathtub! To the delight of his countless worshippers, the decadent devil had lost none of his distinctive voice and mannerisms as he sang to the celebrities:
Sliding elegantly out of the bath as it opened at one end, he strolled across the studio in his usual confident style, only to be stopped by the host:
Jimmy: "Hold on, wha... what? Did you say 'Helf'?"
MacPhisto: [haughtily defensive] "Yes?"
Jimmy: "That's not... that's not a word. There's no 'Helf'!"
MacPhisto: "It's Gaelic."
Jimmy: "Oh. Oh, sorry." [MacPhisto gives a triumphant smirk.]
The music then resumed, allowing him to deliver the conclusion of his message:
Finally, the satanic showman slunk over to the piano and made himself far too comfortable on Jimmy's lap, kicking out one leg as he joined in soulfully with the song's closing lines, before finishing (as ever) with a bow. One photo indicates that he sprayed the champagne once they had gone to an ad break – what better way to celebrate his glorious return!
MacPhisto's comeback made headlines on such websites as Rolling Stone (who praised the "epic show tune") and Diffuser (who reasoned that "it must have seemed like as good a time as any to bring the old guy out of mothballs"). He was also mentioned in articles published by Metro, Pitchfork and Radio.com, among many others. Meanwhile, Twitter and other social media sites were flooded with U2 fans' comments about this surprise reappearance – most of them overwhelmingly positive and eager to see more of him. At the end of a dark and troubling year, it was just what we needed to cheer us all up! Perhaps some fans will choose to cosplay as (RED) MacPhisto at future shows?
(On the subject of dressing up, it is interesting to note that We're Going To Hell's principal songwriter, Brandon Flowers, went on to play a faded Las Vegas cabaret singer wearing a sparkly gold suit, red ruffled shirt and platform shoes in the video for The Killers' 2017 single 'The Man'. It seems very likely that this was a conscious tribute to Mr MacPhisto.)
Seeing the dear fellow again was every bit as wonderful as it was unexpected, especially in a rare "solo" performance rather than fronting U2. The question now remained: would this incredible treat prove to be a one-off, or was it a sign of things to come in the near future?
Towards the end of 2016, there was a growing consensus that now would be the ideal time to bring MacPhisto back on tour. The past few years had seen horrifying levels of support for various far-right parties and white supremacist groups across Europe and America, echoing the rise of neo-Nazism in the early '90s which MacPhisto regularly alluded to. The fearmongering of xenophobic politicians had undoubtedly influenced the outcomes of the UK's EU membership referendum and the US presidential election, both of which were swiftly followed by a surge in hate crimes. With the European Union under threat of breaking up, many U2 fans were reminded of the ZooTV Tour, when shows opened with an animation of the flag's stars falling off; MacPhisto had acknowledged the union's somewhat difficult birth in his speech on the Sydney DVD. So many of his pet themes were now in the news again, his messages more relevant than ever... could it be sheer coincidence that he'd chosen this particular moment in time to reappear?
Until recently, it had seemed improbable that MacPhisto would ever be seen again. The latest three U2 tours had all incorporated elements of ZooTV, yet the devil was conspicuous by his absence, with nothing more than occasional teases for the eagle-eyed fan to pick up on. It was widely believed that Bono's humanitarian work had rendered a MacPhisto revival impossible – that he was no longer willing to openly criticise and taunt politicians whom he might have to work with. This was proven to be untrue in the autumn of 2016, when the band used festival performances of Desire and Bullet The Blue Sky to launch a scathing attack on presidential candidate Donald Trump, mocking him for boasts about his wealth and ranting about his anti-immigration stance (despite the risk of alienating both a future policymaker and a section of their own audience). The move appeared to signal a newfound boldness, harking back to the sarcasm of MacPhisto's speeches and phone calls. And if that came as a pleasant surprise to many, there was a bigger one in store with the sudden dramatic return of MacPhisto himself – on US national television, only two weeks after Trump's shock election. (Perhaps his brimstone warning to "those who are greedy; those who forget those who are needy" also served as a veiled swipe at the incoming government?) It was a game-changing turn of events. With U2's next album due imminently and the IE Tour expected to resume in 2017, it now seemed entirely possible that MacPhisto could reprise his former role, sharing his thoughts on current affairs. Indeed, it would be one hell of a wasted opportunity if he didn't.
Then came a last-minute change of plan. The new year brought a very different tour announcement from the one fans had anticipated: a multi-leg stadium tour celebrating the 30th anniversary of The Joshua Tree, with the classic album to be played in full every night. While exciting in many ways, this seemed a far less likely setting for MacPhisto to make an appearance. Sure enough he did not, and there were unsurprisingly few reminders of him (other than a degree of similarity in some of Bono's actions during encore song Ultra Violet). There was, however, one noteworthy development – for the first time since ZooTV, Bono introduced a brand new stage persona.
The decision to play the whole album in sequence meant the band were forced to revisit 'Exit', which they had almost completely abandoned after the original Joshua Tree Tour. The song's lyrics delve into the mind of a serial killer, and Bono has said that he "got into some very dark places" while performing it live (even spraining his shoulder in a rage-fuelled accident on one occasion); it was then further tainted for the band when murderer Robert Bardo cited Exit as the inspiration for his crime. For this reason, Bono felt the need to distance himself from the song in his 2017 performances, and achieved this by creating a character called the Shadow Man. Disappearing backstage for a costume change while the audience watched a video, he would re-emerge wearing a preacher's hat and black three-piece suit (embroidered with a line from the US Declaration of Independence) as the ominous intro played. The Shadow Man was a creepy individual, with hints of all three ZooTV characters about him, but at the same time quite unlike any of them. There was a MacPhisto-esque quality in his overpronunciation of "the haaaands of love" whilst stroking and fluttering his fingers, and in his exaggerated walking motion around the mic stand. His hip gyrations and wild, flailing dance moves were highly reminiscent of The Fly. Most of all he shared the evangelistic style of the Mirrorball Man, urging the crowd to "Hold out your hands!" and philosophising in a southern US accent; he would recite part of a sermon from the 1952 novel Wise Blood by Flannery O'Connor, whose works were among the song's original influences. (Scott Calhoun explores this in far greater detail in his @U2 article 'The Shadow Man Cometh'.) As the music built to its climactic crescendo, he would whip up the crowd by repeatedly chanting the children's rhyme 'Eeny Meeny Miny Moe' (which has racist connotations), his sinister face filling the enormous screen as he yelled it directly into the camera. 'Exit' was by far the most theatrical part of the show, and one of the biggest talking points; a well-choreographed and energetic routine that was thrilling and unsettling in equal measure. Whatever you made of this particular alter-ego, it was great to see Bono engaging in this type of roleplay once again – hopefully rediscovering the taste for it!
Once the Joshua Tree Tour 2017 had finished, Songs Of Experience was released at the end of the year and the band began to promote the new album on television. This led to some further outings for the MacPhisto megaphone, which Bono used in their Saturday Night Live appearance on 2nd December 2017 (several times during American Soul and for the closing lines of Get Out Of Your Own Way) and again when they played the latter song for the Grammy Awards in January 2018. The megaphone can also be seen in the 'New York' video for American Soul, which was filmed at the same time as the Grammy performance.
The delayed next phase of the IE Tour, now rebranded as the Experience + Innocence Tour and featuring material from the latest album, was eventually scheduled to start on 2nd May 2018. By this time, it seemed unlikely that MacPhisto would be referenced in any way; it had now been a year and a half since his high-profile appearance on Jimmy Kimmel Live! (he was not included in the 2017 version of We're Going To Hell), the album's focus had shifted after Bono was shaken by a major health scare, and there was nothing to suggest that they had ever considered incorporating MacPhisto into the tour. Perfect as that would have been, it felt like the moment had passed.
Or had it...?
Rehearsals for the EI Tour began in April 2018, with two weeks at Place Bell in Laval, Canada before the band relocated to Tulsa, Oklahoma where opening night would take place. After the first day of rehearsals in Tulsa, fansite U2start.com reported on the setlist overheard by fans at the venue – with the startling inclusion of a "MacPhisto voice intro" to the intermission track, Hold Me Thrill Me Kiss Me Kill Me. Another fansite, U2songs.com, subsequently revealed that Bono was heard practising "MacPhisto's banter" throughout the earlier rehearsals in Laval, where he had introduced the song after the intermission with the words: "My name is Mr MacPhisto, I'm here to sing for your soul. The goal... is Elevation."
The prospect of a brand new pre-recorded MacPhisto voice clip, identifying himself by name for the avoidance of any doubt, was exciting enough in itself. But it seemed he might have an even larger role, as U2start's account of the final dress rehearsal two days later included a "Speech by Mr MacPhisto" in between Desire and Acrobat. Surely not... was he actually going to appear in person and give a proper speech like the good old days?! The anticipation reached fever pitch when Gavin Friday (famously a major influence on MacPhisto) posted an old photograph of the devil on his Instagram account just hours before the first show – a clear indication that something very special was indeed on the way. Spookily, heavy rain and thunderstorms were forecast for Tulsa that evening, just like the conditions in Rotterdam when MacPhisto made his concert debut 25 years earlier! The show opened with playback of new song Love Is All We Have Left, and knowing what may be about to happen, the lyrics "Nothing to stop this being the best day ever" and "This is no time not to be alive" suddenly took on a whole new meaning...
Following the "Innocence Suite" carried over from the IE Tour, a new video was shown during the intermission, set to a cover of Hold Me Thrill Me Kiss Me Kill Me by Gavin Friday and Régine Chassagne. The MacPhisto voice clip heard in rehearsals was ultimately not used here, but he does appear as a character in the video! Entitled 'Innocence And Experience: The Heroes' Journey', it's a fantastical retelling of the band's history in comic-strip format, possibly acting as a kind of prequel (and sequel) to the song's 1995 promo video. The story begins with the young U2 swept out to sea by crashing waves and clinging helplessly to a piece of driftwood. They are rescued by a futuristic-looking helicopter with a tractor beam, and welcomed aboard by a "mysterious stranger" – a shadowy figure with glowing eyes, whose top hat and make-up can be seen when illuminated by lightning flashes.
Greeting them with "Pleased to meet you. Hope you guessed my name," the stranger holds out a business card that reads 'Wormwood & MacPhisto Inc. Bespoke Atonement Services' (once again referencing The Screwtape Letters, in which Wormwood is the tempter-in-training). Larry is the only band member to suspect their saviour of being a devil. The stranger's identity is left open to interpretation and their gender is unclear, but there are several hints that it's probably MacPhisto – the top hat that will be seen again later in the show, the Sympathy For The Devil lyric that MacPhisto is fond of quoting, his name on the business card, the familiar made-up face that's occasionally glimpsed (bearing a definite resemblance to his former cartoon self), and the fact he was heard introducing himself at the end of this video in rehearsals.
The stranger then bestows superpowers upon the four heroes: Bono is given "style" (represented by a pair of golden sunglasses), Larry is given "strength" or "stamina" (in the form of an Eternal Youth potion), Adam is given "ambition" (sprouting a pair of golden wings), and Edge receives "god-like talent" (acquiring a golden cowboy hat and guitar). They are also offered advice such as "Treat your gifts with respect", "Shun your shadow selves" and "Strive to acquire wisdom", but they are too impatient for adventure and fly away without listening to the rest. As they embark upon the literary "hero's journey" (described in this article by Scott Calhoun), we see their colourful and sometimes crazy career depicted as a sky full of symbols – assorted logos and stage props from the '90s and '00s, including ZooTV Tour graphics and the 'BatPhisto' signal, plus a barrage of booze, pills and confectionery. Their ascent continues until "disaster strikes": like Icarus, they fly too high and the sun melts their wings, resulting in their downfall. Luckily, they happen to land in the back seat of a car – a U2 Trabant, driven by the same mysterious stranger! Humbled by their error, the band are now open to spiritual guidance (although Bono is more interested in the stranger's "bad-ass" top hat, and is allowed to borrow it). They are told that "Wisdom is the recovery of innocence at the far end of experience". With that, the stranger transforms the Trabant into a glamorous stretch car and drops them off at their next concert venue. "To be continued..."
The 'Experience' segment of the show picked up where the video left off, with Bono now wearing the top hat on stage, paired with a sparkling black dinner jacket (giving him the "ringmaster's demeanour" that Bill Flanagan once described MacPhisto as having). Significantly, this 'Showman' persona also shared MacPhisto's white face and painted eyebrows, though he hadn't shaved and wasn't wearing lipstick. He performed a series of fun songs on the smaller e-stage, including Desire (MacPhisto's entrance song on the Zooropa tour), which was accompanied by gameshow-style graphics. Upon its conclusion, Bono reeled off a few of the sins that are essential for a showman "in all his forms", and demonstrated his vanity by gazing into the "mirror" that now stood nearby. It turned out to be a magic mirror, with the power to reveal a person's true nature (also known as a tablet computer with an augmented reality filter). "Oh, I haven't seen this guy in quite a while," the singer commented as his "reflection" was displayed on screen, to whistles and screams from the crowd. Despite appearances, this Showman was no ordinary entertainer... but the Devil himself! (As he once said: "I come disguised as many things, and I'm particularly fond of show business.") When he spoke again, there was a note of surprise and approval in his voice, and an instantly recognisable accent. The rumours were correct – MacPhisto was back, for his first gig in a quarter of a century and his first one ever in North America!
It wasn't exactly the MacPhisto we were used to, though. He now took the form of a computer-generated avatar – a grotesque animated face, superimposed over the live footage of Bono on the screen. Amusingly he wore the same top hat, but with his devil horns sticking through the sides! The upper region of his face was the most familiar, with the unmistakable shaped eyebrows and dark eyeshadow of "classic" MacPhisto; the eyes themselves were so pale that only the whites were visible from a distance, giving him a delightfully creepy appearance. The rest of his face was even more nightmarish. In a nod to MacPhisto's historical connections with the Batman franchise, he paid tribute to the late Heath Ledger by adopting his Joker's Glasgow smile, excessive messy lipstick and cracked facepaint (finally answering the question as to whether or not smudged make-up would spoil his chance with the young ladies). And for those who thought U2 had lost their bite since the ZooTV era, he now had a striking crocodile grin, with long pointed teeth that brought to mind Pennywise the clown and put his previous cartoon fangs to shame. It was enough to send coulrophobes running for the hills! The devil was clearly enamoured of his new look, purring "Oh... age brings beauty!" as he admired himself in the mirror; his only concern was a "slight blemish" (a nasty-looking lesion) on one cheek, which might require the attention of a dermatologist. Fans who had envisaged a more conventional comeback for MacPhisto, the handsome and glamorous pop star, were somewhat thrown by this monstrous digital makeover – let it never be said that he didn't like to challenge his audience! – but the "mirror" routine was an ingenious way to bring him into the show, with pleasing echoes of the 1993 Fly & MacPhisto photographs by Kevin Davies.
Much had changed in the world since his ZooTV farewell, and it was time for a long overdue catch-up. MacPhisto revealed that he'd been "a busy little devil", but was finding it much easier to keep an eye on us now that we share everything via our smartphones. (How prophetic his Sydney speech was, gifting us video cameras so we could all tape ourselves... he did say he'd be watching us!) He chuckled fiendishly at the growing use of fake news to manipulate the public ("The truth is dead!"), and – as expected – couldn't fail to pass comment on the latest wave of right-wing extremism, particularly last summer's deadly riots. (As Bono wrote in the Songs Of Experience liner notes: "The rise of the alt-right is not a surprise – it's happening all over the world – but to see it in the USA, to see the Ku Klux Klan marching the streets of Charlottesville, without the silly costumes and pointy hats, that was a new level of absurdity and danger.") His first speech in 25 years concluded in spine-tingling fashion: "When you don't believe that I exist, that's when I do my best work." Just as MacPhisto had concealed his real identity, very evil things can appear normal and harmless if we don't watch out for them.
There was one final thrill in store. MacPhisto's return was not the only long-awaited dream come true; he was also here to bring us the live debut of 'Acrobat', the only track from Achtung Baby that had strangely never been played in concert before. For many fans it was the holy grail, wanted for decades and requested at every opportunity. At last, their wish had been granted – and what a way to introduce it! As the pounding drumbeat began, the images on the screen switched from colour to dramatic monochrome, with MacPhisto's face now more terrifying than ever. "Don't believe what you hear. Don't believe what you see," he warned, quoting the song's first lines. "If you just close your eyes... you can feel the enemy!" And with a villainous laugh, he turned away from the mirror and faded to black. The chills were exquisite.
So there it was... after all those years off stage, MacPhisto was well and truly back on it, celebrating his silver jubilee with a revival tour! The predictions made four years earlier weren't that far off the mark after all; perhaps his picture on the megaphone was deliberate foreshadowing? (It's remarkable that MacPhisto should manifest within a show inspired by Bono's "arresting" near-death experience. Considering his origin story in the Hold Me Thrill Me Kiss Me Kill Me video, where his emergence is a direct result of Bono almost dying, it seems like an eerie case of life imitating art.) To hear him give a new speech was something many had dreamed of but few believed would ever happen – and for anyone who wasn't a fan in '93, it was the first chance to enjoy his comments on topical matters. The EI Tour's setlist variation might be limited by the narrative, but there were many exciting possibilities for a different MacPhisto speech every night, just like on ZooTV!
All of the major U2 fansites and several well-known publications mentioned the MacPhisto segment in their concert reports, including Hot Press (who would later print a full-length feature analysing the tour), Rolling Stone and the New York Times. Ultimate Classic Rock made it the main focus of their review (alongside the absence of any Joshua Tree songs), noting that "MacPhisto's comeback isn't just a nostalgic callback, it's a statement". The Irish Independent described how "Bono brilliantly revisited the horned character of MacPhisto with a chilling speech on the nature of evil"; the Irish Mirror also called it a highlight of the show, and for Buzz.ie it was a "magical moment". @U2 founder Matt McGee welcomed his return because "MacPhisto always gave Bono a way to get his message across in a wayyyyy more interesting manner", though he cautioned that "You might have nightmares if you stare too long" at his new face! Subsequent gig reviews in the Los Angeles Times, USA Today, Asbury Park Press, Baltimore Sun, Worcester Telegram & Gazette, Billboard, Stereogum and Salon would all cover MacPhisto's renaissance and give details of his speeches.
This "Experienced" MacPhisto went from strength to strength as the tour progressed. Having been somewhat uncooperative on opening night, the AR filter mostly behaved itself thereafter, settling down to an intermittent flicker between the digital face of the Devil and the human face of the Showman. (While this slight glitchiness was unintentional, it only enhances the effect, demonstrating how seamlessly interchangeable they are; which face is "real" and which is the mask? The magic mirror seems temperamental, able to offer only brief glimpses of the truth – it wouldn't feel out of place amid the random interference of ZooTV.) With the technical issues ironed out, MacPhisto's performance at the second show was much more confident and extremely menacing. By the third show, his old voice was getting stronger and he had begun to vary the content of his speech, adding in both a local in-joke (traffic jams on the highway) and his own unique take on a news item from that day (the "coronation" of Vladimir Putin). He would go on to reference such stories as the Stormy Daniels scandal, the United States' withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal, the trade war sparked by Donald Trump's tariffs, the ongoing row about national anthem protests by US sportspeople, and the separation of migrant children from their families at the Mexican border, as well as the ever-heated gun control debate and the threat of a second Cold War. The devil proudly described Putin as his "old protégé", adept at poisoning his enemies with "polonium up the bum", while Trump and Kim Jong-un were hilariously portrayed as children allowed to play with nuclear weapons. Mass surveillance via the "Interweb" was a recurring theme; one particularly nice touch was MacPhisto still referring to modern mobiles as "telephones", and computers in general as "your zeroes and ones"! There were reminders of the original tour when he claimed responsibility for various acts of mischief, declared himself to be "everywhere", said he was having a "comeback" in more ways than one, and clung to fond memories of the Empire. He took pleasure in the widening divide between liberals and conservatives, encouraging both sides to demonise each other and make their insults personal. The Rolling Stones classic Sympathy For The Devil was parodied at many of the shows, giving him a concise way of both introducing himself to newer fans and commenting on recent events. With so many dark clouds gathering around us, MacPhisto's return was the brightest of silver linings, perfectly recapturing that wicked sense of humour we had missed so much. Full details and transcripts of all his 2018 speeches can be found here! (One speech from the Laval rehearsals has also been uploaded; I would love to hear any other MacPhisto clips that fans managed to record during these sessions.)
There were tweaks along the way. MacPhisto's avatar received an upgrade in Los Angeles, adding realistic detail to the two most artificial-looking features; his top hat now appeared more battered and "lived-in", and he acquired a gorgeously gruesome new grin, with crooked teeth and severe inflammation of the gums. His animated face is wonderfully expressive and responsive, mirroring every little eye movement, raised eyebrow or grimace, and these improvements made him a real joy to behold (or a horror, depending on your disposition). There were different experiments with his on-stage look, too – a black ruffled shirt was added to his outfit at the second Chicago show, like a darker version of his original incarnation, though sadly it made no further appearances. From Nashville onward he no longer wore the white facepaint, but instead applied dark eyeshadow to match the MacPhisto avatar, which looked especially fabulous whenever the screen image flicked rapidly between the two. The visual effects at the start of Acrobat were also adjusted mid-tour, highlighting his red horns and the colour around his eyes and lips when everything else turned to black & white. (Having wrested back control from his alter-ego, Bono would remove all the make-up before the next song You're The Best Thing About Me, returning to his normal self for the remainder of the show.)
The new MacPhisto struck an excellent balance between familiar and fresh, frightening and fun. He was undoubtedly the same individual we had met in '93, but with a few noticeable changes. The aged devil was even older now, showing a bit of wear and tear, and further from Heaven than ever before – yet he seemed to have found a new lease of life. No longer the weary, melancholy figure we sometimes saw in the past, he was revelling in the state of our society, telling the audience how well things were going: "It's a wonderful time to be me!" The EI Tour placed far greater emphasis on the satanic side of his character, as opposed to the "tired old pop star in platform shoes" – and with the world sending itself to hell in a handbasket, he could hardly believe his luck. While his style of commentary was the same as ever (praising the things that should worry us the most), his 2018 performances were much more over-the-top. His speeches were increasingly filled with diabolical laughter, ranging from a raucous cackle to a childish snigger. His language was more vulgar at times, his tone of voice more openly mocking; he even sounded appropriately serpent-like on occasion. And as many fans observed, he was a lot scarier than the genial gentleman seen on ZooTV. The combination of his fearsome face, his unhinged behaviour and his ominous warnings (with atmospheric background music courtesy of the band) left some people feeling more shaken than entertained. Some said they preferred the old MacPhisto: more nuanced, more refined, and certainly easier on the eye!
So why present such a disturbing caricature, when the original was so well loved? Probably because the old approach would be less effective, if not downright dangerous, these days. Even with his horns, the MacPhisto of 1993 would arguably be too subtle in the current political climate – the irony harder to perceive when so many genuine bigots are depicted as charming, charismatic and relatably down-to-earth, to the point of winning public votes. Would it still be funny, now that the parody is indistinguishable from reality? (His once-outrageous statements seem tame compared to any number of Trump quotes.) The risk of misinterpretation, of further emboldening folk with the wrong sort of views, was perhaps too great. To make the same points in 2018, he had to be even more ridiculously exaggerated. There could be no room for ambiguity; if MacPhisto was to cheer the resurgence of the KKK or voice his support for despicable policies, it must be absolutely clear to the audience that he was not someone they ought to be agreeing with! The evils of this world would be shown for what they are: ugly and alarming. And if that scared people... it was supposed to.
As well as stealing the show in each city, MacPhisto was very much in the spotlight online, with a surge of interest from the fan community and frequent coverage on U2's own website and social media accounts. Cathleen Falsani reviewed the Tulsa and St Louis shows for U2.com, noting that the audience "clearly delighted" in the resurrection of MacPhisto ("the devilish ghost of tours past"). On 9th May 2018, it was heartwarming to see the anniversary of his public debut acknowledged on the band's official Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts, with a new photograph and the text "Hard to believe, but MacPhisto arrived into this world in Rotterdam, 25 years ago today"; the 'helluvaguy' hashtag was an amusing added touch! (Sherry Lawrence also celebrated the occasion with a "MacPhisto At 25" article for the @U2 fansite.) The same photo was used to illustrate U2.com's review of Las Vegas 2 later that week, which was headlined "The name is MacPhisto..." and initially included the placeholder text "In Las Vegas on the second night and he's back", along with an excerpt from his speech. A MacPhisto cosplayer, Marco Pitino, attended the show and had his photograph featured on the band's Instagram account, as well as briefly appearing (at 3:29) in a video posted on their website. U2.com's Nashville show page temporarily consisted of the "Don't believe..." opening lyrics followed by "Acrobat in Nashville tonight and MacPhisto in the house", plus an image of his avatar that was also shared on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr with the hashtag #MacPhisto. Similarly, a photograph of him delivering his speech via the magic mirror appeared in their Philadelphia 1 review and on social media (1, 2, 3, 4), captioned "'Pleased to meet you....' Mr MacPhisto in the house." There was even a sort of teaser trailer posted several hours before the first Boston show (1, 2, 3, 4) – a sinister 17-second video clip of the Showman making a beckoning motion, accompanied by the text "'Might we have lost a little bit of innocence along the way?' Boston, Mr MacPhisto has a question for you. (See you later...)" During the first New York show, an image and quote were posted immediately after his speech (1, 2, 3, 4): "The name is MacPhisto... I'm having somewhat of a comeback." This was followed up the next day with a 44-second proshot video clip of his speech (1, 2, 3, 4); both the photograph and the video would appear in U2.com's article about the show, beneath the headline "Mr MacPhisto in New York City". Several other gig reports on the website also included quotes from his speeches and/or mentions of him in fans' tweets and reviews.
Once the North American leg of the tour had finished, the augmented reality filter was made available in the Facebook app, allowing fans to entertain themselves with their own "MacPhisto selfies" and videos (so he can now be quite literally "all over you" in your telephones). A behind-the-scenes video for U2.com subscribers was also posted on the website, with the tour's digital specialist Dalton Tyler explaining how the magic mirror works, intercut with clips of MacPhisto's speech at the second Los Angeles show. The following month, U2.com published an interview with the designer of the 'MacPhisto Effect', Marc Wakefield, describing how the filter was developed with feedback from the band and their creative team (and showing what some of the earlier versions looked like).
The Experience + Innocence Tour resumes in Berlin on 31st August 2018. Whether MacPhisto will appear on the European leg is as yet unconfirmed, but many fans are hoping to see him revisit some of his Zooropa tour stops, and there are plenty of potential news topics for him to touch upon. Not to mention those fans who were too young in 1993 and would dearly love the chance to see him in person...
In any case, as Carter Alan pointed out in a CompuServe webchat on 21st September 1995: "MacPhisto will always be with us, after all he IS the devil!"
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