Less than a month after U2 and Apple plopped the band's latest album, "Songs of Innocence," onto 500 million iTunes user playlists, Bono pleaded guilty to upsetting some customers with the unrequested, shuffle-altering freebie.
"Oops," he said in a video posted Oct. 14 on U2's Facebook page, adding he and his colleagues "got carried away with ourselves."
The Irish rockers aren't done with the presents – though unlike September’s iTunes offering, the latest one comes with an option to tune in or tune out. U2 is headed Monday to Jimmy Fallon's "Tonight Show," home of "Thank You Notes," to give the gift of a week's residency.
The five-night gig at 30 Rock also allows U2 to thank fans – and perhaps win some new ones with a potent reminder of the group's power as live performers.
The back-to-roots approach (in the presence of The Roots) adds another ball to U2’s complicated act of juggling playing old favorites and pushing fresh material while balancing new forays into technology, commercialism and charity.
Bono’s semi-apology aside, time will tell whether the iTunes stunt was a miscalculation or a brilliant stroke. Sure, the backlash wrought negative publicity. But "Songs of Innocence," one of the band's stronger efforts of recent years, instantly became the most distributed album of all time. Even if more people were angry than pleased, the gimmick might ultimately be remembered as a triumph.
Bumps and boldness are typical for a band that forges into new arenas even when they have nothing more to prove after nearly four decades of success. Bono, in particular, is not afraid to put himself out there with, as previously noted, his sometimes awkward melding of entertainment, mass consumerism and international philanthropy.
But he’s most exposed – and at his best – on stage in a small theater like Fallon’s Studio 6-B, with less than 250 in the audience (and millions watching from home).
Expect Fallon to call on the band for comedy bits. Bono, even with his occasional dips into sanctimony, is blessed with a good sense of humor – one he needs, given his parodying over the years by the likes of “South Park” and others.
U2 enters friendly territory with Fallon, a fan who invited them to play atop 30 Rock for his “Tonight Show” debut in February. This time, the quartet presumably will stick to the studio as they attempt to scale new heights without giving anyone, well, vertigo.
Perhaps after the residency some of the irate iTunes customers will put “Songs of Innocence” back on the playlist. Either way, U2 already has earned a thank-you note by letting us decide whether to live with or without them. The choice is a nice gift in itself.
Jere Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multimedia NYCity News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is also the author of "Raising a Beatle Baby: How John, Paul, George and Ringo Helped us Come Together as a Family." Follow him on Twitter.