I think their latest releases of Ordinary Love and Invisible was used to see the reaction of today's audience...especially the Super Bowl commercial. To see if there's relevance in today's world of music. Performing on Fallon's 1st Tonight Show also shows, they're trying to adapt to various types of media coverage for this day and age. They even changed the image again to a more "hipster" look...Adam with the Beiber hair style...lol
The way I see the music scene today:
I work with a lot of national acts (from the current to the crooners) for live audio production, and yes, it has changed a lot. Today's bands (playing in 1,500 to 5,000 capacity venues) are doing more festivals (even U2 has thought of doing this more...Metallica has been doing several) to support their headlining tours, or to promote their upcoming release. Some up and coming bands last only after 1 album release, few go on to last after 2 or 3 album releases.
Most of the ones that are self-sufficient in carrying live production (P.A., lighting systems, etc.) usually do well. However, the newer artists/bands, reaching this goal, don't stay that big like before. Let's see how long Imagine Dragons can continue to do arena tours (btw, great working with those guys!). Plus, only a handful of bands can do a stadium tour these days. The perennial ones (likes of Motley Crue, Journey, Rolling Stones, Aerosmith) have several hits, and make it seem like a Greatest Hits or reunion tour...they need to support their families and other entities that they're running, when it comes down to it. Then you have the ones that have been around for a while now, but still try to put out new material (like U2, Rush and Red Hot Chili Peppers) who have the fan base, but also have a large group that will stick to them or jump, based on their latest releases. With this said, bands like U2, don't want to be another Greatest Hits band/reunion tour band...they got to break up first before they get back! They also don't want to be an incomplete band...after all, name another band that has been around for over 30yrs and has reached that much success with it's original members still in it.
Local promoters are only willing to front the money for artists/bands that are hitting the charts these days. But that's not enough. Yes, I know U2 has a contract with Live Nation..but do you know what it's like to perform to a half empty arena? Example, Kanye West playing at an 20,000 seat arena, only to have 7,000 show up. It's been happening a lot (not that it will happen to U2). For example, I'll be doing audio for a well-known artist, that's receiving a lot of air play on all forms of media, yet can't draw a crowd...even for a venue that only holds 2,000. Sometimes, we have to chase down the promoter to get paid. On the other hand, I'll get a band that I've never heard of before, and it's sold out. What's the demographics? Pre-teen to college age crowds that have parents letting them go out on a school night, to see their favorite band play for $40 and up a ticket (while the parent or chaperon hang out by the bar or FOH). Yep, I remember doing Lady Gaga's show in a 2,000 capacity venue before, when was a nobody.
Apart from these public events, several artists/bands will do private functions that are so low-key. No one would've known they did a show, unless they were invited to the event. These types of events cost high-dollars to the amount of the band "willing to get out of their beds for it". It is so common.
Then you have those that were once big and now play in state fairs, casinos and theme parks...and appear on those PBS and infomercials, selling the "old-timer's" song collection of a certain era. Most of the ones I've worked with, in this category, appreciate what they've accomplished. They don't know anything better, than to perform for the rest of their lives...or need to continue working to pay the bills and/or support their vices. They bring their families (the coolest experience is just seeing them be around their families...just like typical families!) with them and are more open accessible to their fan base. I always joke around with my crew that someday, bands like Aerosmith and Journey will be performing in theme parks (Spinal Tap moment), to the likes of Chubby Checker and Herman's Hermits. I also notice that there are more reunion tours now than before.
That's pretty much the cycle...unless they sign a pact never to play together again, publicly, under the same band name (like what Motley Crue did).
With all that said, U2 is trying to adapt to today's music business, which really isn't much about the music, but the lifestyle and culture that results from it. In reality, bands aren't in it just for just the music (sorry, that's reality), they're in it, coz that's the only way they know how to make money (Bono has invested money in several failed businesses...he'd be dead broke if it weren't for his band). Like Bill Gates and Richard Branson, they'll continue working in their field of expertise, because it's in their nature, and they need to be challenged. For U2 to stay relevant, I think Bono means recapturing those moments, like creating the Joshua Tree album, or Achtung Baby, when they figured it out. When they did AYCLB, they were inspired of regaining the title of "Greatest rock band in the world". In return, their audience is recognizing it. What's today's inspiration for U2?...Africa has been done, now what? And the audience they're trying to be relevant with? Hiring Dangermouse, and now meeting up with Ryan Tedder (One Republic), they're trying to find that relevance and connection for these so-called "hipsters". Yes, you're thinking what about us longtime U2 fans, but again, that's greatest hits era. Like so many, I do look forward to their new material every time, but how bout these new fans they're trying to get? We can always say, forget about them and just have U2 make music for us. But it's not a challenge to U2, it's not their nature to just settle of being comfortable. It will be over then. Having Paul step aside and U2 carry on, also shows they're trying to adapt to today. Paul just kept on talking about illegal file sharing, well get over it, it's here and accept it. I don't think it's the end of U2, for now, anyways. I think it's them realizing that it's trickier now than before. They just want to do it right (remember the rush job on Pop?), unlike NLOTH...who thought that Magnificent should've been their 1st single instead of Vertigo...I mean Get On Your Boots? Me! Btw, NLOTH was thought to have been an experimental album for them, having to incorporate middle-eastern influences to their songs...less known songs, that is, that were mostly left off the U2360 playlist. They will always sell out shows (which is the money maker for bands anyways), but do they want to just play just their hit songs, or incorporate new great quality songs?