Our U2 Weekend
Let me in the Sound
My ears have stopped ringing, but I’ll never forget this amazing past weekend. We all knew U2 was coming to Winnipeg since last October, but none of us knew then how exactly it would all play out. I remember the morning the concert was announced, and a co-worker called me at home to tell me the news. She’s a nice lady in her 50’s, very prim and proper, but she knew my love of the band. When she told me, I blurted without thinking, “Holy Fucking Shit!” and then spent the rest of the morning apologizing to her for my language.
Grace finds Beauty in Everything
The excitement began for me a whole week before the concert when I drove by the stadium and saw the 100+ trucks in the parking lot, loaded down with bits and pieces of the U2360 stage. It all became real for me at that moment, and the rest of week dragged out. I was fighting off a cold and actually stayed home from work on Wednesday to sleep and try to get over it in time for the concert. I listened to a live feed of the Salt Lake City show that night, even though I told myself I’d stay away from setlists and spoilers, but as the lyric goes “You tell yourself that you’ll stay in, but its down to Alphaville”. I heard the thrilling revamped version of “Even Better than the Real Thing” and even though that song is probably my least favourite off of Achtung Baby!, it took on a whole new meaning and urgency on this leg of the tour. “Give me one more chance, and you’ll be satisfied”. It was as if Bono was trying to win back audience support that stuck with him and the band as every North American date was postponed last summer due to Bono’s unexpected back surgery and recovery. I loved this version and thought it was the PERFECT opener.
The next day, word spread that as “The Claw” was being assembled at the stadium, a bunch of U2 stenciled equipment was being loaded into the downtown Burton Cummings (formerly the Walker) theatre. Speculation abounded. Were they going to shoot a video? Rehearse for the tour? No one really knew.
Still no sign of the band.
Then on Friday I read this and was so happy for Sonya a.k.a. @honey_child. She’s as big a fan as anyone, even travelling to Australia this past winter to see U2 twice in Sydney. I know what it feels like to meet your hero. For me, meeting Bono outside the Saddledome in Calgary a decade ago remains a cherished moment in my life.
In addition to the happiness I felt for Sonya was this simple fact: The band was in town. My town.
A Sort of Homecoming
Shortly after this, Twitter lit up with the news that the band was at the downtown theatre. This was all I needed to hear. My wife and daughter were tired and were off to bed early. I was in the car and driving downtown on a cold and misty night. Irish weather.
When I got to the theatre, two things struck me. First, There were only about a dozen fans standing outside the rear entrance. Stasa and Joanna were there; they had tweeted about a half hour before that they were heading down. Secondly, I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. One of the alley doors was left slightly ajar, and this amazing sound wafted out into the cool night air. It was unmistakably The Edge playing the guitar solo to “The Fly”. I couldn’t believe I was standing outside this ancient theatre listening to my favourite band in the whole world play. We were pressed up against the brick wall, literally like “a fly on the wall” listening to “The Fly”. It’s the 20th anniversary of Achtung Baby!, and we learned that U2 were recording a documentary to mark the occasion. As the night wore on, we heard “The Fly” many more times, and other songs off of Achtung Baby!, including the blisteringly reworked “Even Better than the Real Thing” I had heard for the first time online two nights before from Salt Lake City. As long as the band was playing, I wasn’t going anywhere (except across the street to use the washroom in the Yellow Dog Pub). I bumped into an old friend, Chris, whom I hadn’t seen in about 10 years. We were at university together and instantly bonded over our love of U2 even then. We hugged and he asked “How’s Marla?” I thought it was sweet that he remembered my wife’s name after all that time. I told him we had a little 2-year-old daughter now, and he told me he spends ALL of his free time devoted to following U2. “What time are you planning on lining up?” he asked me. “About 2 pm”. He looked at me with real concern in his eyes. “Ohh. I think you’re gonna need to line up earlier than that. I’m starting the line up tomorrow.” Tomorrow? As in the day before the concert? There’s no way I had the stamina for that. I didn’t really care if I got up close. I would have enjoyed the show from the parking lot if I had to, but I didn’t say that to Chris. I just enjoyed seeing his spirit and determination in action. I also met this guy from Northern Ireland, Cathal McCarron,(@me_and_u2) who is following the band across their entire tour. He’s written a book called “Me and U2” and he writes a blog about his experiences. “I’m not even that big of a fan,” he deadpanned. “I didn’t even think to try to see them out of the UK. It never occurred to me until this tour that I could do that”. I also got to meet Stasa and Joanna’s cousins as well. Love and Community. The crowd slowly grew to about 50 by the time U2 as done for the night.
Obviously tired from their flight and their night’s work, the band did not interact with the crowd the same way as they did when they entered the theatre, but we did see them get into their vehicles and head off into the night. We got a good glimpse of Adam, as he was the only one without an SUV and the only one without tinted windows.
Part of the next day, Saturday, was spent at the stadium. Tour merchandise was being sold a day early. My wife got a cool khaki cap and I a maroon shirt called “Buddhist Punk”. I also got a chance to check out the GA line. Sure enough, there was Chris and Cathal on the sidewalk of St. Matthews across from the Toys R Us. Although security didn’t allow tents, they were turning a blind eye to the makeshift tarp and air mattresses. There were already 29 people in line. U2 GA lines can last for as much as a week in some cities, and in central and latin america it really becomes a part of the concert experience. The remarkable thing is that they are fan regulated. Once you get your name on the list and a number written on your hand, you must “maintain a presence” in the line in some way and be present for periodic “roll calls”. As our friend John quipped “There are probably a couple of sociology PhD theses that could be written about this phenomenon.” You can read more about U2 GA etiquette here.
After the stadium stop, (where we also bumped into Sheila, Carol, John, Mike, Lisa and my Mom!) we headed back down to the Burton Cummings theatre. Joanna and Stasa had texted to say that they actually got their picture with Larry as he went back into the theatre for more filming. I wanted my wife and daughter to experience some of the same awesomeness that I did the night before. There were more people outside this time, and security seemed better prepared to deal with us. We heard “Mysterious Ways” and Bono rehearsing a segue-way between “Will you still love me tomorrow?” and “Where the Streets have no Name” a few times. Marla said “I bet he’ll sing this tomorrow”. Audrey was more interested in collecting pebbles in the parking lot, but when she’s older I can tell her she heard U2 live! It was soon supper and bedtime for Audrey, so we headed home for the night. I knew I needed to get a good night’s sleep if I was going to enjoy Sunday to the fullest. No air mattresses in the Toys R Us parking lot for me!
That night, I found out that Joanna hit the jackpot. She went back to the Theatre Saturday night and was rewarded by seeing the entire band come out. She got pictures and even autographs from everyone!
A little background on the group that saw U2: John holds the distinction of being the only one of us to see a ZOO TV show live. This is his first time seeing the 360 tour. Marla has become a fan through osmosis by virtue of being married to me. “Before I met you, I just remember dancing to Sunday Bloody Sunday at Jr High school dances”. Carol is a recent convert to U2 fandom. The St. Paul of U2 fans, if you will. Her bright light on the road to Damascus was “How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb”. Sheila describes herself as a “casual fan” who “wanted to see what all the fuss was about”. And me? I probably could write an entirely separate blog about what U2 means to me. Let’s just say U2 is the first band I ever truly fell in love with when I was 13 years old, and I have never fallen out of love. I’m now 37. We walked over to the stadium around 2:30 in the afternoon. We could hear “Zooropa” being sound-checked, and it sounded other-worldly bouncing off the buildings surrounding the stadium. We joined the GA line and soon found out were in the 570’s. (I was #572). This was great news for us. If the rumours were true, the inner circle could accommodate 2000 people, but I never like counting my chickens, especially before they’re hatched. We heard portions of “Magnificent” and “Streets”, and a tantalizingly small snippet of “Bad” before the sound check ended. I came prepared with water bottles, trail-mix and M&Ms. I even lined my fleece with granola bars. We ate lunch at about 1:30, and lord only knows when we’d eat again. Our friend Jackie and her boyfriend were working for the “U2 Green Team” and were collecting recycling from the GA line and around the stadium grounds. For their efforts, they were given passes for the inner circle, not to mention a cool souvenir t-shirt. Another group of our friends had lined up since the morning and were in the mid 300’s. This group included Stasa, Joanna and their arsenal of “Clappers”, with whom I spent Friday evening and Saturday afternoon outside the theatre.
A quick side-note on “The Clapper”. I’m not entire sure how the saga of “The Clap” began. Perhaps someone in the comments field below can enlighten us. Suffice to say, a mission of Joanna and Stasa was to “give” certain people “The Clap”. It was tried at the Arcade Fire show in September, but Win Butler escaped Clap free. Would Bono be so lucky? Read on.
It had rained a bit the night before, so the ground wasn’t suitable for sitting, but the time passed fairly well. The weather was cool and overcast, and was probably the best case scenario for standing in the GA line. By the time we were let into the stadium, the line had grown to fill all the barricades and snaked the entire length of St. Matthews and all the way down St. James street as far as I could see. At the gates, I was relieved of my trail mix and M&Ms, but I was able to keep Carol’s bag and even more importantly they didn’t find my granola bars! We walked the length of the football field and entered a second set of turnstiles. It wasn’t until we were through that it dawned on me that we were in the inner circle. I high-fived Sheila to celebrate our good fortune. We kept winding our way under the walkways until we stopped in front of the drum kit. We were centre stage, about 6 people back! The perfect location! Stasa and Joanna were up at the rail and so was Chris. I looked over my shoulder and saw Cathal making camp on Edge’s side. Jackie and her boyfriend made their way over to us. Sonya was probably in the Red Zone by now. It was as if everyone I met and spent time with this weekend was gathering together. I knew even my Mom was probably making her way to her seats behind the stage with her “concert buddy” Marlene. The stage literally was set. Love and Community.
What time is it in the world? It’s SHOWTIME.
After The Fray finished up, there was about 45 minutes before 3 snow birds flew over and around the stadium. I was conserving my energy at this point. Any fatigue slipped away when the opening notes of “Space Oddity” began. I knew the band was in the wings waiting for the line “And may God’s love be with you” before they took their short walk to the stage. Space Oddity gave way to the recorded opening loop from “Even Better than the Real Thing” as each band member took their place. Larry made a face to the crowd indicating that it was much colder than he thought, The Edge was stoic, Adam looked like he was having fun, and Bono was…..Bono. Charming, sharp, fired up, passionate, and every inch the rock star. The band took us through the blistering opening I had only heard on Youtube and through the walls of the theatre up to this point. I won’t go through a song by song review, but I’ll mention a couple of highlights. At times you got a sense of the 52,000 people in the crowd, but for the most part it really felt like the band was played to the few hundred in the inner circle and Red Zones. I rarely looked up at the screen. Why would I? The real thing was never more than a few feet in front of me. For the enormity of the production, it still just came down to four guys, a drum-kit, a couple of microphone stands, and a keyboard. It was most intimate stadium show I had ever seen. “Get on your Boots” sounded better than I had ever heard it before, and I couldn’t stop jumping. “Elevation” really got all of us going, and did I hear him say something about “Cool People” before the song, or was it my imagination? My geek dream of hearing “Stay (Faraway so Close!)” sung with “Winnipeg” added to the series of cities at the end finally came true! It was a lovely moment. My energy began to lag towards the end of “Beautiful Day” and I missed the “Heart of Gold” snippet altogether. I managed to sing the chorus of “Pride” and was grateful for the slower “Miss Sarajevo” so that I could catch my breath. The nightmarish “Zooropa” with the full screen down in “prison cage” mode was a highlight for John and Joanna, but that song has never sat well with me, and seeing it in its full-blown version confirmed it. I was overwhelmed.
The weirdest and most unbelievable moment of the night came two songs later during Vertigo. The band was in full swing and well, maybe you just need to see it yourself here. That’s right. The Clapper! Joanna somehow got Bono’s attention and she threw the damn thing up on stage and Bono put it into full effect. It could be said that it sparkled as the boys played rock ‘n roll. (credit to Stasa for that one!) At the end of Vertigo, Bono sang “You ain’t seen NOTHING yet” and he was right!
A beautiful version of “Scarlet” celebrated the release of Ann San Suu Kyi and an incredible rendition of “Walk On” (my personal favourite song of the night) ended with a toast to the 50th anniversary of Amnesty International. A new video from Suu Kyi debuted next and then we were on the home stretch. “One” was followed by “Will you still love me tomorrow?” where Marla turned and gave me a “Told ya so” look as the opening chords of “Streets” were played by the Edge. Carol and I had discussed whether we’d see the swinging microphone shenanigans we’d witnessed in Toronto two years earlier, and we were rewarded with a highly energized “Hold Me,Thrill Me, Kiss Kill Me”, microphone, smoke machine and all. I thought I detected a hint of MacPhisto in Bono’s voice during this song. Am I the only one? The band had one last surprise for us. As they were running into curfew deadline issues, the last song of the night actually was “With or Without You” and not the scheduled “Moment of Surrender”. This is only the second time on the entire 360 tour that “Moment of Surrender” wasn’t the final encore. In some ways, I’m sorry we didn’t get to hear it, but we had an extra treat with the Amnesty International tribute and Ann San Suu Kyi video. Either way, I’d have to agree with Bono that it was a “wonderful, wonderful, wonderful night”.
“Here’s where we gotta be:
Love and Community.
Laughter is eternity if the joy is real”.
Get on Your Boots. Words: Bono, Music: U2