Eleanor is dead.
The sword that slayed the elusive concert demon was the set of tickets that my wife and I held in hand as we descended through the bowels of Rice Eccles stadium to attend the concert event of the millennium. Last night, we finally got to go to a U2 concert.
No no … let me amend that. We got to experience a U2 concert. You do not just “go.” It is an experience that, in my opinion, needs to be had by every music fan.
To be perfectly fair, I recognize that I am extremely late to the U2 concert scene. Indeed, it may be said that I’m late to the U2 music scene in general, though I’ve been a semi-fan since The Joshua Tree. I’ve wanted to see them for about 14 years … it just hadn’t worked out.
Until last night. And oh what a night it was.
To understand the surrealistic nature of the night, you have to know that it had been raining non-stop in Utah for 11 days straight, yesterday included. I woke up at 6 to a raging thunderstorm and ridiculous driving condition (exacerbated by the ever-present idiot drivers who insist that their SUVs and trucks are impervious to hydroplaning). As the day wore on, I was convinced that this show would be performed under a torrential downpour. We bought ponchos just to play it safe. However, by lunch time, the rain stopped, the clouds broke, and all of the sudden, there was a tiny patch of blue sky. That tiny patch gave pretty much all of northern Utah a glimmer of hope, which was all we needed.
By the time we got to the stadium, all that remained of the wretched weather from the previous week and a half were some puddles and a few wispy clouds that stubbornly refused to dissipate. When Larry Mullen Jr. took his seat behind his drum kit, the sky directly over the stadium was empty, and a few stars had begun to twinkle.
The PERFECT evening.
We took position about 120 feet from center stage. Not a bad place to be, but not as close as I would have liked. I knew there was supposed to be some inner ring, but I assumed that was in the middle of the stage, but from our vantage point, there was no telling. We stood in awe of the stage set-up that looked like a giant, mechanical 4-legged spider that spanned the entire width of the stadium floor. This thing had to be at least 150 feet tall. There were more lights than I’ve ever seen, and the stacks were larger than life itself—four sets of about 60-70 speakers, all of which sat atop “the claw,” as it’s been dubbed. Just below the stacks was a extendable 360-degree cylindrical screen that could extend all the way down to about 5 feet from the stage (bout for the most part was retracted to about 90 feet above the stage. A disco ball sat kind of counter-sunk in a needle of lights that dropped down from the center of the setup to about 15 feet from the stage floor. I’m telling you … you’ve never seen anything like this. And THAT was just the main stage.
From the main spanned two bridges that rolled around on wheel tracks and was connected to a secondary stage about 30-40 feet out. This is where the “inner ring” came into play. Those in that ring were a mere few feet from the band at any given time. Those on the outside of the ring were treated to all the band members taking turns walking over the bridges to the secondary stage. Even Larry came out playing the bongos as he and Adam played together, then ran back to his drum set.
(Note to self and ANY avid concert goer with an iPhone: PICK UP A BATTERY CASE! I only got about half the songs because my battery life sucks and I knew I had to conserve, but even still, I died out right at the end of “One.” Can’t have that happening again. Lesson learned!)
My wife and I ended up in the inner ring area by determination and asking one simple question. The ring was being guarded by security, who had no idea what the inner ring was all about. I showed them my stub and asked if the “Fanclub” sub-text beneath “GA” meant anything. He said he had no idea. “So … hmm. Can I go in then?”
“Sure. Have fun.”
Shock. Exhilaration. Euphoria. This is how all first U2 concerts should be, right? 10 feet from the stage, the band literally walking over us, dropping white roses onto the anointed … and no rain.
Like I said, the perfect evening.
The Fray opened first, playing a solid set of some radio hits whose names I don’t know but indeed recognized as songs my wife and daughters like to sing. Very friendly band.
After they closed their set, the road crew came out and dismantled their stage and got ready for U2. Some guy with a camera and a pretty decent-sized lens came out and took pictures of literally everybody. Not sure why, but I would love to find out. He panned the whole crowd, taking incremental shots and making sure he got every square inch of the stadium. It must have taken him at least half an hour and hundreds of pics. Kind of makes me wonder if they aren’t making a “360” panorama of every show. That would be extremely cool. Wouldn’t surprise me either.
U2 opened with “Even Better than the Real Thing.” Before they came out, to amp the crowd, they played the beginning of “Space Oddity.” The girls in front of us were almost spot-on with the “10 ….. 9….. 8 ….. 7…..” countdown. Just after they hit “1,” Larry walked out and started pounding on his drums with anthemic determination. As The Edge came walking out, he smiled at the crowd and started wailing away. Next came Adam, dressed in an all-white suit (and, truthfully, causing a lot of glare on my inferior camera phone), playing his bass. Last of all—the screams most deafening in reserve for just this moment—out walked Bono, and … that was it. Crowd went insane. Jumping, screaming, dancing, waving, thrashing, and of course singing along. Well, as best we could, anyway. There is no vocalist like Bono. 20+ years, and he still sings “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” in its original key. I did noticed that “Pride (in the Name of Love) was dialed down about a step and a half, but oh well.
Energy. Palpable and tangible. Incalculable energy. 45000 fans, and we let them have it full in the face. The four of them put us to shame. They out-energied all of us put together. You’d have to see a live show of theirs to understand it. The amazing part of this is that these guys are only in their late 40s/early 50s. They’ll be around for at least another decade. And I’m willing to bet that they’ll have just as much energy.
The set list touched on 11 CDs worth of music. They even busted out “Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me” from the Batman Returns soundtrack. THAT was an insane song because when they came out for the “second” encore (not sure I consider the first break an encore since they announced that they’d be back, but that’s just me), Bono was wearing this leather jacket with hundreds of red lasers embedded in the sleeves, sides and back, THEN a couple of stage crew guys blew smoke in front of him. The effect was insane, with laser beams shooting everywhere through the smoke. The mic used for that and “With or Without You” was a drop-down mic that Bono used as a swing. Unbelievable stage presence, that man. He knows he’s Bono, and he takes it step for step in stride. One of the few artists who actually gets that his size can be used for something beyond the music stage and does LOTS of things with it. Good for you, Mr. Bono. Good for you.
We sang Happy Birthday to Bob Dylan. 3 travelling sisters came up on stage and sat with Bono while they read a short poem he wrote about Utah. The whole band circled the crowd on the outer stage too many times to count. My wife got petals from one of the white roses that Bono dropped over us. I could not ask for a better show or evening.
And no rain. Not a drop. Nary a cloud in the sky above us.
Here’s the set list for the evening.
- Even Better Than The Real Thing
- I Will Follow
- Get On Your Boots
- Mysterious Ways
- Until The End Of The World
- All I Want Is You
- Love Rescue Me
- Happy Birthday
- Stay (Faraway, So Close!)
- Beautiful Day / Here Comes The Sun (snippet)
- Pride (In The Name Of Love)
- Miss Sarajevo
- City Of Blinding Lights
- Vertigo / It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll (But I Like It) (snippet)
- I’ll Go Crazy If I Don’t Go Crazy Tonight / Discothèque (snippet) / Mofo (snippet)
- Sunday Bloody Sunday
- Walk On / You’ll Never Walk Alone (snippet)
- Blowin’ In The Wind (snippet) / The Times, They Are A-Changin’ (snippet) / Where The Streets Have No Name
- Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me
- With Or Without You
- Moment of Surrender
I’m posting videos to YouTube, but my connection is slow, so I don’t know how long it’s going to take. Just be aware that I get really into my concerts. That’s all I’m going to say about the videos. Laugh and cringe all you want. I know I suck, but I’m working on it.