Tribute Band Interview: Zoo Station*

May 31, 2005


By Brenda Clemons
2005.05

Whether you’re an avid U2 fan wanting to relieve an experience or just curious about what a U2 concert would be like, those in the San Francisco area are encouraged to check out Zoo Station. Formed in 2002, the four members—Adamesque, Barely Larry, The Sledge and Bonalmost—are not just U2 fans but talented musicians in their own right. With Adamesque and Barely Larry on the rhythm section, you can’t help but stomp your feet to beloved anthems like "Sunday Blood Sunday." The Sledge’s guitar will take you to soaring heights and Bonalmost will have you believing that he’s the real thing.

Recently, Interference.com had the opportunity to talk with the band before a U2 pre-show concert in San Jose, California and discussed why U2 is important to the band and the members’ relationships with area U2 fans.

What made you decide to form this band?

Adamesque: We actually met on craigslist, I put a post on it. You can do all sorts of things [on craigslist], you can sell and buy things, you can meet people. I was just kind of bored with what I was doing musically. I was kind of uninspired. I had just gotten out of a long relationship with an original band. It was all original material [and] it was fun but I was uninspired and decided I needed to develop some skills as a bass player. What’s a better way to learn to play bass than by playing a band where the bass player’s not super-hard to mimic? So I figured this was a great opportunity to learn a new instrument, meet some new friends and so, I put an ad on craigslist. I got probably about 200 emails, at least. One of the first to catch my eye was Sledge, so he was the first, along with another Bono we had before. The original members we had were Bonalmost, myself and The Sledge, [then] Barely Larry came up to me and said, "I can play drums better than that."

Barely Larry: I was a little more diplomatic, I said, "I have to play drums with your band." I basically learned to play drums by listening to U2. I was 14, 15. I locked myself in my room one summer with a drum set and the "War" album and until I could get from beginning to end, I just kept plugging away."

Were you on a whole summer of being grounded?

Barely Larry: Pretty much, exactly, yes. You know that’s where my roots as a musician are so when I stumbled across these guys I just walked up and said, "I don’t need to rehearse, just tell me where the show is. I’ll bring my gear and I’m ready to go."

The Sledge: Granted, we did rehearse.

Adamesque: We had one rehearsal. He did fill in a few times and it was a great fit. He definitely embodies Larry’s spirit. It’s a good spirit to have."


(Photo courtesy of Zoo Station)

Do you feel like you have a spiritual connection with U2?

Adamesque: I think even though none of us have met the guys, I think last night just being where I was, hearing them and seeing them live and just kind of feeling what they were going through, I can’t help feeling this pulse that was running through my veins the entire night. And I wasn’t critical about the music, I was really, for the first time, enjoying them as a musical collective. I was really enjoying the band.

Bonalmost: For me, my political thoughts and ambitions came from listening to U2 originally and, really, that’s where I started to grow and mature that way, so there is that sort of bond beyond music. Everything I’ve ever done has wound up sounding like U2. So musically, politically, all across the board there just seems to be some sort of bond there.

Adamesque: There’s some weird connection where we never leave sight of the fact that we’re a tribute band and there’s these other four guys from Ireland who’ve been doing the heavy lifting for 25 years, so we don’t take ourselves too seriously. But at the same time, one of the things that makes us unique among tribute bands is that we are completely, unconditionally in love with the band and the music that we’re paying tribute to. None of us would have been musicians or expressing ourselves artistically the way we do if we had not been exposed to U2 at the age we were exposed to them. For me they’re the epicenter of my musical universe.

Bonalmost, you do a really god job of mimicking Bono. How long did it take you to get it down?

Bonalmost: Ask me again in about a year, I’m still working at it. Listening as much as I can to every time he speaks and recording it. It’s a lot of work at home. In the beginning we didn’t do any of it, I was just up there every night chattering away and we didn’t wear any of the costumes or anything.

Adamesque: We’d go on in our street clothes and every time Joshua [Bonalmost] would pull out a pair of sunglasses and put them on, people would just go nuts. Then he’d put on a jacket. Then Sledge put on a 7 shirt. We added piece by piece and pretty soon we just said, "You know, the further we take this the more people go with us." Every time we think we’ve taken it too far the phone starts ringing, the more people start coming out to see us.

It’s crazy because we always think people are just going to laugh us out of the club. Every time we take it to another level, it’s done nothing but lead to more success for us, so it’s just been one pleasant surprise after another.

Do you have your own set of groupies following you around?

Adamesque: Oh yeah, Sledge gets the most groupies.

Sledge: The groupies that I get are guitar geeks.

Barely Larry: He gets e-mails constantly.

Sledge: They’re fascinated by the pedal board and all that kind of stuff. Now, of course, Larry gets the groupies. He bears the burden of being the attractive one, just like the real one.

Barely Larry: What are you going to do? Everyone has their cross to bear.

Sledge: There are some devoted U2 fans out there and I think a lot of these people channel their energy towards us during the non-touring season. We see a lot of familiar faces, they become friends and it’s become one big family.


(Photo courtesy of Zoo Station)

Do you ever do weddings? I can imagine two U2 fans meeting up, fall in love and decide they want a tribute band playing their reception.

Sledge: Our biggest fan comes to all our shows. She met her current boyfriend at one of our shows and they’ve been together a-year-and-a-half, almost two years. They never miss a show. Back to the wedding question, we’re playing our first wedding come September.

Bonalmost: I’m waiting for our first Bar Mitzvah. Sledge can wear a yarmulke.

Barely Larry: The goal when I first started the group was to play Bimbos and open up for [Neil Diamond tribute] Super Diamond. I’ve seen Super Diamond, I love what they do and that’s what I want to emulate. I just wanted to play Bimbos and open up for them. In a month we’re playing Bimbos and opening up for ['80s dance music tribute] Tainted Love.

We’re actually playing Filmore for a private event and the Filmore doesn’t do cover bands. They’re world famous, the greatest club in San Francisco and we get to play there. That’s going to be the most magical moment of my career. All of our expectations have been exceeded and I just laughed when I got the phone call, "What do you mean we’re playing the Filmore? And they’re paying us? What universe did I wake up in this morning?" Like I said, just a couple of years ago we were getting on stage in our street clothes for laughs just because we love their music, and everything has happened since.

Do you ever think the crowd forgets that you’re not U2? Do you ever think that, for a split second, they get lost in the fantasy?

Bonalmost: Some people say, "You took me back to when I was 14 and at Red Rocks. When you guys broke into ‘Surrender,’ I remembered being there." I think that’s pretty close and I think it’s actually better that it takes them back to a time when they felt really good about themselves. If we can give them some sort of experience, a memory, something strong that they can take away, that’s what U2 does for us. If we can make them remember U2 and what they did at a certain time, take them back, that’s really when we’re at our best.

Barely Larry: Every single show, at least two or three times, I’ll look out in the crowd and I’ll see someone, they’ll look at us and they’ll look away and I can see their wheels turning, see that they are remembering something. Maybe there’s just one chord change or one line in a verse, and you can see them go back into their head and relive something. Everybody that that happens to gets the same expression on their face. I’ve seen that so many times and that’s when I hit the next cymbal a little harder. It’s so exciting because I know what they’re going through. And to have the opportunity to give that to somebody is huge.

It’s almost like a spiritual connection that only music can bring.

Sledge: In general, all of us have connected. Like with Barely Larry, being locked up in his room with the "War" album. The same thing happened to me. I actually had to leave my home for awhile, I had to go live with my dad when I was 13 years old. I spent the summer listening to the War album. The very first song I learned on guitar was "Sunday Bloody Sunday." Just from learning "Sunday Bloody Sunday," I realized there were a few deep tracks on that album that affected me emotionally. Now that we get to play them live and share them with everyone else, I hope that people connect the same way that I did on that album.

If you met U2, what would you say to the band?

Adamesque: We’d love to say, "Hi and thank you for everything." They’ve inspired me musically, they’ve inspired me to play, period. And to also be politically aware and socially conscience about everything.

Bonalmost: "Thank you."

Barely Larry: "Larry, if you happen to have an extra one of those $900 snare drums hanging around…"

Adamesque: "Adam, well, you’re my favorite."

Anything else you’d like to share with Interference.com readers?

Bonalmost: We’re here because there’s something that U2 does to us that we want to give to people who can’t get it from them directly. We’re there to keep the energy going. I think what we do is akin to acting and we play a "Romeo and Juliet" every night. People don’t go to "Romeo and Juliet" and boo the actors because they’re not Shakespeare. For us, U2 are Shakespeare and we’re just out there acting, producing, trying to do the best passionate, emotional, true-to-life version of the original thing.

For a list of upcoming shows, or for booking information, visit the Zoo Station’s website at www.zoostation-online.com.

How I Scored U2 Tickets and Became a Forum Addict*

May 31, 2005

By Karen Miller
2005.05

Time was ticking; U2’s official website, U2.com, indicated that tickets would be going on sale soon for the upcoming Vertigo Tour. I was still smarting from mounting Christmas expenses and wondering how long I should put off paying the $40 to subscribe to U2.com. The big problem was that I’d been expecting a discount letter for old-timer fans from the Propaganda days. I kept thinking, "It must be coming soon." I even heard about a mysterious keychain that was supposed to make its way to fans, but no mail was coming, and time was running out.

And that’s when it began.

Oh sure, I’d checked out Interference.com before; I’d signed up in 2002 as someone interested in all things U2. I’d even taken a gander at the forums to see if there were any good rumors. It was great fun to see people swooning over pictures, arguing over who had the better avatar (a word I didn’t know until I checked out forum life). But this time I wrote something, I took the plunge. On Dec. 7, 2004, I leapt into the world of forums.

And where did I make my monumental pioneer voyage? In a message thread about Bono having a bed large enough to sleep six people.

I interrupted everyone to ask if anyone had received their Propaganda letter yet. No answer ever came, but who can blame them? With a topic like that, the fans will be, um, focused. My next posting didn’t happen until the 28th when I offered assistance to someone who wanted information about getting Toronto tickets. That’s probably where the addiction really intensified, I kept checking to see if there were responses to my postings.

I liked the thread because it dealt with my country, it felt familiar. From that point on, I checked every day to see if any new information had shown up. My Propaganda letter still hadn’t arrived and it felt like it was reaching a crisis point, the tour dates were being announced any day.

On January 3rd, I caved.

The letter hadn’t arrived and I couldn’t wait anymore. I shelled out the whole $40 to get the U2.com subscription. I wasn’t alone in this.

By that point there were many threads about it; the forums were overrun with questions in general. U2.com had been too vague and people weren’t getting answers. Tensions were building. I was glad that I would at least get a crack at great seats. The mood really became serious when word came that the tour announcement would be delayed. Questions everywhere! After that, it felt like the dates would never be announced but, lo and behold, they finally were.

On January 23rd, dates were to be posted.

Well, someone couldn’t wait that long, and the night before U2.com was to release the dates, someone hacked the site and the contents of the 23rd’s email were all over the forums. Yes, there was joy but from that point on, downright anger started brewing. The dates were very limited. Canadians were shocked—only one city was mentioned. Everyone had questions and there were few answers. U2.com didn’t seem to sense the storm that was brewing. I was glued to my computer. Nothing was getting
done around my apartment anymore, my desk clutter grew higher and higher.

I was only getting six hours of sleep, I even went the occasional day without calling my boyfriend (Hey, babe!). I needed to check the site at every opportunity. Presale dates were approaching and more dates in Canada weren’t added. What was going to happen?

On January 25th, the storm broke.

The presale started and immediately all hell broke loose. Sites were crashing, codes were rejected and nobody knew if there was going to be a third leg. Should fans gamble and use their codes now? Would they miss out on anything if their codes were used only to purchase nosebleed seats? Where was all the information? Where was U2? I spent hours and hours pouring through the forums in horror.

Frustration and despair were running rampant; you could almost sense the weeping and gnashing of teeth in forum topics. Since Toronto tickets had yet to be mentioned, I was watching from a distance, it was like watching the Titanic go down. Then the North American dates went on sale and the disaster continued. People got angry. I mean, really angry. Long-time fans where left without tickets or answers, and it didn’t seem like their heroes cared, so they lashed out. Many people announced that they no longer wanted to be fans at all. People insulted the band. People insulted each other. People wanted their money back. I was afraid that when Toronto shows were finally announced my ticket hopes would be dashed, too. I had no idea if there would be a light at the end of the tunnel.

On February 6th, it showed up.

Hope showed up via Larry Mullen Jr. when U2′s own drummer wrote a letter to the fans. Something was being worked on and the band had been paying attention all along. I particularly liked the part about Propaganda subscribers getting first crack at the next presale (yes, I’m a bit biased there). Then my concerns turned back to that original letter. I still didn’t have any proof that they knew I was a Propaganda subscriber. Fanfire didn’t seem very helpful; they seemed as confused as I was. I knew the third leg would be announced at any time. Ahhhh!

March 7th, the heavens appeared.

It was late in the evening and I was sitting at my computer when I got an instant message saying that I’d received an e-mail from U2.com. I nearly jumped out of my seat. Upon opening the message I noticed it said, right at the top, that I was a former Propaganda subscriber. Oh joy! And I saw that my Propaganda discount had been credited to my credit card. Hooray!

All that was left was to wait the final week until I could brave Ticketmaster and buy my own precious tickets, four of them now that the rules had been changed. I loved that but it also meant that many hours of working overtime were coming my way, especially since Edun Jeans were about to be launched, too.

March 15th, the pearly gates opened.

The night before, I could barely sleep. The Interference forums seemed oddly quiet on the subject of the latest group of presales. I was one of the last to go through the anxiety-inducing rites of passage. At 10:00 a.m. I sat down at my computer and hoped for the best.

I’d done everything I could to prepare. I’d taken all the advice from forum posters about things like registering for Ticketmaster beforehand to save time, but I still expected the worst: I expected the site to crash, or that my code would be rejected, but nothing bad happened. It was like stepping off a ledge only to find that there had been an invisible bridge there the whole time.

I ordered my pair of tickets then went back in for my second pair. I was too terrified to gamble so I kept what I was offered and got out of there. I wanted good sit-down tickets, and got them. Then I did what other posters have mentioned doing. Still shaking, I read my Ticketmaster order confirmations over and over again, and I looked at the seating chart over and over again. It was over! Months of questions and stress had culminated in four wonderful tickets coming my way. Of course I immediately had to check out the forums.

Although it didn’t seem like a lot of people had ordered tickets, one theme was common among those who had participated in the presale: How easy it was. We were all taken aback by our lack of difficulty. Of course there were a few people who are still embroiled in a ticket nightmare and I sincerely hope that they get exactly what they want. But today, as I was sitting at work, I was suddenly overwhelmed by the full realization of what had happened, I got what I wanted. I got tickets to see my favorite band in the world and I was going to see them up close! There are few highs better than that.

Now it’s time for the tour. Sorry, apartment, looks like you’ll never get cleaned.

Review: U2 at the Fleet Center in Boston, May 26, 2005*

May 30, 2005

By Dave Mance
2005.05

During what will be remembered by the 18,000 plus fans in attendance as a remarkable, breathtaking, beautifully flawed performance, U2 blew the roof off the Banknorth Garden (formerly the Fleet Center) in Boston Thursday night in what was the second of three shows.

When compared to the first night, "Gloria" replaced "Electric Co.," "Until the End of the World" replaced "Zoo Station," "With or Without You" replaced "Mysterious Ways," "Original of the Species" replaced "Yahweh" and "Bad" replaced "40." "Out of Control" appeared out of thin air, catching even bassist Adam Clayton by surprise.

Whereas the first Boston show was marked by its straightforward polished approach, Thursday night’s show was looser and more laid back. Bono quipped opening night that it was nice to be home; on Thursday, the band acted like it.

For fans unfamiliar with this particular tour, the entire evening was a highlight. Seven songs were played from "How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb" and each proved remarkably conducive to live presentation.

The stage setup was simple and elegant with notable touches. The video screens of past tours were down sized and replaced with walls of light. At key moments words, phrases or images were broadcast through the lighting. Those with seats behind the stage benefited from a fluid, efficient use of visual accents (the beautifully lit backdrops rose and fell with each song).

Each song seemed to have a distinctive flavor. Some, like "City of Blinding Lights" and "Gloria" were mere conduits for the crowd’s incredible energy as Boston lived up to its reputation as a legendary U2-loving town. Others ("Vertigo," "Love and Peace or Else") were almost playful and mischievous. And of course, some were pensive (notably a scathing "Bullet the Blue Sky" and a somber "Running to Stand Still").

The message of the show concerned The One Campaign to eliminate extreme poverty worldwide. Bono spoke passionately of his faith in the United States and its people to step up to the plate and do the right thing.

This political portion of the night was handled deftly. Notable attendee former Vice President Al Gore was referenced and thanked by name for his efforts on behalf of the campaign to relieve third world debt, but through the applause it was made clear that the One Campaign was a bipartisan issue ("Maybe it’s the one thing the left and the right can agree on," quipped Bono).

This wasn’t the "Am I bugging you?" preaching of the past but the reflections of a mature, nuanced statesman evoking hope for a brighter future.

The most memorable moment of the show came during the second encore, when Bono, riding a wave of crowd frenzy, decided that the moment was perfect for "Out of Control." From the end of the ellipse he shouted the track back to the rest of the band and the crowd exploded in anticipation. Clayton missed it though, and instead launched into the bass line for "With or Without You."

A moment of confusion ensued. Larry Mullen, Jr. and Edge looked at each other, Clayton cautiously picked away wondering why his mates weren’t joining him and Bono came running down the ellipse to straighten things out.

What started as a gaffe became a very human moment as the band stood together as a foursome at the back of the stage and worked its way through the song. Edge missed the bridge and, instead of fading to the back with harmonics, replayed the verse riff. Bono corrected him like a schoolteacher and then guided the band through the bridge and into the chorus. Well, tried to. It was actually Mullen who cut through the confusion with the drum cue and got the whole song rolling again.

The fans for their part lapped the whole episode up and responded with thunderous applause and deafening "out of controls," despite the fact that the song leaped and lurched like a novice driving a stick for the first time.

"Original of the Species" seemed to be another last-minute addition that featured its share of screw-ups. And yet, in what is a uniquely U2 paradox, it will go down as a highlight of the show. A U2 concert has long since stopped being about performance, after all, and instead exists as a love fest between the band and the city it’s playing. The Bostonians at this show took the stumbles as a cue for them to step in and carry the band for a little while. And it all worked.

It’s fascinating to think that a band could reach a point where really the only criticism one can offer from any show is that it was too good, i.e., U2′s penchant for perfection can, on bad nights, come off as sterile and in-human, sort of like watching robots play pre-recorded music. This was not the case in Boston Thursday night.

The band left the stage grinning from ear to ear, drained, having given it all. As the crowd disbursed, the hallways of the Garden were full of concertgoers singing the refrain from "40" despite the fact that the song was never played.

I dare say not a person left feeling anything less than exalted.

A U2 Concert Is So Much More Than Just A Show*

May 29, 2005

U2 rocks Boston and long time fan on May 24th

By Dave Mance
2005.05

It’s Tuesday, May 24th and I’m headed to the Boston U2 show from a little Podunk town in Vermont, my home. I will be 30 years old in September and carry all the emotional baggage such a claim entails. From this perspective, the U2 show is not just an event but a revisitation of a rock ‘n’ roll state of mind that I seem to be loosing grips on as I age, which I suppose is a different way of saying, "the more you know, the less you feel."

It’s a drizzly, chilly, Red Rocks kind of day. The temperature hovers around 40 degrees as rain falls steadily on the windows. Outside rolling hills, orchards and dairy farms flash by. The clouds hang so low they look like a ceiling. The traffic is light, the roads clear. M naps in the passenger’s seat.

The wipers become a metronome of sorts—hypnotic. A bootleg copy of U2 at Boston’s Paradise Club in 1981 is blaring through the dashboard speakers and old voices, faces and sounds tumble through black holes in my conscience and spring up as images behind my eyes. As is the case whenever you revisit someone or something that is fleeting, especially something that only comes around every five years or so, a great deal of lead up time is spent correlating the past. Today, as I drive, my heart is wrung and memories are carefully considered.

I spend a while thinking of my first U2 show; I caught them ZooTV era at a horse track in Saratoga, New York. While I can’t remember my exact pre-show thoughts, it’s a safe bet that most fit squarely into that beautiful moment-driven sphere that is the adolescent mind. That day was sunny and hot. Driving to that show I was probably concentrating solely on singing "Acrobat" at the top of my lungs while weaving in and out of traffic.

The show itself is a blur and exists only as snapshots in my mind (the look of concentration on Larry’s face as he sang "Dirty Old Town;" the textures of Edge’s odd, pointy shoes, right in front of my face, as he stood on the little sub-stage at the end of the catwalk). I do remember very clearly though that I was 17 and madly in love with a girl whose named meant happiness. She was with me, on my shoulders so she could see, and I remember feeling the pulse of the bass travel through her body and into mine like electricity.

After the show we spent the night camping in the back of my pick-up in the parking lot, content to let the old folks drive home. When the headlights disappeared it was stars and blankets and breath and the beautiful residual ringing of the concert in our ears. I don’t know what happened to her.

But maybe you were there, too. Did you know that Adam Clayton watched opening act the Disposable Artists of Hypocrisy from the seats and went largely unrecognized?

At 22 I saw our boys as pop tarts at Foxboro Stadium. We were musicians by then; me and my tribe, and a gang of us spent the pre-show hours regaling (or was it annoying?) the tailgaters with guitars and too-loud voices. The songs were hopeful U2 imitations; the moments puffed up with Jamison’s whisky and youthful idealism. We were rock stars and Celtiphiles with tinted shades and Bobby Sands tattoos, completely unaware of the irony that we were also the grandsons of Irish immigrants who, in most cases, considered themselves proud, flag waving Americans.

As for the show, our seats were crappy enough that we spent the whole time dancing in the back of the stadium, heads full of impulse, eyes drenched in colors. Afterward we spent a lot of energy trying to find the band, not to get autographs but to have a meeting of the minds, as they say, confident that a mixed tape of original music and some obscure Virgin Prunes references would endear us to them (maybe they’d even sign us as an opening act and invite us onto the tour!). Needless to say the band disappeared behind imposing security figures and we drove away in the same beat up van that we came in.

Do you recognize this?

At 25 I forked over $190 bucks (or something like that) to get first section penalty box seats in Albany, New York, right next to the stage for the Elevation Tour. The other U2 heads in my circle went, of course, for the "in the heart" GA spots but, in what I can retrospectively diagnose as a self-conscious bit of youth-waning fatalism, I’d convinced myself that this tour would be the band’s last and, as such, I wanted an elevated vantage point to take it all in. I brought my earliest U2 totem, a big, white tapestry from the "Unforgettable Fire" era and raised it over my head as the band played. I watched the show stone-sober and tried to memorize every move, every note–it’s in my head today like a video. When the show ended I started the "40" chant and engaged the people around me. It all lasted for a good long time—a few minutes at least—until they struck out for the exit signs and I was left to wonder "How long to sing this song?" by myself.

But enough revisitations. Lest the nostalgia become the unhealthy kind, we remember the instructions of a sage teacher reminding us that when we glorify the past, the future dries up. For U2′s part, the band kept coming around, kept playing and allowing us to seize the daylight one more time. Me, I’m gonna kick, kick, kick tonight.

In about three hours of time I’m at the outskirts of Boston. Upon arrival it is reaffirmed that the transition from country to city is as much internal (psychological) as it is external (physical). Boston is still full of bricks.

We’ll be staying at a Comfort Inn by the UMASS campus. At the reception desk there’s a 20-something woman behind the counter who shoots us a look of caustic boredom as we, two more stateless travelers, enter through the large glass doors. M picks up on the vibe immediately and wanders off to check on the complimentary health spa facilities.

The lines of the receptionist’s lips are straight and when our eyes meet she seems to be somehow looking at me without seeing me. She barks one word questions in a clipped Boston accent and when I inform her that I have to go check my license plate number, she’s pirouetted into the back room before I have a chance to turn around.

When I return and the transaction is completed, I ask, timidly, how to get to the Fleet Center. The second the words hit her ears, it’s as if suddenly we’re old college pals. Her doll eyes literally come alive, like she was Gepetto’s wooden creation touched with life for the very first time.

"U2, huh?" she says, her mouth morphing into a huge grin. "Son of a bitch."

Her hands are on her hips and her posture is uneven as she shifts her weight onto one leg. She’s staring into me now. I half turn my head and peer quickly at the old people in line behind me, who seem as startled by this reversal of demeanor as I am.

"My friends and I stood in a parking lot all day for a number to that show," she says, "and got nothing. We couldn’t even get a number for a line, let alone a ticket."

I returned the conversational serve in my best "I hear you, girlfriend" tone, filling her in on the disaster that was the pre-buy—soulless scalpers, overpriced nosebleeds, the whole U2 ticket effluvium. Another clerk appeared behind the desk and the by now impatient pensioners behind me took two steps to their left.

We let it all out.

Time jumps and eventually it’s 5 p.m.. We take the complimentary shuttle to the T station and board the red line inbound. Rain is still lashing the windows (two people, by this point, have been heard to utter the word "nor’easter"). A blinking sign says 42 degrees (if you’re trying to correlate my strange infatuation with weather data chalk it up to being a Vermonter and a part-time farmer) and then the time but the digitized shape of the 0 in 5:02 is missing some pixels, making it 5 U 2.

My internal excitement is beginning to build to frightening proportions. I think that this particular journey is more of a pilgrimage to a holy place than it is a trip to the Fleet Center in Boston, and I mean that with such conviction that blasphemy can eat hot lead. I’m going to commune with a higher power at this show, not a god in a traditionally religious sense but something divine, a holy spirit divorced of the Catholic connotations, literally the transcendent, holy, spirit of 18,000 people in an alternate reality, soul through an echo box drenched in chorus and delay, pagan root rhythms, the gospel according to Paul. "Is this rock ‘n’ roll?" Bono used to howl as the drum/bass punched like a fist and Edge beat the feedback out of that final power chord while the crowd climaxed in a roar that evoked the lustful sense of that word. He didn’t know the answer or, probably, more accurately, was too scared/exhilarated to dare believe that the synthesis of it all could have been holy. But we know that it was and this is what we’re after, nothing less, at these shows.

Changing trains at Park Station, we find ourselves suddenly in the mist of our kind. There is a woman wearing a denim "Rattle and Hum" jacket circa 1988 sitting two seats in front of me. Behind me a couple talks about how "Joe" from Oregon is attending all the shows. I want to ask how that’s possible but my journalistic instincts fail me.

We all get off at North Station, ascend the stairs and watch the big concrete shell of the Fleet Center rise before us. In this low light it looks like a bit of ’50s-era communist architecture from the former Soviet Union. I probably don’t have to tell you the history of this place, how the beloved Boston Garden was bulldozed in the name of progress so richies could have luxury seating segregated from the rest of the masses, but I will say that the juxtaposition of a new corporate name (Banknorth) and "garden" strikes me as a pretty weak title or, maybe, more accurately, like a harlot in a nun costume.

As we strike out for pre-show libations I pity the beggar fans seeking a way in, they’re wet and soggy with sad eyes. I ask one older gentleman who looks totally out of his element what a scalped seat is going for and he says $200, although I don’t believe him. Judging from the demand, I’m betting $200 would buy you a forgery; something legit would go for at least $400 or $500. I hope he doesn’t get taken by the sharks, who are there, too, at the fringes of the scene, offering up their laser prints in low voices (tomorrow in the Boston Herald there’ll be a story about folks who forked over $2,000 a pop for useless fakes). I count nine people asking for tickets in the space outside the subway.

My hillbilly roots are beginning to show as I’m simultaneously overwhelmed and enthralled by the throngs of people.

We enter the third bar we come to and find that it’s one of those Disney world pubs that sells t-shirts as if the place were an idyllic family getaway. They brew their own beer and M gets a pint with blueberries in it. After half a beer, the berries become sort of black and fecal looking, as if there were a rabbit loose in the premises with very unfortunate aim. It’s tasty though, evoking that wonderful synthetic Boo Berry flavor made popular by the General Mills breakfast cereal of the same name.

The bar, as you can imagine, is packed. Two beers cost $8.75, with what I assume is a standard tip, they come to $10. There are five bartenders working the bar, which is jamming to keep up. I study two of them for five minutes and watch them pour 20 drinks (although the statistic was fouled by the fact that one bartender was also doing dishes while pouring drinks; probably the number should have been higher). Figuring this pace could be sustained easily for at least another hour, I do some quick math and figure the bar was making roughly $6000 an hour on drinks.

The median age of the patrons in the bar is approximately 30. As the concert nears the energy in the room increases, despite the fact that the radio plays classic ’70s rock. The bathroom walls are covered with diamond plated steel and boys talk to each other excitedly about the show as they pee.

We leave and make our way through driving rain to the forum. Outside there is a line of limos that stretches as far as the eye can see. Inside M wants a concert t-shirt so we join a double line 56 people long. Inside the median age definitely goes up, probably 39 or 40, although there are a bunch of little kids running around who would probably ruin the curve. People look generally middle class and are all various shades of Caucasian. A tall man of about 30 to my right is wearing a kilt and has glowing white legs. He is conversing with another man, smaller in stature, who wears a coat that reads "Polo."

One girl to my left is wearing a puffy North Face down jacket; another is wearing a leather jacket in Irish national colors. In front of me are two women, one of whom has abnormal fake boobs, the kind that look like someone inserted little cannon balls under her skin. Her cleavage is exposed and the large mounds rise from her slight, boney chest so dramatically that the skin appears to stretch painfully to accommodate the stuffing (her face betrays no discomfort, though).

In front of her are three men in various stages of male pattern baldness, two people wearing Red Sox hats (one traditional, one green) and a cute girl in a Diego Maradona t-shirt (the actual mock uni-top from the Argentina national team).

The U2 shirts all run around $35 and are black, white or drab olive green. All are attractive save for one which features prominently a bright red V, presumably for Vertigo. This shirt might work for others but all I can think of is the short-lived ’80s alien Sci-Fi TV series called "V," and so the shirt seems a little cheesy to me. M gets one that is a lot of green space upon which is a little red heart, a little red peace sign, and a little red bomb.

We make our way up, up, up, up, up. I begin to think that perhaps our seats are on the roof. Eventually we settle into good old balcony 317, row 11, seats 13 and 14. From this height actual vertigo is a very real threat. To the new stadium’s credit, it was built at such an incredible pitch that from the balcony seats there is an illusion that you’re right on top of the band. At the same time, you feel as though you should be very careful lest you lean over and drop something that would, from this height, gather tremendous speed and crush whatever it landed on. (I am reminded of a childhood phobia concerning recalcitrants dropping pennies off skyscrapers that could theoretically land on my head and kill me as I walked the city streets below. Even today, in what is an unabashed display of country bumpkinism, I walk around big buildings with my hands covering my head. I know, like my hands could stop a hard, metal orb traveling faster than the speed of sound.)

We’ve missed Kings of Leon (sort of intentionally), so we watch the guitar techs and various other band related staffers and stagers mill around the ellipse like little ants (okay, bit of an exaggeration). On the PA is heard REM, Modest Mouse, David Bowie, the Killers, some band neither I or anyone within asking distance knew, and then the Velvet Underground, after which the crowd starts cheering when some anthemic ditty comes on and is cranked up (I later learn that this is a song by the Arcade Fire). In seconds, the lights go down and Edge appears, spot-lit, slamming through the gears of his effects pedals. After some familiar yet refreshingly new sounds, Larry Mullen, Jr. and Clayton (who’s on keys!) barge into the sonic landscape and "City of Blinding Lights" is off and running.

Bono’s at the front of the ellipse, arms outstretched like Kate Winslet at the front of the Titanic. Sorry for that bit of lameness. Okay, Bono’s at the front of the ellipse, arms outstretched, a leather-clad rock god basking in the adoration and energy of 18,000 rabid fans. Better?

As the song progresses, huge walls of sashaying lights fall from the ceiling, sort of like the bead doors you find in Chinese restaurants (at the end of the songs, or during them in some cases, the lights are rolled up like window blinds on huge mechanical tracks by at least four people in the rafters controlling things). Reflective confetti falls and afterwards a guy with a leaf blower-type instrument inconspicuously blows the ellipse clear so Bono doesn’t slip and fall.

The song rocks. Pace-wise and energy-wise it evokes "Streets" circa 1987.

Next is "Vertigo" and little red laser lights trace the stage as if it were all part of a pinball game. At the end of the song "Stories for Boys" is lyrically referenced.

"Elevation" is tight and the crowd is raucous. In what strikes me as a bit of playfulness, Edge, at the chuka . . . chucka crunch guitar part (right after the middle eight and right before Lawrence taps out four beats on his sticks), instead plays a little slidy riff that could have been a portion of "In a Little While."

Maybe two breaths are spent before the last ringing chord gives way to what the die-hards all recognize as "Cry." The house explodes. By the time "Electric Co." begins in earnest, I’ve broken the binding of my notebook smashing it against my hand. And while nothing detracted from my enjoyment of the moment (or of "The Ocean," which followed), I did scribble a note in the aforementioned busted notebook that said "sitters," with the intention of elaborating on it here.

How to put this delicately?

It’s sometimes hard, even at 29, to favor perspective over residual adolescent band-loyalty episodes. I was one of those kids who used to literally get into fights in junior high defending U2′s honor against the legions of hair band supporters who found their music white and lily. And while life became less violent once I entered high school, this loyalty I felt for the band sort of morphed into snobbery.

I began to bandy fandom as if were competition. If an acquaintance referred to themselves as a U2 fan, they were tested. If they knew the "Boy" album, the conversation would continue. If they knew the song "Touch," they’d get a smile. If they knew "Touch" was originally "Trevor," they’d get a pat on the back. If they could tell me who Trevor was they’d get a hug and admission into my unofficial U2 fraternity. That sort of thing.

Of course I’ve outgrown this silliness and today recognize it as the immature search for identity that it was (and its utter dorkiness, gosh, I was like one of those "Star Wars" freaks!). But every once in a while it comes back – my surface scratched and my youth revealed.

I was scratched during "Electric Co." when the people around me all sat down.

As I write this, mature me is saying, "Hey, who cares? You loved the song, 99% of the people loved the song, so what?" and PC me is saying, "How dare you judge these people? Maybe they have physical ailments you don’t know about. Maybe they worked all day (unlike you!) and are tired. Maybe they project their joy inward."

But through these voices cuts junior high me with a "War" pin on a denim jacket and a mouth full of bad tastes. Junior high me thinks these people comped these tickets from corporate sources and that they all should have given way to the soggy people outside who could have enjoyed "Electric Co." for the orgasm that it was.

But I digress (and apologize for those youthful, foolish sentiments. By all means people, sit whenever you’d like; sleep even. It’s a free country.).

The concert continued with a pretty straightforward rendition of "Beautiful Day," followed by "Miracle Drug," during which Bono suggested that Boston was a scientific town ("You’re probably gonna cure cancer around here."). He also, in what seemed a brief musing on the current science vs. religion political struggles here in the United States, pointed out that faith in God can inspire scientists.

"Sometimes You Can’t Make It on Your Own" followed, which wasn’t, to me anyway, as heart wrenching as I figured it would be. This sentiment probably had less to do with the band and more to do with the fact that I became strangely entranced by the huge figure of a man projected on the screen of lights behind the band. The man was a giant plodding fellow, who, on the screen, was simply walking in place. He was crudely drawn with a simple circle for a head, seemingly topless with blue pants on. And, well, I don’t know how or even if I should mention this, but, at the risk of coming off as boorish and horribly inappropriate, I must say that the man seemed to be exposed as he walked.

There. I said it.

Now listen, I know what this song is about and I know that there are a lot of easily offended people out there and I know the guy who hates all my stories that right about now you’re hitting the roof. I’m sorry for that. But I saw what I saw.

Now granted, when I interrupted M to verify my observation she shot me a lemony look and said, "Your editor must love you," before turning her attention back to the band. But I’m reporting this anyway, not to be inappropriate but just to point out my distraction. It’s not that it’s a big deal, it’s just that the odd juxtaposition of white lights in an otherwise blue crotch area on a walking man gave the whole scene a Jeff Koonsey feel that took me by surprise. Was this intentional in the Adam Achtung mode? Was it art evoking the pictures of hanging (literally hanging) Elvis on the john which was said to have inspired "Elvis Ate America"? Certainly a penis is rife with artistic symbolism.

Talk to the repressed American, people, and fill me in please.

Now back to the show:

"Love and Peace or Else" killed. Mullen came out and did the drum part at the head of the ellipse —banging away manically on a tom. Edge and Clayton supplied a funky, grimy groove and Bono and the crowd sang the thing as though it were a classic from the catalog. During the bridge of the song Mullen went back to the drums walking that quick, impeccably postured Larry Mullen walk while waving shy little waves to the audience. When the song resumed, he had a full kit to pound and Bono took up on the lone tom taiko style.

The drumming carried into "Sunday Bloody Sunday" which, as always, was big.

A tight, reflective version of "Bullet the Blue Sky" followed. The turmoil in the Middle East, murder in the name of a deity and the disgrace that was/is the American prisoner abuse scandal were all evoked and factored into the visual and emotional message of the song. The searing end contrasted nicely with "Running to Stand Still" dedicated to U.S. servicemen and women. The song became a prayer for all soldiers and the roar of the crowd was marked with reflection and colored by emotion.

While "Bullet" and "Running" both alluded to highly charged life and death issues, it was clear that the band’s political message was meant to focus solely on The One Campaign to eliminate extreme poverty. "Pride," "Where the Streets Have No Name" and "One" were all thematically about bringing the United States and the world together to fight this cause. During "Pride," Bono suggested that African poverty is our generation’s civil rights struggle. During "Streets," the lights became the flags of the world. During "One," people were asked to text message and join the cause. In what existed as a beautiful and poignant piece of interactive art, still shots of people in the audience were displayed on the video screens. These images multiplied, and eventually morphed into the actual image of Bono singing on stage.

The band excited to thunderous applause. After a brief break, the video screens displayed pop culture images spinning on a slot machine. Eventually the machine hit four little "Zooropa" heads who anthropomorphed into screaming little children. Their "mamas" increased in volume until the Edge appeared to manipulate their cries via his effects pedals. The lingering sound was transformed into "Zoo Station" and the band was off and running. "The Fly" and "Mysterious Ways" rounded out the first encore.

The cycle continued. When the band returned, they launched into "All Because of You." Next was an intimate, stripped down rendition of "Yahweh." Finally, Clayton and Edge switched instruments and the audience was presented with the classic spectacle of "40."

"40" was as advertised. The band excited one by one until finally it was Mullen keeping time for 18,000 fans whose chants continued well after the drum beat died, well after the house lights went up. The chant continued into the parking lot, back onto the T. I don’t think that it would be melodramatic to suggest that the chant continues in the heads of those fortunate enough to attend this show even today.

And so it ended. We returned to the hotel and found that the ocean had surged and flooded the roads. On the phone was a message from a friend back in Vermont wondering what to feed baby raccoons. A car was floating in the Atlantic.

Tomorrow, M will leave and I’ll walk Boston well into the night. Liverpool will beat A.C. Milan.

On Thursday, I’ll stumble across Bono and Edge outside their hotel. I’ll commune with die-hards who smother them with affection and memorabilia. I’ll meet Gendron and celebrate a second show. I will cover the event and shoot it as press before sneaking back into the stands where I belong. And I’ll tell you all these stories soon.

But for now I’m tired of talking. Thanks for listening.

Review: U2 at Wachovia Center in Philadelphia, May 22, 2005*

May 26, 2005

By Teresa Rivas
2005.05

Before you read this review of my first U2 concert on May 22 at Philadelphia’s Wachovia Center be forewarned. As I write this, I abandon my profession and all that goes with it. I’m no longer a journalist, I’m a fan. So, please, don’t expect any objectivity, multiple opinions or "fair and balanced" coverage of the Sunday show. I waited in line in the cold for 12 hours to see this show. I’ve waited seven years for the opportunity. It was the culmination of all my hopes since I picked up my first U2 CD sophomore year of high school so, yes, in my very biased opinion, it was an amazing experience.

I’ve come to equate quality U2 experiences with early morning, beginning back in January when I had to stalk outside my local Strawbridge’s at 8 a.m. for tickets when my attempts at the presale were foiled and through the harrowing minutes after the May 14th show sold out and we waited, barely breathing, to hear an announcement of a second show on the 22nd.

So when I dragged myself out of bed at 7 a.m. that day to an overcast sky and headed down to the Wachovia Center, I knew everything would be worth the effort.

I shouldn’t have been surprised to find that everyone in line was as kind as people said they would be. The people in front of us were nice enough to ensure that our names weren’t lost in the jumble when I foolishly forgot my U2.com member profile and had to run home to get it. It was a good, communal feeling as everyone waited, counting off the endless hours, offering one another snacks and stories to pass the time.

There could have been more organization to the final lining up process and as we waited, cattle-corralled outside, I felt the same nervous flutterings as I had four months earlier as my fate was about to be decided.

Sadly, I didn’t get into the ellipse but was able to secure a spot along the railing on Edge’s side of the stage. Exhausted and achy from hours on the windswept concrete, I almost envied those with seats—almost. Another two hours to go.

When Kings of Leon took the stage, I found myself surprised to enjoy the set since I’d read so many bad reviews about the group. While not awe-inspiring, or poised heirs-apparent to Lynyrd Skynyrd, I don’t think that many attendees are giving Kings of Leon its due, just sweeping the group aside as annoying obstacles in the way to seeing U2 while the performance deserves more than that.

An example of such closed-minded people were the two women standing next to me, quite possibly the only two obnoxious people in the GA line, who covered their ears and yelled such clever quips as "Stop sucking" and "Go back to Leon" between songs. Since they weren’t enjoying the music, the older of the two had plenty of time to very audibly tell the younger to push me with her elbows so she could gain more room for herself. As I was repeatedly rammed by the girl, who pretended very badly to be oblivious to the situation, I wanted to remind them that with 25,000 people here all dying to get as close to the stage as possible, having three feet of personal space wasn’t quite an option. But this was going to be the best day of my life and I did have to spend the next two hours next to her, so I decided to suffer silently, without budging an inch, and taking comfort in the fact that they were barbarians and badly dressed.

Then more waiting, the loss of all feeling to the lower half of my body and, finally, the Arcade Fire song that starts the show came on. As the song ended and the “Zooropa”-like chant "Everyone" accompanied the red lights dropping from the ceiling a surge of energy seemed to shake off the hours of weary waiting as Edge appeared on stage.

The show began with "City of Blinding Lights" with the huge color-shifting curtain dropping around the stage and a puff of Vertigo-themed confetti descending from the sky. Bono appeared at the back of the ellipse farthest from the stage and climbed his way onto the catwalk. Let the screaming, jumping and flailing begin.

After "COBL" came "Vertigo" and "Elevation" and general (joyful) chaos reigned in the crowd as we screamed along to our favorite songs, jumping and grasping at air in our desperate attempt to touch members of the band as they strolled just feet away from us.

It wasn’t until the fourth song, "Gloria," that I realized that I had no idea what the band had just played and could barely remember my own name I was so happy to be there, in the shouting jumping happy mass of people, seeing U2 live for the first time in my entire life. Personally, "Gloria" isn’t one of my favorite songs but, nevertheless, there they were— the men of my dreams—doing what they did better than anyone else in the world, and I was mesmerized. Thinking back on the set list in the car after the show, it wasn’t exactly the ideal I’d hoped for in the months leading up to the concert but, at the same time, I realized that I didn’t care anymore. Everything U2 did was amazing and I loved every second of every song. The band could have played "Mary Had a Little Lamb" and I would have been leaping to the beat.

I thought that "The Ocean" brought the pace down a little but I guess everyone needed a little bit of a rest and it’s hardly as sobering as a live feed from a war-torn third world country, so I didn’t mind. The place exploded with "Beautiful Day" and it was nice to see Edge finally come into his own singing the last verse of "Miracle Drug" with an almost unassuming Bono, proud of his bandmate, mouthing the words along with his microphone at his side. Not that he could resist for long and soon joined back in in preparation of the chorus.

Next was "Sometimes You Can’t Make It on Your Own," dedicated, of course, to Bono’s father, followed by his exuberant drumming in "Love and Peace or Else." Standing on the other side of the catwalk when Larry Mullen, Jr. came down with the drum before ceding it to Bono, he was the only member I failed to be within three feet of (Adam Clayton strolled the catwalk before the end of the night) but, then again, Mullen has always been the elusive holy grail of U2 to fans.

Two ’80s powerhouses, "Sunday Bloody Sunday" and "Bullet the Blue Sky," were next, proving to be very welcomed throwbacks. One of my favorite live additions is during "Bullet" when Bono sings, like an ethereal hymn, "When Johnny comes marching home again, hurrah, hurrah." "Running to Stand Still" followed and was dedicated to the men and women of the U.S. military.

Next was "Pride" and "Where the Streets Have No Name," and, I must say, that I was disappointed that Bono didn’t run a lap around during the latter’s intro. I know that he has been having some back problems but I found it troubling just the same, not wanting to think that he had turned 45 just under two weeks before and might possibly be a mere mortal like the rest of us.

"One" closed the first half of the show and ushered in the album of the encore. This proved to be my favorite part of the show, being an "Achtung Baby" girl myself, when the band played "Zoo Station," "The Fly" and "Mysterious Ways" back to back. Edge and Bono parted on stage and made their way down opposite sides of the catwalk to meet in the center during "Zoo Station" and it was truly exhilarating to have Edge and his bedazzled guitar so close. When Bono passed by I swear, if it weren’t for the large burly security guard ready to taser me, I could have defied the laws of physics and pounced on him.

I was glad to see that U2 had worked out the kinks in "The Fly," and "Mysterious Ways" has always been a song I dreamed of hearing live, though my other dream of dancing with Bono during that or "With or Without You," which came next, would have to wait.

The show closed with "Yahweh" and "40" though, I have to admit, as the evening wound down I listened to them with a kind of desperation, knowing that the end was near and I wanted nothing more than to stay in this beautiful shimmering world of blinding lights. When it was indeed all over, and the band members made their way off stage, one by one, until Mullen hit his final note, I was exhausted, in pain, hoarse, sweaty and stiff. But it was all worth it, a swirling experience that I will never forget.

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