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Old 05-29-2005, 09:32 AM   #1
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A U2 Concert Is So Much More Than Just A Show*

U2 rocks Boston and long time fan on May 24th

By Dave Mance

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.

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Old 06-01-2005, 12:05 PM   #2
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great story I love it!


Your story is incredibel. I live in Panama, and I flew 12 hpours to Seattle a month ago o r so, to join the VERTIGO tour at The Key Arena. I´ve made the mistake of not bringing a note book, so some of my memories were collapsed. Reading yours, seems familiar to all that I´ve felt. I was wondering if people in North AMerica always sits down in concerts when the songs are slow and that. I was amazed! I couldn t sit down any moment. I JUST LOVE U2. I am celebrating my 19 years of being a fan, making that big effort to get tickets and plane tickets for the shows. Just worth it!
Pat Ryan

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Old 06-04-2005, 02:41 PM   #3
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gREAT rEview!!!
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Old 07-10-2005, 01:36 PM   #4
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Originally posted by Harry Vest
gREAT rEview!!!
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Old 07-12-2005, 07:20 AM   #5
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