Review: U2 at Madison Square Garden in New York City, Nov. 22, 2005* - U2 Feedback

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Old 11-27-2005, 11:02 AM   #1
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Review: U2 at Madison Square Garden in New York City, Nov. 22, 2005*

By Devlin Smith, Contributing Editor

From the stage of Madison Square Garden on November 22nd, Bono explained that the members of U2 “heard New York” before they ever saw it. Through the songs of artists like Patti Smith (there with the band to complete her two-night opening stint) and Television (whose guitarist Tom Verlaine influenced "The Edge Sound" more than most people realize), the young U2 got its first taste of the Big Apple.

I had a similar introduction to the city. Edith Wharton, The Ramones, Andy Warhol, Ed Burns, Audrey Hepburn, John Lennon, Sarah Jessica Parker, Betsey Johnson and dozens of other artists and performers informed my view of New York. And, like U2, it was music that finally brought me face-to-face with the metropolis that I'd seen and heard for so long.

"Boy" was U2's excuse for finally coming to New York City; the Vertigo Tour was mine. A friend had two GA tickets for sale and another friend had an air mattress free so I booked my flight and was finally on my way to the big city, to Madison Square Garden and to my final U2 show of 2005.

Winter was making its first moves on New York when I arrived, perfect for a California girl who'd just left clear skies and upper 80s. My friend and I decided against waiting on line for the GA, the rain and wind a little too much for us to take. We were hoping to get beeped into the ellipse and since this friend was responsible for my getting to meet Alanis Morissette via a radio station contest, I'd all but made my King's X on a spot in front of the stage on Edge's side, of course.

We got to the arena at about quarter to 7 and walked right in. Then it was time to be scanned. I had no luck but the screens were on the blink so I was sure it was a mistake. My ticket was scanned twice and was told "Proceed to floor," same with my friend. We walked to the line with our pink bracelets and soon heard the screams of fans luckier than we. Oh well, at least we were seeing U2.

The floor was nearly empty when we got inside so we ended up just one row back from the rail on Edge's side. We had a great view through most of the show, interrupted only when the giant women in front of us would shift at key moments or when everyone on the floor would pull out their camera phones each time a band member would come by.

Patti Smith opened the show and played all the hits she's become a legend for, songs like "Rock 'n' Roll Nigger," "Gloria" and "Because the Night," a ballad she sang to a Gumby doll that was part of her band's setup. Her performance was fantastic and it's tremendously sad how few of the people with tickets for that night actually saw Smith play. Watching and hearing that woman live made me understand why The Edge spent so much of his teenage years playing "Horses" to exhaustion in his bedroom.

After Smith's set, where she mentioned the newly departed CBGB's and dedicated a song to John F. Kennedy, whose assassination occurred 42 years earlier, the familiar U2 run up began. As Arcade Fire’s "Wake Up" began blaring from the speakers, the whole of Madison Square Garden, now at capacity, was up and ready to rock.

The set list was much like those of the other five shows I'd seen this tour but it still rocked. The U2 of Vertigo Tour 2005 is a band at the top of its game—competent, confident and content. Each song is a highlight, each exchange is worth writing down. There are no down moments or bathroom-break segments, Vertigo shows need to be experienced in whole.

The first surprise of the evening came seven songs in when Bono introduced "Original of the Species." I'd been waiting since March 28th in San Diego to hear that song live and the version I got didn't disappoint. This is rapidly becoming my favorite track from "How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb" and I believe it's become U2's first song about pure love. What love is greater than that between a parent and child? It exists from the second life begins and pushes people to great lengths. Bono himself once said that he finally understood how people could go to war after the birth of his first child.

It's that love and those feelings that brought me to the brink of tears on the floor of Madison Square Garden. As Bono sang out, "Sugar come on now, show your soul," I threw my arms into the air and just reveled in finally being able to be in the same room as U2 and that song.

"Sometimes You Can't Make It on Your Own" followed and kept my emotions heightened. Bono dedicated the song to his older brother, Norman, explaining that he helped write the song as well. Hearing and seeing Bono continually healing himself over both the fragile relationship he had with his father and his father's death out in front of tens of thousands of people never loses its power.

"One" finished the main set, per usual, but after a quick sidebar with Edge, the singer and guitarist launched into "MLK," dedicating it to JFK. I never expected to hear that song live and spent most of the downtime between set one and the encore saying, "Oh my God, 'MLK.'"

John Abraham Hewson opened the first encore screaming "Mama" in the guise of the Zoo Baby. "Until the End of the World" was amazing even though Bono and Edge aren't bullfighting anymore (so sad). During "Mysterious Ways" Bono pulled up his only onstage guest of the evening, a girl wearing a clown hat that Macy's sells in its bear department. Unlike most girls who get pulled up to dance with Bono, she didn’t, but was instead offered a piggyback ride to keep the moment special. A daring move from Bono to be sure, given his history with back problems. "With or Without You" followed with Bono sticking close to his bandmates and dancing alone.

The second and final encore began with a mostly acoustic version of "Stuck in a Moment," dedicated to INXS’ former lead singer Michael Hutchence who had died eight years earlier. "Don't f--k up," Bono instructed Edge. On that night of all nights, the song had to be perfect, and it was.

Patti Smith joined the band for what turned out to be the final song of the night. Bono had already mentioned Smith and Television as U2's New York ambassadors and was now talking about another great profit from the city. I had my money set on Joey Ramone and was wondering what punk classic the band would be cranking out. U2 doing "I Wanna Be Sedated"? Could anything top that?

How about U2 and Patti Smith doing John Lennon's "Instant Karma"? Is that strong enough? Hell yeah it was. The music of Lennon and The Beatles is so much a part of my life, the shaping of my ideals, that to be there singing along with U2 as the band does one of his songs was such an amazing moment, I will never forget it.

The arena kept singing, "We all shine on, like the moon and the stars and the sun" as Bono, Smith, Edge, Adam and Larry exited the stage. They all snuck back on and did it one more time, Madison Square Garden erupting with the hopefulness of Lennon's classic.

U2 and Smith once again exited the stage. The house lights stayed down for a while, leading most of us to think another encore was on the way. When the house lights stayed down, I knew the band wasn't coming back. The guys had made a quick escape into the New York night, anxious to get back to their stateside homes to spend some downtime with their families.

With that, my Vertigo Tour ended. I'd been there opening night; I'd been there when the band completely changed the show's opening just two performances in; I'd been there for three opening acts; I been there for Larry's birthday and Exit's big performance; I'd been there to meet Edge, Adam, Steve Lillywhite, Gavin Friday and Ned O'Hanlon; I'd been there in Vegas when "Elvis" took the stage; I'd been there in New York when "Instant Karma" sent us into the night.

It'd been an amazing tour for me and Madison Square Garden on November 22nd was the perfect place for it to end. Even if that had been my only Vertigo show, it would have been worth it. U2 and Madison Square Garden were a perfect combination.

And the next day, the love continued. While lined up at FAO Schwarz, I was checking out the store's samples of customized bracelets. Two stuck out, one reading "Edge" and the other "Edge Girl." Sadly, they weren't for sale but they did bring back a little of that U2 high.

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Old 11-27-2005, 04:39 PM   #2
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I enjoyed your review of Tuesday's concert. Much of it is a blur to me because I was just so overwhelmed to be there and have the opportunity to see the band up close after 18 years of fandom (it was the only time I was able to get GAs). I just want to clarify one small thing: when Bono pulled my daughter up on stage during "Mysterious Ways," he told her not to dance and just to look him in the eyes...hard request, huh!? And she says that "Bono's hands are SO soft!" I am so jealous that I didn't get to feel his hands! Oh, and it was a birthday hat from Claire's (not a clown hat) that she covered with a sign that said "Take me slow dancing." Thanks for your review; everything I read about the show brings it all back!

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Old 12-11-2005, 05:17 AM   #3
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Devlin, you've captured the whole range of feelings a true fan of rock music experiences. I saw the Beatles at the Cow Palace and at Candlestick Park in San Francisco in the 60s and now I've seen U2 in San Jose and Oakland in 2005. As I read your review the excitement of seeing both bands was there all over again.

San Jose was my first time seeing U2 and I shared it with my first-born daughter, my "Original of the Species." I remember thinking, just like you, "I'm in the same room as U2!" The band's music and Vertigo Tour have brought me joy - the same joy and satisfaction that you so exquisitely share in your review. Thanks! You seem to always capture the essence of whatever you're reviewing.
Warmest Aloha!
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