Once you’ve had GA….

It all began with a sermon I wrote for my church in October of last year. I’d always been a U2 fan, but somewhere amidst all that research to write the sermon as I took a deep look at the reasons why U2 music appealed to me, I fell in love with my favorite band all over again. And a wild fervor overtook my mind that has led me on this journey where you find me now.

I’ve had tickets to the E. Lansing, Michigan show since December 2009–right when I found myself in love with U2’s latest No Line On The Horizon–and was really disappointed when Bono’s emergency back surgery put the tour off for a year (but, of course, deeply concerned about my favorite frontman). After the surgery and the tour resumed in Europe in 2010, more dates were added to the North American tour for this year. I jumped on the Pittsburgh bandwagon and, since I was having so much trouble finding people to go with me on my second ticket to the E. Lansing show, I decided to try general admission. General Admission always looked like where I wanted to be anyway. Energetic. Fun.

It seems so long ago now that I had just two shows on my schedule. I remember thinking that two was an extremely impulsive and wild thing for me to do. Little did I know that before the year had hardly begun, my impatience to see U2 live would grow to such a height that I’d add Philly and Nashville to the list. I would be seeing U2 four times between June 26 through July 26th–one month of U2!

And then my friend Kristy told me she had an extra ticket for Denver. I initially told her no because I knew it would be a little bit of a strain financially; I had the money but I’m a cautious spender. And yet, the temptation of going to Denver–which was one month earlier than my first date in E. Lansing–was overwhelming. I looked up my travel points on one of my credit cards and found I had enough for a $100 credit on an airline ticket. That pretty much clenched it; I was going.

My first experience with U2 was a trial of waiting. And waiting. It seems fitting, however, that I should see this band again just over 10 years after seeing them the first time after my husband’s death. It was like coming full circle. 360 degrees, if you will. From one side of my grief journey to the other and U2 walked me there. (Again, I wish I could tell the band this…)

I am not a patient person by nature. So the thought of waiting outside a stadium all day–effectively in line–never sounded like an easy endeavor for me. The more I read fan accounts about the GA line and its protocol, the more discouraged I became. I could maybe imagine lining up at 9am. 11am. Earlier in the morning? Maybe. But the night before? Sleeping in line? I could think of nothing more horrible and boring… Not even to see my favorite band in the world.

I thought I was safe being in America where most venues do not allow camping on their premises. Of course, I did not realize that most fans then take their line elsewhere. When Kristy started to suggest early last week that we might have to start sitting in the line the night before, I became reasonably frustrated. Could I really stand waiting around doing nothing that long?

Ever since I began entertaining the thought of a GA ticket, I imagined passing the time reading or writing. So I packed a book and a small notebook, hoping they would reasonably distract me. I decided I would do what I had to to get a close position to my band, but I continued to dread the thought of waiting in line.

While at work on Friday, I was frustrated to learn that through various fan streams on Twitter that before I’d even left Ohio, people were already queuing up for GA in Denver. The competitive side of me–the part that dreamed of  seeing Bono, The Edge, Adam, and Larry up close and personal–seethed. Would I end up waiting for a lousy place in GA? Kristy and other fans assured me that there was no lousy spot in the Inner Circle–the area between the catwalks and the stage–and that 3,000 people could fit there. So I just tried to breathe and not stress about it. Beer at the Great Lakes Brewery in Akron-Canton airport helped calm my nerves too.

Upon arrival in Denver, I learned that U2 was giving a special concert for 300 people (something to do with the Special Olympics) in lieu of a rehearsal. It was going on when I arrived at the airport and but by the time we got to our hotel next to Invesco Field (after meeting up, waiting on baggage, getting our rental car), Bono was singing “With or Without You” which was the last song at that performance. But I could hear it from outside the stadium and it was beautiful. All those fans who say that this song is old and tired–that Bono doesn’t sing it like he loves it anymore–are completely wrong. The song still lives.

Anyway, since we’d missed hearing the show from outside, we started to look around for the GA queue. Apparently they’d been kicked off the premises when the band started their show so we needed to find where they had relocated. Oh, the wonder of modern technology! I pulled out my phone and tweeted to the hashtag for livestream for the Denver show, and within one minute, I had four people reply to me with the location of the line. We found them and got our numbers–211, 212 (me), 213. Wow! So high the night before the show.

Fortunately, the person taking names and assigning numbers informed us that we did not need to sleep in the line over night but that we should come back early the next morning (though he didn’t know what time would be best). Kristy, being the GA veteran (and, I do believe, as nervous as I was about getting a good standing space), determined that we should be back to the line between 4:30am and 5:00am.

We did circle the stadium a few times in hopes that we could figure out where the band would come out so that we could get an autograph, but by the time we came back from the line, the stadium seemed kind of dark. I was jealous because I learned through Twitter that some people had gotten to meet the band when they went in before their special show. Maybe someday I will get to meet them…. But it wasn’t to be the case this trip.

So we got about 4 hours of sleep. Early in the morning, before the sun had even risen, we walked up the hill behind our hotel to sidewalk that overlooked the stadium where the GA line was waiting. People started shuffling up there around the same time and, by the time the sun was up (behind the steely cold clouds), there were a couple hundred people.

I must admit there was an excitement in the air. We were still hours away from the concert obviously, but it was like we were all preparing for some grand ritual. Around 6:30am, the people running the line had us shuffle into our numerical order. This appears to be an important part of the procedure of lining up in GA. You look to your neighbors so that you learn to recognize them. Having face time in the line is what allows you to slip in and out for food or a shower or whatever you need to do on occasion without pissing people off because they think you’re line jumping.

Stadium security let us into the actual GA line shortly after 7am. Our new location became our camp for the next several hours. I was really surprised that the time actually passed by quickly. Between talking with Kristy and Shawn, and meeting up with friends I had only known previously from the U2 forum, I never once picked up my book to read nor wrote in my notebook. It was like being on a beach vacation. Without the beach. But what does a person do when they go someplace with a beach? Sit around, nap, just absorb the atmosphere. And that’s what I did. In the GA line, you’re among a group of people who LOVE your band at least as much as you do because you’re all there hanging out to get the position you desire in general admission. There’s no other place you’ll ever go where there’s this many people who share your love of U2. It’s magic.

Home Sweet Home: The GA Line

The day started out cloudy. It looked uncharacteristically like Cleveland. But in the afternoon, the sun came out long enough to put a red blush on everyone’s faces–cheeks, noses, foreheads, shoulders. I had applied sunblock but, of course, even I got a little bit of a burn. The temperatures bordered between too cold to feel comfortable in short sleeves and too warm for the fleece jacket I had. I eventually braved the discomfort by removing my jacket. Right before stadium security started getting us ready to move into the stadium, I decided to leave my jacket at the hotel. As the sun went in and out of the clouds while we waited to begin entering the stadium, I worried I’d made the wrong decision. But I figured I’d be warm during the show with all the bodies pressed up together in the Inner Circle.

Kristy & Mars Girl at home at our spot in the GA line.

The stadium security began letting us into the stadium in groups of 50 at about 4:30pm. We were, I think, the second group to get in. I thought I was going to be able to fast walk with Kristy, but she was ahead of me in line and was gone before the stadium lady even got my wristband on. So I waited as the other worker struggled to get Shawn’s wristband on. I had panicked a little because I had no idea where I was going. I figured Shawn knew what he was doing and where his wife was going, so I guessed my safe bet was to follow him.

Those moments of walking into the stadium were tense. Shawn started to jog a little and I fell into the same pace. Stadium workers barked, “You’re jogging!! WALK! WALK! WALK!” at us as we passed. So we’d slow up a little just to pass them and then resume our frantic pace. It seemed like there were four or five check points as we entered the area of The Claw where we had to show both our wristband and our tickets. The whole time, I’m inwardly panicking, afraid we were losing precious time.

It’s a good thing I was with Shawn because I would never have figured out how to get into the Inner Circle despite having read about it a few times on the U2 forum. There is a gate on each side that you have to pass through. For some reason your instinct is to head straight for it, but, of course, there is no way to get over or under the catwalk to get to the Inner Circle.

Me & the inside of the Claw (over the stage).

Kristy had informed me that she was going to head towards Adam’s side if she couldn’t get a spot along the rail in front of Bono’s microphone. And that’s exactly where we found her–in between the center of the stage where Bono would stand and Adam’s side of the stage. There was already a steady line of people on the rails, but we were the second row which, frankly as a newbie, suited me just fine. This was undoubtedly the closest I have ever been to the band. I was totally stoked imagining Bono and Adam right in front of my eyes. (Adam Clayton, U2’s bass player, is my second favorite in the band!)

Kristy & Mars Girl in our final positions by the stage.

Of course we still had to wait. All said and done, we were sitting down waiting in our positions at 5:00; the show did not start until about 7:10 (ten minutes past the time it was supposed to start, of course, as entertainment of any kind rarely starts on time).

The Fray opened for U2. Unfortunately, this band was not a good distraction from my excitement to see U2. I own one of The Fray’s CDs. I think I like three songs off of it. The rest of the songs sound the same. Needless to say, I found them a bit boring to watch, though their lead singer certainly had the lead singer swagger and I admit that I liked his outfit very much, though I couldn’t help but think he was stealing Michael Stipe’s look with his bald head. I admit that throughout their show, I kept checking my watch. Which totally didn’t help.

When The Fray finished their set, I became the most restless that I’d been all day. It occurs to me–and I have said it to many people I’ve talked to about this day–that the longest wait for U2 is from the moment you get your position in GA until U2 actually comes on. Those three hours stretch like twelve; while the twelve beforehand seemed to fly like three. Funny how time is all perception.

U2’s techs took the stage and the set up was interesting to watch. I counted at least five bass guitars in that long half hour. I couldn’t really see what was going on with the drums, but the drum tech was there awhile pounding around. I saw and took a picture of the famous Dallas Shoo–Edge’s guitar tech and just as much an object of lust by many U2 fan girls as the band themselves (not for me, I prefer Bono’s bodyguard, but that’s another story). There was music playing over the loud speaker and every time a song would end, I wanted so badly to hear David Bowie’s “Space Oddity”–the music to which U2 begins their walk to the stage. I recognized Gavin Friday’s new single “Able” as one of the songs that played; I enjoyed the fact that I knew it was Gavin Friday (a friend of Bono’s from childhood who is also a musician). I just pre-ordered Friday’s new album catholic last week!

When at last “Space Oddity” came on the speakers, I felt my stomach drop. This was it…. the moment. I took out my camera and put it on video mode because I had determined that I wanted to tape the phenomenal opening from “Space Oddity” as it bleeds off into U2’s epic–and recently reworked–“Even Better Than The Real Thing” from Achtung Baby–one of my favorite songs on that CD.

It was really a bad idea to chose that song to video. It’s a great song, but concentrating on keeping the video camera steady and on the stage while avoiding the swaying hands of people in front of me kind of took away from the moment. A moment of which I really badly wanted to feel a part. A few times during the song, I did end up jumping, and you can see it in the video, but I was not throwing my hands around and screaming like I really wanted to be. Oh well. It was after finishing the recording that I decided I was not going to try to video any more of the show… I have since decided I’m just going to video one song per show just so that I have the memory of being at each place.

The crowd was wild. Even though I was familiar with the general set list (having followed the tour online since last summer), I did not benefit at all from knowing the most probable songs they would play. My mind was numbed by my proximity to Adam Clayton and Bono. And even though they were across the stage at more of a distance, I could see Larry (drummer) and The Edge (guitars, as if you didn’t know that already) clearly enough to make out their facial expressions as well.

To top it off, the show is just an audio and visual extravaganza that overload the senses–especially as close as I was. The songs just seemed to flow right over me and through me and I was just dancing and enjoying myself, occasionally catching a picture here or there (I did struggle for awhile to find the right settings to get pictures with my camera). My eyes always wanted to follow Bono–my hero–no matter where he went, which also is proven by the fact that I took more pictures of him than even Adam Clayton (who I also wanted to pay attention to).

Adam, Larry, and Bono doing what they do best.

It was all very surreal. I kept watching Bono, thinking, “That’s really Bono. That’s not an impersonator. That’s the real deal.” As if my mind couldn’t fathom the legend of the real Bono standing in front of me–just feet away. When he came to my side of the stage and looked down to read the sign the girls in front of me held, I realized for once that he really saw them (or us, his audience). You could see his eyes moving as he read the sign, singing the whole time, and he responded by calling out to the “three sisters” (their sign read something like “3 Sisters Back For More U2”). It suddenly occurred to me right then and there that we were seen by the band… we could all be seen individually… not only did we see them, but they could see us. I guess I’m used to theatre where the actors for the most part do not acknowledge the audience. But that’s always been the case with U2–they have always broken down that third wall between the performer and the audience.

Bono and The Edge performing an acoustic version of Stay (Far Away So Close!)

Often during the show, Adam would react to fans and smile. He has to be the happiest man in U2. He plays his bass and when fans scream, he just smiles. He really seems to be in a zone. It’s such a contrast to Adam Clayton of the 1990s who always put up a tough guy front, especially during the ZooTV and PopMart eras. I do believe the man has found his niche or something because he’s just so damned happy these days. And if the smiling isn’t proof, his vibrant jumping up and down in “Mysterious Ways” was certainly telling. (And he usually doesn’t get that into that song, I’m told.)

Adam Clayton (not smiling) right in front of me.

Some high points of the show for me?

Bono dedicated “Until The End of The World” to Rev. Harold Camping and made reference to Camping’s prediction about the end of the world which was supposed to happen that night. He threw flowers (yellow roses?) into the audience one-by-one, shouting the names of cities and, I think, saying, “We bring peace!” In the part where he and The Edge stand on opposite bridges attempt to touch hands, which always–intentionally, I’m sure–conjures the image of the Creation painting on the Sistine Chapel wall, Bono held a flower that he tries to pass to The Edge. When their hands don’t meet (they rarely do), he dropped the flower into the audience. It was such a cool touch.

“Zooropa” sung live induced goosebumps. I love how the guys fade behind the screen (which lowers around them). The whole band dons laser suits–new to this show, according to my rabid youtube viewings of previous shows–and that’s all you can see of them flashing as the haunting notes of the song flow around you. They keep the suits on through “City of Blinding Lights” and it looks pretty sweet.

Adam sports his laser suit in "City of Blinding Lights."

“Scarlet,” the otherwise obscure, one-word song from the completely underrated (and my favorite) October album. When the first few notes of the song started, I turned to Kristy and said, “Oh my God, Scarlet.” Bono said his bit about the release of An San Suu Kyi and then sang the beautiful, “ReeeeejjjooooOOOoooice!” several times. I was so happy when the audience both echoed him and then sang on its own when invited to do so by Bono. It was even better than I imagined it could be hearing it live.

“Walk On,” of course, one of my top 10 favorite U2 songs because it was the song that kept my head above water during the depths of my grief over Mike’s death. During the song, volunteers from the One campaign hold lanterns, I think, to represent the other political prisoners like An San Suu Kyi worldwide who are awaiting release. They leave the lanterns on the catwalk at the end of the song, I think, but I really couldn’t see from my position on the stage. Kristy–who has seen it from the Red Zone–tells me it’s a beautiful moment, though. As if the song wasn’t enough.

The second encore was “Hold Me Thrill Me Kiss Me Kill Me”–a rocking kick ass song from the Pop era that I’ve always loved. I was so thrilled to hear it live. The “suit of lights” Bono dons for this and “With Or Without You” was way cooler to see in person than on youtube. And watching Bono swing nearly over your head on the “steering wheel” swing/mike is breathtaking. Our fearless leader still wants to launch himself into the audience like he did in the old days.

Bono in his suit of lights in HMTMKMKM.

Bono dedicated “Moment Of Surrender”–the last song of the night–to someone from the One campaign he knew who had recently died. As the words flowed from his mouth, I got lost somewhere in the midst of the beauty of that song, which is from No Line On The Horizon, and truly one of the best songs U2 has ever written. Bono sings it with such emotion and maybe he got caught up in the mood of the dedication for, during the chorus where he enticed the audience to sing the “wo-wo-wohs,” he turned to face the band (his back to the audience). When he turned back, his face looked pained and I could swear he’d been crying or something. I didn’t see tears, but I got the impression that a few had fallen. The last verse came out slowly, painfully and, rightfully so, he left out the little rap he usually adds to the song when singing it live. It was pure magic.

Bono singing "Moment of Surrender" -- a beautiful moment, indeed.

Despite the fact that I actually did have to pee by the end of the show, I didn’t want it to end. They could have played 5 more songs if they wanted and I’d have forgotten all about it. In fact, my neck and shoulder–which had been aching since Thursday–were not bothering me at all. Perhaps music is truly the malady for all ills. I was epically shaken by how cool the concert was, how much fun it was to be in a crowd of jumping people who enjoyed the music as much as I did, and I was so surprised that I really didn’t care half as much about the set list as I do when I’m at home watching the updates from Twitter when other shows are going on. Songs that I thought I’d grown used to from overplay (for me, “Pride (In The Name Of Love)” and “One”) came to life again. You just can’t help but get caught up Bono’s charisma–whether you are male or female–or in the sound that band produces.

Bono's charisma charms us all.

The band leaving the stage was projected on the screen and I craned my neck to watch a very excited, happy Bono first nudge a beaming Larry, then hug and nudge Adam who walked in front of him. Adam half turned and smiled back. I wondered what that interchange was all about. It made me smile too. It’s really inspiring to see that these guys, after all these years, still like each other. I think that’s part of what contributes to the magic of this band–they are just four friends playing music. It certainly has contributed to their longevity, the fact that they like each other, and therefore a happy U2 is a good U2 for me because that means there will continue to be a U2.

Anyway, I woke up Sunday morning depressed. It’s like that deflated feeling you get after a party or a really great date or anything you’ve been anticipating for a long time that’s now over. I had to get up and move around to shake myself out of the funk. Fortunately, I had some friends with which to talk about the show and that helped. I had to remind myself that I still have four shows to see this summer, so it wasn’t completely over. However, I think this feeling of depression is a glimpse into how I will feel the day after Pittsburgh–my last show. Pathetic, no? Eh, we all geek out over something.

Before leaving town, I spent several hours with Jennifer, another girl from the forum who I had met the day before when she visited me in the GA line. It was really cool to connect with yet another virtual friend. It’s great because I originally got on that forum to meet other people like myself with whom I could talk U2 and maybe attend concerts or other U2-related events. I’ve found just that. I’m also really delighted that all these people are exactly the people they present themselves as online. So I look forward to meeting so many more of these people in what promises to be an epic “family reunion” of sorts in Philly this summer.

The Claw (which I never get to see in GA since I'm within it!)

So what happens to someone after they’ve camped out for hours on the grounds of a stadium to see a three-hour U2 show up-close and personal with the band? She realizes that there’s no way in hell she could ever sit up far away in seats in East Lansing, Michigan later next month. Which is to say I’ve happily purchased a GA ticket for E. Lansing. Yep. Screw the seats. Those tickets had the worst of luck with all the change-of-hands they experienced anyway. I realized the morning after the Denver show that where I need to be at a U2 concert is in the sound… and the only place to be in the sound is in general admission with my peeps.

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4 thoughts on “Once you’ve had GA….

  1. It sounds like such a marvelous experience. I am so happy for you to be able to do something this fun this summer.

  2. I feel fortunate to be able to afford to see them so many times. They are an amazing live act. More amazing than they are in the studio. They thrive on audience interaction. If someone was born to do something, this band was definitely born to be performers. They never disappoint.

    Hopefully whatever it is that is wrong with my shoulder/neck/arm does not interfere with my ability to see my boys four more times….

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