In New York…

freedom looks like too many choices… – U2, “New York”

Sometime after my plans for Philadelphia had been set, I decided that I wanted to go see Spider-man Turn Off The Dark since I would be so close–probably closer than I’ve ever been or will be for awhile–to New York City. At the time, the show was being rewritten and overhauled and I had hope that it would reopen, make it through the previews, and continue on successfully. Fortunately for me, that seemed to be the case. I asked around online and Erin—who was then just an online acquaintance—thankfully agreed to go with me. Erin had been to New York City before so she knew the ropes… better than me, anyway! And I felt less fearful about trying to navigate in what is to me a big scary city.

So I bought the tickets for the next day after the Philly concert, Erin booked the hotel in Times Square, and we decided we’d take Amtrak from Philly to Penn Station in NYC. It would be an epically fun little U2 “weekend” for us. Busy, yes. But fun.

As is usual for a stint in GA, we’d been up the day of the concert at 4am and, due to the horrible traffic pattern exiting the stadium, we did not get back to our hotel—just three miles away—until 2am the following day. We got a few hours sleep to wake up around 9 the next morning. I did not feel like I’d slept at all when I initially got up but after a shower and breakfast, my excitement masked my fatigue and I felt energized to face the new adventure.

Our arrival in NYC was a dizzying combination of subways and travel by train. I was glad Erin was more patient than me. I’m sure I could have figured it all out—I’ve had to do so in Europe—but it somehow all seems so much more intimidating in the US. Maybe when I travel abroad I live in a state of ignorant naivete because the cultural differences make it impossible for me to attempt to interpret the behaviors of the inhabitants; therefore, I can’t perceive the danger I think I feel around me by all my fellow US citizens. Either way, I cannot underscore how uncomfortable big cities like NYC make a small city girl like me feel as compared to say, Munich, where I’m just overwhelmed by the extreme foreignness of it all. I tried to look at NYC like that—pretend I was in some foreign country somewhere. That seemed to help.

Arrival in Times Square... A crazy busy place of intense madness.

When we emerged from the subway onto the streets of Time Square, my head exploded from the number of people who flooded the streets like one massive stream of bodies. I had pictured a lot of people, sure, but this was like the alley between tents at a carnival. I recognized some of the brightly lit buildings with their futuristic digital billboards from movies I’d seen, although in those movies the streets had been much emptier. It all seemed a lot more cluttered and narrow than I’d imagined. I thought Times Square would be an actual square, kind of like Cleveland’s Playhouse Square. Which I suppose, now that I think about it, is not really a square either. Still, Cleveland’s theatre district—even on a show day—is not nearly as packed as Times Square. Small City Girl exclaimed, “Eep!”

A constant stream of people are ever-present in Times Square.

We stayed at the Millennium Hotel which was a little out of the way from the main pedestrian traffic and was actually only a few blocks from the Foxwoods Theatre where we would see Spider-man. Once we checked in, we walked to the theatre to ensure we knew how to get there. After running a few short errands (such as buying a toothbrush, as I’d forgotten to pack one, and the cheap one I was provided at the hotel in Philly was destroyed after a single use), Erin and I decided to stalk Bono take a stroll through the famous Central Park. At the part of the park that just happens to be in front of Bono’s NYC apartment, The San Remo.

We didn’t honestly expect to see him there. My story—and I’m sticking to it—was that it was research for my rock star story. My continuing quest to see how the “other half” lives. The subway exit onto the street was just half a block from the famous residence. We stood on the corner across the street, took a few pictures, and then passed both entrances to the building from the same side of the street so not to appear obstructive or alert the bellmen. It was actually an old building. Nothing outwardly spectacular or grand. Just another apartment building in New York City. I can’t even imagine what it must have looked like on the inside. Nor did either of us know which tower Bono’s apartment occupies.

A lake in Central Park--where nature meets Man.

We hung out in the park for an hour or so, just generally taking in the surroundings. It was just like I’d seen in movies—an oasis of green in the middle of a cement jungle where at some points tall buildings poked over the tops of the trees. It was fairly busy with bicyclists, joggers, picnickers, and other tourists milling about. We imagined what it would be like to see Bono jogging by (we know he jogs) or on a stroll with his wife and sons as the paparazzi frequently catch him. No such luck for us that day. I wasn’t even sure he was in town.

After we’d had our fill of failed attempts to stalk, we headed back to the hotel to get ready for show. It turns out that Lori-Jo (aka EdgeFest)–another fan I’d met in my travels this summer—was in town and also attending that evening’s show. So we ended up meeting up with her for dinner. She rescued us from the chain restaurant of the Hard Rock Cafe to one of the many Irish pubs which, incidentally, happened to be across the street from our hotel. She happily fed the jukebox so that we could enjoy a bountiful of U2 music as we ate.

We parted ways with Lori-Jo because she had to pick up her tickets at Will Call. However, as we waited for the show to start from our great seats in the Flying Circle—which was the lower balcony—Lori-Jo walked right past us and sat in the row right in front of us! For the win! We formed our own little “crazed U2 fan” corner. While we did not make nearly as much ruckus as the slew of kids and their obnoxious parents further down our row, I can’t say we were exactly a passive audience. There was some fist pumping during a scene in which the main characters were at a club where the song “Vertigo” was playing and we could not help but poke each other a giggle at the various U2 references sprinkled throughout the script. It was not unlike a (subdued) U2 concert for us.

The show itself was really delightful. The music was well-balanced in the theatre, at an acceptable volume, and not at all distorted. You could make out the individual instruments and the cast pulled the songs off as good as their polished versions on the soundtrack I bought when it came out a month ago. The storyline pretty similarly followed that of the first Spider-man movie starring Tobey Macguire with an attempt to make add a more literary take on the plot with the legend of Arachne. Jennifer Damiano’s performance of Mary Jane Watson was reminiscent of Kirsten Dunst’s performance in the movie.

The costumes were awesome. Patrick Page really stole the show as the villainous Green Goblin, almost as if evil scientist was his first nature. The acrobatics had me on the edge of my chair because, given all the accidents the show had experienced early on, I did not want to personally witness any such accidents. I kept thinking there was no freaking way I would personally ever do what those actors were doing. And I’ve jumped out of a perfectly good airplane (however, I hate rock climbing, so I guess my statement comes as no surprise).

Most of the acrobatic stunts were performed by other actors dressed as Spider-man. However, at the end of the play, Reeve Carney did perform a few of his own, including a breath-taking jump onto a platform at the edge of our balcony. I can still see the silhouette Carney—his spiked hair aglow by the light of the spotlight at his back—and the shit-eating grin spread across his face as he looked out at us. It was almost as surprising and rewarding as if Bono himself had suddenly appeared on the balcony! Carney went on to jump up to the (higher) balcony above us where I’m sure the audience received a similar performance from the young actor.

Spider-man billboard outside of the Foxwoods Theatre.

The house was packed. Whether it was to watch what some still considered a sinking ship or people were honestly starting to take this show seriously, I felt vindicated that Bono and The Edge’s attempt to insert themselves into Broadway was finally working out for them. Sure, the story itself is not extremely deep. It doesn’t have the emotional or literary impact of Cabaret (my favorite musical) but neither does the tongue-in-cheek dialog of The Fifth Element compare to the emotionally uplifting message of Gattaca; yet, I love both movies with a passion. Sometimes you read a fiction novel because it’s fun and entertaining. Not everything has to teach you something.

But it’s not to say that Spider-man Turn Off The Dark is devoid of any meaningful content. It’s a love story primarily which is perhaps one of the most common themes Bono explores in all his work (think: The Million Dollar Hotel). Interlaced within the songs and some of the dialog is a dire political commentary ripped right out of today’s headlines—genetics (playing God), war, patriotism. I, of course, eat this stuff up.

The song “Pull The Trigger” has such a biting punch, I’ve been calling it “Bullet The Blue Sky 2.0.” As an evil corporation seeking to create super soldiers for the military try to persuade Norman Osborn to sell the secrets of his genetic breakthroughs, they chant the haunting chorus that reminds me so much of the war cries of those people who cried chants of anti-patriotism whenever I criticized the country post-911:

Don’t just think of you,
Think of God and country,
Join the proud and few who know best for their country
Get some patriotic pride
Or get on to the other side.

And the ever poignant obvious stab at the most recent events in Iraq:

How do we win, by living in fear
How do we win, get the enemy clear
How do we win, by saying it’s done in retaliation

The march of the soldiers screaming “yes, sir! hut-2-3” at the end of the sequence was spine-chilling, seeming somehow very ZooTV to me. I wish U2 could perform this one in concert (even though it’s technically not a U2 song). The words are marvelously poignant and, honestly, I’d love to see The Edge play the kick-ass guitar solo in the middle eight. I am envisioning a troop of One campaigners dressed in military attire as the marching soldiers with Bono leading the pack in his ZooTV era military outfit from “Running To Stand Still.”

Okay, I kid. But still… It would be a great live song. I think the sequence that accompanied this song in the show was my favorite part. I was pleased when Lori-Jo also seemed to gravitate to that song as well (and how could she not, as an Edgegirl, with a guitar solo like that one?).

Anyway, it was really a lot of fun and worth every cent I paid for that ticket (it’s Broadway, after all). The only that was not enjoyable was the aforementioned children who disrupted my consciousness from being drawn into the action of the show. During every love song/sequence between Peter Parker and Mary Jane, the kids began to shift in their chairs and talk loudly. I know the fun theme of Spider-man appears to parents as an open invitation to bring their kids, but really, must they? Perhaps a parent should consider whether or not their child is capable of sitting quietly for two hours before bringing the to a live show…? I’m just saying. I don’t think my mom—who loves theatre—brought me to one live show before the age of 13.

Additionally, there were two adults in front of Lori-Jo who plainly had an inability to sit still. The man kept checking his phone or texting (and was reprimanded by the usher once) and the woman was constantly shuffling in her seat. Why do people like this even bother attending a show? I seriously started to wonder if perhaps New Yorkers are just more of the heckling type for every type of entertainment they attend (and I’d witnessed them at baseball games when I frequented Long Island for a former job). Some of the behaviors I witnessed in this audience would never have been allowed to happen at a show in Cleveland. I ended up giving some people my best stink-eye. Which didn’t seem to help much. Oh well.

The show ended to much applause, though, so people seemed to generally like it. On my way out, I stopped at a merchandise stand to make my contribution to Bono and The Edge’s lavish lifestyle and, probably, the education of their children. They are always thankful about me spending my “hard-earned,” after all. Hell, they deserved it after the year they had with this show. I bought a really cool women’s sized t-shirt that I plan to wear to the show in Pittsburgh.

The Foxwoods Theatre marquee. A "spectacular for all ages"? Maybe it should not so openly invite children!

Outside of the theatre, we took turns taking pictures of each other in front of the panel over the door that read “The Bono-Edge Score Really Rocks.” Because. Well. It does.

Erin and me (taking on Bono's persona with Lori-Jo's shades) pose outside the Foxwoods Theatre behind the glowing ad of Bono and Edge's musical score.

We went out for some post-show drinks afterwords but we pretty much called it night after that. Erin and I had another early morning wake up call as we had bought tickets on the 9am train back to Philly since Erin had drive from Atlanta and had to get back for work on Sunday.

Me and Lori-Jo (EdgeFest) on at street in Times Square.

I had the quintessential NYC experience–complete with a Naked Cowboy sighting earlier in the day–and I was able to enjoy it while hanging out with some fabulous new friends (Erin, Lori-Jo!!). I really left town with a feeling of satisfaction–a great concert, a great evening out on Broadway, a fun new adventure. You can’t ask for anything more!

In the City of Brotherly Love

After going through some disappointment following the Nashville show (because of the overwhelming thirst that knocked me out of the moment), I went into Philly with mixed feelings of trepidation. I was afraid my spot in E. Lansing had ruined all shows for me, I feared I’d lost the ability to get into the moment, I thought was becoming bored with this U2 concert-going experience. I wondered in all the insanity of trying to stand in the “perfect” spot in GA if I’d lost sight of the real purpose of U2 music to me. The line cutting and fierce competition for spots on the rail had opened my eyes to what I felt was somewhat of a hypocrisy for people who claimed to love a band whose music carries such strong messages of justice and peace.

So I came into Philly with the idea that I was just going to chill out and go with the flow. I was meeting up with a bunch of people with whom I’d chatted on the U2 forum and that was really my main reason for being there. Fresh faces, some time spent with other fans who share my passion for U2. I was not going to let my obsession with the perfect GA position get in the way of forming new friendships. I’d decided that I would try for a less competitive position on the outer rail of the inner circle. Fortunately, Erin—with whom I was rooming at a hotel in downtown Philly—agreed.

I was driving up the day before the show—Wednesday—and no earlier since this was all the time off work I could reasonably allow myself. I purposely avoided using Twitter at all so that I would not stumble upon any news of a GA line forming Tuesday. I just didn’t want to know. Even after having decided I was going to chill out, I would still have stressed knowing that a GA line had formed and I wasn’t there to get a number. The drive to Philly from my house was six hours so I just tried to enjoy the travel through scenic Pennsylvania.

When I arrived in Philly and met up with Erin, we took a drive around the venue to try to find a GA line. However, there was no evidence of people congregating somewhere near it that I could see. I would later learn that they had actually formed a few days earlier across the street from the gate where GA was let in. We probably could have inspected the scene more thoroughly and found them but a part of me just didn’t care. I’d known plenty of people who had arrived the morning the day of the show and still got a good spot.

So we went over to a party Susie—the girl who’d originally talked me into going to the Philly show all those months ago—was holding at her parents’ place. There we met up with several people I’d previously only talked to on the forum–Maija from Finland, Amanda from NJ, Emma, and I remet Kevin (who I’d actually met in Denver). We chatted with the ZooTV DVD playing in the background. It was really fun, as Erin said, being with people who really “got it” about our band.

Amanda's sign--a funny response to the fact that everyone else in her group had made a sign.

The next morning, we were up bright and early for the GA line. We arrived at about 5:45am right before the venue was about to let the line in to our all-day home. I was relieved that there didn’t appear to be too many people already lined up. We were assigned 199 and 200. I felt I could breathe easy because I’d had 211 or 212 in Denver and I’d had what still to me seems like a spectacular spot even after all spots since and I wasn’t even on the rail. So I just kept trying to tell myself all day that it would work out okay, that I’d still be able to see the band and their facial expressions, and that it would be all right.

Erin and Mars Girl in the GA line.

It was a hot day–about 83 degrees–but not at all humid. Earlier in the morning when we were in the shadow of the stadium, I was actually chilly in my tank top. When the shadow moved off and we were in direct sunlight, it did get quite warm but nothing at all like Nashville. Still, I was careful to drink whenever I was thirsty or my lips felt dry. We had a cooler stocked with bottles of cold water so it was easy to drink whenever we needed. This cooler, I have decided, is definitely a must for Pittsburgh. The constant access to water I didn’t have to pay more for made it extremely easy to drink as I needed. When we packed up our stuff at around 3pm for the last part of the GA wait, I was able to grab one more bottle of water which I drank while waiting to get into the stadium.

My epic sign (also used in Nashville). It was a little tattered.

Since I started going to shows in GA, I’ve longed to hear a band soundcheck. It hadn’t happened for my thus far, just as “Out Of Control” has seemed to crop up in the set list at every show that I have not attended (the most crushing of which was Chicago–the show right after Nashville–WAAAAAH!). I’ve heard multiple crew sound checks, though, and the one for Philly was extremely interesting as U2’s techs spent an enormous amount of time teasing us with the piano and guitar riffs for “Breathe”–the song U2 opened 360 shows with in 2009, my second favorite U2 song of all time. Don’t worry; I know that the crew is just goofing around. U2 has soundchecked songs they have never played. So I know better than to trust a soundchecked song. And that made it all the more heartbreaking the hear.

Anyway, as the 3pm hour passed into 4, I was pretty sure that that was all I was going to get. So we were waiting to be let in and 4:45–the time we were supposed to be let into the stadium–came and went. And soon it was 5pm. We were shuffling listlessly in the line, the natives becoming restless, when suddenly the riff for “Even Better Than The Real Thing” came blasting out of the stadium. And then… a verse, that heavenly voice, followed the music. Oh my God! Bono!

So suddenly I wasn’t all that sad that I wasn’t being let into the stadium quite yet. A little late for a soundcheck (Bono!) but if we were being delayed for a little extra treat, I was okay with it. I relaxed and just listened, wishing I could see our man. The band went on to sing “Magnificent”–the original version, not the remix they’d been toying with post Glastonbury–and I was in heaven.

After “Magnificent,” the stadium fell quiet again. Short but sweat. A soundcheck snippet? About ten minutes later, security opened the gates and started to release us in groups of 100 into the stadium.

The way they let us into the venue was kind of convoluted. There was a flight of stairs immediately in front of the gates that we had to climb! That showed everyone down, of course. And then we were led along the side hall of the stadium and through one of the narrow entry ways that lead to the seats where I had a quick moment of clausterphobic panic as the crowd got stuck at a stand-still. When I finally made it out of the entry, I realized the bottleneck was caused because the front of the crowd was slowed by yet another set of steps leading down onto the field.

In all my other GA experiences, we were let onto the field via some access tunnel that I imagine the football players would use to get to the field. These are usually really wide and they lead directly onto the field so no stairs. You are then faced head on with The Claw and can kind of pick your access side to the inner circle. This time, we were brought in sideways—on Adam’s side—and it was a bit disorienting. Usually, the easiest spot to get to would be outer rail on the outside of the b-stage; this time, it was actually easier to get into the inner circle.

So I did feel that familiar surge of nervous energy in which my brain kept repeating, “I need to get to my spot, I need to get to my spot” as I got onto the field. I kept myself a reasonable fast walk pace, taking extra care as I got into the inner circle to look for that nasty bump that I’ve almost tripped over every time. I saw it coming and avoided catching my foot on it. When I got into the circle, the outer rail was sparsely populated and I found a spot a little left of center between Edge and Bono’s mike. I’d made it! Erin was right behind me and we were both relieved that the waiting was now over. Relax time.

Erin and Mars Girl at the outer rail of the inner circle.

I spotted Anthony—my friend from E. Lansing (with whom I’d also spent some time in Nashville)–on the other side of the b-stage/catwalk on the outer rail outside of the inner circle. I waved and we took pictures of each other. Turns out Emily from Australia was next to him and she recognized me. It’s like a family reunion in GA. Unfortunately, as the inner circle began to fill, two loud-mouthed non-fans who obviously had not been part of the all day experience parked their annoying asses right in front of me. They gave me disgusted looks after quizzing me about how many shows I’d been to on this leg of the tour.

Anthony on the other side of the rail.

“If it wasn’t in Philly,” the snot-nosed chick said to me, “I wouldn’t go.”

Good for fricking you, woman! Now get the eff out of the inner circle. She turned out to be a drama queen, having a moment later on where she said she wasn’t feeling well, and asked if she could hold onto the rail. I moved aside to let her–I’m sure she really was feeling sick as she said–and I secretly hoped she would ask security to remove her, but she didn’t. I have to admit that security was being rather weird about people sitting on the ground. They kept making everyone stand even between acts. I’m pretty sure it was so they could squeeze more people into the inner circle. It got progressively more squashed in there as the show went on. And, according to these knuckleheads who had briefly left the circle after Interpol (the opening act), the sides of the inner circle were so packed, it was impossible to move in and out. Good thing I never had to go to the bathroom.

Some Edge action on the bridge.

I guess what really peeved me off most about these idiots in front of me is that right off the bat they told me how much they hated the album No Line On The Horizon and were glad that U2 had dropped most of the songs from it. Their disdain was proven later on in the show when they stopped moving whenever a song from No Line was played. As a result, I felt I needed to counterbalance their apathetic response with a doubly enthusiastic one–during “Magnificent,” I jumped around as though they were playing “Where The Streets Have No Name,” singing the lyrics at the top of my lungs. Also, I was so extremely happy to have that song back and in its original form. As soon as the beginning notes started, I was ecstatic.

Bono singing "Miss Sarajevo."

It was an interesting experience being on the outer rail of the inner circle. I’m not sure I’m a huge fan of it, though. I do like that the band is much more at eye level, though. And because I was further back, I could see the whole stage; I never had that “lost” feeling I get when Bono disappears to hang out by Larry or when the band moves along the B-stage because I could see everything. For the first time ever, I got to see the screen without craning my neck, so I actually could enjoy the images and special lighting there. The best part was experiencing the lighting blitz of “Zooropa.”

The negative part about the outer rail is that there’s all these people in front of you that you have to see over. Which included the tall guy from the group of idiots in front of me and just about everyone else in the inner circle. I had to move around a bit to see at times and, from my perspective of having been previously so close to the band, they seemed so far away from me (though not as far as they look in my pictures). I frequently had to put my camera over my head to get a shot without hands in the way. And still hands occasionally popped up to ruin my shot.

A full stage shot with Larry (for once), Bono, and Adam. A little blurry...

The band doesn’t come onto the b-stage as much as they hang around on the main stage so when they did come out there, I was less likely to take a picture because I wanted to just stare at them and enjoy the moment. They also tend to face outwards towards the back of the audience and rarely turn back to look towards the inner circle. Which is great for taking butt shots, but bad if you’re trying to, say, get a certain lead singer to see your sign.

My favorite picture from the show. Can you guess why?!

It was neat, though, that because the B-stage is lower, you can get a real perspective on everyone’s actual height. I was surprised to realize that Bono is a lot shorter than he appears when he’s over your head on the much higher main stage. The Edge appeared shorter than he always seemed to me. Adam still looked pretty tall. But, the greatest thing about the B-stage, is that they all appear close enough to touch. It was from the B-stage that Bono did, in fact, slap several hands that were proffered his way (though, of course, on the side facing outwards). So overall, the band appears closer than ever. Which is definitely a huge benefit of standing at the B-stage.

Bono on the 360 screen.

I was totally into the show this round. Erin had gone to get us water before the opening act and I did drink most of it immediately while hanging onto some for later because I knew I’d be jumping around. Thankfully when the sun went down, the atmosphere cooled down, unlike Nashville where the excruciating humidity held onto a temperature of 83 degrees. I was experiencing a part of the show I’d never before seen with the screens. And for the first time I got to experience the full performance of “I’ll Go Crazy If I Don’t Go Crazy Tonight” because the whole band spends most of their time during this song on the B-stage. Meaning I also got to see Larry close up for the first time ever. (And this man seriously needs to smile!)

Larry plays his drum during Crazy Tonight.

At the end of “Crazy Tonight,” Bono and Adam spent a great deal of time together just to the left of where I was standing while Bono sang the “Discotheque” snippet. As the song was ending, Adam walked across the B-stage to catch the bridge on the other side of me. His eyes looked down and caught my sign where he gave me (or the sign, really) a look that Erin described as recognition. I thought he seemed kind of jarred out of a reverie or something, which is possibly the same thing. It was funny. I’m guessing he didn’t expect to see that again. So it, of course, encouraged me to revive it one last time in Pittsburgh. I’m determined that if Bono sees it, he will react. Maybe I won’t get the requested kiss out of it, but it would certainly be enough for me if it made him laugh or smile or something. I am also half tempted to make a sign that says, “Larry: please smile! We love you too!” But I’m afraid it would piss him off.  (Larry intimidates me.)

Bono sings "With Or Without You."

The crowd was pretty crazy in Philly. I am seeing an increasing trend of crowds really getting into the show. For me, it’s been that way since E. Lansing. I’m glad to see it, honestly, because the US gets a bad reputation for not having as excitable of a crowd. U2 is a band that thrives on crowd energy and when we give it, we get a better show. At one point during the show, Bono explained this relationship between the band and the audience, how it really meant something to them, and I was touched. He sounded emotional and I love when he gets like that. At the end of “Streets,” he reiterated with pride, “You guys are noisy!” Which of course caused a bigger eruption of screams.

Bono sings "Moment of Surrender."

Something is definitely happening at these last few shows in 360 and I’m so glad to be a part of it. I seriously think that it just goes to show that the band is not done as many naysayers like to predict. I hope that the end of this tour has revitalized the band and that they will go on to finish the album(s) they have been working on. We fans, of course, are already making plans for the shows we’ll see on the next tour, which we fully realize could still be a 3-4 years off (although 2013 is a number we throw around a lot). In fact, I’ve already committed myself to attending shows in Berlin and Atlanta with two new friends I’ve found this year. Joining the U2 forum has been one of the best decisions I ever made because I’m meeting people to go to shows with. So exciting. Look how one band unites so many people!

Edge on the B-stage.

Philly brought me back into the swing of shows and I’m so, so happy to have refound the love I thought I’d lost. My lesson in all this is: Drink more water! In this summer heat, you can’t afford to dehydrate yourself. Surprisingly, I’ve also found that I really don’t have to go to the bathroom that much once I’m in the stadium anyway. The point is to stay away from the drinks that make you have to pee–coke, beer. These are dehydrating anyway and should be avoided for full comfort and enjoyment of the best live rock-n-roll act ever. (I kid you not–I feel that way about my band.)

Bono saying his thank-yous at the end of the show.

So I left the Lincoln Financial Center feeling great. Also, Erin and I were headed for a little side trip to NYC the following day to see Spider-man Turn Off The Dark which I will discuss at length in my next entry. And I still have Pittsburgh left to attend. But I can tell already that when that show rolls around, I’m going to feel mighty depressed. There’s no more after this. So I better enjoy every second. I’m definitely having the time of my life… I’ve never been good with endings. Yes, as we U2 fans say, “Too much is not enough.”

The band closes out the show by singing "Happy Birthday" to Nelson Mandela.

Running down a dream…

After Nashville, I decided to take a side trip to Chicago with my friends Shawn and Kristy who were going to be attending the Chicago show on July 5th. The plan was to stay at the hotel in Chicago at which U2 is notoriously known to stay when they are in town. It’s quite pricey, to say the least, but we were going to split a room three ways. Count in the extra flights I paid for to get to Chicago from Nashville and then back to Cleveland in the end, and well, let’s just say it was a lengthy diversion for me based purely on a hunch.

I admit that I want to meet the band. Which at the same time as I desire it, I realize it is a ridiculous fantasy. But I guess a part of me feels propelled on this mission to let them–especially Bono, the lyricist whose words have inspired me in moments of joy and saved me in moments of sorrow–know just how much their music has meant to me. Really, that’s all I want. I didn’t even bring anything for the band to autograph. Maybe I could say something meaningful, shake a few hands, and then my life will be complete. I need nothing else. No, not really.

A lot of people I know have had brief encounters with the band. I admire them for their tenacity to succeed on this mission. Some of them encountered the band without trying too hard–catching them as they went into or out of some venue where everyone knew they’d be. The hard-core fans I’ve met in GA beam with stories of encounters with the band. They happily relate them all and I listen aptly. It seems more possible than I would have thought. For a band with the popularity of U2, they seem a little more accessible than most celebrities of equal fame. At least as far as The Edge and Bono go. Adam Clayton’s a little harder to meet and Larry Mullen even harder still.

I don’t delude myself that an encounter the band would mean anything more to them than another day on the job. But it would mean a lot to me. And the idea of trying seemed like an adventure. It was probably the most risky, spontaneous thing I’d ever done (except that it was hardly spontaneous as we’d planned this diversion for about a month). I felt a bit sheepish. A bit like a stalker. But in the end, I thought, “What the hell.” Because this, for me, is the summer of “what the hell.” Maybe I should have been doing this in the years immediately after my husband’s death. But lately, I’ve just started throwing caution to the wind and just doing a bunch of things I’d never thought I’d do just because I can. Why the hell not, right? For half the summer, I couldn’t get on my bike due to my back… What else did I have to do with my time?

It didn’t pan out, though. It appears that this time, our boys didn’t want to be found. We hung around the hotel–trying to look casual as we spent hours sitting in the lobby–but there was no sign of U2 or U2’s security personnel. We weren’t the only ones snooping around–we encountered another woman who was also staying in the hotel for the same reason. And on July 4th, we spotted a few other people lingering in one of the two lobby spaces, some of which were a lot less conspicuous than us with their open posters and other U2 merchandise in plain sight. (In contrast, the three of us took care to not have anything remotely U2-related on us.)

I did learn something about myself, though. Like the fact that it’s very likely I need my friends with me in order to actually ever meet the band. Because I’m pretty sure if I’d been sitting alone in that lobby, and Bono himself walked past, I’d be too afraid of being the freaky fan that I am, that I wouldn’t approach him. Case in point, in Nashville, I was walking behind the stadium on my way back from the hotel, when I saw Dallas Shoo standing on the street corner fiddling around with his cell phone. None of the people milling about seemed to know who he was. I wanted to walk up to him and tell him I’d lost the pick he gave me in Michigan–just to see if I could get another one in sympathy. That at least would have started a conversation. Maybe I could have gotten someone to take our picture. But did I walk up to him?

Uh, no.

I didn’t want to “bother” him. I didn’t want to be a pain in the butt.

And then, I thought, all by myself I might have to try to come up with a conversation. Or keep one going. And that was just awkward. Had I been with friends, I could have just said my bit about the pick, maybe added a few extra comments, and let everyone do the rest.

I can’t believe I’m so bashful.

Actually, yes, I can. Conversations with strangers–any stranger–is extremely difficult and awkward for me. I always feel like a dork. And I always worry that people are just talking to me to be nice, that they’re looking for a hurried way out of it. So forget celebrities or even minor celebrities. It ain’t happening!

So I think if I was by myself in the lobby, and Bono happened to walk by, I’d just find myself glued to my seat while both halves of my brain argued with itself to get up and talk to one of my biggest idols. Meanwhile, Bono have passed and my moment would be gone. I think that’s why I always end up paired with bolder friends. I can let people do the bushwhacking while I slide effortlessly down the path they’ve created. When I put it that way, I realize what a leech I can be!

I left Chicago empty-handed. Or, I guess I should say, still having in my possession the envelope that contained a copy of my sermon which I’d planned to give Bono. I don’t regret the trip, though… it was worth a shot… and it was adventure imagining what might happen.

I also learned how crazy posh the other half lives. We stayed in a room at the lowest price range but it was still crazy comfortable. A full bathroom that contained both a bathtub and a shower. The shower had two shower heads and could comfortably hold 5-10 people. Seriously. Free toiletries–queue tips, razors, lotions, toothpaste–in addition to high end soap and hair products. Windows in the room that open (I guess they figure rich people don’t have the overwhelming urge to jump to their deaths?). Beds that didn’t spring but were made of some cushy material that conforms to your body. A plethora of puffy pillows on both beds. A phone next to the toilet so that you can continue all your important business transactions…

The real kicker, though, is what served as the front desk. It was like a work station on the starship Enterprise from the new Star Trek movie–two skinny daises, illuminated underneath so that their tops appeared to glow. Suited personnel–each with an earphone in their ear–behind each, quietly muttering into phones they answered (which magically made no noise when they rang). It was very bizarre. I guess actual working desks are offensive to the upper class. Oh, and, no sitting for these front desk workers.

Even though I never saw hide nor hair of Bono and the boys, I was given ample time to observe the patrons of this hotel from position on the couch (yes, couch) in the lobby. I found that I could not help but wonder as individuals or groups walked by just how each person came into the money that allows them to stay at a hotel like this. It was just like how when I was in Salt Lake City, I just couldn’t help but wonder who was Mormon and who wasn’t. I’m fascinated by worlds of which I’m not–nor can never be, nor want to be (in the case of the Mormons)–a part. Diversity fascinates me. I wish I could have rudely interviewed them all! I’m sure there were stories there to be told.

I’m not someone who is envious of money. Maybe fame and notoriety. I’d love it if I was a writer and a few people were inspired by my writing (the way U2 music inspires me). But I’ve never longed to be rich. Comfortable is enough. Every once in a while, though, it’s nice to imagine what it’s like to walk in someone else’s shoes. And staying in that hotel allowed me to do that for two days.

And, if anything, it was research for my rock star story. Already, I know how to modify at least one section of said story, since I’ve now seen the hotel for the extremely wealthy. Given the appearance of our humble room, I can only imagine what the suites–which I’m sure U2 stays in–are like. I wonder if I can get someone to give me a tour of one someday. Anyone know anybody who works for an upper-end hotel?

Well, it was fun. And the adventure is not quite over yet… But soon it will be. And my life will go back to normal. (If one considers my adventures in cycling–which I’m about ready to start again–ordinary.)

If you can’t take the heat….

It was the best of times; it was the worst of times. Nashville held many surprises for us U2ers; it was hotter than hell and nearly impossible to not to think about how thirsty you were. The GA line was tense from the get-go as a group of line cutters ruined the whole mood of the line. There was a lot of cheating. A lot of bad banter. Girls pushed other girls off the stage rail. And yet the show contained some of the most amazing moments I’ve ever witnessed at a U2 concert.

Florence dazzles us for another performance. God, I will miss her at my next shows!

A personally exciting epic moment for me, was Adam’s response to a sign I was holding for Bono that read: BONO KISS ADAM (FOR US). It was kind of a dare from some of the girls on the U2 forum I frequent because 1) Bono has kissed Adam on stage before and 2) Bono has come head-to-head with Adam on stage recently, teasing us with an almost kiss. (Hey, Europeans have a whole different definition of manhood and I’m good with one hot guy giving another hot guy a quick smack on the lips! Especially since it’s so very much against the sort of machismo of the American male ego. We never see this kind of behavior with our men!)

Florence + The Machine's hot roadie dude on whom I admit to severely crushing... But just look at those dimples! The shades! The hair!

So, anyway, Adam–who (thankfully) is not privy, obviously, to the inside jokes/fantasies/crazy talk of fan girls–saw my sign within minutes of coming on stage. He gave me the funniest “What-the-fuck” look ever, and then broke into a grin. It was hilarious. Later on, he spotted the sign again and just kind of smiled in acknowledgement. My friend Erin caught that glance and gave me a cheer. The whole purpose of these signs is to get–just for one moment–a quick interchange with the band. So mission accomplished there. Bono did not really spend much time on Adam’s side of the stage–giving all his love, instead, to the people at center stage beneath his mike–so I’m not sure he saw the sign at all. Oh well.

An example of BAdam at work from a 2010 show--why we girls get all worked up!

“The Wanderer”–a song performed by Johnny Cash on Zooropa–was played almost in its entirety for the first time at a U2 concert. Ever. Even though Bono used a fake Johnny Cash voice for most of the song, it was still pretty awesome to witness a song being performed–with Edge accompanying on guitar–that was pretty much off of our collective fan radar. As Bono started singing beyond the two or three lines that usually make what we fans call a “snippet,” I recalled a moment several months ago when I was following via Twitter a set list for another show, a fan had jokingly tweeted “The Wanderer” as the current song. “There’s no way,” I had thought without a trace of doubt in my mind, “that they would ever play that one.” Thanks for proving me wrong, U2!

Adam Clayton rocks his bass above me.

After the traditional show closer “Moment of Surrender,” Bono surprised the hell out of us all when he leaned down to address someone center stage in front of his mic (exactly where I had been standing in E. Lansing).

“What do you want to play?” he asked. I assumed that there was a musician holding a sign. In past tours, Bono had been known to pull musicians on stage to play with the band, so I figured this was another case of someone asking via sign for the chance to play with the band. Earlier in the day in the GA line, the guy in the next group over from me had been identified by other fans as someone who performed with the band twice previously on, I think, the Elevation Tour. So the idea was fresh on my mind; I’d even thought about how cool it was be if the band were doing that on occasion again because I’d enjoyed it on the bootlegs I’d heard (12.02.2001 in Miami, Florida comes to mind off the bat).

Adam Bevell & Bono perform "All I Want Is You."

I watched as security stepped forward to help lift the guy over the rail. On the stage, Bono extended his own hand and offered to help the guy get onto the stage–I can still see that hand bathed in the light of the spotlight. There was something almost holy about it. Don’t laugh. How many singers would offer to help lift some guy on stage? Security ended up helping the guy up and over and soon he was standing in front of Bono.

Adam & Bono & Bono's tech Phil on stage during performance of "All I Want Is You."

Bono turned to Phil–his tech–who had materialized out of nowhere on the stage. “Get this man a guitar,” he said. “Give him my guitar.”

And moments later, Phil returned with Bono’s Gretsch Irish Falcon–the guitar I always call his Goal is Soul guitar because that’s what’s written on it. Bono helped lift the strap over the guy’s shoulder and set the guitar in his hands.

“I want to dedicate this song to my wife,” the guy said as clear as day (though on youtube videos you can’t really hear it because he’s slightly off mike).

“What’s your wife’s name?” asked Bono. I could only imagine what Bono–the eternal romantic, still madly in love with his own wife of over 30 years–was thinking. It had to have appealed to the side of him that still dedicates songs to his wife at shows.

“Andrea,” the guy said, his voice cracking for reasons with which I’m sure any of us could relate. “My wife’s name is Andrea,” he tried again, clearer. Then after a moment he continued, “I’m kind of nervous, man!”

Bono kind of waved away the comment, as if it were ridiculous to even suggest that standing before 41,000 of your closest U2 compatriots was anything to panic about. For a moment, I imagined what it would be like to be in this guy’s shoes and I felt his pain. Mostly because I can’t sing nor play guitar so I’d seriously be laughed off the stage. But remembering my own struggles with standing before the congregation of my church to deliver my sermon, I could empathize. And I’d only spoke before an audience of 100 people!

So Bono started singing the first verse of “All I Want Is You” (a great song, by the way) and the guy started playing the guitar. And despite the extreme discomfort of my thirsty, dry mouth, I stood there transfixed on the scene, capturing every moment in my memory. Somewhere amidst the second verse, the bass and drums kicked in. Oh my God, he was literally playing with the band!

I kept watching the guy’s hands closely, as if I understood chords, and I silently prayed that he wouldn’t mess up. Not that that would be bad–hell, U2 messes up in their own songs occasionally–but just because I wanted to believe that the guy wasn’t too nervous to perform incompetently. Again, I think when you witness something like this, you’re rooting for the little guy because you want him to overcome any anxiety he might be feeling so as to not mess up his moment in the spotlight.

He did do an impressive job (which I’m sure had nothing to do with my praying). And just when I realized what an epic moment I was witnessing, it quickly became fantastical. After finishing the last lines of the song, Bono said, “Keep the guitar.”

A collective gasp of surprised rippled throughout the audience. And then followed by a few voices exclaiming, “Oh, my God, did Bono just give him the guitar?!”

You know when someone gives you something but you’re not quite sure whether they are giving it to you, or they want you to pay for it, or they’re just lending it to you? As I stood there, stunned, I had one of those moments for this guy. Did Bono really mean what I seemed to hear him say?

Bono singing "Hold Me Thrill Me Kiss Me Kill Me."

Bono and the rest of U2 disappeared off the stage. I remember if they formally waved their goodbyes as usual–I think perhaps they had done this right after “Moment of Surrender” but I can’t quite recall in the shock of the performance that had followed. But suddenly they were gone. And security was helping the guy get back off the stage. Meanwhile, Phil and some other U2 staffers were hanging around, getting information from the guy and putting it into a cell phone. Phil had taken the guitar back but I imagine that they were going to somehow get the guitar to the guy later because, well, you just can’t walk out of a stadium full of 41,000 rabid fans holding Bono’s guitar and expect to make it out alive (unfortunately).

Bono singing "With Or Without You"

As the guy was making his way in that alleyway between the rails and the stage that security usually walks in, I noticed that he had a walking stick. He nearly stumbled on some mess of wire in front of me and it was the first time it dawned on me that the guy was blind! (I have avoided mentioning that throughout this entry because I feel that point is irrelevant. I hate to refer to him as “that blind guy.” It seems discriminatory…)

It was really an epic moment. Probably the most epic–most beautiful sentiment–I’d ever witnessed at any concert, let alone a U2 concert. Moments like this just prove what a wonderfully generous, altruistic man Bono is. This is why he is my hero, my idol; this is why I love Bono. He didn’t have to pull the guy on stage, but he did. Getting to play a song with U2 at a concert is every fan’s dream and would certainly have been enough for this gentleman; however, Bono went one giant step further and gave the man his own guitar which probably will now mean more to him than it ever would have to Bono. I mean, wow. There’s just no words to describe this.

Epic gift-giving and life-long dream fulfillment aside, I have to admit that I did not enjoy this show as much as E. Lansing or even Denver. It was too damned hot. The peak temperature of the day was 92 degrees with humidity as thick as a truck (cited, “Electrical Storm,” U2). Somehow I managed to keep myself from burning–probably from sticking to the shade and using 70spf sunblock on my face–but I made one major mistake: I did not keep myself hydrated because I was afraid I’d have to pee halfway through the show. It never occurred to me that I’d be so fucking thirsty that I would want to leave the show with the same urgency as if I had to pee. I forgot that one sweats out all their water in that kind of oppressive heat. I guess as an athlete I only think about this when I’m exerting myself. Sweat is sweat. When you’re doing too much of it, you have to put some water back. Stupid me.

Another "moment" with Bono.

Even after the sun went down, it was still a good 82 degrees. My entire body was constantly covered in a layer of sweat. There was a slight breeze, but it wasn’t enough to cool us down. I did break down and accept one bottle of water that Shawn purchased. I drank most of it before Florence left the stage and left a gulp for later. Which wasn’t enough.

Right before U2 came on, Shawn–who had been liberally drinking water all day–had a dizzy spell and sat on the ground right as “Space Oddity” began to queue up. He looked pretty pale. Security gave us a little tiny Dixie cup of water which Shawn alternately drank and dumped on himself. He ended up permitting security to pull him out of the inner circle to see a medic just as the first notes of “Even Better Than The Real Thing” began to ring in the air.

It was kind of an awkward start to the show. But Shawn wasn’t the only one suffering from dehydration. In the first several songs, people started to drop around me like flies. Twice security rushed into the crowd to rescue fans who had fainted. It was a crazy seen made crazier by the fact that security refused to dispense free water to anyone asking until they actually passed out from the heat.

Me before the show. You know the heat is bad when my short hair is pulled back in a hair tie!

I did not have the energy to jump around much through any songs, and even if I did, I wouldn’t have done it because it would have made me thirstier. By the time “Zooropa” started playing, my thirst was so overwhelming that I was actually lusting after Bono’s endless supply of bottled water rather than the sweaty Bono himself. I contemplated leaving my position on the rail in search of a water vendor. I didn’t, of course, because I wasn’t sure I’d be able to find my way back. And, also, part of me did not want to miss a moment of any song.

Bono on the bridge in "Until The End Of The World."

Shawn came back, looking hydrated and refreshed, at about the time that I felt my health was starting to plummet downwards. I admit I felt an urgency for the show to be over, which is too bad because I hate not being in the moment of a U2 concert.

Additionally, after having been in the choice position (the “G-spot”) below Bono’s mike, I was also a  bit disappointed to be left of center even though Adam is my second favorite member of U2 after Bono (and he’s quite close behind Bono… he used to be my favorite member of the band, back in the Achtung Baby days). It also kind of stinks to be off-center because The Edge seems so far away (as I’m sure Adam seems when you’re on Edge’s side). And being that close to the stage, you can’t see Larry at all.

My sort of view of Larry (I took this picture with the camera held above my head as you can't see him at all from the stage rail.)

Anyway, all of my disappointment with positioning and GA line-ups after Nashville have led me to decide that I need to try for an outer rail position in the inner circle. A friend got pictures from his position at the center of the outer rail and you could see the whole stage (even Larry!). Plus, when the band moves out on the catwalk/B-stage, you can see them (they kind of disappear from view when you’re right in front of the stage). From the inner circle, you get a lot of butt views as they are usually facing out… but that’s a “sacrifice” I will have to make!

The competition for spots right in front of the stage is rough… And I think I came to realize just how worked up I was getting about when I was entering the stadium in the big GA “release” for Nashville. On the way into the inner circle, I nearly tripped over this big bump (under which I think wires run) and had I not caught myself, I would have surely skinned my arms pretty badly, perhaps had the wind knocked out of me, as I plunged forward into a face first nose-dive to the ground. Fortunately, I saved myself from near disaster. However, right before getting to the rail in front of the stage, I did trip again and fall, cutting up my knee pretty badly. I think I had an epiphany at that moment: Is this really worth hurting yourself over?

Well, um, admittedly yes. But maybe I need to be a little bit more careful with myself. I mean, it’s this kind of mentality that caused the deaths at The Who concert in 1979. Venue security is very careful about letting small numbers of people into the venue at a time nowadays so I don’t think a death by trampling is possible. However, none of this precludes some of the dangers I bring myself to by not properly hydrating AND running out of control to my treasured spot. I need to stop, breathe, and put things into perspective. There is probably not a bad standing space in GA (unless you get behind a tall person) and the chances are that if I spend my time in line all day, I’ll still get a pretty nice spot.

So I’m vowing to chill a little for Philly. Just a little. I’ve only got two more chances to be satisfied; it would be a shame to blow them through my own carelessness.