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.
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!)
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.
“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!
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).
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.
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 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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.