Where I’ve Been, Where I’m Going

So immediately after completing my U2 tour, I slid right into cycling with two events for which I’d already registered prior to my shoulder problems: Mad Anthony River Rally (MARR) and Roscoe Ramble. You might wonder, “Wow, so, how many weekends in a row have you been out of town?” And the answer would be five. You might also observe, “Boy, that sounds exhausting.” And you would be right.

I’m so looking forward to an entire weekend of not having to go anywhere. Of sleeping in. Of taking things easy. And that will be the joy of the coming weekend. I’ve been pretty much lagging behind sleep since Moncton because I have had so much catching up to do on things at home that my restless mind has kept me up longer each weekday evening. I guess my body doesn’t just bounce back like it did when I was younger. Or perhaps I didn’t notice the lack of sleep so much when I was younger… Either way, I’m looking forward to some peace and quiet. At home.

I plan to get back into writing mode. The research side of my fandom (ha, ha, my excuse, for my slip into crazy) has ended so now it’s time to sit down and get serious. To test my new wireless printer at home, I printed off a chapter from my rock star novel and packed it with my stuff so that I could read it in my tent at Roscoe Ramble, assuming that I might have trouble sleeping. It was a lot better than I remembered it, though I had some thoughts on altering a few sections slightly. Sometimes I’m surprised when I read back my own writing–on paper–and I realize that I’m actually drawn into my own story as if it were written by someone else. This is a good sign! It’s when my mind starts to wander when reading it that I realize a section needs some help. For the most part, I was right where I should be…. So, I admit that I’m kind of excited. This could be a good story. It may take a few years to write, though (no thanks to having a day job).

The rides. Well, I guess it’s not too surprising that my relative lack of riding in July did not stop me from managing to finish the 100 mile route of MARR. Wasn’t this what got me into trouble with my shoulder in the first place?

*sheepish nod*

Um…. yes….

But I was really careful!! And I went into the ride with the attitude that if I felt like I was causing damage to my shoulder, I would opt for the 62 or 80 mile route. So I just plugged along and my shoulder ached a little, but no more than it used to in the early season (which it really still is for me if you go by miles). I had more problems with my endurance level feeling a bit lower than it should be. But that’s nothing I can’t manage. Pain is manageable. I just shut that little voice off. I can’t say it was my best MARR time ever. And I didn’t feel as great physically in the end as I should have at this time of the year. But I finished and that’s what’s important. The stubborn bullheaded bitch that I am. Never give up, never surrender.

For Roscoe Ramble this year, I elected to do the 55 mile route. For which I ate my pride as all my friends–who were, of course, doing the 75 mile route–lovingly teased me about riding the “newbie” route. I’d originally signed up for the 75 mile route, but due to my lack of hill preparation and worries about over-doing it with my shoulder, I elected the safe route (for once) and asked to switch to the 55 mile. It was reassuring that I felt great after both days of riding and that my shoulder bothered me even less than it had on MARR. So I think I’m back as far as cycling goes. Though I will continue to take it easy, I promise.

I think part of the success is that after MARR, I raised my handlebars slightly. The new positioning seems to be working out a little better. I’m working on distributing my weight evenly between both shoulders and I’ve been doing some of my physical therapy stretches at the rest stops (which looks ridiculous to everyone who might catch me doing this).

The weather this year for Roscoe Ramble was… ehm… interesting. Saturday looked like rain for most of the ride, but nothing happened, and then during lunch, the sun finally made an appearance and everything began to warm up for a beautiful afternoon. I was a little worried about the toughest hill on the route, which occurs after lunch–a climb out of a valley that seems to last forever where you think every bend is the end but are woefully wrong. Turns out I didn’t need to worry, I did fine! I’m sure I was better and faster last year, but it’s not about how fast you complete a climb, it’s the fact that you did it.

My night in the tent was very unnerving for me as three–yes, three–thunderstorm systems came through. I fretted about my choice of setting up my tent beneath a tree–seemed like a great idea in the heat of the afternoon, less so in middle of three storms. My sleep was interrupted by constant worrying that my tree–a huge old thing, by the way–would get struck by lightening and fall on me. I kept envisioning myself as one of my friends in the other tents who would see a violent flash, hear a crack of thunder, and my scream as some branch or entire tree squashed me out of existence. Okay, and, as uneasy as I am about storms, I have these kind of thoughts all night in my house. But still. Let’s just say that it was incredibly hard to suppress my gasps which usually follow every sighting of lightening at home. I spent the night with my camping pillow and blanket over my head, pretending I was somewhere else. I had to resist the urge to jump into one of my neighbors’ tents for comfort. Sometimes it sucks to not be a kid and living with your parents… (They always let me sleep in their bed during t-storms. Maybe that’s part of my problem as an adult?)

Needless to say, my sleep wasn’t that deep all night. But that’s pretty usual for me in tents anymore. I’m getting too old for sleeping (comfortably) in tents…

Sunday was a damp ride back to the ride start (which was Kidron for me). The world was wet from the previous night’s storms. I didn’t encounter any significant rain during the ride, just occasional drizzles, and sometimes it just seemed like I was running into a mist when I as going down hill–not really rain, per se, or maybe a “Seattle rain.”It was about 62-68 degrees the whole day–chilly, but fine as long as you were riding. The sun kept fighting to beat out the clouds, but it never completely won the battle. Despite all the gloom, however, I heard lots of remarks from first time riders about how great they thought the ride was and promises to do the ride again. The scenery in Holmes and Coshocton counties is beautiful–rolling hills, farms, empty roads–no matter how gloomy the weather is. It really doesn’t even seem like it’s Ohio down there; with the Amish communities, it’s like a land lost in time.

So I survived Roscoe Ramble and all its hills. I’m feeling pretty confident about getting back out on the bike now that my shoulder is doing better, keeping in mind that I should not push it. Maybe this year is an off year for me. It’s good to take a break for a bit and, really, I’d been saying for the last year that I need to balance some of my activities a little more. I should probably try to do some more hiking. Or try my hand at some other activity. I know that this summer I just replaced biking with U2. But, you know, that’s me–when I love something I’m passionate about it all the way, no holds barred, no casual approach to loving it all.

If only more people were like that, right? Passion is the spice of life and I cling to people who feel a burning to do something with their unspent energy.

This is about the time of the year that I start thinking about I’m going to do next summer. I’m currently weighing two options:

1. The Great Big FANY Ride – A week long bike tour of a region of New York. I’ve wanted to do this ride for awhile now, since I became aware of it and after surviving XOBA. I haven’t done a week long ride since XOBA and I’d really like to do another.

2. Climb Mt. Whitney, California’s highpoint, with my Uncle Mart. My Uncle Mart is the person who I credit for getting me into outdoor activities. On my first ever trip to California at age 10, he took me white water rafting down the American River with my cousin Angy and Grandma H. The second time I came out, as a teenager, he took me backpacking in the mountains with Angy and my aunt Gabriela. Both experiences left such great impressions on my memory that as I envisioned my life as an adult, I planned that I would be a great adventurer just like my favorite uncle. He is the reason I’m the outdoorswoman that I am today.

You can take part in helping me decide. I’ve posted a poll here. I want to do both equally so I’m feeling a bit wishy-washy. I’m interested to know what your thoughts are. Thanks in advance!

Where’s Mars Girl?

This photo turned up on Twitter (and then later to my appreciation thread on the forum when a friend identified me). I remember there were some people in Moncton taking pictures from the stage and I just followed the lead to wave at the camera (and I was just so damned happy anyway). Can you find me? (Remember, I was wearing my purple shirt and green faux army hat.)

This picture is sadly better than Moncton’s fan cam photo in which all you can see are my hands, identifiable by my manicured orange fingernails…

Mars Girl (and the rest of GA) in Moncton!

Moncton in 48 Hours

Every great adventure starts with one crazy idea.

As I drove home from Pittsburgh, I thought: I should see about going to Moncton.

U2’s final 360 show: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada. In the Atlantic Time Zone. Above Maine. 20 hours drive from Ohio.

This was not really a newly inspired thought; no, I’d actually entertained it a few days before Pittsburgh, going so far as to look up the prices of flights to Moncton itself.  Seeing astronomical numbers flash back at me, I looked up the prices to fly into Portland, Maine, figuring I could then rent a car to drive the rest of the way to Moncton–a city that I’d never heard of until it was added to the 360 Tour in January. It had seemed affordable, and I knew a friend of mine that I’d see in Pittsburgh had a extra ticket to sell, so it was very tempting. Unfortunately, I still couldn’t bring myself to commit.

But after Pittsburgh, the idea that there was yet one more show to see invaded my thoughts. Also, having recently downloaded the last shows of the Elevation (Miami) and Vertigo (Honolulu) tours, I knew that the last show of a tour tended to be the most interesting as far as surprises in the set list and energy levels of the audience go. I couldn’t wait to check the airline prices again because, I decided, if they were still low, I was definitely going to go.

To my disappointment, the prices had doubled in the intervening days since I’d last checked. I reluctantly wrote off going to Moncton. And the post-show depression set in.

At work the following morning (Thursday), I was checking Facebook (which I admittedly do between tasks at work as stress relief), and I happened to notice that my friend Shawn’s status admitted that he and his wife Kristy were considering going to Moncton. Shawn is a rather thrifty guy. He’s good at finding deals. So I knew if he and Kristy were considering going to Moncton, he must have found something reasonably affordable. I responded to his status that I was considering going too and that he should let me know if he had found a good deal. He ended up texting me that he was looking at flights to Manchester, New Hampshire. When I did my own search, checking surrounding airports from my house, I found some flights for $294 out of Pittsburgh! For the win!

The next thing I knew, I was agreeing to going to Moncton with Kristy and Shawn, and booking my flight. A rental car and hotel rooms split three ways made the whole wild idea completely affordable. Was it still a bigger stretch of my expenses than I’d expected? Yeah. But, honestly, I could afford it. And, I figured, you only live once. It wasn’t putting me in debt—just digging a little deeper into my savings—but it would be worth it. I knew this would be an experience I definitely would not forget.

Let me preface this by saying that I’ve never done anything so completely spontaneous in my life. But the choice was pretty easy considering I wouldn’t even have to miss any more work (since I’d just about stretched my company’s tolerance with my days off in July).  It was exhilarating doing something so spur-of-the-moment without laboring over the decision. Freeing for someone like me who always weighs every expense even when I can clearly afford something I want to buy or do.

So Thursday night I was again packing a bag for air travel. I got up early so that I could get into to work at 7am–two hours earlier than my usual arrival time–so that I could leave work at 4. Fortunately, my travel from Pittsburgh had already acquainted me with an exceptional airport valet parking lot (Air Marino–use them!). Just four days later I was back at an airport I’d hardly used in several years… It was almost starting to feel like Pittsburgh was my real home.

Shawn had designed us a pretty rigorous schedule. Though we were coming from two different directions, we had the same flight out of Detroit. Upon arriving in Manchester at 11:59pm, we would get a rental car, and then drive three hours to a hotel in Bangor, Maine where we would sleep for just two and a half hours. We would then drive the remaining five hours to the show to Moncton. The doors opened at 3pm so we hoped to get there around 1pm with enough time to get our tickets (ordered over the internet via Ticketmaster after all) and maybe mill around. We had decided to do GA but to just show up when the gates opened and leisurely find ourselves some standing room. I did not expect to have a good spot. But I didn’t care as I just wanted to be there for U2’s last 360 show.

Of course, we had a few delays with our flight out of Detroit and only one guy was working two rental car counters at the airport who was as slow as hell so we didn’t get out of the airport as quickly as we liked. No plan goes without a few glitches. We knew the longer before we got on the road, the less sleep we’d get. The mantra we snickered to each other was, “Don’t these people know we’re on a schedule!?”

Somehow we managed to make up time on the road, arriving in Bangor on schedule at 4am. I hadn’t had much sleep the night before (still somewhat recovering from Pittsburgh) and so I found it quite easy to slip into bed and fall asleep. The next morning, though, I seemed to be lost in a weird timeless daze, completely forgetting where I was at all or the importance of our mission, so I kept hitting snooze on the (annoyingly loud, obnoxious) alarm on my Blackberry until someone–I think Shawn–asked if I was going to get up. I jumped out of bed as if I completely intended to get up and hastily fumbled to the shower. A half hour later, I was scarfing down some food from the hotel’s continental breakfast and drugging myself with a healthy dose of caffeine via crappy hotel coffee.

The day was rather gloomy and cloudy. Rain had been predicted for the day and we’d kept our eyes on the forecast, betting on the lowering percentages that were predicted for the evening. There were occasional breaks in the clouds where the sun almost wanted to peak through, but by the time we got to Moncton, we found ourselves in the middle of a very steady rain. We donned our rain ponchos in the parking lot, and then walked with the rest of the cattle towards the entrance to the enigmatically named Magnetic Hill. (I wondered, but never said aloud, if the hill was indeed magnetic, or it was just a clever name. I had no magnets with me to test my theory.)

We got our tickets at will call. And then waited. And waited. For about an hour past the original time in which the gates were supposed to open. I had thought it was just that there were so many people that it was taking a long time for the line to move. It turns out, I later read in an online article, the venue had lost the key to the gates and had had to get bolt cutters. Nice.

The endless line into the stadium.

Magnetic Hill is actually an open-air venue for which grand stands had been specifically shipped in (from U2’s shows in Montreal) to accommodate the crowd for a stadium-like setup. GA was actually much bigger than the regular venues because there was a grassy hill on which people could stand or sit like lawn seating at an outdoor venue (like Blossom in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, near me). I noticed a lot of people deciding to park themselves on the lawn without even trying to go further. Good! More chance for us to get a closer spot!

We checked the merchandise stands first, hoping that there would be a venue-specific shirt since it was a festival. Unfortunately for my enjoyment of owning U2 clothing, but fortunately for my wallet, the merchandise was the same stuff we’d seen all tour back at their normal prices. Having not eaten since breakfast at the hotel, we grabbed some food at a stand, and ate quickly. I had just a hamburger and was still hungry, but the food stands were cash-only and I had no Canadian cash. I’d tried to get some earlier at a gas station, but the ATM kept rejecting my card for some reason. (Ironically, after the concert, I was able to get cash from an ATM at another gas station.) I figured the excitement of the show would make me eventually forget about hunger as it always did…

Despite our promise to not stress out about finding “the perfect position” in GA, I had a sense of urgency about finding a spot as I watched people milling around down by the outer rail and in the inner circle. Kristy was already talking about going into the inner circle, too, so I began to obsess about getting a close view of my band again. It’s like a disease. What can I say? Once you’ve seen Bono sweat, and the expressions on the band member’s faces, you just won’t settle for anything less.

So we walked down into the pit and they were still letting people in through the gates. To my surprise, the inner circle was only half full and, despite that fact, there was a very casual attitude among the people that I wasn’t used to at all. Usually people are all possessive about their spots but it seemed we could easily worm through people and get around the inner circle. We stopped first at a open space about three rows from the rail on Edge’s side. But then Kristy urged us to see what else was available more towards the center (and Bono’s mic!) so we followed her as she squeezed in and out between more people. We joined her at a tight space she found about five rows from the rail just slightly right of Bono’s mic.

The Claw in the distance, as seen from the line on the way into the venue.

I felt that familiar excitement tugging at my stomach. I was still going to be close enough to see every expression on the guys’ faces. And, better yet, I already liked this spot better than the back rail even though I was not on a rail at all. This is about where I’d originally planned to stand in Pittsburgh–my Plan B–before my fanatical lust for the rail had irrationally taken over. So, I realized, I’d just gotten a better spot on my casual entry to the show than I’d gotten waiting outside the Pittsburgh show all day. I think this is mainly because the attitude at this event was more casual–there were less of the usual hard core fans so the inner circle was not filling as quickly as it does at a “normal” show. Also, with the gates opening so early, and lots of stands selling food and a separate area up the hill with a DJ and a video screen and alcohol, I think most people were just ambling around enjoying the festivities.

Which was great for us.

The GA field at Magnetic Hill.

And especially good because I did what I’d only done one other time, in Denver: I left the circle to take a final bathroom break before the bands began. Shawn came with me and we had our first encounter with the horrendous mud that would later be the bane of our existence on the walk back to our car after the show. It was epically muddy, harkening to thoughts of what Glastonbury or Woodstock might have been like. Due to the continuous flowing of rain for the first hour we were in Moncton, our shoes, socks, feet were already wet.

We stopped before returning to the inner circle to get a few shots of The Claw from angles we never got a chance to appreciate in our runs into GA during what I now think of as the “regular season” (Moncton seemed like the “play-offs” in my head). It really was impressive from this perspective, as you can see in the photos below.

The rare look at the underbelly of The Claw: Something hardcore GAers miss on their normal run to get a good spot.

In the arms of The Claw...

So back in the circle, we waited for a few hours–standing the whole time because even though the inner circle has a metal floor, it was wet and dirty from the mud off our fellow concert-goers’ shoes. Thankfully, my summer had prepared me for the odious task of waiting, so it was hardly anything. We’d been told the first act–Reeve Carney’s band, Carney–would be starting at 7. To my surprise, they actually started around 6:10. By then, the rain had actually stopped and the sun had actually won its battle with the clouds to poke through and set the world aglow. Bono must have arrived in town (for I believe Bono has the connections to stop the rain).  Although Rocco Reedy–U2’s stage manager–claimed it was our cheering that brought on the sun. I know better.

Three happy GAers in Moncton. (And my purple shirt makes a reappearance after a two-show absence.)

Reeve Carney walked on stage without much ceremony and began to tune his guitar. Other members of the band appeared around the stacks of equipment set up for Arcade Fire without much notice. Then, Rocco gave Carney a warm introduction. It was kind of a touching moment–this young band who didn’t even have techs to set up their own equipment were kind of shepherded by one of the big guns in the U2 crew.

Reeve Carney and his brother Zane Carney.

Carney’s music is a little bit heavier than I usually prefer. However, they were really fun, I thought, to watch in that I could tell Reeve was still trying so hard. He may have been a little nervous, even, playing before such a huge crowd of U2 fans. But he carried himself well and there were aspects of his performance that reminded me of a young Bono as he sang his heart out–a certain eagerness, hunger that I see in video footage of U2 from the 80s. So found myself rooting for Carney’s success and hoping–much like I hoped none of the actors would fall during Spider-man: Turn Off The Dark–that they wouldn’t mess up.

The audience seemed to receive them well enough. The band were energetic and seemingly passionate about their music. Which is more than I can say for Interpol. Carney finished their set with this passionate delivery of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” and The Beatles’ “I Want You So Bad.”

Next up was Arcade Fire. I honestly do not know much of this band, despite their recent successes at the Grammy Awards. I only knew their song “Wake Up”‘ as the opening music played during the Vertigo Tour right before U2 came on stage (much like “Space Oddity” is the song that segues into U2’s opening song on the 360 Tour). I once sampled one of their albums in iTunes but had dismissed them as too “emo” for me. I am thinking that perhaps I judged them too soon.

Some members of Arcade Fire (it's impossible to get them all in one shot).

They came onto stage to U2’s “Beautiful Day” which I guessed was their way of thanking U2 for promoting their music by playing it so regularly during the Vertigo Tour. But the real key to my heart with any band is a good, energetic stage presence. Which Arcade Fire certainly has. It’s hard not to have stage presence when there’s like 10 people on stage playing a variety of non-traditional instruments for rock music (another win!) such as two violin players (one might have been viola and shame on me for not knowing the difference since I once played viola). Individual band members seemed quite diverse, swapping instruments and taking turns at the microphone. Someone was always moving and it was hard to keep my eyes on everything. I think I was more entertained by how that many people moved around in such a short space than the music itself.

My favorite--violins! (Arcade Fire)

Somewhere in the middle of Arcade Fire’s set, it hit me fully that I was in Moncton. Perhaps I’d still been blurry-brained from travel, but it took me that long to process the marvel–the miracle, really–that had brought me to this last show. From the shared passion of three friends who wanted so badly to see their band one last time, Kristy, Shawn, and I had worked together to get to Moncton. I was suddenly just so happy to be there. Maybe it was the music that got me to feeling all this love… But I felt I was already having the best day of my life.

Regine Chassagne of Arcade Fire singing a song.

As the techs set up for U2, the usual set of music over the speakers had been changed out for songs with the theme of endings and saying goodbye (such as Elton John’s “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road,” R.E.M.’s “It’s The End Of The World As We Know It,” Alice Cooper’s “School’s Out”, Europe’s “The Final Countdown”). I know the band can’t tour forever, nor could I afford to keep attending shows, but, like all endings, it was bittersweet.

The saddest statistic of all the random statics played while the techs set up for U2. :(

We were all shocked out of our socks when suddenly two fighter jets appeared out of nowhere and made a pass right over The Claw and across the field. Only U2 could get the Canadian Air Force to do a fly-by at their show! (Did the Rolling Stones get such fanfare at their show at Magnetic Hill? I think not!) The jets made three passes overhead. It was pretty freaking amazing.

I was in such a state of over-stimulation that by the time “Space Oddity” queued up, I was going crazy in anticipation. As the song faded to the steady thunder of Larry Mullen’s drums and Edge’s guitar ripped out its eerie riff, goosebumps ran up and down my arms, and along my spine, as happened the show opened to “Even Better Than The Real Thing” (which was all my 360 shows).

“This is the last time,” Kristy said to me. I held onto every note of the song, letting each one of my senses absorb it. I became lost in the sound. The sense that this was the last time made it seem more intimate somehow.

Ah, yes, my position in Moncton was just right.... Bono performing (with guitar) "The Fly."

Just like my experience in Denver, I completely lost track of the set list and just found myself experiencing every song as it hit. “The Fly.”  “Mysterious Ways” which I videoed.  “I Will Follow.”  “Until The End Of The World” with my beloved “Anthem” (Leonard Cohen) snippet again! The slobbery love fest between Bono and the rest of the band that is “Get On Your Boots.” It was awesome. The crowd, which had been getting louder and more energetic at my shows since E. Lansing, was so far above the bar that I am at loss to describe it. There was noise, there was singing. And the singing went on and on beyond the end of the song. So much so that Bono had to actually cut us off several times to start a new song. But he often waited for us to continue with a big smile on his face. The man loves to hear us sing his songs back to him.

I don't know what he's doing here, but it's fabulous!

The most shocking moment of the night for me was when Bono sang the first verse of “Springhill Mining Disaster” at the end of “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.” This song was performed several times on The Joshua Tree Tour (I know it through some great bootlegs), the last performance of which was on October 7, 1987 (thanks to U2gigs for that, I had to look it up). As Bono started to sing it, I lost my mind. Of all the songs I could have guessed they might brush off that night, this cover was not one of them.

U2's Ladies' Man... Adam Clayton and one of his equally as sexy basses.

The “Crazy Tonight” remix contained a funny surprise that I would have completely missed had Shawn not called my attention to it: The usual “bad-ass” bopping heads video of U2 that displays on the screen during this song was replaced by various members of the 360 crew! It was hilarious. Some faces I recognized (some of the techs), others I didn’t, but I was most entertained by A. J. Rankin–Bono’s cousin–because he was so obviously mocking the lead singer’s moves from the original video. There were even two guys in bike helmets (boy, did I want to know the story behind that!).

In the above youtube video of this sequence, you can see Larry pointing to the screen as he passes Adam. I’m guessing they were just as much surprised by this replacement as their audience. I get the impression pranks by the crew are part of the whole “last show” experience, much like senior pranks for the last day of high school.

Over to The Edge...

Oh, and, of course, it was my last time–possibly ever–to hear “Scarlet” live so I videoed it again. It didn’t get quite the audience response that it had at other shows (probably due to its relative obscurity to more casual fans) so Bono didn’t sing as many “rejoices” as in other shows. Still, you can hear me in this video and unlike the last time I was caught singing it on video, I don’t sound nearly as bad.

Bono botched a lyric in “Walk On”–which isn’t so unusual because he misses lyrics all the time–but he immediately recognized his mistake and he smiled really wide. I don’t think I’ve ever seen his own reaction to messing up a lyric. I think the beauty of that moment was how light-hearted the spirit of it was. Everyone seemed to collectively giggle at his mistake, though I don’t think it was an audible sound, just the vibe I was somehow connected to in that moment.

Bono & Adam together for a great (though slightly blurry) shot.

I was utterly pleased to see the return of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” snippeted as the lead in to “Where The Streets Have No Name” which I’d also had the pleasure of hearing in Pittsburgh and Philly. Anticipating its possible return, I had my camera out and ready in video mode to record. I figured if it was one of the other songs Bono often snippets into “Streets,” I would still be pleased to have it (I also loved when he was doing “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow.”) It was a win/win, really.

Every song had a sense of finality to it because we knew we were seeing it performed that way–under The Claw–for the very last time. Not having a sign, and just randomly taking picture or video as the spirit moved me, I had just given myself into the entire experience of the moment without any expectation of anything. That is to say, I think I was having more fun than I’d had at any show all summer. And I’d had a ton of fun at every show I’d been at (except Nashville where I was so thirsty I couldn’t think straight). I was dancing and jumping around with complete abandon. That’s why most of my pictures were taken during the slow song when I had a chance to collect myself (and still the camera).

How about a little Bono back side?

During “Moment Of Surrender,” when Bono urged everyone to make the universe with our cell phones, I was delighted that I could for once add a star to the universe with my own cell phone. At all the previous shows, my cell phone had run out of charge because I’d been using internet access on it all day in the GA line. With data usage fees charged while in roaming, I couldn’t use my cell phone for the internet while in Canada, so I had half my battery left by the end of the show. I was finally able to join in what really is visually stunning when you look all around you. In Moncton it seemed like the field of stars went on forever up the hill.

Bono sings; Larry drums. All is right with the world.

I suspected we might get an extra song at the end of “Moment Of Surrender,” so I wasn’t too shocked when Bono leaned over and began whispering in Edge and Adam’s ears after his usual goodbye speech. But I completely lost all my senses when the first few notes of “Out Of Control” started. This was the single song I’d wanted to hear all tour, but had somehow managed to miss among my other five shows–sometimes I just missed it by one show!  So not to abuse an overused U2 fan pun, but I did go out of control. Literally. There was much jumping and screaming and singing along. I was so happy to finally hear that song live–my favorite song on Boy.

Bono: Commander of the Mic!

During the song, Bono tossed water onto the audience and it almost hit me. Kristy and Shawn got sprinkled with it, though, the lucky ducks! It was funny to watch the crowd scrambling to try to get hit by the water. Out of control indeed.

Patented Bono Move - The Arm Grab.

When “Out Of Control” ended, the whole audience began to chant, “40.” I joined in, of course, because like everyone else this closer from U2’s early days was on my wish list of songs to hear played live (I’d never been at a show where it was performed). Edge and Adam switched instruments and Kristy informed me excitedly that this meant they were going to play “40” (I never realized Edge played bass on that song). It was kind of strange seeing Edge and Adam on opposite sides of the stage.

Bono opens champaign while Edge and Adam switch instruments and sides of the stage for "40."

So that familiar bass line started… And I was just overwhelmed with joy. After hearing the snippet in Pittsburgh, I was more than ready to hear a full version of this really awesome song. I was floored by how beautiful Bono’s voice sounded singing this old song–silky, smooth, so even. His voice is different than the way it sounded in his younger years, but in a lot of ways it’s much fuller and has more character. Listening to Bono sing “40,” I just couldn’t help but observe how much more mature the song sounds now. What I wouldn’t give to get Bono’s IEM feed for this show–or at least a good soundboard mix–especially for this song. I swear, it was the most beautiful sound of the night…

Bono sings "40" san shades. (I fail to get a forward view of it. To be fair, it was brief and hard to catch for this untrained photographer.)

Bono was the first to leave the stage, then Adam, then Edge, and finally Larry continued the drum line, pausing once and listening to the audience, before starting up a second round. On the screen above, you could see other three band members standing at the back of the stage watching. Finally, Larry stopped. He got up to the mike and said, “Thank you, Moncton. We’ll miss you guys. God bless.”

“Oh my god, he speaks,” I joked with Kristy and Shawn.

“He’s not a hologram,” mused Shawn. We’d joked earlier in the trip that Larry wasn’t actually a person, but a hologram. It was in reference to that fact that Larry is rarely caught in public. I always refer to him as “the elusive Larry Mullen” because somehow he is able to sneak right passed throngs of waiting fans outside of a hotel. A hologram seems to be the only logical explanation.

It was a rare moment for Larry to have the last word at a show (usually it’s Bono). What a great way to wrap up the 360 Tour. As some people have pointed out online, Larry started the tour beating out the rhythm for the song “Breathe” which opened the shows in 2009 so it was only appropriate that he take the tour out. Poetic justice.

“Rocket Man” came over the PA and we knew it was our cue to leave. My heart was too full of love for the concert I’d seen, however, to be too depressed about the fact that that was the last time I’d probably see U2 live for a few years. What a marvelous run it was!

Edge on (Adam's purple) bass for "40."

Our walk back to the car took us over an hour. With only one exit from the field along a muddy field and puddle-filled road. There were so many people that the  line out kept getting bottlenecked and we would be standing pressed up against each other. Any parts of our shoes that weren’t muddy managed to get so as you would step into the poorly lit darkness to find yourself ankle deep in ooze, stinky mud.

When we finally did make it to our car, we had to sit for awhile because the police were letting lots out at different times and ours was currently blocked off. Not that you could get anywhere–the line of traffic to the highway was pretty thick. I marveled at the venue’s seemingly lack of ability to handle the amount of traffic flooding the town when clearly other big acts had been there before. Still, it was not completely unexpected.

By this time, I was of course starving, and could not wait to reach food. I don’t know what time it was when we finally got on the highway, but I seemed like the only one still running on enough adrenaline so I ended up driving. We found a gas station off the highway and I grabbed a tuna wrap. I drove the rest of the way to the small town of St. John where the car’s navigator put me on a crazy scavenger hunt for the hotel.

After parking, checking in, cleaning and blow-drying our shoes, I think we were in bed by some awful hour of the morning. We slept until 10. It wasn’t enough sleep, of course; we were all dead tired. But it was enough to get a move on and begin our 6 hour drive back to New Hampshire.

We crossed the border back into Maine in some small little town (by contrast, we’d come into Canada on an interstate). When Shawn answered that the purpose for our visit was a concert, the customs guy said, “The U2 concert?”

I suspect that a lot our fellow fans had come back across the border with the same reason for their short visit to Canada. Shawn answered yes.

The customs guy mused, “You came all the way from Ohio for the U2 concert?”

“Yep.” We all admitted happily in unison. Post-concert giddiness.

“You guys are crazy,” the custom guy replied.

If the guy had ever been to a U2 concert, I’m sure he’d have understood.

Or maybe not.

Either way, “crazy” is a title I’ll gladly accept if it means that I get to experience one of the best concerts of my life, which is how Moncton was already coming out in my head. It was completely worth Shawn’s aggressive no-sleep schedule.  It was worth whatever money I ended up paying for this quick pass into a part of Canada I’d never been.

By the way, that was the furthest east in the US I’d ever been. What a great excuse, huh? I didn’t get to see much of Maine and New Hampshire, but they both looked beautiful out of the window of the car. Perhaps I’ll come again. And not just for a concert.

Upstaging semi (trucking company U2 uses for moving equipment) spotted at a rest stop in Maine.... Hmm....

It took me a week to get back the sleep I’d lost from that trip. But I’m still glowing from the experience. I think the spontaneity made it even more fun. It made me think about my life a little, about why I don’t take more risks like this, especially when it comes to my creative endeavors. I think that pushing myself to do something completely illogical such as this–given that I’d already been to give shows and would have been happy with just that–made me realize that sometimes that just jumping without much forethought can really pay off. Maybe I over-think my life too much. Just imagine the possibilities if I took this approach with my writing… say, I just started throwing my work out there like paper airplanes towards the vast publishing desks of the universe. Who knows what could happen?

I guess a little bit of U2 has rubbed off onto me. I need to channel some of their creative energy and refusal to see failure as option. Being around their spirit this summer has allowed me to drink a little in the fountain of success. Live their dream with them. And that’s the beauty of U2–they bring you as the audience on their journey with them. What an adventure it’s been.

Thanks, Kristy and Shawn, for allowing me to be crazy with you on this epic trip. Thanks, U2, for a totally awesome summer. My summer of love.

Goodbye, Suit of Lights. Bono wore you so well.

Click here for the rest of my awesome shots from Moncton. There were many more I could have posted. So hard to choose which ones!

The Steel City

Pittsburgh. Originally—like back in October 2010 when I bought the tickets using my online code from U2.com—it was to be my first GA experience ever. By now, you know how this story goes…. When July 26th finally rolled around, I was a seasoned GA veteran who knew the whole rigamarole.

The Claw at Heinz Stadium

In fact, Pittsburgh was the culmination of all of my previous shows. While in line for this show, I ran into people I’d met at various shows throughout the summer, people from the forum, and, of course, my first U2 friends, Kristy and Shawn, who had taught me the ropes with my first GA experience in Denver. All the loose ends were coming together. I found myself busy all day talking with friends, admiring downtown Pittsburgh, and pursuing the discounted merchandise at the stands (where I ended up buying myself a third tour shirt, four buttons, and a keychain…. because…. well, they were on sale). I think I barely sat an hour in my actual spot in the line, though I checked in frequently so that my neighbors recognized my face.

I’d returned from Tampa, where I’d been for my best friend’s wedding, the evening before. I originally was assigned #206, but missing people at roll call had first upgraded me to #199 (the same number I had in Philly), and then finally #186. Not bad. Because I hadn’t been overly fond of the outer rail in the inner circle, I was determined to get a spot on the rail along the catwalk outside of the inner circle. If the outer rail looked full, my Plan B was to go into the inner circle and get second or third row along the main stage (because I knew my number was too high for a rail spot there).

The USS Requin in downtown Pittsburgh. I know nothing about this vessle; I just once dated a submariner so I find myself drawn to/fascinated by submarines.

Unfortunately, my plans didn’t work out as well as I hoped. I guess the outer rail is just as popular as the main stage rail. As I fast walked into the stadium, I could see that the outer rail was already mostly full. I first stopped at an open spot far on the right (Adam’s side) only to notice that the rail was right where the catwalk turned away towards the Red Zone so it was a great deal away from the rail. That definitely would not do! So I proceeded to the inner circle. In what I can only described as a panic and an irrational fit of rail lust, I headed for the back rail again. From that position, I debated between staying on the rail or following through with my Plan B. The inner circle was slowly filling and I still had a chance to go to the front between Bono’s mic and Adam—the same position I had in Denver—but my love of the rail, and the fact that I was again on a mission with the “Bono kiss Adam for us” sign, kept me at the rail. As the inner circle continued to fill with people, the stage seemed further and further away as I had to adjust my positioning to get a clear forward view, thus reminding me why I disliked that spot.

A sign of appreciation to Bono's leather pants hanging in the GA line. I approve!!

But the people around me made up for my lack of satisfaction. To my left, a group of Austrians—all dressed in like homemade t-shirts—chatted cheerily with each other in German. I exchanged conversation with the girl closest to me (she laughed at my sign) and I admired her boyfriend or husband’s Armani shades with the stars on the side—the same model that Bono wore except with darker lenses. I chatted with the man on my right, Craig, who had flown all the way from England to see the show. He was very excited to be there; his first U2 concert was ZooTV. The man in front of me was there with his daughter from Wooster, Ohio. I think he said it was his sixth U2 show, but his first one had been on The Unforgettable Fire Tour at the old Richfield Colosseum. I was jealous because he’d also seen The Joshua Tree Tour at the old Municipal Stadium in Cleveland. This was his daughter’s first show.

My "BAdam" sign, reincarnated bigger and brighter. Unfortunately, Bono still didn't see it. :(

We seemed to bond as a group which worked really well for us later when late-comers tried to worm their way into positions in front of us. The Wooster guy and his friend told the people to move on and argued with them if they didn’t. I wish Erin and I had had that kind of support in Philly, but our neighbors in that case had actually been the ones who kept letting more people in (their friends who were more annoying than they were).

One tour city remaining.... Say it ain't so!?

I wish I could say I found the Interpol set any more exciting than I did in Philly (notice, I don’t think I even brought them up in my blog entry about Philly). But after you’ve seen Florence + The Machine, your expectations are set pretty high. A band like Interpol is not even in the same league as far as personality goes. I like about 50% of Interpol’s music a whole lot and the rest is “eh” and they seemed to have picked the best of the “eh” to play. And, to top it off, only the guitarist seemed really into the performance aspect of a live show as he did this little funky dance with his legs now and again. I slowly realized I might actually prefer The Fray, whose music I don’t like at all, but at least their frontman had somewhat of a stage presence and he–like Florence–made use of the catwalk to reach the depths of the audience. Interpol, in contrast, was the anti-U2.

Objects appear further away in the camera. I swear! I took this wide-angled shot to get the whole band in one picture, for once.

Still, they played my favorite song “Evil” at the end of their set. Which somewhat made up for the boredom. But not much.

I think I went into Pittsburgh expecting a lot of surprises with the U2 set list seeing as it was the last US show. I was a little disappointed that there weren’t any at first because so many songs had been rehearsed or soundchecked but not used. Okay, so in Philly, I’d witnessed just a crew doing an extended practice of “Breathe” so part of me hoped that might return (though I knew it was highly doubtful). I think a part of me still held onto the hope that I’d get to hear “North Star,” too. So I admit that as the normal set plugged on, I may have felt a little let down…

Bono performing in "Until The End Of The World." Have I mentioned how much I love the whole "flower-throwing" sequence?

…However, there were a few little nuggets at first that got my heart pounding right away. The first was my favorite snippet of Leonard Cohen’s “Anthem” in “Until The End Of The World” made a reappearance. It had been snippeted in my favorite bootlegs in Europe last summer and a several times at US shows I wasn’t at (much like my desired “Out Of Control”). I was so overjoyed to hear it for the first time live. For those of you not in the know, Bono often sings these (most profound lyrics ever written) in the middle eight of “Until The End Of The World”: There is a crack in everything. That’s where the light gets in.

Patented Bono move... It doesn't get any cooler than this!

I couldn’t believe my ears when, at the end of “Vertigo,” Bono snippeted “Two Hearts Beat As One,” a song from U2’s War CD (my third favorite album). I jumped up and down and screamed. I may have been the only one in my area who immediately recognized the lines. I know it wasn’t the whole song, but it made me almost as excited as if it had been. I love a little homage to old school U2 (wouldn’t it be nice if they brought that one back at a future tour??).

Another great shot of the stage and our fearless frontman.

For the second time, I got to hear Bono sing Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” as the lead into “Where The Streets Have No Name.” My favorite song by Cohen, Bono sings “Hallelujah” so beautifully. I love it; more, I think, than even the “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow” snippet he was singing at the start of the tour (which I got in Denver and E. Lansing).

"And you're turning tricks / With your crucifix / You're a star..." (not what he was singing, but the lines I think of when I look at this picture)

I decided to video “Hold Me Thrill Me Kiss Me Kill Me,” though you really don’t get the full effect of the laser suit and smoke when filmed from so far back with my camera that does not zoom in video mode (note to self: get a digital camera that has zoom capacity in video mode for next tour). I kind of wish I’d continued filming this song in Nashville when I was so close to the stage. Or maybe I should have done it in E. Lansing–he was right over our heads during parts of the song, maybe he would have made a face into my camera.

Anyway, the best moment of the night, of course, was when, after “Moment of Surrender,” the band–who were at the front of the stage waving their customary goodbyes–got into a football huddle. I knew something was up then. We were definitely getting a bonus song! I hoped it was “Out Of Control.” (I wanted to hear that song. All. Damned. Tour.) But, alas, it was “Bad.”

Any U2er who knows me knows that I’ve said repeatedly that “Bad” is a much overrated song by fans. It’s not that I don’t like it (I’ve never in my life skipped the track!), but it’s not one I’m clamoring to hear live. From the same album–The Unforgettable Fire, my #2 album in ranking of U2 albums–I’d much rather hear “A Sort Of Homecoming” (my favorite U2 song of all time). Or,  well, the aforementioned “Breathe” from No Line On The Horizon. Or, as I may have mentioned above, freaking “Out Of Control” from U2’s first album Boy.

Bono brought a boy on stage during "City of Blinding Lights." The lucky little bugger got to wear Bono's shades for like 30 seconds (and I regret I didn't get a picture of that).

Okay, I did sort of get the shot...

So, that in mind, I was completely surprised with myself when, upon immediately recognizing the first few notes of the song, I screamed to the Wooster guy, “FUCKING, ‘BAD’!!” as if I too were one of the U2ers waiting my whole life to hear that song live (I have, in fact,  heard it live before–at my concert in 2001). The guy turned around at the same instant as I screamed, his hand raised for a high five, and I slapped it. They mine as well as played “A Sort Of Homecoming” for how excited I got.

I like the lighting in this one.

A couple who'd been to over 50 shows (in 3 tours) got to dance together on stage during what was probably one of the best performances of "With Or Without You" I've heard personally all tour.

And, well, now it’s time to eat crow and admit that when you’re there at the show, “Bad” sounds pretty freaking “bad”-assed. When introducing the song, Bono admitted (I think for the first time ever) that the song was originally written for his friend Andy Rowen who was at the show. And though I have heard “Bad” live before, Bono sang it with much more emotion than probably I’d ever heard. His voice cracked a few times during the song so I imagined that a tear or two may have been shed over this song (like in “Moment of Surrender” in Denver). I think Bono may have warmed me over to this song with this performance. I guess it’s not really overrated at all. There. I said it.

THE Edge! Guitar whisperer. Whose voice is almost as beautiful as Bono's. (As hearing him live reveals.)

To top this wonderful performance off, as well as the entire night, Bono snippeted “40” at the end! Which, of course, resulted in one of the most beautiful moments of my life at a U2 concert: everyone began to sing the lines with Bono, and then over and over again as the band left the stage, and well after:

How long… to sing this song?

How long… to sing this song?

What more could you ask for? This song, which is really just the words from Psalms 40 put to music, is one of U2’s most iconic show closers. The ending words, though, are Bono’s, and they are so representative of the single burning question the humanitarian in Bono pleads that he used them again in the much angrier “Sunday Bloody Sunday.”

How longto sing this song?

It’s an optimistic plea for a future in which we don’t have to sing (worry, talk, write prayers) about pain and injustice.

This song–these lines–is our prayer. And we at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh sang it after the band left the stage until the stadium lights came on and “Rocket Man” hummed through the speakers. I wish we’d kept it going as we flooded the streets.

Still, it was magical. And I’ll hold it in my memory always.

Bono, uhm, really getting into the performance of "Sunday Bloody Sunday." (I'd have more shots like these if Edge's bodyguard hadn't kept getting in the way.)

I was totally zonked after the show. I’d only had three hours of sleep between Monday and Tuesday morning with maybe as much as an hour of actual sleep in the GA line (which isn’t a deep sleep). I’d stupidly only booked one night at my hotel, but thankfully my friend Juli (from the forum) put me up for the night at her place in Pittsburgh. I arrived there at 2am after waiting out traffic in the casino by the stadium, and then stopping at a McD’s because I hadn’t eaten any food since 1pm, and I pretty much slept until 11:30am. I admire Juli’s patience with putting up with a comatose guest. Especially since upon getting up, we ended up chatting for an addition two hours (it’s not often in the “outside world” that has the freedom to share long, in-depth discussions about U2).

Bono's not the only star. Let's hear it once again for THE Edge.

Not wanting to overstay my welcome, however, I packed up and left around 3pm, arriving home around 5pm, completely exhausted still from almost an entire week away from home (especially considering the non-stop party that was my trip to Tampa).

And, yet, on the edge my mind, another scheme was just about to hatch…

Bono singing "Bad."

Click here for the rest of my pictures from the Pittsburgh show.