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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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!
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.
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.
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!