It has been four years since I saw U2’s final show on the 360 Tour in Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada. Ever since they dropped their new album, Songs of Innocence, on iTunes last October, and buzz of them touring began to overtake the fan community, I was determined that I would see them on the very first show of their tour. Where ever it was. I guess I was fairly certain they would start in North America. Thankfully because I don’t think I could have swung a trip to Europe or any other international location at this time. I have had a financially draining last four years with a wedding and home purchase.
I really wanted to be at the first show on the tour because I would be the first to see what was to come. I would have no idea what they were going to play (other than the obvious, songs from their new album). The whole mystery around what was going to happen excited me. Social media and the internet has spoiled concert-going in a way. With the organized fan community that U2 has, you can virtually be present at any show around the world. On the last U2 tour, people at shows tweeted setlists real-time. Now with such apps as Meerkat and Periscope, fans can live stream shows. Friends of mine going to shows later in the tour have to put themselves on a media blackout to not find out too much information about the show if they prefer the element of surprise. It’s very hard to avoid all those concert details. And because of this, I kind of miss the pre-internet days.
Yet, at the same time, I love the accessibility of music and art that the internet provides. There are U2 sites that contain a huge archive of U2 bootlegs, collected from shows going back to the early 1980s. Before I even left Vancouver, bootlegs from both nights were already available. At the time of this writing, there are bootlegs for all four of the U2 shows that have taken place thus far in the infancy of this tour. In this day and age, I can leave a U2 concert with 80% confidence that I will be able to forever listen to the show via some recording. This is priceless.
Still. I have no willpower. So I knew that if my only shows were later in the tour, despite all of my attempts to avoid peeking at the videos, setlists, and bootlegs out there, I would fail miserably. So I freed myself from recoiling at the information overload by getting tickets to the very first show on the tour. Problem solved.
I cannot even convey the excitement I felt leading up to this concert. Despite the controversial release of U2’s latest album, I really love Songs of Innocence. I think more people would, too, had they given the album a chance before angrily deleting it from their iPods. (People don’t want free music?? I’d even give Jack White a chance if he gave me a free album and I hate him). As I stated in a post about the album, Songs of Innocence is perhaps one of the most honest and heartfelt albums U2 has done since October. There is some sonic exploration in the album and you can definitely hear the influence of some of its producers. I could not wait to hear these new songs live. When U2 plays their own songs live, they outperform the album versions such that after you’ve heard the song live, that’s the only way you want to hear it again. The mark of any good band is one who can kick the ass of their own songs when they play them live. U2 does this 100x over. Always. This is why we fans are so obsessive-compulsive about attending as many of their concerts as we can reasonably afford…
I didn’t get to hear many of the rehearsed songs while I was in Vancouver because the outside of Rogers arena is probably the noisiest place I’ve ever been. There is a constant ambient noise of traffic at all hours of the day and night. So even though I spent hours waiting to meet the band while they rehearsed, I only vaguely heard music a few times. I did, however, listen to one recording on youtube of them playing “Raised By Wolves” that someone recorded outside of Pacific Coliseum where they practiced weeks before the concert and from that clip I decided that despite bicycle accident injuries and painkillers, Bono was definitely ready to perform.
We did not do the normal GA line up. When we were casing Rogers arena for possible entry/exit points for the band on Monday, we noticed that a GA line had already formed–4 days before the first show!! We conferred for a few minutes on the sidewalk across the street from them and decided that Monday was way too early to line up for GA. We were kind of disgusted because it seems like the line up for GA was starting earlier and earlier at the end of the last tour… and here it was starting up all over again. Granted, the rules were that you didn’t actually have to stay in the line from Monday on, you just had to check in twice a day. But even that seemed like too much. Really? Check in to some line-master? Ehhh…
We decided to line up at 1pm on the day of the first show. It turned out to be a good choice because even at that point there were no more than 150 people or so (possibly less). Okay, for most more casual fans, lining up 5 hours before the doors open is probably still extreme (I believe my husband’s exact quote was, “Have fun with that.”). But it’s actually not that bad. Time flies by because you are amongst others who also love the band as much as you do and you can share your excitement and anticipation of the show.
There was some worry about the ticketing process for GA because it was for the first time ever paperless. You had to scan the credit card you used to pay for the show. I was in a panic because for one of the shows I bought tickets to (Chicago 3), I had used another credit card. So I brought both credit cards to each show, even though I had double and triple checked which credit card I used for which show before I even left Ohio. Anyway, it turned out to be a pretty painless process: They scanned your card, the machine spits out a receipt (yay, souvenir!), and then you walk with the receipt to a table where they then put a wristband on you that matches the side of the arena from which you’re supposed to enter.
For this tour, U2’s stage goes across the whole floor, dividing the arena floor into a North and South side. Because this show is primarily about the band’s early days, the arena floor is divided in this way to represent the north and south sides of Dublin (the band grew up on the north side). A catwalk runs down the middle of the floor with a main stage at one end and a smaller b-stage in the shape of an “e” (for experience) at the other.
Both nights, we ended up on the North side. Other fans said they were able to move between sides during the shows but I don’t know how that happened as the second night we were at the back of the b-stage and security kept the access closed off throughout the show. Yeah, it was only roped off. My guess is that some people snuck through.
On the first night, there was a lot of confusion. The people who had been the front of the line had mostly already filled up the entire length of rail space (which is quite vast) on the north side. We originally had some rail on the b-stage, but then we jumped up to the main stage to see what it was like up there, thought about staying, and then decided to leave to go back to the b-stage. We ran into some friends midway along the catwalk rail and decided to stay there. We were second row from the rail, our friends who had also arrived at 1pm with us had the rail.
It was really a toss-up because we had no idea what the show was going to be like to even know where a “good” spot was. So we just decided to hold our position and see what happened. It took the arena a long time to fill after that. Probably because most people arrive closer to the time the show is supposed to start (7:30) and aren’t freaks like us who want to vie for a close spot to the band.
The pre-show music was outstanding. It was a lot of 1980s music that I assume inspired the band–Patti Smith (!!), Ramones, Talking Heads, Joy Division, even a Flock of Seagulls! The music really helped to transport me back to that time. The last song played before the band came on was “Beat On The Brat” by the Ramones. I’m not a fan of The Ramones, and only know in a minimal pop culture sort of way, but I do know this song because U2 has done a cover of it. The version they play at this point in the show is a modified remix that includes riffs from U2’s songs “Even Better Than The Real Thing” and “Discotheque.”
Like U2 had expressed, I was a little nervous to hear how the songs from the new album would be received. But my fears immediately vanished as soon as the opening “oh oh”‘s from “The Miracle (Of Joey Ramone)” began and I heard the arena fill with the sound of thousands of fans singing along (myself included).
The band started from the main stage. I was a little disappointed, though, that from my position the rail, I really could not see much of the action on the main stage. The first four songs were sung from there and Bono started to walk out to the catwalk some during “Iris” (5 songs in).
I tried to not let it bother me/disappoint me that I couldn’t see. I knew that I was by a rail and eventually the band would start walking down our way. The band started out strong with some incredible songs old and new–“Out of Control” (a favorite of mine), “Vertigo,” and “I Will Follow.” Incidentally, the slot “Out of Control” filled now seems, after 6 shows, to a position for an array of songs from the band’s first two albums. Though nothing has yet been played from October, U2’s second album, I hold out hope that “Gloria” might get slipped in there at some point (hopefully when I’m at the show). Since then, the band has played “Electric Co” in this spot.
Though I had cheated and looked at the 60-some songs U2 had reportedly practiced during their rehearsals before the tour, I completely forgot about “Iris (Hold Me Close.” This is a beautiful song written about Bono’s mother, Iris, who died when he was fourteen. There are some beautiful lines in this song and I have to say that I never thought that Bono would perform it live because of its emotional content. So when the first few notes to the song started, I squealed with delight. He snippeted “Mofo”–a song from U2’s Pop album which was also about Bono’s mom–at the beginning. All I could do throughout this entire performance was hold my hand over my heart. So stunningly beautiful. At the end of the song, Bono prompted the audience to chant “Free yourself to be yourself / If only you can see.”
After “Iris,” a large metal screen with a walkway between each side descended to just above the catwalk. Bono invited the audience to visit Cedarwood Road with him and then he climbs up a ladder into the screen and the band plays the song “Cedarwood Road.” From my point of view just beneath the catwalk, I could only see Bono’s feet as he walked along the pathway in the screen. However, between videos I caught later, and the second night, everyone in the audience besides the rail rats see a cartoon representation of houses and rooms as Bono walks along them. It’s actually pretty cool and I’m sure if you’re up in nosebleeds it gives you a sense of closeness to the band as though you were on the floor.
I thought that I wouldn’t mind if U2 stopped playing “Sunday Bloody Sunday” for a tour… Until Larry Mullen Jr. came out to the catwalk and began pounding a vicious military-style beat on a snare drum that he carried. This reworked acoustic version of “Sunday Bloody Sunday” made the song fresh again for my ears. It was beautiful and eerie and set to a part of the show that playacted a car bombing that happened during Bono’s youth. From our position on the catwalk, we were right next to Larry and the drum beats were loud and jarring and completely impressive in how they set the mood as the video of a newscaster talking of the car bombing played. A final hit of the drum at the end before the fade into “Raised By Wolves” was just amazing.
The second half of the show was largely on the b-stage, to which I had a great view. U2 played some songs I’ve never had the pleasure of hearing live–“Sweetest Thing” and “Desire”–and then played an acoustic version of “Every Breaking Wave.” Without prompting, the audience began to shine their cell phone lights and the arena became a beautiful twinkling sea of stars.
The main set ended with “The Troubles” (which at the time of this writing is the only song this new song has been played) and “With or Without You.” The encore was a rousing four-punch hit of “City of Blinding Lights,” “Beautiful Day,” “Where The Streets Have No Name,” and “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.” I find “Still Haven’t Found” kind of a weird song to end on, but they have been doing it the first night in every city on this tour so far, it seems.
I did do a lot of jumping around throughout the show and all those bodies together made me very sweaty and parched by the end. It was great, though, and my first reaction was that I needed some time to process what had happened.
For the second show, we ended up at the back of the b-stage which gave us a great view up the entire catwalk to the main stage. I could see all the action a lot better, including a sideways view of the video screen to catch some of the things I’d missed the first night.
Right away, I could feel the energy of the crowd for the second night was even better than the first. Before the show even began, someone in the seats started the wave and it lasted about 10 minutes before fizzling out. In general, I felt like the band were more relaxed this second day than the first and throughout the show there was a lot more smiling going on between them. In the first set, the played “California (There Is No End To Love).”
On the b-stage, they performed “When Love Comes To Town” as a tribute to B. B. King who had passed away the previous night. And in the vein of Rattle And Hum favorites, “Angel of Harlem” made an appearance as well. The encore blew me away with first “Miracle Drug”–my favorite song from How To Dismantle an Atomic Bomb–followed by “Bad.” They ended the encore with “One,” which seemed a bit more fitting a song to end the show on.
I thought I was blown away the first night, but second night was even better. I left Rogers with the realization that I heard all but three songs from the new album (no “Volcano,” my favorite, waaaaah!). The new songs really shine on this tour and I have to say that they have already blown the album version so far out of the water that now I pretty much just want to listen to the live versions provided by the bootlegs.
Knowing the second night what would happen at the show was really not a problem. Even the narrative parts that are apparently in the show for good (or at least for a long run) invoked an emotional response for me. I’m trying now not to listen to the bootlegs so much in fear that when I see them in Chicago in June that my ears might be a little too used to the sound. I’m failing miserably… There is also an off-chance that I might also go to Toronto… Uh… If I can swing it. I try to remind myself that U2 is supposed to take the show outside to stadiums in 2016 and that I can continue to see them then… But this addiction is just so overwhelming. I just want to stand there in the audience, witnessing this greatness that is U2, and never come down from the high of that moment. These concerts remind me of why I’m such a huge fan: This band is unique, one-of-the-kind, and they give everything into their performances. You leave feeling as though you embarked on a journey with them… And you totally have.