Wearing my heart on my sleeve

My new tattoo

U2 opened their 2018 Experience + Innocence tour with the obtrusive sound of an MRI machine running while images of an MRI scan of a brain flash across the screen. Then the opening song begins — “Love Is All We Have Left,” the moving opening track to their 2017 album, Songs of Experience. I have loved this song from the moment that I heard this album — it relies more on the strength of Bono’s gorgeous voice to carry it rather than the music — but hearing this song live, in the context in which it was presented, haunted me. I certainly know what an MRI sounds like… and I know what a brain scan looks like… And at this point in my life, after having lived every few months of my life on edge waiting for the results of an MRI, I totally connected with this opening.

I saw U2 this year at their two shows in Chicago on May 22 & 23. Crow came with me to the first show, but it was too loud for him now — he’s been very sensitive to sound since his last round of radiation in January — and even with his ear plugs in, he couldn’t take it. So I went to the second show solo and he was happy to spend the evening hanging around our B&B. It was the last trip we took before everything went really south. We did spend sometime together during the day on the 23rd, sight-seeing at the Lincoln Park Zoo and the Notebaert Nature Museum. I made him do a lot of walking around town… and little did I know that in a few short weeks, he’d no longer be able to walk, even at his slow pace.

Anyway, due to my state of mind at both shows, I was profoundly affected by the opening. It got me the first night when I didn’t know what to expect; the second night, it nearly brought me to tears. The refrain continued to ring in my head in the weeks that followed: “Love is all we have left / The only thing that can be kept.”

I decided shortly after that show that I would get the tattoo of the gray brain cancer ribbon on my arm, as I’d been planning to do for awhile, but that it would also bear these words from the refrain.

At the very least, it’s a simple love letter to my husband. Brain cancer has cost us to lose a lot of everything — freedom, joy, adventure. Dare I say, as Bono so aptly reminds us throughout the concert, we have also lost a bit of our innocence. But the one thing we still have — the only thing anyone ever has in life that they can keep forever — is love. Love is the only thing that we give each other in this life that we can take to the grave and that others can keep when we ourselves are gone. I still have the love of my grandma Herrmann in my heart as well as the love of my first husband, Mike. If there is life beyond death (of which I’m highly doubtful), love is the one thing that transcends the barrier between corporeal and spiritual. Love is the point of our existence. That is what I hang onto.

The secondary purpose of this tattoo is a bit more selfish. I put it on the inside of my arm so that I could always see it when I am bike riding — the way arms are positioned when gripping the handlebars of a road bike will cause my tattoo to be displayed prominently. I can look down at it for inspiration when I want to give up. I can easily turn it around to view it when I’m not biking and I want to give up on anything. I put it there to remind me, always, that I should never take a moment or a person for granted. Somewhere along the way, despite having learned from the death of my first husband, I forgot this. I let myself believe that I was owed a happy ending. I forgot that life does not work this way. Whatever the future holds, I need to look at this reminder to take everything in perspective. Happiness and joy are fleeting and I must remember, always, to appreciate each second of those moments. Now, because of this tattoo, I will never forget again.

ETA: Video of “Love is All We Have Left”

You and I Are Rock-And-Roll: Chicago (Part 1)

How Crazy Defeats Frugal

When U2 tickets went on sale way back in December, I ended up purchasing tickets for Chicago 3 and 4 on June 28 and 29th. I couldn’t attend the first two shows on June 24 and June 25 because I was already scheduled to attend a conference for my professional organization from June 21-24.

Or so I thought.

After Vancouver, of course, I started to think about other U2 shows I might attend. Yeah, even though I already had two more lined up in Chicago. For about 4 days, I had tickets to Toronto that a friend had to give up. But I decided that I couldn’t take them after all because between Chicago and Toronto, which are only a week apart, I would need to get some bike rides in because I’m also participating in RAIN (Ride Across Indiana) on July 11th which is 165 miles in one day. We’ve had a rainy start to the summer and I’ve not gotten as much bike riding in as I’d have hoped. In fact, I’m only at about 450 miles at the moment. Ugh.

Anyway, having almost had tickets to two more shows, I had experienced the giddiness of MORE. So I was not about to let it go. I thought about Boston or NYC. I began checking Ticketmaster for ticket drops to those shows. And then it occurred to me… My friend Dave was already going out to Chicago for the first two shows as well as the two I already had tickets to. I was already going to be in Chicago for 3 and 4. Perhaps I could make it up to Chicago for the second show?

As the Chicago shows got closer, I began to check Ticketmaster regularly for ticket drops to the second show. I watched the fan site on FB that advertised tickets that other fans needed to sell. By Tuesday morning, I was very seriously considering a pair of tickets in the 200-level area of the United Center for $375 total. This would be the most money I’d ever spent on U2 tickets, and the first time since 2001 that I was in seats, but I have long decided it’s better to be at the U2 show, in any seat, than not there at all.

Tuesday night I went out to dinner with my friends Kristy and Shawn since I was in town. Upon returning to my hotel room after our visit, I received a text from Kristy, whom I’d just left, stating that another friend was reporting that tickets were dropping for Chicago 2 at that very moment. I immediately tried to pull some tickets on my Ticketmaster app, but only resale tickets were returning in my search results. So I opened my laptop and went to the Ticketmaster site. Sure enough, GA tickets were showing up in the light blue color to indicate that tickets were available from the venue!

I grabbed two tickets, put them in my cart, and then went to check out. When I got to the payment screen, I received an error message that stated that the tickets in my cart were no longer available! I tried again, was able to grab two tickets in my cart, but again, I received the same message at the payment screen. Undaunted, I went back to main screen, but this time I drew one ticket. I figured I could go back and get the second ticket after I’d secured the first. This time I was able to purchase the ticket. I felt a rush of relief mixed with fear and regret as I watched the payment go through. Now I was definitely going to the U2 concert two days away and I was going to need to ask for a second day off from work!

I immediately went back into Ticketmaster to try to draw another ticket for Crow… But, alas, the GA area was now displaying as gray, indicating that there were no tickets available. I spent another half hour trying to search for GA tickets doing a general search for tickets, but I kept getting nosebleeds on the resale site.

Well, I thought, it’s easy to find one ticket at the venue from someone. Half the battle is getting to the venue. I felt confident that I would be able to secure a ticket for Crow.

Too Much is Not Enough: Chicago 2 (June 25, 2015)

I returned from the conference, unpacked my conference clothes, and immediately repacked my bag for Chicago. Meanwhile, Crow went on a bike ride with our bike club. I was too jittery to ride. According to the mapping app on my phone, it would take about 6 hours to get to where we were staying in Chicago. Knowing the mapping app is much more conservative than my driving, I figured it would actually take about 5 hours so long as I didn’t hit Chicago traffic (I mean, c’mon, the speed limit on the turnpike is 70 all the way through Ohio and Indiana!).

I planned to leave for Chicago at 7am. So, of course, we ended up leaving at 9am. I figured we’d arrive in Chicago around 3pm which was enough time to get settled in at the hotel, grab dinner, and get to the venue without feeling rushed. Dave, meanwhile, was working on a trade for a ticket for Crow. Our friends, Kristy and Shawn, had originally bought tickets to several of the Chicago shows and then were unable to attend. They gave Dave their tickets to try to use so they would not go to waste. Therefore, Dave had a spare GA ticket for Chicago 3 that he could trade with someone who had one for Chicago 2.

The entire drive to Chicago, I fretted about not making it to Chicago in time or hitting traffic. We stopped at rest areas twice and I made the stops as brief as possible. This behavior is typical for me during travel to a U2 show; I’m always afraid that some unforeseen problem will occur to prevent me from getting to the show. I have nightmares about this, too. I never feel 100% secure until I’m in the venue waiting for the show to start. As I drove to Chicago, I was determined that I only had to get to the city and everything would be okay.

I was also very nervous about driving in Chicago because Crow had indicated that it could be as bad as New York City. I never, ever want to drive in New York City. I was imagining all kinds of terribly nerve-wrecking scenarios once we got into Chicago. Fortunately, at around 3pm on a Thursday afternoon, the highways were really not that bad at all–not much busier than Cleveland on a weekday–so I felt more confident as we got closer. The hotel was easy to find and located just off the Magnificent Mile, so within walking distance of great food, shopping, and parks.

We met up with Dave, our roommate for the next five days, and he assured us that he was pretty sure he’d secured a ticket for Crow. Yay! We found food at this great little pub not far from the hotel called Rudy’s. I relaxed some over beer.

Since Dave had been to Chicago 1 the night before, he’d already worked out how we would get to the venue using the “L”–Chicago’s part subway, part elevated train system–and we arrived, stress-free, at the venue around 6pm. We had to wait around on the grounds for the guy with whom we were trading tickets as the venue let in the entire GA line. He was taking his own sweet time meeting up with us and I started to get nervous because if the guy didn’t show, Crow would have no ticket. This is where the fan in me conflicts with the love of my husband–Do I just go in without him? Or do I sacrifice my own ticket to make sure Crow isn’t by himself in Chicago? I’m sure if worse came to worse, Crow would just have told me to go into the show without him, and I would have, but I would have felt really bad about leaving him behind.

Fortunately, I didn’t have to make “Sophie’s choice” (I’m being funny there), and the guy arrived. Dave wished us well as he was headed to the entrance for people with tickets in seats. We calmly walked through security, submitted to the scans by medal detector, and we were admitted. I always hold my breath during the credit card scan, fearing it won’t work, but everything went smoothly. We picked the South side of the floor since we could choose and I’d not been to that side of the show. (In Vancouver, your ticket dictated which side you were on and I got North both times.)

I had originally planned to just hang back on the edge of the floor so that Crow could see the screens. People were already lined up by the Red Zone rail. The Red Zone at a U2 show is a secured ticket area for people who have bought high-priced GA tickets–a portion of the money goes to (RED)–and for this show they are on the far end of the main stage on each side. I started standing in the second row from the Red Zone rail, but when I returned from a quick restroom break, Crow had already  moved a little more center of floor between the Red Zone and the catwalk. Ultimately, we ended up about five rows back from the main stage and about 2-3 rows from the start of the catwalk. This ended up being my favorite place to stand of all the places I stood on this tour.

So once in place, I really felt that relief I get right before a show starts. I’d made it to one extra show! I was so excited. I also was excited for Crow to see my favorite band and hoped it would help him to understand why I have such a great love for U2 that I follow them to multiple shows on a tour.

Outside the United Center in Chicago before the show.

The tour has changed slightly since I saw the band in Vancouver. Nothing huge, but some great subtle changes that have served to make the show tighter and more cohesive. I’m a little depressed that the special remix of The Ramones’ “Beat On the Brat” has been replaced as the song that plays before the band arrives on stage. It set that early 1980s vibe for me before the show and when U2 came on, “The Miracle (Of Joey Ramone)” just kind of flowed into it. Now the song that U2 comes out to is Patti Smith’s “People Have The Power”–a great song, and one I love, but it just doesn’t seem to fit as well at that point in the show.

Mars Girl and Crow at the U2 show. I’m decked out in my u2start.com Everything I Lost shirt and my homemade U2 earrings. You can’t see it, but my shirt reads: “Everything I ever lost, now has been returned in the most beautiful sound I ever heard.” (Lyrics to “The Miracle (Of Joey Ramone)” by U2)

One of the best changes, though, is that now Bono starts the show from the e-stage while the rest of the band starts playing at the main stage. I am not even sure how the band entered in Vancouver, as both nights I was far from the main stage, but it seemed rather abrupt and without ceremony. Now, however, Bono walks onto the e-stage and starts riling up the crowd by encouraging them to chant the opening oooh-ohh-ohh’s to the song. He swaggers and struts and flails his arms in encouragement and the crowd really seems to respond. (Also noted: Chicago crowds are way louder and more active than the Vancouver crowds were.)

The first four songs of the night are always a vicious flurry of upbeat rock-n-roll tunes. Chicago 2 opened with “The Miracle,” “Out of Control,” “Vertigo,” and “I Will Follow” and the songs just kind of caught me up and took me along with them. Sometime during this powerful beginning set, I was baptized by Bono as he flung the water from his water bottle upon the audience. A few droplets landed on me and I was totally thrilled. It’s funny because, as another U2 friend of mine pointed out, if some guy in the crowd had sprayed me with water, I’d have been totally pissed; however, Bono flinging water on me is perfectly okay.

A not-so-clear shot of Bono on the catwalk.

U2 on the main stage during the first set.

Mr. Adam Clayton–the suave, photogenic member of U2.

We had lots of time with Mr. Clayton. Be thankful I excluded the gratuitous butt shot from this blog entry.

The Edge! We were on his side of the main stage.

The first half of the show was not much different from what I’d seen in Vancouver, but I still felt as though I were hearing it the first time. I’d kept my listening to bootlegs and live shows on Periscope to a minimum between Vancouver and Chicago to ensure I wouldn’t have the show memorized when I saw it again. Regardless, nothing beats the feeling of being in the arena, hearing U2 play the songs live.

The big surprise of the night was during the e-stage set. Bono said, “After the grief comes the anger…” And as soon as he said that, I thought, Shit! They are going to play “Volcano!” Sure enough, that familiar bass line kicked in, and I went crazy. “Volcano” is my favorite song on Songs of Innocence; in fact, “Volcano” climbed to the number 1 slot in my iTunes’ 25 Most Played Songs playlist just two months after the album was released in September. The song currently has over 300 plays and defeats The Twilight Singers’ “Dynamite Steps,” which is the theme song I use for my novel (so it has had a ton of play itself). This was only the third time “Volcano” was played on the tour and it was the one song I walked away from Vancouver wishing they had played.

Bono with Adam in the background and the cool effect of viewing the same scene through other people’s cell phones.

Bono reportedly was recovering from a case of bronchitis, but his voice seemed to be top notch all night. I only noticed that he had a cold when he was speaking–his voice sounded a little hoarse and stuffed. I honestly don’t know how he could still sing if he was sick, but he did not miss a note all night. I held my breath nervously in every song that had high notes and/or parts where he holds a note for long, and–to my relief–he managed to get through everything without a mistake.

Another highlight of night was “Bad,” which I also got to hear the second night in Vancouver. It seems this song is making a semi-regular appearance on this tour and, as I always tell people, any concert in which “Bad” is performed is a great night. It was definitely the icing on the cake for me as I love everything on The Unforgettable Fire.

Bono inviting the audience to sing. (I know these are not the clearest shots in the world.)

Great in-the-moment shot of The Edge.

Adam in the encore.

More blurry Bono.

Bono yet again.

For the very last song, Bono led everyone in a singalong of “One.” Usually I get annoyed when the band doesn’t actually sing one of our songs, but this night, it just seemed to fit in with the whole experience of being there. I kind of wondered if Bono’s voice was finally tired after a night of pushing it. He seemed pleased to hear the crowd singing the verses to his song at him. He would join us for a line or two, urging us to continue, and the audience responded without missing a beat.

This was definitely a night I didn’t want the concert to end. I felt a bit bummed when the band exited for their final time and the lights came up in the arena. But, alas, I knew I would be attending two more shows in two days’ time.

Adventure to be continued in the next blog entry…

The World Is Spinning Fast Tonight: U2 in Vancouver

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.

The paperless ticket receipt.

The paperless ticket receipt.

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.”

Panorama of the crowd at Rogers Arena.

Panorama of the crowd at Rogers Arena.

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.

The Edge on the catwalk in front of us during the encore.

The Edge on the catwalk in front of us during the encore.

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.


Larry Mullen Jr is a machine.

Larry Mullen Jr is a machine.


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.

"Every Breaking Wave" performed on night 2.

“Every Breaking Wave” performed on night 2. (I didn’t get a clear shot on night 1.)

The Edge plays the piano in "Every Breaking Wave."

The Edge plays the piano in “Every Breaking Wave.”

Bono, Adam, and Larry play at the b-stage.

Bono, Adam, and Larry play at the b-stage.

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.

Light effect in encore.

Light effect in encore.

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.

Sweaty Mars Girl after night 1.

Sweaty Mars Girl after night 1.

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.

Mars Girl, Kristy, and Shawn on night 2 of U2 in Vancouver.

Mars Girl, Kristy, and Shawn on night 2 of U2 in Vancouver.

Our view from the b-stage.

Our view from the b-stage.

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).”

Bono in an emotional ending to "Raised By Wolves" in which he utters Psalm 23.

Bono in an emotional ending to “Raised By Wolves” in which he utters Psalm 23.

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.

A fan's sign joking on The Edge's epic fall on night 1. (Which we didn't know about until later.)

A fan’s sign joking on The Edge’s epic fall on night 1. (Which we didn’t know about until later.)

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.

Mr. Adam Clayton.

Mr. Adam Clayton

Dreaming Out Loud

So last week, I went to Vancouver, British Columbia in the beautiful Pacific Northwest Coast of Canada to see the first two shows on U2’s Innocence + Experience Tour which were on Thursday May 14th and Friday May 15th. I took a week off, arriving on Monday, because I had the additional hope/dream/goal of meeting the band or getting invited into a rehearsal, neither of which is a far stretch as the band has been known to greet fans and invite them into rehearsals from time to time. I wasn’t counting on either of these things happening, mind you; I’m a realist. But I felt like there was nothing wrong at all with giving it a shot. Why not? Life is too short for regrets. I’ve learned that well.

Over the last few days, I’ve struggled with blogging about this because I don’t want to come off as a braggart. A lot of U2 fans can be like that. It’s the first thing they will say about themselves in an introduction. In my fandom, I’ve met some people who have deluded themselves into thinking they have some sort of connection with a band member because of their encounters. I don’t want people to associate me with those kind of fans. I’m just a girl who feels passionately about a band and the wonderful music its members create. I love Bono especially, but when I say that, I mean that I admire him for the humanitarian he is, his intelligence, the work he does in the world, and the beautiful lyrics he pens (sometimes with The Edge). Those words, along with the sonic experience of the music, have inspired me, lifted me up when I was low, and made the best moments of my life feel even grander. U2’s music has been a part of my DNA since I was 15 or so, when Achtung Baby came out, and it has never left me. I guess a part of me just really wanted to let the band know that. And that is why I wanted to try to meet them (especially Bono). I suffer no delusions that to any band member, I’m anything more than a stranger. Which is what makes my encounter with Bono so much more awesome.

Anyway, I’m telling the story because some of my friends have asked me to. If you feel I’m bragging, you can just stop reading now.

The entire goal of my meeting any of the band was just to express my appreciation. I had nothing for a band member to sign. I don’t know why; I just don’t have anything in my possession at the moment that feels special enough to have signed. I didn’t want to lug vinyl around for days. In 2011, the last time I made an effort to meet U2, I carried around an envelope that contained a print-out of the sermon I gave as a layman at my church (Unitarian Universalist) called “Spiritual Journeys Through The Music of U2.” I wanted to give it to Bono because I was proud of it and it was the best, rational explanation my love for U2’s music. Part of me wanted Bono to see that from his creations have sprung inspired writing. I wanted him to know that I get what they are doing.

I still have that envelope, and it’s still sealed, but since 2011, I’ve felt rather silly about it. Why would he read it? It seemed kind of like I was pushing something on him and I really didn’t want it to go that way. A lot of fans also try to push stuff on the band–some documentary they are trying to complete or some written work about being a fan. I just didn’t want to use that meeting as self-promotion. I didn’t want the band to think I wanted anything from them. Because all I want is for them to create more music.

So I went to Vancouver with nothing in hand for the band to sign and no agenda. I just had a rough idea of what I wanted to say if given the opportunity. I went into every attempt assuming that I would strike out (I’m a pessimist) but that it would be great if I happened to meet the band.

As soon as my friends, Kristy and Shawn, and I arrived in Vancouver on Monday, we began to check out the scene around the arena. We scoped out possible entry points for the band and found a spot around a side of the area that was low traffic and mostly used by pedestrians. It seemed like the best spot because there was a lot of activity with recognizable U2 techs hanging around the entrance smoking. Some other fans were hanging around there so we hung around too. Someone claimed to have seen Bono go into the arena earlier for rehearsals.

It was kind of a crazy evening as groups of fans waited there and another garage opening on the next side of the arena that faced a busy street. I guess occasionally the garage door would open on that side and fans would run over there and we followed those false alarms several times. I’m not going to admit how long we stood out there that night… But we left at 1am… And apparently The Edge came out to greet fans shortly thereafter. Oaf.

Tuesday was more of the same. We waited around the arena for a very long time. The hope at first was that we would get invited into the iHeartRadio full dress rehearsal that had been also a prize for some contest winners. Brian Murphy, Bono’s bodyguard, had come out earlier in the day and neither confirmed or denied this as a possibility. By 9pm, we figured we’d lost out on that opportunity. There was some activity of people exiting at one point, but rehearsals continued for several hours. We heard through some of the fan websites that the band had run through two full rehearsals. We couldn’t hear a thing because the traffic around Rogers arena was so incredibly noisy.

The group of waiting fans eventually moved to the garage door next to the busy street, convinced after last night’s encounter with The Edge that this was actually the entrance/exit the band was using. At around 1:20 am, the garage door opened. A black sedan pulls up and a security guy steps out. He says, “I know you all are waiting to see U2. We have a member of U2, Adam Clayton, in the car right here. But I need you to form a line.”

So we chaotically formed a line on the sidewalk. People were bunching up so Shawn, Kristy, and I took the initiative to spread out away from the car. The security guy opened the door to the sedan and Adam Clayton, U2’s bassist, stepped out. He immediately walked to our end of the line which, unfortunately left us a bit unprepared on how to handle the situation.

Shawn asked, “Can we get a picture?”

Adam, Mr. Literal, replied, “Sure, just take them as I go.” He moved to the next people in line who had items for him to autograph.

People further down the line just jumped forward as he passed and he paused to pose for them while they took selfies with him. Duh. We moved back to the end of the line and I did get a picture of him and Kristy together but he had to leave before I could get a turn. It was a fast and disappointing encounter. Which kind of sucks because Adam is my second favorite member of U2. In concert, he’s flirty and attentive to fans so I was a little surprised he was so brief with fans. He wasn’t unpleasant. I just suspected that he is less of an extrovert than Bono. (Everyone in the world is probably less of an extrovert than Bono!)

Next, Brian Murphy came by and told us that Bono was tired from rehearsals and needed to rest his voice, so he would not be stopping. He said, “Come back tomorrow.”

That baffled us because we thought the band were going to be flying to Ireland. Through the many news sources, we learned that drummer Larry Mullen Jr.’s father had died on Sunday and was currently in Ireland for the funeral that would take place the next day. But, we later learned, the other members of U2 would remain in town the following day.

A few minutes later, a black SUV rolled slowly out of the garage. Through an open window in the back, Bono waved at the crowd. I noticed he was wearing some kind of hat. It was nice that his vehicle didn’t peel out of there quickly, which he could have easily done. Obviously Bono still wanted to acknowledge his fans.

“You’ll come out tomorrow?” someone shouted. Bono nodded. People applauded and the SUV continued down the street and out of sight.

It was still thrilling to see Bono drive by like that. I left feeling as though that might be as close to meeting the band as I ever got.

The next day, we decided that since the band had been out so late two nights in a row, we were not even going to go to the arena until around 5pm or later to spare us another long day of waiting. (I hate to admit it, but we waited outside the arena on Tuesday for about 10 hours. Yes, I’m that determined.)

So we took it easy, hanging around town. We had planned to go do something touristy in Vancouver, but never really got our stuff together enough to go anywhere. We, who aren’t used to the rock star schedule, slept in the next morning. We took a trip in the late afternoon to an ice cream shop and on our way back to our hotel, we passed the door from which the band had exited the night before.

Several people were brazenly milling about next to the driveway and garage door. We looked at each other in confusion and went to join them. No one seemed to have any direct information about what was going on. It was about 7:30pm and a lot of diehard fans were at a party hosted by one of the big fan websites. We did not see some of the usual people waiting.

About 10 minutes later, Brian Murphy appeared, coming around the building from the side of the arena–the side on which we’d spent several hours waiting on Monday night. He said that Bono might come out soon and he asked us to line up single file on each side of the driveway to wait. Once again, there was some chaos as fans shuffled to find a position. We took the lead to go start the line on the other side of the driveway. Others followed us. Brian looked wearily at the group.

“Don’t go into the street,” he said several times. “I don’t want anyone to get hit.”

He then nodded and started back in the direction from which he’d come. I was at the end of the line on the right side of the driveway and before he disappeared behind me, Brian put his hand on my shoulder. “Be careful,” he said to me.

Everyone was tense. We stared at the garage door. I took deep breaths, my stomach turned. Was this really going to happen? Was I actually about to meet Bono? It seemed unreal. As we waited, more people began to appear. We were starting to get nervous because if too many people showed up, it would ruin our chances of getting to meet Bono. The group was pretty small at the moment, but the more time ticked by, the more people would find out who we were waiting for, especially given the fact that word spreads like wildfire on social media.

I think we waited about 40 minutes or so. Time continued to tick by slowly. My friend Margaret appeared with her mother and I told her excitedly to get in line and filled her in. Then two friends of hers arrived. People were starting to spill into the street. Crap. I kept repeating Brian’s words of warning about the street so people started to line up behind me. I couldn’t believe how oblivious some people were behaving with the speeding traffic so close.

Suddenly the garage door began to rise, inch-by-inch revealing Bono from the feet up. He looked incredibly handsome, dressed in a black shirt with a dark suit top and black pants. He wore a pair of aviator glasses with purple tinted lenses. Just as quickly as turning on a light, the front man surveyed the crowd and beamed. All theatrics, he made swimming motions with his arms. Then he walked to the first people on my side of the driveway and began working the crowd. As he signed autographs, he talked to each person personally. He answered questions in an easy manner, laughing and responding cleverly.

Bono greeting fans.

Bono greeting fans.

More fan greeting.

More fan greeting.

Brian told us that Bono did not have time to take pictures with each of us personally, foiling our plans to each get a picture with him. In my head, I practiced what I wanted to say to him. I pictured shaking his hand and saying the simple words. That was all I needed to do. I repeated it in my head over and over as he moved down the line.

When he got to Kristy, who stood beside me, she said, “I want you to sign my iPhone case.” She  turned her iPhone over, revealing the custom case that featured a concert photo of Bono from circa around 2005 and offered it to him. She continued, “It’s you!”

Bono flashed a smile and said with patient amusement, “Yes, it is!”

Bono close up. Perhaps acknowledging Kristy's iPhone case.

Bono close up. Perhaps acknowledging Kristy’s iPhone case.

He signed her phone and they may have exchanged a few words. It was my turn, but before I could say anything, my friend Margaret got his attention and he moved on to her. Damn, I got passed by! I was fine with my friend having a moment with our hero, but I was about to miss my chance. This is not going to go down like Adam, I thought quickly. You need to stand up for yourself and say something!

I looked at Brian Murphy who stood to Bono’s side in front of me.

“Brian,” I said calmly. “He missed me here.”

Brian raised his eyebrows. “You didn’t get a chance?”

“No,” I replied.

“Okay, step around to the end of the line,” he said. He looked at the iPhone set to camera mode in my hand. “No pictures!” he reminded me.

“I know, I just want to tell him something,” I said as I moved behind the last five people to the end of the line. The other security guy looked over at me, (rightfully) ready to stop me from getting what appeared to him as an attempt to get more attention from Bono.

“Brian told me to go to the end of the line,” I said.

The security guy got Brian’s attention and Brian told him that it was okay. The unnamed security guy moved aside to let me come forward. Bono was still talking to the people next to me. A girl was telling him she was a doctor working on AIDS research.

“You have the real job,” he said to her with the most charming of smiles. He pointed to his chest. “What I do, that’s not a job.”

I couldn’t believe how humble he was. Here he was, the biggest rock star on the planet, someone everyone in this group admired, and he was telling this girl how much he admired her. I was stunned.

Bono signs a fan's shirt. The fan borrowed a marker from Shawn.

Bono signs a fan’s shirt. The fan borrowed a marker from Shawn.

And then the next thing I knew, he was standing right before me, looking right at me with those intense blue eyes behind purple lenses. All thoughts left my head. I had his full attention and for the life of me, my mind was completely blank.

“I forgot what I wanted to say,” I said out loud. Oh my god, I have this moment and now I’m going to blow it! my mind screamed. Think, Heidi, think!! Think!

Seconds passed away in silence. I knew I didn’t have much time to get it out. I swallowed. Then it came to me.

“I just wanted to say thanks for all the years of great music,” I blurted, hoping I sounded coherent. “It helped me through some really rough times.”

I always thought I’d tell him about Mike specifically, how the song “Walk On” had become my anthem for recovery all those years ago. But since realizing early on in the week that if I’d get any moment with any band member, it would be short, I made a quicker, less specific version of the speech in my head. I just wanted U2–especially Bono–to know that their music made a difference to individuals like me. I think if I’d ever written anything that inspired or helped someone, I’d want to know that I affected them in some way. To me, it was like speaking artist to artist, even if Bono had no idea that I too am an artist; or, at least, I aspire to be.

Bono smiled and replied, “Thank you. I’m sure you’ve helped us through some rough times as well.”

And then he reached his arm back inviting me into a hug. I immediately slid into his arm and hugged him back. In my mind, I’d always imagined he’d hug me after I’d told him some version of my practiced speech, so it was truly a dream come true. The scent of some wonderful cologne filled my nose. (Girls always ask how he smells and I can testify that he smells wonderful.) I was vaguely aware that I was hugging Bono. Wow. We both pulled away naturally and he moved on.

Words cannot even describe the elation I felt at that moment. Ever since meeting him and watching him interact with his fans (not just me), I can only come up with one way to describe him: “amazing grace.” He is honestly not like any other celebrity I’ve ever met. He has an aura around him that exudes a calm patience. He cares about giving each of his fans a special moment and he listens. He is the complete opposite of the egomaniac that his haters like to paint him as.

They say that meeting your idol can really ruin your love of his work. He might not live up to the expectations you have of him, or he might say something that makes you realize he’s not the man you imagined him to be from his work. But this is not the case with Bono. If it is at all possible, I feel like I love U2 more because of this experience.

It should also be mentioned here that U2’s security is just as accommodating as the band appears to be. They want you to meet the band too. I can think of dozens of rock stars who totally blow off their fans and their security treats fans with a disconnected callousness as though they are the enemy. But U2 surrounds themselves with good people too. The fact that Brian didn’t just shrug and say, “Oh well,” when I told him that Bono had passed me up just speaks volumes.

Shawn took the following sequence of pictures which pretty much tell the story of my meeting Bono perfectly. Note that in each photo, Brian Murphy even looks like he is happy for me that I got to have a moment with Bono. (Thanks for not using video mode. I sound like a dork under normal circumstances and I likely would have sounded worse in this case. I would die of embarrassment if I had to watch this interchange take place. It sounds better in my head.)

1. Waiting my turn.

1. Waiting my turn.

2. "Uh oh, it's my turn."

2. “Uh oh, it’s my turn.”

3. "I forgot what I was going to say!"

3. “I forgot what I was going to say! Aren’t I stupid?”

4. "Oh, yeah, you're awesome."

4. “Oh, yeah, you’re awesome.”

5. "Hey, woah, you want to hug me?!"

5. “Hey, woah, you want to hug me?!”

6. "This is the best moment of my life!"

6. The hug. (Brian is meanwhile relieved I’m not a freaky fan.)

"I'll never forget that. Thanks, Bono."

7. “I’ll never forget that. Thanks, Bono.”


8. “Heeeeheee….”

7. "OMFG, I just hugged BONO!!" *SQUEE!*

9. “OMFG, I just hugged BONO!!” *SQUEE!*

All That I Can’t Leave Behind

(Posting this entry to enter into a contest on U2.com contest. I know some of my readers have heard this story before. Just hang tight!)

Though I had been a U2 fan since high school, my first concert was May 3, 2001 at the then Gund Arena in Cleveland, Ohio. I almost didn’t go to the show, for less than a month earlier, on April 14th, my first husband, Mike, died at the age of 32. I’d bought the ticket with three other friends many months earlier. Like many of the other commitments I’d made prior to this major shock in my life, I tried to bail out from going to this show. Thankfully, my friends refused to let me back out. I don’t remember many details of 2001—I suffer a kind of grief-shock black-out from that year—but that U2 concert was one of the bright spots of happiness that stand out for me in that year  after Mike’s death.

We originally had bought the cheapest tickets, which gave us nosebleed seats in almost the very last row at the top of the arena. My friend, Kamill, however, knew one of the people who worked at the Gund, and he asked him if we could get our seats upgraded. His friend told us that he would see what he could do, that he’d come get us at our assigned seats if he could help us out. From our seats in the nosebleeds on the side of the arena completely opposite of the stage, we watched PJ Harvey jump around, a tiny dot on the stage, and we were depressed. We’d hear the music, sure. But we wouldn’t see much of the emotional delivery and showmanship for which U2 is known. The arena was filling up fast and it didn’t seem possible to us that any better seats would be available to us.

We were waiting impatiently after PJ Harvey’s set when Kamill’s friend appeared and motioned us to follow him. We got up, excited, following him down past all the rows of the upper level; down further into the lower level. And then down again into the last section before the floor. With each step, the details of the stage came into focus. I could see the crew and techs running about preparing the equipment for U2. I would have been happy if he had given us seats at any point on that lower level, but he just kept moving us closer and closer and closer. Until we were just left of the stage, in the second row from the floor of the arena. Right next to the stage on The Edge’s side.

Throughout the show, we were close enough to see every expression on The Edge, Bono, Adam, and Larry’s faces. I forgot about my pain and my sadness. My spirit was lifted up by the freedom of sound, of Bono’s warm voice and his passionate delivery of each song, particularly during “Walk On.” I know that this song was written for Aung San Suu Kyi; however, I’ve always felt the words spoke to my particular turmoil that year:

And if the darkness is to keep us apart
And if the daylight feels like it’s a long way off
And if your glass heart should crack
And for a second you turn back
Oh no, be strong …

Walk on, walk on …
What you got they can’t steal it
No they can’t even feel it

Those words reminded me that though my husband and I were separated by the darkness between life and death, the love we had felt for each other was something extraordinary, something we had that could never be taken away from me. From that moment on, the song became my anthem. It helped me to forgive my friends and family for not understanding what I was going through, to forgive all the people who had said thoughtless, insensitive things to me about grief and my husband’s death. Most importantly, it helped me to let go of my anger. To walk on.

Being at that U2 concert was better than any medicine I could have been prescribed for my grief. Being given the gift of the best seats I’d ever had at any concert, let alone my favorite band, U2, at that moment, was the answer to a prayer I’d never vocalized. For just one night in that very long year, I was the same girl I’d always been. It felt good to not be a widow for just a few hours. I’m forever grateful to U2 for helping me to fight off the darkness that threatened to engulf me that year.


Upgraded ticket.

U2 Continues to Surprise and Deliver


U2 reinvent themselves with Songs of Innocence.

As any reader of my blog knows, I’m a HUGE U2 fan. The kind of fan who follows the band on tour to multiple shows, waits hours in a general admission line so to get the best spot possible to see the band, and who once, admittedly, stayed overnight at a posh hotel I thought the band would stay at in hopes of catching them for a picture, autograph and quick spewing of praise (it didn’t work out as I’d hoped). It’s true that Bono is probably the celebrity I most long to meet. I love everything about this band, including Bono’s activism. Their music is the soundtrack of my life from childhood through adulthood, even before I knew who they were. Their music means so much to me on a personal level–it grabs me right in the heart and says all the things I feel without words.

So, of course, when it was leaked and later somewhat revealed that U2 would be a part of Apple’s new iPhone 6 presentation, I dutifully plugged myself into the presentation, half-watching on my own iPhone at work. I listened through the hour long presentation, waiting with baited breath for some word of U2. Bleh bleh, iPhone 6.. Bleh, bleh cool AppleWatch (which would only be cool if it were an actual phone and not an accessory to your phone). What I was expecting was that U2 would play single from their forthcoming album, announce the new album’s release date, and then enable the new single for purchase. Which, of course, I’d dutifully download because new U2 songs have been few and far between (I downloaded “Invisible” for free when it was offered and I bought the “Ordinary Love” single when it was released as a limited edition vinyl last November). I’ve been waiting at least four years for a new album so I was pretty excited that they might finally have something ready for release. They’ve teased us fans since 2010 about a new album they were working on… and I’ve grown rather antsy in anticipation.

I totally did NOT EXPECT that a new album was about to get dropped into my lap. I could not believe my ears when Bono asked Tim Cook if the new album could be dropped to all iTunes users’ accounts at that moment. Oh, the utter surprise was well worth the four year wait! Forget about work the rest of the day, my mind was blown. Leave it to U2 to blow my–and everyone else’s–mind.

Being a huge fan, I admit that I’m probably not the most unbiased person to write a review of the album. I even liked the rather unfavored No Line On The Horizon (2009). How To Dismantle an Atomic Bomb (2005) was a long-time favorite of mine because it sounded old-school (whereas most fans did not like it because it was seen as more of the same) and because at that time in my life, after moving back to Ohio from Colorado, songs like “Miracle Drug” spoke to me. My favorite U2 album is the often ridiculed October (1981) because it is raw, emotional, full of spirit and bold, brave musical experimentation. In fact, I don’t honestly think that there is a U2 album that I dislike. Some albums resonate with me more than others. But I listen to them all.

In the recent years, U2 has struggled internally with themselves in a quest to stay “relevant” in the music scene, which has absolutely driven me–and a lot of other fans–insane. I don’t feel like relevancy is something you lose once gained. U2 will always be relevant because they have left a mark on musical history that is in line with the greats like Elvis Presley, the Beatles, even the Rolling Stones.  Their performance at Live Aid in the early 80s made the world take notice, The Joshua Tree (1987) sealed their relevancy in musical history, and ZooTV, the tour that supported Achtung Baby (1991), was revolutionary.

What U2 seeks is a continued place in the current musical scene. They want new fans, not just us old time devotees. I think when a band has reached the age they are at, when possibly the best years of their musical life is behind them, they still want to feel “loved.” On some level I understand as an artist myself (who has yet to write her own The Joshua Tree), I can imagine how it must be like for them to have written such great “best sellers” as The Joshua Tree and Achtung Baby and then have to move beyond that. How can you top the greatest music you ever wrote? It’s the same as living down a best selling novel, I’m sure, and the world at large is ever the critic, comparing your latest work to the old masterpieces, and evermore predicting–and almost relishing in–your “downward slide.”

I understand U2’s desire for their former glory, but it really has worn my patience thin at times. It’s like listening to your lover berate himself over and over. I’ve wanted to shake Bono myself and scream, “You’ll always be relevant to me! I still love you!” After awhile, you even get worn out from telling your lover that he’s wonderful when all he continues to see is failure.

I’m also a huge fan of Greg Dulli (lead singer/songwriter of The Afghan Whigs, The Twilight Singers). What I’ve always loved and respected about Dulli is the fact that he produces what he feels like writing at the time and he doesn’t given a crap (or at least he does not appear to) what the public or the reviewers say. He cow-tows to no one’s desires. He’s never been in a band that has seen the fame of U2 and maybe that’s what keeps him going. But I respect the fact that he does not try to reproduce Gentlemen or Black Love (which are probably the albums for which The Afghan Whigs are most known). He just evolves musically without appearing to try too hard. I have often wished U2 would share a similar attitude–that they would just produce what they wanted to create and ignore what the general public has to say. I think that is probably the most freeing way to create music and art.

With all these thoughts in mind, I had some serious concerns about the new album U2 was rumored to be making. Forced art often feels forced. I was afraid they might be trying a bit too hard. They were deliberately using new record producers, straying from their usual go-to men–Brian Eno, Daniel Lanois, and Steve Lillywhite–to look for a new sound. They started sessions with Rick Ruben and aborted those. They brought in Brian Burton (aka Danger Mouse) who then seemed, most recently, frustrated by the project in an article I read. And lastly, Ryan Tedder (OneRepublic front man) and Paul Epworth were brought in. Too many cooks?

Needless to say, I was very, very nervous as U2 stepped out on stage at the Apple release. What was I about to hear? Within the first couple notes of “The Miracle (Of Joey Ramone),” I glanced down at my phone to see Adam Clayton really rocking his bass. Woah. I’m a huge fan of bass–my favorite songs always have a prominent bass line. I don’t remember the last time Adam looked so alive playing a song.

Of course, I downloaded my copy of the album and immediately began playing it. Since then, according to my iTunes play count, I’ve played the entire album 7 times and some of the songs over 10 (“Volcano,” currently has 25 plays).

Songs of Innocence is undoubtedly the most directly personal album that U2 has written since October. The lyrics cover some of the themes Bono has grappled with his whole life in many songs–the death of his mother, religion/faith, terrorism, growing up–but are backed by fresh music and some of the tightest lyrics Bono and The Edge have written in a long time. “The Miracle (Of Joey Ramone), “California (There Is No End To Love),” and “This Is Where You Can Reach Me Now” are homages to the music that woke Bono, The Edge, Adam, and Larry to the music scene in their youth–The Ramones, The Beach Boys, and The Clash respectively. The album is surprisingly cohesive given the multiple producers credited in the liner notes. The bass and drums have come alive again with the band, which has been a quality sorely lacking in previous releases, and they sound daring like U2’s early catalog.

My thoughts on the individual tracks:

“The Miracle (Of Joey Ramone)” – Catchy and bold. Played live at the Apple premier, I could see joyfulness on the faces of all the band members. Leading off the album, “The Miracle” heralds a change in musical style for the band. After a few listens, this song became one of my favorites on the album.

“Every Breaking Wave” –  To be honest, I was in love with the stripped down acoustic version of this song that U2 played during some shows on the 360 tour. I’m struggling to get over the very cheap rock riff in the background to the song. The lyrics are still beautiful, but I wish they applied a little less production to this song. I hope that when they play it live, they return to the acoustic format. This is the most bland sounding song on the entire album to me and may end up as the track I skip most often once I really get tired of its newness. A part of me cries inside to say that. I wanted so badly to hear this original version of this song live, but I was never at a show where they played it.

“California (There Is No End To Love)” – My first impression of this song was, “Oh my God, how hokey. My favorite band has turned hokey.” The “Santa Barbaras” were very off-putting and I thought the song was kind of a strange direction for the band. However, after a few more listens, and reading the liner notes, I realized that the song is homage to The Beach Boys. Taken in that context, the song is much more palatable; shutting off indignant fan within me, I grew to enjoy the song. It’s pleasant and a bit of a dare for them to use a cheesy hook like chanting  “Santa Barbara” and get away with it. Once the chorus cuts off, there’s a nice summery melody that is hard not to like.

“Song For Someone” – I really love the chorus. This is one of those ballads where The Edge’s backing vocals compliment Bono’s lead vocals so well. I feel compelled to sing the chorus: “This is a song… for someone!” The line “From where I was and where I need to be” makes me think of “North Star,” an unreleased song played on the 360 tour, which makes me wonder if “Song for Someone” is the final evolution of the song. In “North Star,” the similar lyric is “Is where you are and where I want to be.” Some part of the melody of both songs seem to be somewhat similar.

“Iris (Hold Me Close)” – Bono calls his mother by name in this wistful song of loss and longing. While October‘s “Tomorrow”‘s lyrics haunt with the plea, “Won’t you come back tomorrow?”,  “Iris”‘s lyrics beg, “Hold me close and don’t let me go / Hold me close like I’m someone that you might know.” Bono’s mother died when he was 14–she would never know the man he became. Some of the most beautiful lyrics on the album are wrapped up in this song, single one-lining punches that convey so much: “The universe is beautiful but cold,” “Iris says that I will be the death of her / It was not me.” Never has Bono been so straightforward in a song with his emotions about his feelings about his mother. There is no doubt that I will cry if this song is played live.

“Volcano” – This is the track on U2’s new album that, I think, harkens most to their early music. That bass line — bold, upfront, in your face. I’m so happy to hear the bass again in U2’s music. In Boy (1980) and especially October, Adam had a carefree, “I’ll play whatever the flip I like” approach to his bass playing (because back then, I suppose, he didn’t really know how to play bass so he just didn’t care). Bono’s “Vol-CANE-oh” chorus with the falsetto sounds so retro 1980s, yet at the same time, the sound is very fresh because U2 was never one to use cliché 1980s sound. “Volcano” is a modern ode to early 1980s U2 and that whole decade of music without sounding hokey. My absolute favorite song on the entire album. (It currently has 26 plays in iTunes.)

“Raised By Wolves” – Classic riffs by The Edge in the background mixed with interesting new electronic mixes. Love the eerie echo-y keyboard effect.

“Cedarwood Road” – Instantly a favorite on the first listen. I have had this song stuck in my head all weekend. I love everything about this song, from the really thumping, hard guitar riff to the melodic refrain, to what I feel are the best lyrics on the whole album. “Sometimes fear is the only place / That we can call our home.” Bono is best at painting pictures with simple language. Threaded throughout the song is the image of a cherry blossom tree as a symbol of freedom and escape from the rough reality of his childhood. (I read somewhere on the internet that this tree was actually in the yard of his childhood best friend Guggi and that he spent a lot of time there as a teen. I’m cheating a little in my interpretation.)

“Sleep Like A Baby Tonight” – This song is intentionally creepy. In the liner notes, Bono seems to indicate that the song is about the sexual abuse in the Catholic church. I absolutely love the verse where Bono sings falsetto, “Hope is where the door is / When the church is where the war is.” It seems appropriate at that moment in the song, pleading and desperate and painful. I can hear notes of Danger Mouse’s influence in the keyboards and spooky electronic noises. This is perhaps the most un-U2 sounding song on the album, but it holds the promise of a darker direction that would be an interesting evolution for the band.

“This Is Where You Can Reach Me Now” – I think this song sounds the most like a Broken Bells song out of all of them–especially at the 1:19 mark where that whistling synthesizer noise comes in. Bono credits this song to Joe Strummer of The Clash. I can’t speak too much to the interpretation of this song or its specific references to The Clash. It’s a great tune, though, and flows well with the second half of the album.

“The Troubles” – A typical quiet closer for a U2 album with backing vocals by Swedish singer Lykke Li. A haunting reflection on grief, Bono states in the liner notes, “There is no end to grief… that’s how I know there is no end to love.”

Overall, a really surprisingly solid album. I feel like U2 is back on the music scene and I’m really hopeful that this one helps fulfill their desires for “relevancy.” Despite all the backlash from them “foisting” their album on iTunes users, several of U2’s albums have risen to the top 200 sold on iTunes since the release of Songs of Innocence on Tuesday; before Tuesday, these albums were not on the top 200 list at all. So I have to applaud the bold act U2 took in releasing this album the way they did. Once again, they found a way to get the world to pay attention. Even negative publicity is publicity. I look forward to the rumored second release of Songs of Experience and the lately mentioned Songs of Ascent. Could it really be 3 releases by U2 in the next two years?

Though I have to admit that I can’t help but feel that a triple release from a band that takes years to release albums may be their swan song to the world. Bono has stated numerous times that he wasn’t going to be an old, dried out rock act like The Rolling Stones, holding it out until the bitter, sad end. If this is U2’s last big kick before departing the music scene for good, I’m going to make sure I enjoy every second of it. Time to save that money for concert tickets…

One year ago today…

…THIS was my view of my hero, my rock god, Bono….

And these are two of the people I was with on that magical night…

Oh what a night! One of the best of my life. Happy anniversary, U2 360 in East Lansing, Michigan. One of my favorite concerts last summer… the best GA line, the best position in GA, the best people with whom to share it. I will never forget you, East Lansing.

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.