Wednesday, October 28, 2009

It may be long, but it's the truth

My relationship with U2 began when I was in high school, when dinosaurs roamed the earth and the world was new. I used a gift certificate to buy a copy of The Joshua Tree, because I’d heard that that was supposedly their landmark achievement. I wasn’t completely enamored with it at first, because the music that I grew up on was usually of a quieter variety and almost always featured a vocalist with a silky smooth touch. As you might imagine, these factors weren’t exactly conducive to my appreciation of a band like U2. Times have changed, and for the better.

In time, U2 became my favorite band, and, currently, occupy a space in my version of the musical trinity with Bob Dylan and Radiohead. I first saw them live in 2005 with my best pal and my younger brother at Staples Center in Los Angeles on their Vertigo tour in support of How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb. That show remains one of the finest shows I’ve ever seen. We may have been in the final row of the last section with our backs to the wall and our seats behind the stage at a diagonal, but it was an incredible night. We hardly used our seats all night. Before that night, I’d told my pal that U2 was the best live band in the world, to which he replied with a certain degree of skepticism, “I’m not sure about that.” After the show was over and we were driving back home, I asked him if he’d changed his mind. The answer was, not surprisingly, “yes.” As the years passed and we’ve both seen more shows, I’m not sure if we’d answer that question exactly the same way, but I think neither of us would (or could) deny that U2 is in the top tier of live acts currently performing today.

So, when U2 announced the dates for their 360 Tour, I eagerly began planning exactly how we were going to land tickets. Sure enough, in April when the tickets went on sale for the Rose Bowl show last Sunday, there were 3 people in my house on 3 different computers trying to score tickets. We landed 6 tickets: 2 seats up high for my pal, 2 more of the same for my brother’s friend, and 2 on the field for me and my brother. We were stoked.

So, finally, after months of waiting, October 25 rolled around and it was time to go. We got to the Rose Bowl at about noon, and got in the GA line, where we stayed for several hours. The waiting actually wasn’t too bad. We were right behind a couple of very cool people who we befriended and were able to pass the time with. After a while, the concert people (or whatever their official title is) came through the line writing numbers on our hands. Mine was 1866. I asked the guy what it meant, but he told me he was tired and that I should ask another guy behind him. No joke. And this was after the lady writing on my hand rudely told me to make a fist so it’d be easier to write. Look, I was grateful to have a number on my hand and all, but what happened to good manners and good service? More on that later . . . Anyway, I found out that the number meant that we had a good chance getting inside the inner circle and be closest to the stage. (all U2 tours since 2000 have featured an inner circle created by a ramp in the shape of a heart, ellipse, or circle. That way, the band can “go out into the crowd” and get closer to the fans.) Apparently, the circle holds about 2500 fans, although the guy thought it was between 1500-2000. We were really excited at the thought of getting inside that area. Traditionally, the inner circle is pretty tough to get inside and is reserved either for fan club members or for those whose tickets were winners of a lottery. When we left the house that morning, we’d had no idea that we’d even have a chance at getting in there. Then we had to get wristbands and have a hole punched in our tickets, which we thought only increased our odds.

The above is all the calm before the storm . . .

The doors were supposed to open at 5 PM. Given that info, we (and those around us) planned to be ready to go at that time. We figured we’d have the time to use the bathroom and take stuff back to the car if we did it around 4 or so. Right?

Wrong. At 4:24 PM, I was in line for the bathroom, and my brother was in line for merchandise on the other side of the stadium. Our place in line was secure with our new friends. I’m about 50-60 people back (there were FOUR portable toilets at that location. FOUR!) and the GA line starts moving forward. I take off to get back to the line and call my brother. I thought he told me that he was back in line. When I get there, he’s not there. I call him again and find out that he’s still in the incredibly long line for merchandise about halfway to the booth. I try to tell him what’s going on. He doesn’t get it and thinks the line is only moving forward a couple of feet. I finally tell him that I need him to come back right away. Everyone is cutting sideways to get to the main column instead of following the line forward in an orderly fashion. It became apparent that, even though it wasn’t the proper way to do it, cutting forward was the only way to keep up with everyone. I’m still waiting for my brother. Our new friends, after promising to save space for us in the circle (if we all ended up in there) take off to keep up with the crowd and leave me a phone number to get ahold of them. Finally, I move forward with the line and arrange to meet my brother at a point on my route. We meet up and end up in a throng of people at the gate of the Rose Bowl. Suddenly, everyone's all mixed up together, numbered, non-numbered, you name it. People are starting to get angry. I was next to one woman who had number 700-something who was now stuck in the back of the line because she was in line for the bathroom when the line started moving. Finally, we decide to try and move sideways through the line in order to try and move around to meet up with our friends, who were close to the front of the crowd. Well, we got to the other side of the crowd, but moving forward proved impossible. Now, even though many of us had been in line for hours and followed the rules, none of our numbered hands meant squat.

Finally, they started letting us in about 100-200 people at a time, in order to keep a stampede from happening. After getting in, we went down the tunnel to the field, granted easy access because of those wonderful wristbands. When we arrived on the field, we were pretty excited because the area by the stage wasn’t even close to being full. That’s when it happened.
We got up by the stage and saw IT. The entrance to the inner circle. We decided to give it a try and see if we could get in. We made it in without a problem in the world. We wound our way around and found ourselves about 20 feet away from the stage at a diagonal. We were thrilled. We’d planned to try and get as close as we could, but this was RIDICULOUS.

The show started at about 7:15 PM with the Black Eyed Peas, who surprised my brother and I by actually being pretty good. I don’t normally like live hip hop/rap, but they had a lot of energy and really made their set work a lot better than I’d originally thought. We were particularly astounded by Fergie. Now, mind you, I’ve seen her picture a ton of times, but I had no idea of how FINE she is. Seriously, wow. They also had us do a “light wave” with our cell phones, which was a particularly inspired idea. I’ve been to shows where everyone takes out their phone and waves it around, but never one where the guy on stage cued us when to put the lights on and turn them off. Honestly, when you see tens of thousands of lights coming on all around you . . . it’s awesome. It felt like being in the stars or something. Late in their set, said they had a special guest who he wasn't even going to introduce at first. He relented, but all he said was that the guy was "Slash's competition." It was Slash! Who knew? He proceeded to lead the band through a pretty sweet cover of "Sweet Child 'O Mine." It wasn't the last song they did, but it made an already strong set even stronger.

U2 came on at about 9 PM or so. They played about 25 songs, with a nice mix of older and newer songs. (I’ll include the setlist below) Right before they came on stage, David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” played over the sound system, which was pretty awesome. From the get go, they were going for it as far as energy and excitement went. I was particularly moved to hear “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” live. Bono actually stopped singing a few words into the first verse. 96,000 people sang the rest, and, my friend, let me tell you, we sang it very well. After that song finished, Bono and Edge immediately went into a little bit of “Stand By Me,” which seemed to fit for some reason. All in all, there weren’t a ton of surprises as far as the setlist went, although I wasn’t expecting to hear “In a Little While” or the acoustic version of “Stuck In A Moment That You Can’t Get Out Of.” Additionally, the remixed version of “I’ll Go Crazy If I Don’t Go Crazy Tonight” was SWEET. All 4 guys were out running around. Bono and Larry ended up back to back over by us at one point, and it was really cool when the Edge started pogoing up and down right behind us. It really ratcheted up the party vibe, which isn’t typical for a U2 show. Another inspired moment came when Bono started singing “Amazing Grace” to segue from “One” to “Where the Streets Have No Name,” which is arguably the greatest song that U2’s got, as far as their live performances go. I’ve often said that, if the world was ending and I could only sing one song, it’d be “Amazing Grace.” Hearing it in that setting was great.

I’d had some doubts about how well the 360 setup was going to work. I’d seen another concert performed in the round, and it hadn’t worked as well as it could have. Fortunately, U2’s stage worked really well. The obligatory walkway really works when the band starts moving around, particularly when one of the guys is right by you. The video screen came down in a really cool way during some songs. It almost created a kind of vortex of light and color. That was pretty awesome, if I do say so myself. Unfortunately, while Bono’s laser jacket that he wore during the second encore worked to a T, the “steering wheel microphone” that he used was one of the lamest stage props I’ve ever seen. Oh well.

The single greatest thing about the evening was how CLOSE we were. It’s almost unbelievable that we were so close to the stage. I’m telling you, I could see the sweat on the back of Bono’s head. That’s how close we were at times. However, the proximity also created its own problems. Sitting down was next to impossible, as was changing positions in such a way as to take the strain off of my back. I was still stiff the next day, to tell you the truth. Would I do the whole GA thing again? I’m still up in the air. U2’s coming to Angel Stadium next June and, while I know I’ll be there, I can’t say that I’m really on board to do that again yet. Part of me would like to be further back so I can take in the show from a wider angle. That said, who knows? I might just change my mind.

All in all, it was a really good night. I would have to give the edge to the Vertigo tour show if I had to pick my favorite of the two U2 shows I’ve seen. That said, the scale of this show was much, much bigger. In addition to the 96,000 people at the Rose Bowl (a record for the venue), approximately 6 million people from all over the world watched the live stream on YouTube, and the show was filmed for a future DVD release. Who knows? Maybe, when I sit my kids down to watch the show one day, I’ll be able to say, “Look, there’s your dad!”

I know this was a bit long, but, all in all, if you have any chance to go see U2, you owe it to yourself to take that chance and go. Trust me.

You’ll be glad you did.

The setlist:
Get on Your Boots
Mysterious Ways
Beautiful Day
I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For
Stuck In A Moment
No Line on the Horizon
In A Little While
Unknown Caller
Until The End of the World
Unforgettable Fire
City of Blinding Lights
I'll Go Crazy - Remix
Sunday Bloody Sunday
Walk On
Where The Streets Have No Name

With or Without You
Moment of Surrender