Dec 7, 2006

Tokyo Trip: The Concert :"Elevation"

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

This is a short video I took during the concert during the song "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" I'm reasonably certain I can assure you that the fellow singing along off-key is NOT me. He sounds kind of Japanese right? I hope. . .

Okay, here it is the full-on, full-length, "director's cut "recap of my first U2 concert ever. The following includes selections (indicated by the italics) written in my pen and paper journal during my journey home from Japan, starting with the train from Saitama to Narita, and finishing in the air. The pictures unfortunately are NOT very good. I tried to pick the best of the lot for this blog entry. Part of it was just that my camera is not that good, I guess, but it was also difficult because with the crowd constantly moving it was virtually impossible to hold the camera still.

For those of you who don't know much about U2 some a quick explanation of who's who.

Bono: the lead singer of the band. He's probably the most famous member of the band and the one you've most likely heard of. Bono writes virtually all of the lyrics for U2.

The Edge: the guitarist of the band. You'll recognize him by his trademark goatee and skullcap. He's known as the "scientist" of the band is largely responsible for U2's soaring, anthemic sound. His guitar sound is very unique and distinctive.

Adam Clayton: The bass player. Adam is the only one of the band who is not actually Irish (He's English but raised in Ireland.) He's also the only one of the band who was never particularly religious, and the one who, during the 90's, probably lived up the most to the "rock and roll" lifestyle with the drugs and all that. He's recognizable by his glasses and hair now gone completely gray.

Larry Mullen Jr: Larry is the drummer and has always been the no-nonsense guy in the group. He's the most "basic" and is said to be the one who talks the group (especially Bono) out of their crazier ideas. His "look" and style have changed the least out of anyone in the band. He was the one who actually started the band when he put up an ad at their high school in Dublin, Ireland.

I'll include little bits of information about the band throughout this entry for those who don't know so much about U2 (i.e. the moms!). Fans will know all this already and will probably be able to quickly point out my various misstatements of fact.

For the fans (and as a reference for those who want to find and listen to the songs I heard at the concert), the complete set list for the show I saw (courtesy of Interference poster, Axver, with a few additions by me). By the way, the snippets refer to bits and pieces of other songs that they mix in with the song their singing. Most often snippets are added to the end of the song. For example at the end of "Vertigo" Bono sang the chorus of the Beatles song "She loves you yeah, yeah, yeah." Some of the bands "sampled" by U2 in snippets that night were the Beatles, the Clash, the Rolling Stones, and themselves (as in the snippets of "In a Little While" and "Forty" for example):

1. City Of Blinding Lights
2. Vertigo / She Loves You (snippet)
3. Elevation
4. I Will Follow
5. I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For / In A Little While (snippet)
6. Beautiful Day / Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (snippet) / Blackbird (snippet)
7. Window In The Skies
8. Walk On/ You'll Never Walk Alone (snippet)
9. Sometimes You Can't Make It On Your Own
10. Bad / 40 (snippet)
11. Sunday Bloody Sunday / Rock The Casbah (snippet)
12. Bullet The Blue Sky / When Johnny Comes Marching Home (snippet) / The Hands That Built America (snippet)
13. Miss Sarajevo
14. Pride (In The Name Of Love)
15. Where The Streets Have No Name
16. One

1st encore:
17. The Fly/ Satisfaction (snippet)
18. Mysterious Ways
19. With Or Without You

2nd encore:
20. The Saints Are Coming
21. Angel Of Harlem
22. One Tree Hill

"After a sublime afternoon at Omiya Park, I walked back to the Saitama Superarena. I felt calm, energized, and refreshed by my quiet afternoon in the park. Walking along the upper level of the arena I saw a crowd of people down on the ground level. On closer exmaination I realized it was Larry, signing autographs. I got one bad picture of him, but moved on, not knowing how to get down there and seeing that he was about to go back inside.I arrived at the will call box and after a few moments of list searching and explaining on my part, I had my ticket and my VIP pass.

Larry Mullen Jr signing autographs outside the Saitama Superarena. Had I known he was going to be there I would have been down on the ground level getting an autograph and a better photo.

Not long after I spotted Fer Castillo, [an Interference poster from Mexico City with whom I'd been communicating on the Tokyo tickets thread] or Fernando, in line to buy concert souvenirs. He was there with about half a dozen Mexicans who had somehow found each other despite the fact that most of them had no prior relationship to one another. There was Annie, a vivacious and spunky girl who was insanely jealous of my VIP status. She'd been to U2 concerts all over North America so really I think I had a LOT more to be jealous of. There was Leo and Lupita, a newlywed couple from Guadalajara now living in Japan for two years. Lupita was studying Japanese and Leo was studying economics. With them was a Bulgarian woman with a very Baltic sounding name that I would always immediately forget whenever she told it to me. I can't remember it now. There was this taller guy who is teaching in Okinawa with hiw wife but I can't remember his name. His wife was out shopping until just before the show and I only met her briefly after the concert.

.Anyhow there was nothing to do really if you weren't standing in the massive lines for the souvenir concessions. I'd wander off aimlessly for about 15 or 20 seconds, as if I had somewhere to go. But I didn't and I'd end up back hanging out with the Mexian crew. So I hung out with the Fernando & his pals for about an hour and a half. We went to a convenience store nearby and got food and drinks. We sat on benches in a shopping complex and and ate talked about songs we hoped they'd play (Fer really wanted "Who's Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses") and when we first started to like U2.

Fernando "Fer" Castillo, one of the Interference website members and me.

Me and the Mexican Crew. From L to R (the Bulgarian Girl Whose Name I Always Forgot), Leo, Lupita, Fer, Annie, and the Other Guy Whose Name I Can't Remember)

Mexican Crew plus Interferencer "4U2Play" (real name: Nick) on the far left

At 5:30, I left them with promises to use what little VIP clout I might have to try to get them into A block where I was (they all had B block tickets much to their frustration). At the VIP entrance I met two other ETS ticketholders, and it was thanks to them that I ended up right up front. Andrew, a Japanese-American from California living in Japan since 1998, and his pretty wife Nahoko spoke Japanese and were able to smooth the way. Andrew was the one who knew that we couldn't be spending time hobnobbing at the VIP party. We needed to get out on the floor so we could claim the best spots in the A block. I, being a total novice, would have been naively lurking about the VIP room for two hours awkwardly trying to act as if I belonged there if it hadn't been for Andrew!
We were clearly not real VIPs. We were interlopers, there only because we'd been screwed so many times what with the demise of ETS and all the uncertainity that came after. We weren't on The List and for awhile they weren't sure what to do with us. But eventually we were escorted up to the VIP lounge at around 5:45.

The entrance to the VIP Party. Andrew and his wife Nahoko are in the right corner of the photo.

They gave us a leather bound U2 Vertigo tour day planner as souvenir gift and invited us to "eat and drink" until 7:30. Sure. We raced through the red and blue lit lounge--very swank--and I managed to snap a quick photo of the stage below us through one of the windows. We followed a security guy through the warrens of the arena until we arrived at the ground floor just in time to hear the Edge ripping through "City of Blinding Lights." Had the concert begun? Far from it! This was soundcheck--an added bonus to our evening. We were instructed to stay in the back of the arena. From where we were Edge, Larry, and Adam and their techs were just tiny figures on the stage. We listened is they riffed through snatches of various tunes including the clarion notes of "Bad." We knew then this was going to be a GREAT show.

The U2 "Vertigo" stage as seen from the VIP room. The tiny dots on stage are the Edge, Adam, and Larry doing soundcheck.

Finally they left the stage and we were allowed closer. But we had to wait until the first groups of "regular" people were let in before we could stake out a position in the the ellipse itself. A little after six we saw the first bunch being led in, inching along, huddled in a roped-off group and hectored by attendants shouting instructions at them. At the moment they were cut loose, our security personnel let us go too and we raced, literally RAN for the front of the stage--the lucky ones, including me, colliding with ghe barricade and holding on for dear life. Within seconds every inch of the barricade all the way along the ellipse was claimed and everyone else had to be content with filling in behind us. I only kept my spot for about 15 minutes. There was a short-haired, demure and petite woman in maybe her forties right behind me. I knew she'd never be able to see over me and I could easily see over her. So I gave her my spot on the rail. I'm glad I did because I'm not sure how she'd have survived back there once the show began. As it was throughout the show she was jammed so tight against the rail it looked like it might have cut her in half, but she rode it out gamely, her quiet eyes shining at each familiar song. She seemed to be having the time of her life. It was her first show too.

This was how close I was during the concert. I'm leaning on the front railing and the stage is directly behind me. This was actually taken after the show. I had a photo from before the show began but this one came out better.

And so began the wait. Almost an hour and a half as the arena slowly filled as groups were let in. Within the first five few minutes all of the Mexican crew except for poor Annie--the most jealous one of the group-- were at the front too, just a yard two to my left. (I was basically just about in front of where Adam would stand. He was just a bit to my left). 4U2Play and his people were there too. During the wait I was unbelievably thirsty. I'd had nothing to drink all that morning except a Starbucks coffee that morning (which of course added to my dehydration). Fortunately, Fer had a full bottle in his bag which he gave to me.
Everyone around me was quiet mild-mannered even shy as we waited. Of course that would soon change. Cheers would occasionally erupt as various roadies would come out and test run the guitars and whatnot. It was interesting to watch the stage hands doing all the prep work--the multitude of water bottles, caps loosened and strategically placed, the set lists taped to the stage floor, Bono's "coexist" headband folded and at the ready, the flag of Japan placed, removed and replaced again. Later during the show, during those brief dark moments between songs you'd see the crew rushing on to mop the stage, trade out guitars, check the drums, replenish the water. It reminded me so much of those hectic moments between skits or between scenes at one of our REAL Christian Theater shows. Even the warm-up song that they played over the P.A. system, "Wake Up" by Arcade Fire reminded me of how we'd put on a tune to set the mood, lower the house lights, build the anticipation, let the crowd know the show was about to start. I felt a certain kinship with what was going on there, as if Vertigo was just a much bigger and more complicated version of REAL Christian Theater show. I was impressed with all the hard work that goes into a show like this and I became aware that's what this is for U2. Work. Fun work, yes. Exciting work, yes, but work nonetheless. Work done with professionalism and passion.

Here's Fernando Castillo flashing the "love" sign. This was taken before the concert began which should be obvious since he's the only one excited.

This is what it looked like behind me. I also took this photo before the concert started. You can tell because everyone looks placid and there are no hands in the air. After the show, as you can tell from the video clip, it was too dark in the audience to get a good crowd shot.

Finally at 7:30 Arcade Fire blared over the speakers and the crowd exploded. I was jolted as everyone behind me surged forward, smashing me into those on the railing in front of me. Some even tried to elbow me out of the way to get closer to the front. I was not a little shocked at the quiet aggressiveness of the crowd. And so began the struggle that would last until the final notes of "One Tree Hill" echoed away. The fabled reserve and politesse of the Japanese audience--at least down front-- turned out to be exactly that: a fable. Within minutes I was drenched in sweat--both mine and that of other bodies pressing close. By the end of the show the entire left side of my shirt was literally soaked through. In order to keep my spot from being wrested from me, I had to plant my feet and resist forcefully the bolder efforts to supplant me. To be honest the constant crush of the mob took away from the enjoyment of the eveing a little bit for me. It was hard to really enjoy a U2 favorite when someone is constantly trying to push you out of the way and you're constantly thinking: "Do I still have my wallet; are the shirt and jacket (containing my passport) still tied around my waist; man, I should have taken my ipod back to the hotel before coming here" (it survived thankfully). I had put the souvenir planner on the floor so I'd have at least one hand free, which I think was a good decision. I stood on it for about half the show figuring I could live with a scuffed cover and loosened binding, but as the crowd heaved and swayed, I gradually began to lose my footing. I went from both feet on it, to one foot, and finally while Bono sang "let it go" during "Bad", I did just that. I never saw the planner again, and despite the fact that it was one of a precious few souvenirs of the concret for me (I was running critically short of cash and the t-shirt vendors didn't take credit cards), I was okay with it.
So everyone sings along to "Wake Up" and then it ends and the stage grows dark. The boys take their positions, Adam's at the little keyboard, Edge is laying down the opening notes, Bono saunters on, salutes the flag, and the lights blaze on illuminating the stage. . .And after ten months of waiting, of hoping and praying, of high hopes and bitter disappointments, after all of this at very long last, Bono sings: "The more you see the less you know, the less you find out as you go. I knew much more than I do now. Neon heart, dayglo eyes, a city lit by fireflies, they're advertising in the skies for people like us.And IIIIIIII miiiiss you when you're not aroooound. . ."

My first photo of the concert. This would have been several songs into the show because it took me that long to get the camera out of my pocket without getting shoved out of the way by my fellow concertgoers.

Seeing U2 live was not entirely what I expected. If there is one thing they were
not, it was larger than life. They were very real, very human, and oh so familiar. You know how sometimes the famous somehow look "different" in real life? Well not these guys. They looked exactly as I imagined them. The Edge, cool as ever ripping it up on the guitar far down the stage from where I was, Adam right in front of us smiling his uniquely patrician smile as if he knows the joke and we're all in on it with him, Larry barely visible behind his wall of drums, and Bono, well,. . . being Bono--the consumate showman. This close--close enough that that without the music and the crowd I could have spoken to Bono or Adam without raising my voice--they were just four hard-working guys from Dublin playing their hearts out, jamming through some great, great songs. One gem after another after another.
This close you don't sense the "bigness" of the show. The light curtain is so close it's like sitting at the front row of an IMAX theater--it easier just to look at the band. You can barely see the big screens beaming images of U2 to the nosebleed seats so they don't have to look only at tiny ants on stage. Sometimes I almost felt they were playing "past" us to the larger audience out there behind us, which course they had to do. And who were we to complain? We were right there with them! Sometimes when Bono, the Edge, or Adam went out on the runway to the B-stages as during "Sometimes" and "Miss Sarajevo" we could barely see them at all and ended up looking at the remaining band members anchoring things on stage.
Adam Clatyon, the bass player, and Bono

Some random concert photos from early in the show.

Above is Adam, the bass player. He stood just about in front of where I was standing.

Bono would sometimes go out on the walkways on either side of us to sing and the rest of the band would stay on the main stage. I think this may have been during "Walk On" (a song dedicated to the Burmese democracy activist Aung Su Kyii (sp?) who has been under house arrest for years, by the oppressive regime in Burma). But maybe it wasn't that song after all as Bono played acoustic guitar alone during that song. . .

I believe this picture of the walking man on the light curtain is during "Sometimes You Can't Make It On Your Own", a song Bono wrote for his father after he passed away just a few years ago. It's a pretty song, and a sad one too. There's a line in the song that says "You're the reason why I sing, you're the reason the opera is in me." Bono's dad was a big fan of the opera and an amateur opera singer as well. Later on Bono sang a song called "Miss Sarajevo" (a song about a beauty contest held in war-torn Sarajevo) which was originally a duet with Luciano Pavarotti. Tonight Bono sang the entire song himself, including Pavarotti's opera part and did a fantastic job. I couldn't help thinking that Bono's dad would have enjoyed hearing that.

The Edge playing the guitar. I had the hardest time getting photos of him because he was the furtherest from me on the stage. This is the best one I got and as you can see it's not very good.

Bono on the railing just a few feet from where I was standing during "Bad." Note the bended knee. I'm sure some fan has still not yet washed that hand!
This is during one of my favorite U2 songs,and one I especially looked forward to hearing live. It's called "Where the Streets Have No Name." It's become a centerpiece of the "human rights" section of the show which begins with a video of a woman reading from the UN Declaration of Human Rights. During the opening of the song, as you can see all the flags of the nations of Africa scroll down the light curtain (as you know Bono is very involved in working for the poor of Africa). This section of the show begins with another anthemic song, "Pride (In the Name of Love)" which is dedicated to Martin Luther King Jr. After that song they go directly into the opening of "Streets" while Bono, in full preacher form, says "from Dr. King's America to Nelson Mandela's Africa, from Mt. Fuji to Mt. Kilamanjaro, from sea of Japan to the river Nile, the journey for equality goes on and on and on. . . . !!!"
"Streets" itself is a "big" song, very anthemic, dramatic, and soaring. When I was in college, during the long drives from Michigan to Florida and back, I'd save this song for the moment of sunrise after a long night of driving, and then let it play as the sun came bursting over the horizon. It's a great song to pop on to your ipod as your running in a 5K and the finish line is about a half a kilometer away and you're exhausted (which happened to me this past week Weds when I ran in the annual Jingle Bell run here in Saipan, exactly a week after this concert). It's that kind of song. Some people say that the place "where the streets have no name" refers to is heaven. I suppose it could be. That's the thing about U2 songs; they are just poetic and vague enough that you can kind of apply your own interpretation to the lyrics, which is why so many fans identify so closely with their music. In a sense the songs are truly "theirs."

I'm not a 100% certain, but I believe this photo was taken during the song "One." This is one of the few songs where Bono plays the guitar as well as The Edge. This song ends the main part of the concert (there would be two "encores" with a total of six more songs still to come), and alos ended what is known as the "human rights part" of the concert where Bono talks a lot about his work helping the poor and AIDS victims in Africa.

Sample Lyrics:
"We're one, but we're not the same. . .
we've got to carry each other. . .
brothers, sisters. . ."

Bono just after his dancing-with-the girl-from-the-audience routine. He's looking back in her direction as he sings the closing lines of one of U2's biggest hits, "With or Without You." Bono's had a long tradition of audience interactions like this. During the Live Aid concert way back in 1994 their version of "Bad" stretched on and on as Bono disappeared into the audience a danced with an audience member for something like 10 minutes. The rest of the band was horrified at the time, as they were unable to play any other songs on their setlist, but it turned out to that this dramatic performance at Live Aid, including Bono's theatrics catapaulted the group to world-wide fame. In more recent years, Bono began to choose a random woman from the audience to dance during the U2 song "Mysterious Ways" and she would dance while he sang. That's what happened this evening, if I recall correctly with Bono segueing into "With or Without You" while the girl was still up there. There was one moment that was particularly memorable. After Bono had deposited the Japanese girl back in the audience, the spotlight stayed on her face. Her eyes shining with gratitude she brought her palms together and bowed in what seemed to be the traditional Japanese style, and he bowed back and somehow I found that very touching.

Oh and here's an interesting side note. I heard that during these same songs at the third and final U2 show in Japan this past Monday, they had three traditional Japanese geishas in full costume come out and dance during the song. I would have LOVED to have seen that!

During the final song, "One Tree Hill" I snapped this photo of myself. The idea was to get Bono in the boys in the background, and my upraised hand flashing the "love" sign, and me. Well, all I got was me. But it looks like I'm having fun, huh!

So the band was tight, no noticeable mistakes. Everyone seemed to be in better shape than what I saw on the Chicago DVD--no potbellies on Edge or Bono, Adam looking less geriatric despite his silver hair, and Larry once again short haired and clean shaven, ever the Basic Larry. And Bono's voice was in fine form. He ran it through its paces drawing out the "toooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooouch me" in "Beautiful Day" and nailing Pavarotti's part in "Miss Sarajevo" beautifully. There weren't many surprises for those of us who'd been studying the setlists in anticipation of the show. They kept "One Tree Hill" which I'd thought would be a New Zealand-only type thing [the song was dedicated to one of their road crew, a New Zealander named Greg Carroll, who was killed in a motorcycle accident in 1986. They sang it at his funeral and it later appeared on U2's seminal Joshua Tree album. So the song had a special resonance for the audiences at their performances in New Zealand two weeks ago. It's a beautiful song about saying goodbye. My favorite lyrics:"I'll see you again when the stars fall from the sky and the moon turns red over One Tree Hill."
One big surprise of course, though was the live debut of "Windows in the Sky." I'd always felt as if the Japan shows were the red-headed stepchild of the tour,and their decision to bring "Windows" to the stage for the first time, for us, made us feel really special. I t was a beautiful song, beautifully sung.
Bono didn't talk as much as I expected. I actually don't mind his "preaching" a bit. After all I'm a churchgoer, used to sermons, and it can't all be song service, right? I felt like his Africa spiel was abbreviated and even a bit awkward. Maybe I'm projecting, but I just sensed that he sensed that the audience just wasn't that interested in the pressing needs of Africa. Then again, the obvious language barrier made it a bit pointless to talk too much since he wouldn't be understood by most of the audience. I sensed that was hard for him, though he was very gracious and never actually said anything to that affect.
Whenever a particular classic would come on or some message in Japanese would scroll on the light curtain therewwould be a collective "ohhhhhhhhhh. . ." from the audience which I found interesting and amusing.
One of my favorite moments was "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For." I filmed about a minute and a half of it, thereby using up most of my memory and ensuring that I'd spend the rest of the concert frantically scanning through the camera (while being crushed by the crowd and while the music played) to find bad pictures to erase so I could take more photos.
The show came to an end a little before 10 P.M.-- all too soon-- the boys closing the third encore with a soaring version of "One Tree Hill." I was exhausted, damp with sweat, but exhilarated. And I knew this would not be my last U2 concert!

Back at the hotel after an exciting night, I faced the harsh reality that I was just about out of money. After manfully resisting the temptation to buy souvenir t-shirts at 4000 yen a pop because I knew I needed my cash for the train ride back to Narita airport, I got weak after the concert, and ended up blowing 3200 yen on a DVD of U2 videos. The picture below was taken back at my hotel room that night and shows all my remaining money (totaling something like $6 USD) and the item that wrecked my budget).

I told myself if I could figure out how to get back to Narita I wouldn't regret having spent the money on the DVD. But if I didn't make it back and ended up stranded and penniless in the most expensive city in the world, then I'd regret buying that DVD as one of the worst decisions of the trip. Well, luckily for me the JR Railways took credit cards (one of my problems was discovering that many places in Japan do not. I also found that my ATM card is not compatible with any ATMs in Tokyo) and I was able to get back to the airport. So now my only regret is that I didn't blow my money on a concert t-shirt instead of the DVD!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Oh Seany! That sounded fantastic!! I wish I could have been there with you! Blowing your yen on the DVD? LOL!! Priceless. We are definantly related! I'm glad you got to the airport all right and it's a shame you didn't get that T-shirt. But some common sense had to rule. Great entry Sean Great entry. Felt like I was there.

Your Sister