Oct 3, 2009

Chicago: The Show

Ready for Night 2. On field at Soldier Field with "The Claw" looming large behind me. The green t-shirt I'm wearing is a tour t-shirt I bought Saturday night. Sunday, September 13, 2009.

Mid-show, Saturday, September 12, 2009.

U2 begins one of their biggest hits, "Where the Streets Have No Name," with a cover of a much older song: "Amazing Grace". It still gives me chills to hear it, especially when all of us in the audience joined in. This isn't my video, I found this from another concertgoer on Youtube. Sunday, September 13, 2009.

"You're going to the same show twice?" Babs asked me, incredulous.
"Well, yeah. . ." I replied, surprised. "Of course!"
It had never occured to me that it might seem odd to go see a concert one night and then go back and see the exact same concert the very next night. Two concerts is nothing to the U2 superfans I know. Catching a few of the European shows, then picking up another half dozen on the North American leg is considered normal. One friend has seen U2 12 times--since 2005. Ten shows on the last tour and two on this one.

I don't have the time, funds, or dedication to accomplish such feats of fandom, but I did have a weekend and a willingness to drive all night to get back to Ohio in time for work. The first show, Saturday night, September 12, I'd gotten lousy seats high up in the stadium. The rush to purchase tickets was so intense that even though I was poised at my computer in Saipan repeatedly refreshing the Ticketmaster site as I waited for the tickets to go on sale, I was still too slow (or rather my computer was) and that was all I could get. All 65,000 or so seats were gone in about 30 minutes. For the second show, I got a "pre-sale" passcode given to members of the official U2 fan club (I suddenly decided to join the club after hearing about the passcode. This club is not to be confused the fan website Interference that I've mentioned before in this blog). This time the early access allowed me to get coveted "GA "tickets that got me in to the floor area right around the stage.

So it made sense to buy tickets for two nights in a row, you see. I figured the first night would be a ho-hum experience watching the little U2 ants crawl around on the stage far below me, but at least I'd get a proper concert the next night.

I couldn't be more glad to have been wrong. The first show turned out to be a fantastic experience, even from my faraway seats. I arrived at Soldier Field after dark, at around 8:15 P.M. Kim dropped me off at the front gate and I walked right in and found my seat. The opening band, Snow Patrol, had already played their set and we were now waiting for U2 to take the stage. I climbed several flights of concrete steps to reach my seat high above the "Claw", the nickname for U2's unique 360 degree stage set-up. I talked briefly with a woman and her husband who were seated next to me--both Chicago residents, the husband more of a fan than the wife. Both were, I would estimate, in their mid to upper forties--the woman was blond and chatty, the man silver-haired and taciturn.

As the clock approached nine, smoke escaped dramatically around the stage and the otherworldly vocals of David Bowie's "A Space Oddity" filled the stadium. The crowd roared knowing this was the warm-up song for the band of the hour. "Oddity" segued into another song, "Kingdom" while a neon clock counted down on the circular screen above the stage, and then Larry Mullen Jr, the drummer strolled out onto the stage to enthusiastic cheers from the audience, sat down at his drum kit and began pounding out the the intro to one of U2's songs from their latest album, a tune called "Breathe." We were off and running on a musical journey that I can only describe as jaw-dropping.

The Set List . September 12, 2009
1. Breathe
2. No Line On The Horizon
3. Get On Your Boots
4. Magnificent
5. Beautiful Day/ Blackbird(Snippet)
6. Elevation
7. I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For/ Stand By Me(Snippet)
8. Stuck In A Moment You Can't Get Out Of
9. Unknown Caller
10. The Unforgettable Fire
11. City Of Blinding Lights
12. Vertigo
13. Crazy Tonight(Remix)
14. Sunday Bloody Sunday/ Oliver's Army(Snippet)
15. Pride(In The Name Of Love)
16. MLK
17. Walk On/ You'll Never Walk Alone(Snippet)
18. Where The Streets Have No Name

19. One
20. Bad/ Fool To Cry(Snippet)/ 40(Snippet)

21. Ultraviolet(Light My Way)
22. With or Without You
23. Moment Of Surrender

The show more than exceeded my expectations. Last time I saw U2 in Japan in 2006, I'd been at the very front, close enough to virtually reach out and touch the band, but too close to see the spectacle of lights, video, and effects. This time, I was about as far from the band as you could get and yet they somehow managed to make me feel as if I was still right in front. Apparently, the band had faced some criticism for it's over-the-top stage set up--perhaps some felt it was grandiose and a bit much for these thrifty times. Bono seemed to refer to these critics obliquely several times during both shows, and seemed almost apologetic for the grand scale of their production. I felt there was no need for apologies. Bono said they built the stage the way they had so that a stadium-size audience could feel closer to the band and vice versa. I think they succeeded remarkably in that regard.

The massive 360 degree screen was used to especially good effect. Images played all the way around the screen, and sometimes even rotated around the screen. The screen itself could extend downward until it looked like a giant tube extending from the top of the Claw, almost to the floor of the stage itself. Gigantic images of the band interspersed between a computerized light show playing in time to the music on it's multitude of panels. Not only did these fantastic effects bring you closer to the show, but they provided eye-popping entertainment value throughout the show. Also impressive, was the on-the-fly editing job of the U2 crew. The video of the concert looked as if it had been assembled by a team of editors working for hours not moments--it amazed me that they could put together such creative, aesthetically pleasing, shots woven together so seamlessly right as the action was happening. It all combined to create both a theatrical spectacle and a sense of intimacy that one would of thought impossible on a football field.

Here's what the stage area and iconic "claw" looked like before the concert began. As you can see the the runway encircles the stage area completely. Bono, along with guitarist The Edge and bassist Adam Clayton, would cross over on the two bridges you see on the left (these bridges could and did move along the runway throughout the show as well) and on to the runway where they'd walk along singing and playing their instruments to different parts of the field. It amazed me how they could stay in sync with one another when spread so far apart. I really appreciated how the band members made an effort to play in all directions, so no matter where you sat, at some point in the concert you felt like you could see them. I could tell they wanted this show to live up to it's promise of being a 360 degree event that brought as many members of the audience as possible closer to the band.

The show is underway!

Here's the circular screen extended all the way down, almost to the stage itself. You can see the hundreds of little video panels. This was during the song "Unforgettable Fire" from U2's 1984 album by the same name.

Another thing that impressed me was how hard these four men in their late forties and early fifties worked. This is arguably the "Biggest Band in the World." It would have been easy for them to trundle out all the big hits of the past, putting in the minimal effort to play songs that we all know by heart. They could have rested on their laurels and not taken any chances. They chose to take the harder route, playing seven of the 11 songs from their new album, No Line on the Horizon, an album that has generally been warmly received but certainly hasn't made the kind of impact on the current pop culture scene that some of their older albums did. Of course their were lots of sing-a-long favorites from the old records, but you could tell the band really believed in their new material and they wanted us to appreciate it too. They worked really hard to sell those songs to their audience, and overall it worked. I love their newest album but I found their efforts brought me around to even some of the tracks I hadn't cared for so much. One of the best songs of the night was a song called "Get On Your Boots", one of my least favorite songs on the new album. They tore into that song with such infectious enthusiasm that it was one of my favorite songs of the night. Other highlights of the night were fan favorite "Bad" (probably my favorite perfomance of the night)and classics like "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For", "Beautiful Day" and "Where the Streets Have No Name."

I took this video on Saturday night, September 12, 2009 from my perch high in the stadium. The song they're playing is "City of Blinding Lights" from their 2004 album How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb. This song was adopted by President Obama as his theme song during his presidential campaing last year and U2 played it at the inaugural festivities in January. If you look carefully you can see the images of the band being projected on the panels of the screen extending down from the Claw.

One other thing I observed, and which I noted at the last U2 concert I'd attended. I like that, despite their status as rock legends, the members of U2 remain very much human. Every time I've seen them I've been struck that despite the trappings they are not larger than life, at least not to me. They're willing to poke fun at themselves, they've got a certain self-deprecating sense of humor, and yes, despite and paradoxically perhaps because of, Bono's reputed lack of humility, there is a plaintive humbleness about U2 that I find refreshing.

My only complaint about being in the seats was that I was surrounded by fans that tended to keep any enthusiasm they might be feeling inside. The man on my right definitely enjoyed the show, and we exchanged appreciative observations throughout, but he was still reserved. The younger woman on my left was completely silent throught the entire evening. Not a clap, not a cheer, not a single sing-a-long moment. Which was fine, except I felt a little awkward cheering and singing when so many around me weren't. I was glad I would be on the floor the following night where my enthusiastic enjoyment of the show wouldn't stand out quite so much.

The show ended at 11 o clock and the ordeal of getting out of Soldier Field began. I figured getting home should be a breeze since I wasn't driving. I hadn't counted on the human traffic jam created by 65,0000 people trying to leave the stadium at once. It took about 45 minutes, inching along, packed together like sardines, to leave the venue, make our way through the park, and out into the city. The mood of the crowd was generally good. There was some griping about the poor crowd flow management, but on the whole people were patient. Only the occasional boorish shouting of drunks cursing the Green Bay football team marred the end of the evening.

I arrived back at Soldier Field a little earlier Sunday evening. I'd been monitoring the discussion amongst the fans on Interference who'd been at the performance the night before, and the consensus was that it was unnecessary to line up early to get a good spot on the floor of the stadium. I took heed, and instead of lining up four in the afternoon, I spent the extra time with Elijah and Babs. When I got to Soldier Field, Snow Patrol was on it's last few songs. There was no line to get in, but by the time I souvenir hunted a little bit and found my way through the warren of passageways to the stadium floor, the band was done.

I strolled aimlessly around the field, at somewhat loose ends with about an hour before the concert started. Even near the back end of the stadium near the soundboard where I was hanging out I felt very close to the stage. The Claw from this vantage point was a towering, massive structure that dominated the field. I bought a bought a bottle of water and downed it all at once (they don't let you keep the caps). I had a stranger take my photo with the Claw (or part of it) in the background. To be honest, I was a little bored. I was also a little disappointed. Almost as much as I'd looked forward to the music, I'd anticipated meeting some of the people I'd "known" on the Interference website for the past 3 years or so. So many familiar screen-names were in attendance at both shows--the wry and funny Corianderstem, the hilarious Unico, U2isthebest, No Spoken Words, forum moderator Diemen and so many others. But because I'd not bothered to get "real life" contact information or even seen a photo of most of them--I hadn't met a single member of the Interference web forum all weekend. They were lost among the faceless thousands and even if I'd stood right next to one of them, I wouldn't have known it.

And so I said a little prayer. A silly thing to ask I knew--what would God care about my small desire to meet a few of these "internet friends" in real life. And still, I mused to the Lord, "It sure would be nice if I could meet someone from Interference before the weekend is over. I'm going to take a pass by the soundboard, and if You wouldn't mind, I'd love to run into someone from Interference."

I walked over by the soundboard and noticed a blond that looked vaguely familiar. Had I seen her photo in a Interference blog post before? I thought so. I walked over and asked if they knew anyone from Interference. "We all are," the woman replied guesturing to her friends, recognition crossing her face as well--she'd read my blog. "I'm Lies." Amazing! It was Liesje and her husband Phil! I'd "known" them both since my earliest days on Interference. Furthermore, this was the one couple Babs and I had really hoped we'd meet. Lies is a former gymnast just like Babs and when I shared some of Lies' reflections on her gymnastic past with Barbara, Babs was amazed to find someone who shared such a sense of passion for the sport, as well as such a sense of loss now that the passion was no longer an active part of their lives. Babs' has always been a bit mystified by my regular discussions with these strangers on the web, but she always knew Lies was cool. Lies is also a dog enthusiast and had given us some good thoughts on what to do about our dog Kimo, who is still in Saipan. So in light of all that it was really special to meet Liesje and Phil (who I'd always known for his hilarious blog posts about his life as a "rogue" campus security officer. He's a teacher now so those posts have ended). It was surreal to be picking up conversations about Kimo and so on, conversations that up till now had only been in writing. Both Lies and Phil turned out to be great "real life" folks, and I hope our paths will cross again whether at the next U2 show or whenever Babs and I make a trip up to Andrews University (Lies and Phil live close by in Grand Rapids).

Was it an answered prayer? I think so, and all the more meaningful because it was such a little thing. We know God cares about the "big, important stuff" (though granted sometimes we may be tempted to doubt even that), but when He gives you a inconsequential little gift "just because" you really feel His love, just as when your spouse does something small and sweet, not for any occasion, but "just because."

Liesje, me, and Phil. Sunday, September 13, 2009.

I hung out with the Lies and Phil the rest of the evening and they and their friends were every bit as enthusisastic as I was during the show. I didn't feel so out of place this time.

The second show, was if anything, better than the first. The band was simultaneoulsy relaxed and energized. You could tell they were having fun. Among other highlights, was the introduction of an obscure song that U2 had never played live until that night--an ethereal tune called "Your Blue Room." The song originally appeared on Passengers, a collaborative album with some other artists that came out in the mid-ninties. Most of the audience had never heard the song, and I'd only heard it once and didn't even recognize it at first. The audience was a bit thrown, I think, but the hardcore fans were ecstatic to be present for this "history-making" U2 moment.

The Set List: September 13, 2009
1. Breathe
2. No Line On The Horizon
3. Get On Your Boots
4. Magnificent
5. Beautiful Day / Blackbird (snippet) / King Of Pain (snippet)
6. I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For
7. Elevation
8. Your Blue Room
9. Unknown Caller
10.Until The End Of The World
11. Stay (Faraway So Close)
12. The Unforgettable Fire
13. City Of Blinding Lights
14. Vertigo
15. I Want To Take You Higher (snippet)/ I'll Go Crazy If I Don't Go Crazy Tonight
16. Sunday Bloody Sunday / Rock The Casbah (snippet)
17. MLK
18. Walk On
19. One / Amazing Grace (snippet)
20. Where The Streets Have No Name / All You Need Is Love (snippet)

21. Ultra Violet (Light My Way)
22. With Or Without You
23. Moment Of Surrender

On this night, Bono also seemed moved to really play up the spiritual dimension that has always been a part of U2's music. It might have bothered some of the more secular-minded people in the crowd, but as a Christian myself I appreciated it. In songs like "Magnificent" and "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" Bono was clearly looking to create an attitude of worship, not of himself or the band, but of the One who gave him voice. In that vein, one of the highlights of the evening for me, one that gave me goosebumps, was the band's plaintive rendition of the hymn "Amazing Grace" that led into their soaring anthem "Where the Streets Have No Name." (See video at the top of this post).

My view the second night. If you look closely you can see the band on stage below the big screen. I was actually closer than the picture portrays, since I had the widest angle setting on the camera in effort to get the whole Claw.

The evening ended all too soon. Before we were ready, the band was closing the evening with the prayerful, dramatic "Moment of Surrender." When the lights came up, I said goodbye to my new/old friends Lies and Phil and started the long trek back to the city streets where Babs and Elijah would meet me for the drive back home to Ohio.

Rumors are that U2 will do another round of tours next summer. I've even heard that they may do a show in Cincinnati. With a grand total of three U2 shows under my belt, do you think I'd bother to go see them again if the opportunity presents itself?

You better believe it!

I recorded part of this same song, "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" at the 2006 Japan concert. I kind of decided that whenever I see U2 in concert, I'll always record this classic if they play it.


Rose said...

interesting. I had to reach across the generation gap to appreciate this, and I must confess I still prefer my staid old-fashioned hymns, but hey, atretching is good for the soul :-) I'm glad you got to meet your Interference friends. What a blessing!

Sean said...

Well, at least they had ONE him, right, Mom? :)

Jim said...

Wow! What an experience! U2 is an awesome band. Although I am not nearly the fan you are, I enjoy their music and I know the feeling and energy involved in seeing my favorite musicians live. It is exilerating. I'm glad you were able to go and see the show from two different perspectives. It's these moments in life that shape us.

U2 came to the Horseshoe (The Ohio State Buckeyes' football stadium) in '97 when I was attending school and even though we couldn't afford tickets, my friends and I layed down a blanket in one of the grass lots around the stadium to enjoy the music. There were hundreds doing the same. They put on such a great show that we didn't even have to see it! We danced and sang along and had an amazing night.

My point is, I'll never forget that night and the way I felt as the music coarsed through me. It's that feeling that you'll carry to your grave. And the next time an opportunity this big presents itself, you won't even have a decision to make. You'll remember how you felt that night and you'll realize the decision is already made.

The Beachcomber said...

U2 and Chicago? !#$*&%!! awesome!!!