The Last Night On Earth
U2, final night of their North American Tour
The Kingdome, Seattle
December 12, 1997
There are very few bands that I have been lucky enough to follow throughout their entire career. U2 is one of them; but since they’re not a band I consider myself a fanatic about, I tend to kind of forget how far back we go. tonight, however, I remembered.
The band’s entrance was supremely cool: walking all the way through the audience and onto the second stage. When they came walking down the ramp it was a real shock because we were so incredibly close: fourth row, next to the runway. One could see clearly see every tiny detail, including the fact that Bono shaved his head, somewhere between Mexico City and Seattle. I adore Pop, and the first song was “Mofo”, but it was rough, the legendary Kingdome echo was in residence, and I was starting to think this show would be tedious.
That was before they went into “I Will Follow” and then even the drunk guy standing on my right foot didn’t matter any more. Something clicked, in me and in them, and we were off!
I’m going to confess I do not remember the exact setlist. There was too much to watch, too much to see, too much to process. But I was struck repeatedly, when they did the older material, of my long-standing connection with this band. They would play a Joshua Tree song and I’d flash back to those shows with great fondness; and anything from Achtung Baby just made me grin from ear to ear. I was really pleased to hear “Until The End of the World” (still my favorite movie *ever*, and one of the best soundtracks ever made) early in the set, as well as “Real Thing”. “Real Thing” was my favorite part of the Zooropa shows I saw, it was the third song in the set and was the moment where the lights really came on, the Trabants went into action, and the band hit their stride.
But things came back to me in flashes; I found myself reaching for my lighter during “Pride (In The Name of Love)”, I know all the words to every single song, new or old, I know exactly when the lights are going to come up during “Streets Have No Name”. It’s amazing what things just don’t leave you!
The whole damn show was a singalong, this being the last show of the tour it seemed like the entire U2 mailing list was present (all wearing matching santa hats), and when Bono strode out to the little stage during “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For,” the audience singalong was starting to echo! And again, during this song, I was flashing back once again to the Joshua Tree tour, and remembering how their pre-show music was John Lennon’s version of “Stand By Me,” and what does Bono start singing, but — you guessed it! “Stand By Me”, starting the first proper singalong of the evening. It was fun and wonderful, but then he went into “All I Want Is You” and I get that lump in my throat and I have to take off my glasses because I am snuffling. Of course, he had to make it even worse by segueing into INXS’ “Never Tear Us Apart”, before bringing the whole thing to a close.
The band seemed very moved, almost relieved, that this was the last show; Bono’s one speech had to do with how expensive the thing was, how glad he was we came out to see them, that if they make it through here the next time it certainly wouldn’t be with a setup this big. Almost apologetically he told the audience, “We tried to make a casino into a cathedral.” And the point being, of course, they tried. Most bands wouldn’t even get that far.
What else. The lemon. This was too funny, because we were sitting right in front of it. So we could barely see the band getting out and walking down the stairs and singing “Discoteque”, but we *could* see the bumperstickers on the back of the lemon (“DON’T LAUGH, IT’S PAID FOR”) and that some joker had duct taped a “FOR SALE” sign to the back of the drivers’ seat.
Just when I thought i’d get away with *not* having to hear “with or without you” (a friend of mine who’s a U2 fanatic continually bemoans: “How can a band that can write a song like ‘Party Girl’ write ‘With Or Without You’???!!!!”), they broke that out next, dedicating it to their road crew, the fans following the tour (“Popmartians”) and the U2 mailing list, which made me like it whether I wanted to or not. And it was during this song that they turned off ALL the lights and the arch and the tv screen and it was just them in the middle and a zillion lighters going off; a truly incredible, spontaneous moment, and classic U2.
Bono really, really is starting to remind me of Michael Stipe; okay, he looks like him now with the shaved head, but thinking about it, their evolution has been a lot like R.E.M.’s; in the early days both bands were really basic, no set, no ‘show’, very rough and sincere and earnest, and they’ve both loosened up and have started to perform, have some fun, not take themselves so seriously.
The Edge was left alone on the small stage to perform a solo version of “Sunday Bloody Sunday,” and for the first time I was allowed to appreciate the simple power and majesty of this song; no flags, no political speeches, just the words and the Edge on guitar. U2 had been doing a karaoke set on the small stage, but dropped it on the second leg in favor of moments like this. I can understand why.
Anyway, after the lemon bit, and a few more songs, I know what’s coming and I’m dreading it because I know I am going to cry my eyes out, and I can hear The Edge strumming the intro to ‘One’ and I take a deep breath, and then Bono has to dedicate the damn thing to Kurt Cobain and I give up trying not to cry and I just scream along at the top of my lungs and let myself cry and feel a hell of a lot better. this song looms VERY large in my legend, Achtung Baby was just a huge record for me in a way I don’t know if I can understand or articulate; something about almost every song on that album completely resonated with me at that time in my life, and that song in particular. I think he sang a few Nirvana lyrics at the end but I gotta tell ya I wasn’t in the best shape to be paying close attention.
The last song was “Wake Up Dead Man” (which they started adding after Michael Hutchence died), and so it’s the end of the show, it’s really the end (they’ve said “goodbye” about three times already) and Larry and Adam wave and leave, and Bono and the Edge are having this conversation mid stage, and I see The Edge gesture for his guitar and it’s him and Bono and once again I know what is going to happen and I hold my breath as they go into “40”. Those of you who didn’t see U2 in the 80’s probably don’t understand the enormous significance and emotional power of this song, it was the song they would end every show with:
“I waited patiently for the Lord
He inclined and heard my cry
He brought me up out of the pit
Out of the mire and clay
“I will sing, sing a new song
I will sing, sing a new song
“How long to sing this song?
How long to sing this song?
How long…how long…how long…
How long…to sing this song…”
…and the entire audience, every last person, would walk out singing the “how long, to sing this song” line, over and over and over again, the venue and the parking lot and the streets and the subways would just echo with that line; I can remember walking out of a show in nyc and getting on the subway and at every stop, the doors would open, and you would STILL hear it being sung. The song is legendary, it hasn’t been performed in years, and only surfaced on this tour the night the band found out Michael Hutchence died.
So they start performing this, and get to the chorus, and you can tell who the diehard fanatic U2 fans are because they have their arms raised and the “I-cannot-BELIEVE-they-are-doing-this” look on their faces (yes, I was among them) and we are singing and singing and singing; they only give us about a third, and then leave the stage, and I’m still singing, and I’m hoping we’ve got enough people there who get it that the whole dome will start singing. We almost get there, but then “Never Tear Us Apart” comes on the sound system and I sigh heavily; the lights come on and it’s time to go home.
In 1993, I was living in the Middle East, and I made a substantial detour in a trip to the states in order to catch two shows out of a four-show run U2 were doing at Wembley Stadium in London. I vividly remember sitting there the first night, crying my eyes out, because it was just so big and so huge and so loud and so damn wonderful, and it was during that show that I made the decision to move back to the states; that moments like that were the reasons I lived for.
So in a way, I feel like I owe this band a great deal. I have an incredible list of memories from them, whether it was their first US show at the Mudd Club, or roadtripping to New Haven during the October tour, or sitting on the stage at the Palladium in nyc and Bono coming over to use my camera (he had this shtick during the War tour where he’d borrow someone’s camera and take a photo of them and their friends)… and tonight’s just one more to add to the list. Understand: this wasn’t a perfect show by any means, it was rough, uneven, had ups and downs. But there were also these incredibly transcendent moments that raised it above it all, and very few bands can do that.
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