light my way [U2 at Giants Stadium]
I don’t do stadiums.
I really don’t. If I am in the blimp nest for a rock and roll show, there has to be some kind of exceptional reason – end of band, end of tour, end of something. I sat out Born In The USA when it got to the stadiums. I have skipped other Bruce shows there. I made an exception for the Stones once, and never again.
Of course in the same breath I can tell you that seeing U2 on the Zooropa tour at Wembley Stadium changed my life. I do not exaggerate here. This is not a turn of phrase. It caused me to reflect on my life as it currently stood and make major revisions to it. It wasn’t just a rock and roll moment of the ages (even though I just missed the night they called Salman Rushdie), it was a cosmic wake-up call that absolutelyi changed the course of my life at that point in time. And it was precisely the sheer biggness of it, the colossal level of the set and the show and the presentation, the over-the-top-ness of it that caused it to have the impact that it did.
So I trust U2 to do this stuff right. I trust that they will make it worth my while and that everything about the experience will make sense.
The 360 set is absolutely mindblowing. The physical set is insane. The revolving bridges (one of which kept positioning itself OVER OUR HEADS), the morphing video screen, the lights and the bombast and the immense quantities of fake smoke (much of which was generated right behind our heads). In the inner loop, the stage is disorienting – if you stand close you can only see what’s in front of you and you can’t see the video screen. If you stand further back, you can see more, but you still can’t see what’s going on on the other side of the stage. We got lots of Lord Adam Clayton action (to quote my dear friend, the fabulous scatterolight), but couldn’t see Edge for shit, much less see him play keyboards. You’re having to constantly scan your entire surroundings to find out where the singer is, where the bass player is, where the guitar player is. The only person who doesn’t go walking around is the drummer, and the one time Larry came out (we were joking earlier that we’d love to be a fly on the wall in the production meeting where this his one ‘walk on the catwalk’ appearance each tour is negotiated) he went around so quickly and got back so quickly it was like he wasn’t even there. My response after the show was that they used the loop too much, but then you remember that most of the audience isn’t where you are and the band has to get on the loop – but when they’re out there, they can’t hear each other, they can’t see each other, and the show has the best chance to go off the rails.
Seeing and hearing each other: the palpable, very real, very hysterical affection between the individual band members is so very very obvious. There was much eye-rolling and laughing and what were clearly inside jokes going on. For a bunch of rich guys who live in the South of France, they still very clearly like each other. I don’t know if this stuff is obvious in the last row of the upper deck or if that many people think or care about this. But I do. I am struck by the fact that this is the youngest band nominated to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame whose members are all still very much alive. This matters. It all matters.
Not paying close attention to setlists is the way to make sure the show is fresh for you. It astonishes me that I know every word to every song (okay, except for “Your Blue Room,” and only the crazies [used affectionately] know the Passengers album by heart). We had positioned ourselves towards the back of the loop, near the rail – the rail’s edge occupied by the people who had waited in line all day. These were good people. From our pre-show discussions, I can tell you that they were rock and roll people, not just U2 people. These people were there to sing along and lose their shit and throw themselves into the moment. We sang. We pogoed. We raised our arms in the air unironically. A U2 concert is not the place to get all selfconscious and detached. You are ceding control to the Bono, you are going with him and even though there are times you are thinking “what a prat” the deal is that if you go, he will absolutely make it worth your while.
(If this is starting to sound familiar, well, then, it starts to sound familiar. There are reasons I love what I love.)
This is why I found myself unashamedly crying like a little baby when the intro to “Streets” started. I mean, how many fucking times have I heard “When The Streets Have No Name”? There was a period of my life when Joshua Tree was on unilateral ban because it was just played to death all around me, it was on the radio everywhere you turned that summer, the summer when that band stopped being mine and became everyone else’s all of a sudden. But “Where The Streets Have No Name” is that song where – as Bono put it – God can walk through the room. If you listen to it when you are down and out it will pick you up, even if it’s just for the duration of the song. It is the song I would want playing on my ipod if I was running the New York City Marathon at the moment I was crossing the 59th Street bridge. I am giving away all my secrets here. “Streets” can still do that. “Streets” makes you feel like you are whole, like you are home, it is my “Theme from Rocky,” it makes me feel like I can do anything.
And this is why I stand and cry in public in the middle of Giants Stadium.
I do not find this album disappointing. Interestingly, I found the previous two albums disappointing at the time – All That You Can’t Leave Behind especially so – but revisiting them to grab a song or two for the ipod generally means I take the whole albums and plop them on there. This album revealed itself to me sooner, and then kept revealing. The fact that there were two versions of “No Line On The Horizon” indicated that this album was a monster with many heads, and for the band to take a song from the album they are currently still promoting and turn it on its head into a disco smash that wouldn’t have been out of place on Pop – I mean, you know, they don’t have to do that. This band could go out on a standard stage and play the same set every night exactly the way it is on the album and they’d still sell out 80k tickets at Giants Stadium. They don’t do that because they actually seem to give a damn about being interesting and different and pushing the envelope (as much as a ginormous intergalactic rock band can push the envelope), and the fact that they give a damn is probably the other reason I will actively embrace something this large and this popular.
(On the other hand, I am old. I really do not have the strength to play indier-than-thou any more. I like U2. You know? I did my time in the indie rock trenches. Go ahead and judge me, I bet I’m having more fun than you are.)
Sorry. I was trying to talk about what they are doing to “I’ll Go Crazy If I Don’t Go Crazy Tonight” on this tour. When it started, I had no idea what it was – it’s that selective ‘I’m reading about the tour but I’m not consuming every setlist because I don’t have patience or time and I can’t go to more than one show so if I just kind of vaguely pay attention I’ll be excited but not jaded” thing that I have kind of fallen into. So I didn’t know they remixed it. I didn’t know that they blew the power ballad bombast out of the song and turned in into something that you could jump around and wave glowsticks to (and plenty of people did). Maybe they do it because it doesn’t matter what they do, the shows are sold out and everybody is going – there were people at the Giants shows that I could not hold a serious conversation about rock and roll with, but yet consider themselves enormous U2 fans (even though they probably couldn’t name more than Bono and maybe Edge). But it’s more work to do it than it is not to do it, so I am still going to give them brownie points.
No one does a big stadium song like U2 does, and they have a dozen or so. “Beautiful Day” isn’t tired, “Elevation” had us all jumping up and down like idiots (even the upper deck at Giants was jumping up and down), even “Sunday Bloody Sunday” had people getting way too excited. They are fun, they are interesting points to stop and see how people are reacting, they are connective tissue. The heart is in the other stuff.
We got a text message as we were getting off the train:
did u hear? Bruce is going to be there yo. Soundchecked.
you wouldn’t fuck with us
She’s the one via u2log tweet
While I walked into the stadium feeling like God’s chosen child after that exchange, while I am sure he was there that night (my quote earlier in the day, “If I was an attention whore, where would I want to spend my 60th birthday?”) we all know of course He didn’t go onstage, but we did get the most brilliant live mashup EVER, “She’s The One” into “Desire” back into “She’s The One”. Or rather, “He’s The One”. Like, holy FUCK. Like, serious happy 60th birthday. Like, thank you Bono & Co. for a moment that felt like it was addressed to me and my other half specifically. (We had the phone open to our editor at Backstreets, who said later all he could hear was static and then very loud and out of tune people singing the choruses. We had arms up, the choreography and all, representing, just like we will later this week.) And when it was all said and done, it was actually okay Bruce didn’t come out onstage after all. Yeah, my head would have exploded and it would have been one thing off the bucket list, but the show was enough as it was. It was their night, not his. (He’ll get his this week.)
And finally, finally. The thing I knew they were doing but hadn’t quite internalized that they were doing it every, every fucking night, a song I’d never seen them do, but looms large in my legend as probably my favorite song from my favorite album:
Oh sugar, don’t you cry
Oh child, wipe the tears from your eyes
You know I need you to be strong
And the day is as dark as the night is long
Feel like trash, you make me feel clean
I’m in the black, can’t see or be seen
Baby baby baby light my way
This is the moment where the rest of the audience, aside from my companions, dissolved around me, the annoying bankers with their blackberries and the earnest idiot way too focused on his camera position and the non-fan girlfriend looking like she was going to burst into tears if one more person bumped into her and the guy from Spain who jumped up and down all night singing into his cellphone – they all disappeared, they all dissolved, it was me and the band and the song and the music, and the 360 thing meant it was coming at you from all angles (or at least it felt like it, before you write in with a technical description of how this isn’t possible), and it was finally hearing my song, this song, this chameleon that takes on different meanings and different emotional resonance and morphs into whatever I needed it to be at any particular time. “Ultraviolet,” live and in person. The whole neon microphone and neon light up jacket was lost on me because once I realized it was “Ultraviolet” not one other thing mattered, AT ALL. It was almost a distraction.
It didn’t even matter that the next song was “With Or WIthout You,” and the people who were filing their nails during “Ultraviole”t acted like THE BEST SONG IN THE WORLD was suddenly being played. I will quote my BFF Sharon, whose all time quote is “How can a band that can write a song like ‘Party Girl’ write crap like ‘With Or Without You'” (and Sharon, I did quote you completely and fully and out loud, in Hebrew, Wednesday night, so you were there too), and then “Moment of Surrender” is there so you know it was the end of the show, because my brain and my ears and my heart were still back with “Ultraviolet.”
And then it was done, and all I could think was, why are we only seeing one, and how can we see another, and would it be as good the next time, and even waiting in those horrible lines for that goddamn train, all we would say was, “Stop – remember, ‘Ultraviolet'” and everything would be okay again. And I look at tour itineraries and try to play with frequent flier miles and vow to do it differently when they come back next year, and try to carry some of those fleeting moments of joy and freedom and guitar notes hanging in the air with me on the inside.
photoset from the show
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