U2, Montreal 2011
I could, and should, someday write a long treatise about hauling myself from Tel Aviv to London (en route to the US for my sister’s wedding) in August of 1993 to see U2 at Wembley Stadium on the Zooropa tour, and how it altered the course of my life completely. That time is not now, but it would go a long way in explaining why I would spend 4 days hauling myself up to Montreal to see U2 play a show in the middle of a race track along with 79,999 other people, why I would get up at 6:30 on my day off and go sit on said racetrack for 8 hours, waiting on line, to then sprint down the racetrack in the heat and then hug a metal barrier for the next five hours until the band comes onstage… and I get a shot like the one above.
That shot is one I almost didn’t get, because I was so full of the moment, so conscious of the fact that all I wanted to do was just stand there and watch them. In my life these days, just standing and watching is a revolutionary act, when everyone around me is photographing and recording video and Tweeting and texting and Facebooking. There were so many of these moments, the reason that I sat and ran and stood and spent close to $30 CAD on plain old water (it was very hot), to stand feet away and watch Bono and Edge sing to each other. You can try as hard as you want to to convince me that it’s fake, that it’s an act, that it’s Bono and the Edge playing the characters of Bono and the Edge, and I will tell you that yes, you are right, but you are wrong, because I think the only way U2 could keep going is if there still wasn’t some kind of human connection they can only get from each other.
Of course, the other thing that will get me to withstand adversity is the presence of Achtung Baby dominating the set, that tremendous opening with “Even Better Than The Real Thing” and “The Fly” and “Until The End of the World”. The crowd around us had their cameras up in the air during the “Space Odyssey” opener, tiny blue screens glowing as far as the eye could see, and then once everyone had a photo of Bono, they went back to doing what they were doing, oblivious to what was transpiring musically around them. I will invoke 1993 again, I will tell you that “Even Better Than The Real Thing” would be my walk on music if I was a Major League Baseball player, by the time the band moved through the first four songs (“I Will Follow” on Friday, “Out Of Control” on Saturday coming in after that trio) I was ready for a cigarette break, if I still smoked. Instead, I drank water during “Boots” while everyone around me got excited.
I am disappointed that so much of the last album is now missing from the set, that in order to do things like play “Stay” or “All I Want Is You” with just Bono and Edge and an acoustic guitar in front of 80,000 people, they have to bookend it with “Beautiful Day,” that the only way they can get away with “Zooropa” (which was absolutely, utterly phenomenal) is to put down the honeycomb video screen and follow it with the fireworks of “City of Blinding Lights”. I will tell you that I think the set has lost cohesion and thematic arc with the removal of new songs like “Magnificent,” that the pairings of (say) “Elevation” into “Pride” or “I’ll Go Crazy If I Don’t Go Crazy Tonight” into “Sunday Bloody Sunday” are trainwrecks (even if “Crazy Tonight” is wonderful and delightful and the kind of reworking I wish they would do more of), that the older songs feel like they are jimmied into the setlist with the subtlety of a crowbar.
There is no other reason that this is happening now, at the end of a tour, except that subtlety is hard work in an enormous space, and it’s the tradeoff for playing these enormous places, which they have to do in order for the people who just want to say they were there and scream at Bono and spend lengthy parts of the show getting their picture taken with the claw in the background. These are the people I have to share this band with, which is why I don’t have a show total for U2 like I probably should have. (It was bad enough having to share Bruce with everyone during the BITUSA stadium era, which I successfully avoided.) There is only so much of the casual show going that I can take. In Canada, amazingly, we stood halfway back on the field for night two and no one talked through every slow or unfamiliar song, which still went on when we were in the inner circle night one, most notably by the people wearing hospitality room passes who showed up just before the band walked out onstage. (I still do not understand this mindset of going to a concert and talking through it, especially if you like the band who are onstage, no matter how hard I try.)
But the tourists and the thematic dissonance doesn’t ruin all of it, or much of it, it’s the thing you think about for a half second before returning to be in the moment. Part of the deal, sometimes, is that willing suspension of disbelief, your ability to throw yourself into the moment and stop analyzing and processing and just be there, be part of that moment where (to quote Bono, who was quoting Quincy Jones, before you take him to task) God walks through the room during “Where The Streets Have No Name”. It is magic, most of the time, if you are willing to let it be magical, if you can drop whatever you are hanging onto in your brain and just pogo up and down for those first 30 seconds before Bono starts to sing, to throw your arms in the air and sing along at the top of your lungs. Those are the moments I live for, those are the moments that give you hope and remind you of what rock and roll was supposed to be about. Those are the moments that U2 do like no one else does, and that is the reason I still show up, hang on, and let go.
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