Two Nights With U2 In Berlin, 9-24 & 9-25-15

Everything you know is wrong, auf deutsch #u2ietour #u2berlin

Wanting to see U2 in an arena in Europe managed to connect nicely with wanting to spend time in Berlin, so we traveled to see two of the four shows at the Mercedes-Benz Arena at the end of September. The queue outside was very international, with Poles, Finns and Russians (and their vodka bottles) heavily dominating the line.

The first night’s queue was a hot mess, with security deciding to hand out wristbands by standing outside the queue pen and yelling at people in German that they needed to come have their tickets scanned. Despite our tickets designating us for the South Side, we were placed North Side. The Red Zone got let in ahead of general GA; we arrived around 4pm so weren’t expecting much but happily grabbed our favored spots with the Red Zone to our back.

Ticket time said 7:30, which I thought would be 8:10-8:15, but it wasn’t until 8:35 that we heard “People Have the Power” and a newly-coiffed Bono strutted down the catwalk to the I stage. (Newly-coiffed to me, but the pompadour was definitely tighter and higher than it was in NYC.) I expected a lot from a Berlin audience, and they were definitely with the band from the first note, even if the crowd sat down for the first part of the show.


Bono was definitely operating on high gear for the initial part of the show. I’ve been listening to the shows via Mixlr each night, so it’s tough for me to call out any differences in approach, energy or performance; but they’ve definitely reached that part of the tour where they are just cruising, and I mean that in a good way. It’s a high-powered energy vehicle that they can tweak one way or the other depending on the night.

I really wanted to head back to the E stage when the time came, but then realized that I didn’t want to bolt at the end of “Until The End of The World” because if there was ever a place where I wanted to soak that song in, it would be the first time hearing it in Berlin, and also because I wanted to be able to take in the audience’s reaction to the Berlin Wall imagery coming down at intermission.

There was a huge swell of energy and emotion at the start of UTEOTW; I am sure that some of that came from me, but I would stand and assert that at least part of it was universal. It is a song that generally picks up the whole audience, and tonight was no different. Berliners know where that song came from. And then, when the screen switched to the wall and the banners came down, there was a gentle but definite gasp of recognition—you could feel the energy in the room heighten—and then of course everyone took out their phones. That was when we scurried to the back of the floor. The slogans were in German; there was also a live subtitle scroll at the bottom of the large screen tonight when Bono was talking between songs. (I do not envy that person their job.)


In Berlin, the back quarter of the E stage was cordoned off. But there was plenty of room at the very back along the dividing barrier, and we could see just fine. There was a group of very drunk Germans sending a woman in their party to dispose of their empty beer cups and acquire more beer, and luckily they decided they were more interested in drinking more than watching the show at the end of “Invisible” (which I still actively dislike for the exact same ways I did in July at MSG) when Bono announced, “Please welcome to the E stage…” at the end of “Even Better Than The Real Thing” and out of the screen came Larry, Adam and Edge.

Bono was breathing heavy into the mic and I’m kind of ashamed I didn’t recognize the synth drone. But as soon as the first car-crash-chords emanated out of Edge’s guitar, the hair on my arms stood straight up and there was a collective OH MY FUCKING GOD as we and the people in front of us (some great South American fans) absolutely exploded. Like, Zoo Station? In BERLIN? On the FIRST NIGHT? It hasn’t been played ALL TOUR? And then the initial rhythm of the intro, the band finding their groove and neatly slotting into it, before those shimmering chords come in from the Edge and carry the song to the first line.

I am levitating. I am praying for time to stand still. I am singing in my best Fly intonation because I don’t know any other way to sing it. “I’m ready to duck / I’m ready to dive, I’m ready to say I’m glad to be alive / I’m ready, ready for the — PUSH,” and if your pelvis didn’t move a little bit like Bono’s vinyl-clad ass used to towards the camera, I will tell you that you are lying.

Bono was feeling it. Larry and Edge were DRIVING it. It was unpredictable and rough and gorgeous and emotional and enormous, huge for the fans who knew that this hadn’t happened yet, for everyone who knew why it was happening now. It was beyond wonderful. When it was done, I was absolutely numb. I did not know how I was going to get through the rest of the night.

This is the one you want to watch:

It wasn’t that I didn’t care about Mysterious Ways, it was that I was still floating somewhere above the lighting rig, not ready to come down yet. So I tried to focus on the mundane. Not having been back there before, I was fascinated by exactly how much work and crew-frantic-scurrying it takes to get the E stage set up, and was glad I didn’t care about watching “Invisible” to pay attention to it happening.

I also understand why people fight for spots back there, even those who aren’t trying to get a free guitar or dance with Bono; you are that much closer to them all, surrounding them on all sides in what is a very tiny space. We had a great side view of the rhythm section, which was particularly enjoyable as Bono repeatedly fucked up the intro to “Elevation.” Repeatedly. As in, more than once. And it’s amazing how many people sprung to his vivid defense every time I brought this up the next day: you don’t understandit’s hard to hearhis ear monitorsif you don’t get the rhythm of the song exactly right. GUYS. It’s ELEVATION, not “Salome,” and the looks on Larry and Adam’s faces while this was going on was all I needed to see to know that I was right, and was alone well worth the price of admission.

My favorite line from Mr. B: “This is very exciting— for OTHER people.”

Larry and Adam vacate the stage. Edge points at the stage and waves his hands—presto-chango!—and the piano comes out of the stage. “Every Breaking Wave” and “October” have the same problem that they do everywhere else on the planet, in that the quiet nature of the performance is the universal signal for EVERYONE TALK LOUDLY NOW. But at least I’m hearing their chatter in other languages, which is slightly less distracting, and have the bonus of being able to observe Edge’s facial expressions while he’s playing the piano.

We head back to the center of the floor in time to the opening riffs of “Bullet the Blue Sky.” It was a relief to be on a less-crowded floor after Madison Square Garden. The venue marked off aisles along the edges of the floor that they policed and kept clear, which made it possible to migrate from front to back without being a total dick to the people around you. Bono has an EU-flag megaphone to match his stars and stripes one; I wonder where one acquires these.

The crowd got to their feet at the end of Zooropa, cheering the “#refugees welcome” message on the screen, and stayed there as soon as they recognized the chords of “Streets”. There were two German bro-dudes standing behind us with their large beers, uncharacteristically close for two German dudes. That lasted exactly one second after the lights came on for “Streets,” and it wasn’t just us; the older serious bearded dudes to my left were jumping up and down as much as we were. It was amazing, amazing energy.

The audience loved ‘Pride” more than I have seen a lot of audience love “Pride,” and it was heart-swelling and beautiful. I ran out during WOWY to hit the bathroom and get water (we knocked over the cup of water–why venues won’t even give you a lid and a straw is just ridiculous –we had been saving for the show about one song before People Have The Power and it was incredibly hot in there), and it was amazing that the hallways and food stands and internal lobby of the venue were a ghost town. No one was standing out there chatting; at the Garden there is always someone outside talking or bored or waiting or doing something that’s not watching the concert.

We were exhausted by the end, “City of Blinding Lights” and “Beautiful Day” and, to be honest, too many political issues jammed into the end of a show that was floating on air. Not because I have a problem with Political Bono, but because it was literally too much and killing the vibe. He can’t talk about the refugees (which got the crowd on its feet) and AIDS and the Global Whateveritwas 2030 (see, I pay attention to stuff and I couldn’t even get it). And I wish he would sing “One,” or at least more of it than he does; I still love that song, and the end, when the band come in and do play, when Larry plays this majestic fill and Edge works the counter harmonies on the guitar, is stunning. I just want that for the whole song.

We were on the edge of the floor and out the door like a couple of pros as Larry came out from behind the drum kit, and walked across an amazing bridge with castle turrets, huge moon above us, on our way to get dinner. (I would find out later that this was Oberbaumbrücke, which used to be a border checkpoint between East and West Berlin.)

We just saw U2 in Berlin. They played “Zoo Station.” I go to sleep on a happy little cloud.

Our line position was significantly improved night two. We got there half an hour earlier because that’s how the day fell out, and there were less people in the queue. This time, they scanned the tickets and handed out wristbands before we were sorted into the queue pens, and we were sorted by side.

Not long after we sat down, Glenn leaned over and whispered into my ear: “Macphisto has arrived.”


Sure enough, at the front of the queue, Mr. Macphisto was there, in full drag. It would be easy to laugh (and we did laugh), but on the other hand, that getup took a lot of planning, and after “Zoo Station” the previous night, I was happy for any additional reminders to inspire the band.

Once inside, we grabbed two spots on the rail at the catwalk, right at Larry Mullen Jr. position for “Sunday Bloody Sunday,” and right at Lord of the Flies. It was pretty much the only place in the venue we hadn’t watched the show from at this point, so it felt like a good spot for our last I&E show for 2015.


I was pleased to observe that Macphisto had managed to get himself onto the South Side of the E Stage, where he was busy touching up his makeup. (I will also note that I thought it was hilarious that his horns were AC/DC horns, which he wore backwards so the logo faced the back.)

This show had the absolute best audience energy of the 7 shows we saw on this tour, coming very close to topping that last night at the Garden (and in some places, they absolutely did). It was a Friday night in Berlin, and people were ready to party. It was also the 39th anniversary of the day that the band met in Larry’s kitchen and decided to start a band, a fact noted by Bono right before “Electric Co.”


I didn’t have central stage or a screen, but I did get to watch the staging of my favorite parts of the show, “Sunday Bloody Sunday” into “Raised By Wolves” into “Until The End of the World.” There is so much that goes on during RBW that you absolutely do not see unless you are right there on the catwalk, and I remain astonished that they pull this off every night. I didn’t get hit by a book (or catch one as it went into the crowd), but I was glad to finally be able to watch this particular piece of theater happen right in front of me.

The catwalk spot would prove to be great for the E stage, with fantastic views of everyone, and Bono out under the mirror balls before “Mysterious Ways” started. And then, in the middle of the song, you see him gesture to a fan, and to my delight, there is Macphisto, his gold lame suit glittering in the spotlight, stalking Bono around the stage. Bono loved it. The rest of the band loved it. Mr. Macphisto himself was having the time of his life (as he should be), as Bono sent him down the catwalk, where he posed and preened and strutted, before posing one last time as the lighting guys sent a bright red spot on him, up at the end of the catwalk, before he left the stage. “I’d like to thank Mr. Macphisto,” Bono said, “Haven’t seem him in–quite a while.”


I’m not sure Bono meant for him to disappear, and it’s not like his presence would have changed the set from “Desire” and “Angel of Harlem” into “Ultraviolet” (BUT IT SHOULD HAVE). At least we didn’t get any amateur guitar players, despite massive signs at the E stage again (they were there the first night too, and that’s the band’s fault at this point) and that is a good thing because this crowd sang the hell out of “Desire.” I literally have never heard a crowd sing that song so hard, and so loud. Bono took one of his in-ear monitors out so he could hear it better. It was one of those times where a crowd sing-a-long didn’t take the guts out of a song and turn it into some kind of campfire melody (which is one of my main complaints about allowing “One” to be just that).


The end of the show was a bullet train, the band on 11, the audience right there alongside them. And we kept thinking, okay, whatever special Friday night Berlin surprise the band has planned, we didn’t get it on the E stage, we’ll get it on the I stage — remember, Bruce showed up there, and not on the E stage, is what we kept telling ourselves. And no doubt that the back end of the show was performed with strength and emotion and energy, but it was missing that special something that the previous night had — plus, got derailed by what felt like a lengthy explanation about how Bono was going to New York on the weekend to hold the politicians accountable.

Tonight it was “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” that closed down the night, with the band walking down the runway, Bono singing the chorus to “People Have The Power” as he headed for the stairs. Outside, the moon was still full, and the energy high as we headed out across the castle bridge one last time.

The next day, we’d drive a Trabant around Berlin while listening to “One,” and blatantly trying to model Anton Corbijn photos.

[Photoset is here]