12 August 2011

The 8th time I saw U2…

…was very different from the 7th time, despite very similar set lists. Actually, I was hoping for the same set list as the show earlier in the month, just so I could experience again those songs I was, let’s say, distracted during.

Let’s begin with the difference in location. This show, the last show of the endless, 2+ years 360degrees tour, was at Magnetic Hill in Moncton, New Brunswick. If you happen to read the U2 fan sites (c’mon, admit it: you check them every day), you’d see fan reaction to the announcement of the last show in Moncton was generally “Where?” and then, after they googled it, “Why there?” My reaction to the rumours was “U2 will never come to Moncton.” I was wrong. I’m still not sure why they came here, but I suppose a venue that holds 100,000 people in the middle of three provinces they’ve never played before kind of guarantees a large audience. Also, they’re Freaking U2. They can play wherever the hell they want. They could play a show on a floating barge in the arctic and people would go.  

The next difference was the fellow attendees. In addition to the Traditional Three (my BFF "B", and our mom),  B’s husband, Johnny**, also came. He’s not a U2 fan per se, but they drove all the way from Ontario for the show and it made more sense for him to come than not.  

Then there was the difference in weather. The forecast for the day was rain. Not just a chance of rain, but guaranteed rain for the whole day and potentially into the evening. At the Toronto show, there was a chance of rain but it never actually rained. This time we knew it would rain the whole day. We knew, and still we didn’t really believe it would. We thought about umbrellas, but they were banned from the venue, so we would have had to throw them out after waiting in line. I considered borrowing my rain gear from work, but didn’t. I also considered rubber boots, but they are not comfortable for standing in all day. In the end, we wore the dollar store ponchos we’d bought for the Toronto show, and resigned ourselves to being wet. The forecast was also calling for a warm day, so wearing heavy rain gear on a warm, wet day was unappealing. We figured the field would turn to mud, so I ended up wearing and old pair of walking sandals, and my BFF wore $4 flip-flops with the intention of throwing them out afterwards. They were a bad choice as the sole would sink in the mud and required a lot of force to pull out. By the end of the night, the field was strewn with broken flip-flops and lots of people were barefoot. (I ended up abandoning my sandals in the parking lot of the park n' ride - they were gross and not worth the energy it would take to clean them). 

The next difference was our attitude re: the GA line-up. Our strategy would have been to get there early and wait. That works well in Toronto when it’s sunny and dry, and you can stay in a hotel a few minutes away. Moncton hotels were charging insane rates for nights around the concert, so we decided to stay at my place in Dartmouth and drive up the morning of. Also, this venue had more GA tickets, proportionally, than a show at the Sky Dome would, so I figured we’d be competing with more people for prime inner circle spots. Then there was the prospect of standing in the rain all day. In the end we decided to not kill ourselves getting in line super early. We’d enjoy the show no matter what, so being in the inner circle wouldn’t kill us.

On the day of, we left Dartmouth at 7am. Yes, I believe this is “not killing ourselves.” I mean, we didn’t want to be miles from the stage, you know? I was banking on a 3 hour drive, than another hour to get from park n’ ride to the venue.  The city was offering a park n’ ride service so people could park at designated lots in the city and take a shuttle to the venue. We got to Moncton around 9:30 and were at the park n’ ride lot by 10am.  The choice at this point was to sit in the dry car for an hour until the first shuttle arrived at 11, or call a cab and go the venue right away. We called a cab. I’m so glad we did. We got into the line-up at 10:40 and a bunch of people arrived right after us. We were number 378-381th in line. Inner circle, here we were to come! 

The time in the line-up was wet. There wasn’t much we could do but sit and huddle under our ponchos. There was no reading, playing cards, or dice this time. Occasionally we talked to the couple ahead of us, or the youngish guy-on-his own behind us. Generally, we did very little. I drank lots of water and made sure I ate lunch. 

There was a fair number of people who had camped out or otherwise gotten there very early. Around 1 o’clock or so, they compressed the line – meaning they told everyone to get rid of their crap and stand up. Some people stashed stuff in the woods to come back for later. Most people just abandoned their crap in the line up. Walking through it later was pretty disgusting: a water-and-mud soaked mess of abandoned tents, camping chairs, sleeping bags, ponchos, umbrellas, food, water, beer, clothes, blankets, tarps. Our GA philosophy is to not bring anything expensive so that you can throw it out. Some people were leaving behind inflatable mattresses – both the pool kind and the kind you would probably pay $30 for. So wasteful. The line-up wasn’t as fun as it was in Toronto. Part of that was the crappy weather, and part of it was the people. The chain smokers a bit in front of us were annoying (why am I always near the smokers?), and there was this group of younger girls behind us that sang out loud during the sound check for Arcade Fire. They sang along in a way that implied they only knew some words, or just liked very small snippets of the songs. 

When you get in a GA line up like that, they usually give you numbers – basically to discourage line-jumpers. The numbers have no official role, but honest people take them seriously. As we were moving to go through the gate (around 3pm) a woman siddled up next to my group, keeping her head down. The woman in front of us looked at her and looked at me with a “who is that?” look. I shrugged and the woman and the line jumper had the following exchange:

Woman: Excuse me? Do you have a wrist band? What number are you?
Line jumper:  Huh? What?
Woman: They’re checking numbers, what number are you? [at this point, the rumour was that they were checking numbers. But they weren’t, or they had stopped]
Line jumper [holding out her arm silently – she’s #498]
Woman: You have to go back, you’re not supposed to be up here [showing  off her #377 wristband]
Line jumper: They told me the number doesn’t matter
Me: It matters to the 100 people you’re cutting in front of.
Woman: We’ve been here longer
Line jumper: Okay, I don’t mind waiting.

Then she kept shuffling forward with the line and every time we told her to go back (I was involved now) she said she "doesn’t mind waiting" all the while not actually going back, or stopping to let 100 people pass. Eventually the woman in front of us pointed her out to a security guard. The guard clearly didn’t care, but pulled the woman out of line anyway to avoid a scene.  

So, we get into the general area of the show, but we weren’t quite there yet. The field was on a hill with the stage at the bottom of the hill. We were let in at the top of the hill. Security was clearly concerned that we’d all run break-neck down the hill to get into the circle and someone would get trampled and die. They made us wait at the top of the hill for about another half hour. We were still in a reasonable facsimile of the original line up. There was a couple of line jumpers and fast-walkers ahead of us, but that can’t be helped. They tried to lead us down the hill in an organised manner. Two security guards holding a piece of CAUTION tape between them lead the line down the hill towards the stage. I appreciate their attempt at crowd control. I really do. It worked until about halfway down the hill, when the people in back swelled out and started running for the stage. No one died or was hurt (as far as I know) so I suppose they did their job. 

We headed for the inner circle and grabbed some empty ledge on the outer rim, with a similar on-Bono’s-left view as the previous show. The outer rim is as far away from the main stage as you can get in the inner circle, but when you turn around, you’re maybe 8 feet from the outer stage, so you get to be close to the guys when they go past, and still have a good view of the stage. It also has the added bonus of a ribcage-high security wall that you can lean against. Such support is very valuable to my mom who was a week shy of turning 61, and myself since I'm apparently incapable of standing anymore. Also, spots along the wall like that are easy to defend, and more comfortable for sitting. Which we did. Another bonus of the inner circle is that it’s not the field, so there is flooring and not mud. 

Shortly after we got into the circle, the rain stopped. We gladly took off our ponchos. We compared wet marks on our clothing. Eventually me & B went to get food and left Mom and James to defend our spots. The line ups for food were pretty long, and probably only got longer as the day went on. I had resigned myself to eating just french fries, figuring there wouldn’t be much by way of veggie options. There was a stand selling samosas which I was really excited about (samosas are the new ice cream - I can't say no to them) until I realized it was only beef and chicken. Then, I saw the felafel stand. It had a crazy line up, presumably all the veggies were in that one line. But, after waiting 30 minutes, I was able to have some thing more substantial than fries. Although, I had fries too. Walking back through the mud slick was tricky, and kind of gross.

The first opening act was a group called Carney and the second was Arcade Fire. Both were fine. Until a moment ago I wasn't sure who Carney were and why they were there. I still don't know who they are, but one of the Carnies was involved in the Spider-man musical that Bono and Edge wrote. I know that people love Arcade Fire, but I’ve never really given them a chance, so I have no real opinion of them. Except, I think that one of girls might be legally insane, or maybe her brother is also in the bad and their parents made him let her in. They also seem to have taken a page from the Bono Songwriters Guide and put lots of wordless chanty parts in their songs. Songs like that always seem to translate well live. 

The coolest pre-show thing was the fly-by by the military jets. Two of them did about three fly-bys of the concert. That was a surprise and nice touch. I bet the field looked awesome from that high up. I wonder if they took pictures?

Eventually, the pre-show music started. We were impatient for U2 to start, and were waiting for the strains of Space Oddity. For this tour, that was the song they played before the band came on stage. Each time a song ended, B and I would wait expectantly for the next one to start. We usually, almost involuntarily would exclaim “Fuck!” when it wasn’t Space Oddity. (We have this odd effect on each other where we swear more than normal when we get together). The youngish guy who had been behind us in line was now in front of us in the inner circle. One of our in-unison exclamations made him laugh. My mom told me later that he’s a pastor from a church in NB.  I don’t know if knowing that beforehand would have altered our behaviour any. Knowing us, we would have swore more. And probably made fun of Jesus. (I’m kidding! About the Jesus part, at least).

Then, finally, it started. It’s always so exciting when they come out. People go insane. The first really awesome, exciting thing for me was during Until the End of the World where Bono and Edge were on the outer stage and stopped right in front of us. This is the absolute closest we’ve ever been to them. If I reached, and they reached, we could have touched. It was a really incredible moment.

Where we were turned out to be good for getting close to everyone at least once. Larry only leaves his drum kit once, to walk around the stage and bang on his bongo. I spent a lot of time trying to film and take pictures but at some point I stopped, because I didn’t want to be so preoccupied with getting pictures that I didn’t actually watch them. That’s why my video of Larry is so short:

For the most part, the set list was exactly the same as earlier in the month. I was perfectly fine with that. A couple of notable changes. After I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For, Bono sang a verse of The Ballad ofSpringhill, at which point I turned to B and said, “Does he know he’s in New Brunswick?”

He also changed the lyrics to Stay. I think the performace of Stay earlier in the month was more emotional, but I love when he changes his songs, so I appreciated the new ending:
Original song:

Three o'clock in the morning
It's quiet, there's no one around,
Just the bang and the clatter
As an angel runs to ground.

Moncton lyrics:

Three o’clock in the morning
As the trucks roll out of town
'110 shows, strangely it feels like home
Glad my wife is here tonight, not a night to be alone
Everyboby’s lover, everybody’s brother
All came here for the show
Some loves are just so hard to let go
Three o'clock in the morning
It's quiet, there's no one around
Just a bang and a clatter,
As 360 leaves town.

I didn’t mention this about the previous show, but before Beautiful Day, Bono asks the audience to imagine a man in space, looking down on earth from above, and then they cut to Mark Kelly in the space station. He’s playing with word cut-outs and he spells out Beautiful Day. He then greets the crowd with “Hello Moncton” (in Toronto he said “Hello Toronto.”). The Moncton came out more like “Monk..Tun” so I wondered if they spliced it together like that Lawrence Olivier add for diet coke.  Then he said he was looking forward to coming home and says “Tell my wife I love her very much. She knows.”

I’ll admit, at the first show I didn’t make the connection to who his wife is, so it wasn’t as emotionally effective. My mom knew, and said she cried when he said that. It was more emotionally effective the second time.

They ended the second encore with Moment of Surrender, and I think Bono had asked someone to get champagne, because one of his roadies came up and said something to him and Bono replied into the microphone ”Well, I’m not leaving until I get champagne.” And they didn’t.  I don't think Bono wanted to leave. Bono talked a bit, then I saw him motioning to Edge and I thought he was saying “one more” but it turns out he was saying Out of Control. We got a bonus performance of Out of Control! Then he still didn’t want to leave the stage, so after chatting with some of the audience, spraying inner circle people with water and the frantically-acquired champagne, they then sang 40. 40 is a great song because it leaves the audience chanting and a good audience will carry it on for a long time. They sang 40, then left the stage one by one. Larry is usually first on, last off. He did a little drum solo, waved good-night, then grabbed the mike and said “Thank you Moncton, we’ll miss you guys. Good night. God bless. ” Larry never talks. That was huge.  

This is already very, very long. I won’t go into details about the difficulty in leaving Magnetic Hill and the poorly managed park n ride. The show ended around midnight, and it was 3:30am before we were on the highway heading out of town. I drove us back and we got to my apartment at 6am. I managed to stay awake on the drive home. I drank coffee, and I sang quietly to myself – this helped a lot, actually.

The rest of my pictures are here.

Set List
Even Better Than The Real Thing
The Fly
Mysterious Ways
Until The End Of The World
I Will Follow
Get On Your Boots
I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For/ The Ballad of Springhill
Stay (Faraway, So Close!)
Beautiful Day
Pride (In The Name Of Love)
Miss Sarajevo
City Of Blinding Lights
Sunday Bloody Sunday
Walk On

Encore 1
Where The Streets Have No Name

Encore 2
Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me
With Or Without You
Moment Of Surrender

**Not his actual name. The current running gag is that a) my dad can never remember his real name and calls him other J names, and b) Johnny will actually respond to any J name thrown at him, apparently due to a lifetime of never being called by the correct name (kind of like how I will now respond to both Lindsay and Leslie). At one point during the show, I quoted Bono’s opener to Until the End of the World: “Jesus, this is Judas.” And when I said Judas, Johnny looked over.

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