The Rose Garden, Portland
December 19, 2005
Playing catch-up again, here are - finally - my notes from the last concert we saw in 2005. Now, I'd never been a huge U2 fan. I mean, I've always liked the singles and respected them immensely, but I'd never bought an album. Chris, on the other hand, has always loved the band, and as he has bought the last few albums I've really gotten into them. Neither of us had ever seen the band live - I think we both expected a fabulous show, but even our high expectations were exceeded.
But let me back up a bit...
Tickets for the show went on sale sometime in, like, January 2005 or something - really, I can't remember exactly when it was, but it was ages before the actual show. Chris wasn't home, I was planning to try to buy tickets online (through the service-charge-o-rific ticket seller which we all know and hate), but was pretty sure they'd be sold out before my browser could refresh. Imagine my surprise when I actually was able to get two tickets! I had five minutes to make a decision about whether I wanted to buy them, and though they were sort of at an angle off one side of the back corner of the stage, I figured that if that was the best available at that time, I wouldn't be able to do any better. So, I bought them, surprised Chris with the news, and then promptly forgot about the concert for another 11 months.
(Despite having bought tickets so far in advance of a show, fate [AKA the weather] almost made it impossible for us to go - the day before had been a day of freezing rain and snow, and had it not melted midday on the 19th we never would have left the house. Thank goodness for that warming trend.)
So, now onto the show.
The seats were actually pretty good, though they were sort of angled behind the stage - we were on the side where bassist Adam Clayton stands. U2's stage set up includes a giant circular path around not only the stage but a portion of the general admission crowd. We expected that Bono would be doing laps.
The opening act, Kanye West, was a surprise to us - we were confused when we first heard he'd be opening, but decided to show up early enough to catch his set just in case we ended up liking him. I can't say I'm anymore a fan now than I was before, but it was a pretty entertaining show nonetheless. As a former singer, I'm drawn more to actual singers than rappers. I don't mind hip-hop so long as there's some kind of melody to sing along with. West said himself during his set that he "can't sing," so he's not going to make my top-ten list anytime soon. He's a good performer, though my favorite part of his act turned out to be his lead violinist.
Kanye West with his string section - the lead violinist is nearest to the foreground.
Yes, I said lead violinist - his backing "band" is composed of a small string and harp section (lovely, thin women in tight black dresses, their hair in tight black buns - a la Robert Palmer videos - with black rectangles painted across their faces over their eyes), in addition to the requisite guy-with-turntables. The lead violinist was wearing a slinky white dress and black patent leather stilettos, and frankly seemed like she might fit better in one of West's videos or actually in the front row. She knew all the songs (more than you'd expect a member of the band to know them), and "sang along" while dancing (sometimes while playing the violin, sometimes from her chair), gyrating so violently at times that she wasn't touching the ground - and let me tell you, jumping in stilettos is no mean feat.
The stage between sets - we noticed two small monitors on either side of Bono's microphone, but they weren't the usual sound monitors - they appeared to scroll the lyrics like teleprompters. I imagine for a band with a catalog the size of U2's, that would be a nice safety net. Bono looked like he wasn't using them much.
As the road crew was modifying the stage set up between shows, we voiced our hope that this would be one of those shows where people actually stood up when the band came onstage - neither of us is a great dancer, but we both prefer to actually stand while dancing as opposed to that silly "seat dance" one is sometimes forced to do when no one else around you wants to stand. Thankfully, we got our wish. The lights went down, and the entire arena stood up.
City Of Blinding Lights
I Will Follow
I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For
In A Little While (snippet)
Many Rivers To Cross (snippet)
Christmas (Baby, Please Come Home) (snippet)
Original Of The Species
Sometimes You Can't Make It On Your Own
Torna A Surriento (snippet)
Love And Peace Or Else
Sunday Bloody Sunday
Rock The Casbah (snippet)
Bullet The Blue Sky
When Johnny Comes Marching Home (snippet)
The Hands That Built America (snippet)
Pride (In The Name Of Love)
Where The Streets Have No Name
Happy Christmas (War Is Over) (snippet)
Until The End Of The World
With Or Without You
I know that the huge shows a band like U2 does now are highly scripted, that there is little left of the spontaneity of the smaller club shows they used to do, and that generally it's a challenge to still make each show's attendees feel like they're at a singular event. In Pennsylvania, after the show, we bought a DVD of the Vertigo tour which was recorded in May 2005 - watching even 45 minutes of it confirmed for me that nothing is left to chance in their shows. The entire thing is planned, even down to the people Bono will pull out of the crowd - their faces change, but their roles do not.
(L) There were these incredible beaded curtains which rolled up and down at different times, only the beads were a kind of computerized light bulb - this picture was taken during the opening of "City of Blinding Lights," where they were just white and sparkling light. (R) Bono entered the stage from the ramp somwhere, as silver confetti fell from the sky.
(L) During the opening song, the entire place was lit up. (R) A close-up of Bono, Clayton and the beaded curtains.
So, while I knew that from the band's perspective it was one more night in a series of similar nights, it's also abundantly clear that the band members love what they are doing. There is nothing of the jaded or bored attitude one could expect from people who have been playing this gig for so many years; no matter how many times they do it, no matter how much their job is about hitting a "repeat" button on the night before, they look like they're having the time of their lives. Bono is a hive of energy, running around the circular ramp, leaping from one side of the stage to the other, and chatting with members of the audience. The Edge (who, I decided that night, just oozes cool) is much more animated than I would have expected, pogo-ing along with the audience much of the time, and even taking a few laps around the ramp himself. Clayton is the understated one (he looks to me like someone's kindly grandfather), as even drummer Larry Mullen, Jr. gets a turn on the ramp when they bring out a tom-tom drum for him to play mid-ramp during "Love and Peace or Else."
(L) A good overview of the stage, which lit up in a series of wonderful colors. (R) The far end of the ramp, with Mullen on his drum and Bono singing.
Two more samples of the beaded curtains - on the right, they were cascading African flags during "Where the Streets Have No Name."
(L) Another light feature were the lovely lamps hanging above the stage - they looked like something out of a 1970's living room, and bathed the stage in light. (R & bottom row) As it was the last night of the tour, the crew came onstage after the 1st encore wearing black shirts with one letter apiece - in the end, it spelled out something like, "the u2 crew would like to thank the edge bono larry and adam for a great 2005" - and there were still quite a few crew members left over! The band came onstage after that to applaud their crew, and sing happy birthday to one of the guys.
To say that U2 is the best stadium-band I've ever seen is almost an understatement - I've seen Prince twice, and I'd happily pay to see him again, but this was something different. There is an adoration of Bono that goes far beyond the hoardes of screaming young girls - U2's appeal seems to be age-less, and people seem to respond not only to the music but to his political persona as well. Just the day before, Time Magazine had come out with Bono as one of three "persons of the year," an honor he didn't even bother to bring up during the show. Chris and I commented to each other more than once that it felt like we were part of something bigger that night, that we were in a place with many like-minded people. It's hokey, but it's the kind of feeling that gives a person hope about a better future for the country and the world.
(L) Bono asked everyone to get out their cell phones before "One," I think it was, and then after people used them to "light up the place like a Christmas tree" (Bono's words), he asked them to text message their names to an online campaign he's spearheading. At the end of the show, the people who had done so saw their names scroll across the giant screens above the stage. (R) The band says a final farewell after their 2nd encore.