This is my U2 story.
30 years ago, December 5, 1987, I saw U2 for the first time. It was Tampa Stadium, and it was along with 56,000 of my closest friends.
I have never seen anything like it since. It remains the gold standard of performance for me.
Last night, I saw them for the 7th time for the Joshua Tree 30th Anniversary Tour. It played as a comforting time capsule and bookend to my relationship with this band.
In so many ways we grew up together; they, always my beacon of what a band, and what a musician could be.
30 years ago, I was with my girlfriend at the time, as we sat bundled in a blanket we had brought (it was 35 degrees, and I’m sorry, but wet Florida 35 degrees sucks worse than 35 degrees anywhere else). Not that any of that mattered to Adam Clayton, who was shirtless the entire show.
I also saw them 4 times on the Achtung Baby tour, and one other less than monumental time (I’m looking at you, Popmart tour).
Last night I was with my wife. Their performance continued my opinion (probably shared by many more than just me) that they are the best big venue band this planet has ever seen.
Takeaways that I found most interesting:
1st: They started on the small stage, which I thought was a nice touch and an effort to begin grateful. They hit you over the head with tunes usually reserved for the end of the night. They had no interest in slowly working their way up. This was bang from the go. From there, they walked to the big stage, when the JT album performance began in earnest.
2nd. I have exactly zero shame in admitting that when the Edge’s introductory riff for Where the Streets Have No Name began, I started to cry. It was this marriage of two experiences: the first, youthful and excited, the 30 years later…sage (ahem) and grateful. I was just so happy.
3rd: They were faithful to the album, played from top to bottom and in order. Apart from the occasional Bono scat of the melody’s rhythms (I find he and other singers do this when they’re fucking bored. I always disliked it. It’s a pain in the ass to sing with, and more importantly, it messes up the aura of the song.)
But apart from that, there was little fanfare that strayed from the source. They simply played the songs. They stand on their own.
The first side belonged to the rhythm section. Adam had this absurd new tone; I want to say (at least on the opening song) he may have been playing a Music Man; it was incredibly thick and distorted. In a beautiful, beautiful way. Larry was rock solid. I always sort of giggle when drummers say they don’t like him (usually because his parts sound simple). Seems absurd. The guy serves the songs. They are great live for a reason and he’s a huge part of it.
The second side belonged almost exclusively to The Edge. He was preposterous; there were times I just kept muttering ‘wow’ regarding his tones. I couldn’t believe how incredible he sounded. Kudos too to the FOH sound engineer; both U2 and the Lumineers sounded crystal clear.
As well, I left pleasantly surprised at Bono’s voice; I wonder if the decision thrust upon him to not play guitar anymore allowed him to concentrate on his voice. Sometimes you thought he wouldn’t go for the high note; and then he’d surprise you. Now, most things were either downtuned or straight up transposed to a lower key. I think Sunday was a step and a half down. Made the bass sound like Adam was rocking the metal drop B tone. Almost funny. But it was a relief (remember, I’m a singer) that Bono’s voice was not disappointing. It actually got better as the night went on.
4th. Elevation. Holy shit. That one surprised me. I like the song, but live it’s almost crazy how powerful it is.
5th: My favorite song of all time is Bad (just over Baba). Over time, it seems everyone is catching up to me (haha); it was easily the most collectively revered of the night.
6th: My favorite from JT is Exit. For very personal reasons. It. was. Incredible.
Last night’s show ended with a new song. This made me happy. At one point in the concert, I would have not at all been surprised if they announced their retirement at the end of the night. It had that kind of feeling to it. The fact they closed with a new song, made me happy that they still believe in their craft, as I do mine.
Of course, they have a few more fans to perennially validate them, but I happen to think all twelve of my fans are pretty fucking cool, too. So there.
I walked in excited and happy I didn’t pass up the opportunity to see them. No what ifs.
I left grateful, for all of it.
PS: for the better part of the last 30 years, I have had a recurring dream/nightmare that Bono pulls me up on stage to sing Bad with him. Invariably, the sec guard who takes me to the stage gets lost and I never get on stage before I wake up.
Last night was no different; no invitation. Yet.
I remain hopeful.