Since the end of the 360 tour, the dominant U2 news trend has been the Achtung Baby anniversary releases. And rightfully so, as that album was a watershed moment, not just for our boys from Dublin, but for popular music in general. For this Off The Record, however, I thought I'd steer away from that subject for just a bit and share some of my thoughts and observations about the record-setting 360 tour, specifically my first ever U2 concert experience from the General Admission perspective.
"Once you go GA, you'll never go back." That was the mantra I heard repeatedly as I prepared for the Philadelphia show, and again while I was in line waiting to enter Lincoln Financial Field. From the first time I watched the Elevation tour and Slane Castle DVDs several years ago, it has been my goal to make it not just to the field, but into the inner circle. I desperately wanted to be part of the small group within just a few feet of the stage, jumping up and down, pulsing like a heartbeat and pumping their fists to the rhythm of the music.
Initially, I had no idea what to expect or how to achieve that goal, but thanks to some tips from the @U2 staff and some of my concert-going friends, I had a game plan in place even before I boarded the plane for Philadelphia. I arrived at "The Linc" at around 2:45 p.m. and was greeted by a long line. I tried not to get too down at this point (it was still early and the weather was gorgeous, if a bit on the warm side), but I'd be lying if I said that my heart didn't sink just a little bit when I saw the length of the line that early before the show. Nevertheless, I took my place at the back of the line and began my "Journey to the Center of The Claw." It was a long but well-managed process, both on the part of the stadium personnel—who were prepared and in control of the situation—and the fans, who were knowledgeable, helpful and very friendly.
In fact, the fans I encountered before, during, and after the concert were some of the most diverse, interesting, passionate, amiable strangers I've ever met at one time. Between my casual stroll to the stadium early in the afternoon and my power-walk back to my hotel after midnight, I met three college freshmen (one of whom was a music major!), a professor of psychology and his wife, a doctor (who recently took up the guitar, complete with his own echo pedal), two couples who offered me a sandwich and a margarita while waiting in line, a photographer and his girlfriend I had met at the U2 Conference, a marathon runner, a family of four on vacation, someone who worked for the NFL, and a father who was accompanying his teenage daughter to her first concert EVER (talk about setting the bar impossibly high!). Similar to the conference, the concert was a bonding experience among die-hard fans, one in which I got to "nerd out" by talking about my U2 research as others shared with me their favorite songs and albums, their previous U2 concert experiences, and their opinions on music in general. U2 fans are awesome, and after meeting all those wonderful people, I couldn't be more proud to be one of them.
The centerpiece of the 360 tour, of course, was the stage. The Philly show was my fourth on the tour, and I saw each of the previous three shows from different seats around the various stadiums. From those vantage points, The Claw was shockingly big, bordering on overwhelmingly so. Naturally, that opinion changed once the music started. What struck me the most was how well the entire show was produced. The interaction of the lights and the music was top-notch. And that video screen: jaw-droppingly amazing, to say the very least.
Naturally, as an inner circle hopeful in Philadelphia, I expected the stage to seem even more grandiose being so close. Logic would have it that if something is massive from 200 feet away, then standing right under it would seem like an entirely new world. Weirdly, as I made it to field level and into the inner circle, it actually felt smaller. I couldn't believe it. Willie Williams accomplished his seemingly paradoxical goal of creating an intimate atmosphere with a large stadium audience, and that intimacy was magnified being only a few yards from the stage.
Because the band had to play to such a large crowd, it crossed my mind that those of us in the inner circle might get overlooked as the band tried to play to the other 69,000 fans in attendance. Fortunately, that was not the case at all. Not even close. Adam, in particular, seemed to be having a blast up on stage, regularly smiling at and interacting with front-row audience members. And that just fed the energy of the inner circle. Frankly, I'm surprised that my voice didn't end up completely hoarse or that my legs were able to carry me to my hotel after the show despite all the screaming and jumping I did. Chalk it up to the adrenaline pumping through my system for almost three hours.
Speaking of the band … they sounded great! It was loud under The Claw, but that I expected given my proximity to the sound system. Each band member's part was clearly audible and virtually undistorted. It wasn't a perfect performance: Bono forgot some lyrics (as usual) and Edge flubbed the guitar part once or twice. But the mistakes made the performance that much better for me. These guys are human, and it's refreshing to see and hear them make mistakes on occasion. And live performances are about being in the moment and moving on from missteps to keep the flow of the show on track. For my money, no other band does a better live show than U2.
For the record, now that I've "gone GA," I can honestly say that I may not ever see another U2 show from the seats again.
Lastly… I became a pretty big college football fan thanks to my time at The Florida State University. The fact that many sports experts are predicting good things for my beloved Seminoles this upcoming season is quite exciting for me. Why do I bring this up for an @U2 OTR? Well, check out this article by Sports Illustrated college football writer Andy Staples. In particular, scroll down to his No. 7-ranked team. I totally disagree with his assessment of the Zooropa and Pop records, but in any case, it's a neat connection for me. One of my favorite sports teams linked to my favorite band. Double bonus!!
Have a great week, everyone!
(c) @U2, 2011.