I had been excited about this concert for the past eight or nine months, ever since I suddenly found myself very, very much interested in U2 thanks to a certain friend of mine, and I was very proud of my deductive skills in figuring out that 2005 would be the next tour year for the band even before How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb was announced for release (I wasn't a big U2 fan before, so I didn't much care about their release schedule), and congratulated myself on getting a U2.com membership in the year before (presale tickets!). The date and time? April 28, 2005, at Vancouver's General Motors Place stadium, home of the Vancouver Canucks, who aren't playing this season...
So this was the day. Oddly enough, it didn't really register in me earlier in the day that I was finally going to my first concert, and my first concert was going to be with a band reputed to put on some excellent shows, and I was going to be treating the most enthusiastic fan I know -- and the one I love the most -- to a show he would have refused to buy tickets to on the grounds of economic duress. I wasn't especially excited; perhaps it was my worry about my exam the next day that was dampening my spirits; perhaps it was the fact that I had spent a grand total of seven hours the day before waiting outside GM Place to watch the band film the video for "City of Blinding Lights," a song off the new CD (which I hadn't bothered to pick up), and my enthusiasm had been very much sapped by the hours in the sun with only a rapidly warming iced tea to sustain me. But my stomach finally decided to realize that the show was today and began to flutter as I left the house around 5:30 p.m., and my nerves kept up with the action as I repeatedly checked my pockets over the trip to the venue to make sure I had my tickets.
I met my friend near the venue at the Asian supermarket there and we had a good hour and a half to go before the start time as printed on the tickets, so we headed over to a Korean/Chinese restaurant, where he nibbled at a braised beef-and-vegetable something-or-other with rice and I had a seafood crispy noodle bowl. I resisted my urge to order something sweet to finish up and we headed out across the road to the stadium.
We passed scalpers and despondent-looking fans on the way to the upper level security checkpoint, and I touched the tickets in my pocket again to reassure myself of them -- I'd paid way too much for them to lose them at this point. We waited a good 20 minutes or so in line, which was better than I thought, and passed a disappointingly brief frisking for recording devices and the like; had I known that the security would be that lax, I could have smuggled in a camera, a cell phone, and about three mp3 recorders without anyone realizing it.
Once inside, we made a beeline for our seats and sat through the last five or six songs of the opening act, Kings of Leon. I honestly wasn't impressed, even though I'd never been to a bona fide concert before, and the rest of the crowd that was seated didn't seem to be either, as the hum of conversation was steady. To be honest, the singer sounded like he had gargled with razors that morning, and the songs lacked variety. One fan in the "bomb shelter" (the inside of the circular catwalk) seemed to like them, though, and was jumping up and down. Glad someone was enjoying the show. My friend entertained himself (and me) by imitating Animal from the Muppet Show (no wonder I love him).
The Kings of Leon finished up their set and left the stage, and the recorded music came on for what eventually came to seem like forever. I caught myself yawning a few times and very much wondering when the show was going to start. Finally, the stage manager came out onstage and greeted the crowd, then mentioned that one of the projectors was experiencing technical difficulties and that the show would be delayed, at which the crowd groaned, and we settled back for some more canned music. About 15 minutes after the announcement, the projector came on, and the cheer was immediate and loud. Another couple of canned songs, and the lights went down...
An ambient chord began to hum through the speakers, backdrop curtains of lights modelled after those beaded curtains popular in the '70s came down around the stage, and the boys strolled out, taking their places as the tension mounted with the chord. And then they began to play.
The setlist was amazing. They opened with "City of Blinding Lights," the words to which I'd learned the day before due to their having replayed it over and over again for the video. Next, "Beautiful Day" (and it was that evening, wonderfully sunny and clear). The rest of the songs, in order: "Vertigo," "Elevation," "Gloria," "The Ocean," "New Year's Day," "Miracle Drug," "Sometimes You Can't Make It On Your Own," "Love and Peace or Else," "Sunday Bloody Sunday" -- after which Larry Mullen, Jr. wheeled out his drum kit out to the centre of the catwalk and kept playing, then let Bono take over -- "Bullet the Blue Sky," "Running to Stand Still," "Bad," "Pride (In the Name of Love)," "Where the Streets Have No Name" and "One." The audience applauded and cheered long and hard enough after that to be rewarded with an encore, which consisted of "Zoo Station," "Mysterious Ways" and "The Fly"; similar enthusiasm after that earned a second encore that consisted of "All Because of You," "Original of the Species" and "40."
The evening blew me away. I was unprepared for the fact that 20,000 people would almost perfectly sing backup vocals to several songs, most impressively during "Elevation." A bit of Bono's sense of humour showed through in a downtempo part of that song when he caught a balloon making its way around the bomb shelter and said slyly, "I wouldn't want to burst your balloon now, would I?" and then promptly did so, right against the microphone. His idealistic and humanitarian outlook was quite prominent in the evening; during an interval in "Pride" he spoke in remembrance of Martin Luther King Jr. and MLK's ideals while the stadium kept up the background chant of, "Oh oh-oh oh."
Between "Running to Stand Still" and "Bad," the projectors scrolled the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights while an accented female voice spoke the words aloud over the speakers. And finally, during the introduction to "One," Bono spoke of the One Campaign and gently ribbed Canadian prime minister Paul Martin, then urged audience members to call the Ottawa legislature and pressure Mr. Martin to donate to that cause. His speech is as follows:
I wanted to say something about your Prime Minister Paul Martin if that's all right. Now I told him I'd be a pain in the arse. I suppose this week I became one of many pains in the arse, that is.
That's sad in a way because I am a fan of Paul Martin and I do believe he's a good man and I believe we're going to figure this thing out. What I'm talking about for those of you who are new to this is I think he's a great leader for Canada but that's what we want him to do -- we want him to lead Canada. We want him to lead the world out of despair and poverty.
Canada has a leading role to play and that is possible this year, at this year's G8. It's a Canadian idea -- point seven per cent. And it's a brilliant idea. Less than one per cent of what Canada makes in a year. and I believe that if you people believe in it. I believe that Paul Martin is the kind of person to listen to you.
And there is a twist in the digital campaigning for Africa tonight. People are not invited to join the campaign but to call the Prime Minister himself -- just like ZOO TV days when the powerful got a call from the stage. But this time, we're post-irony and this time it's the U2 fans making the call.
I thought it might be good if we made a call to Paul Martin. Take your phones out. If anyone would like to take their cell phones out I think I've got Paul Martin's number. These are dangerous little devices, these cell phones.
We want to make poverty history. This is the year. This is our prayer and we are more powerful if we work together as one.
Source of the speech's transcript: U2.com
Unfortunately, the number that was flashed on the projection screens had the wrong area code for Ottawa, meaning that some answering machine in Saskatchewan or someplace is now likely holding a very nice bootleg of the song.
My personal highlight was hearing "Where the Streets Have No Name"; the $165 price tag for each of the two tickets I had bought would have been worth it to hear that song live. If you find a bootleg of the concert, if you listen carefully, you may hear a frenzied feminine shriek at the very, very beginning of that song, when the band has decided on the next song but anyone not listening for it would still not be sure what it is; that would most likely be me. But the evening ended so beautifully, long after the curfew, with "40." Bono saluted the crowd with, "...thank you...good night. God bless," and left the stage while the crowd picked up the refrain. After offering a guitar solo, the Edge left the stage; then Adam Clayton carried on the bass for a few measures longer before he, too, left. Larry was left to carry on the beat on his own until the Edge returned to escort him off the stage -- then Larry returned and launched himself to carry on the drumbeat for another few bars (to the great appreciation of the crowd), thus confirming my suspicion that he is the Second Coming.
The evening ended with an empty, blue-lit stage, and 20,000 people singing the refrain, "How long...to sing this song?" and rhythmically clapping their hands in the near-darkness until the lights came on, and the spell was broken, and the canned music returned, but the high remained, and I didn't cry until the day after, when I realized it was really over.