Bobby caught a nasty cold this weekend past and was pretty much out of commission for the whole weekend. And I knew–just knew–that I would catch it too. By Tuesday. Because Tuesday was the day we were to see U2 in concert.
I don’t listen to many modern mainstream artists these days, and I don’t listen to any modern mainstream artists in profusion … except U2. I have loved U2, subconsciously at least, since before I even knew who they were, when I knew their songs for an undefinable energy that infused them. As I grew into music, of course, I learned who U2 was, but my musical tastes were so wild in those days and inspired as much by trends and what was being played at the latest high-school dance that I would not have defined myself as a fan, per se, of U2. As I grew older, though, and my tastes refined and then became just plain weird, most every artist that I listened to dropped out of my radar … except U2.
This was to be my second time seeing U2. The first time, Bobby, Potter, and I went to see them at Verizon nee MCI Center in DC. We were just married and very poor. Tickets were close to $100 for the back of the arena, and I’m pretty sure that that concert left us in credit-card debt for a couple of months. Alas. It was U2. The concert was awesome. I wanted to go again.
This time, U2 was at Fedex Field, i.e. the Deadskins Redskins’ stadium, and they were only $30. Not enough to go into debt for a second time over my passion for one of the few rock bands I actually listen to! Bobby talked up this show, too, for some massive crazy stage that was supposed to rotate and, for all he knew, manifest the Second Coming of Jesus. Or, it was supposed to be cool.
Monday afternoon (U2-1), I was sitting at my desk and got that awful feeling like scarab beetles were trying to crawl up the back of my throat. I was coming down with a cold. A few emphatic sneezes that were not caused by allergies sealed the deal. Fuck. I have a good immune system but, in just over 24 hours, I would be sitting in an outdoor arena, waiting for U2 to come on. No way could I get rid of the cold that fast.
So my best hope was to nurse it into submission, which Bobby and I did: orange juice, rest, and hot tea with whiskey. Tuesday afternoon, I was feeling pretty good as I drove to pick Bobby up from work for a quick dinner at Subway and then to brave the Capitol Beltway and. OMG. U2.
We got to the concert about an hour before the opening act was to come on stage. We went through security and got thoroughly frisked. (At which point, I have to pause and ask exactly why concert venues insist on practically stripping down their patrons and donning a rubber lubricated fingerlet? Has there ever, among the thousands of concerts that occur in the U.S. each year, been someone killed by a maniac at a rock show? It just seems so absurd. Surely, the risk is not that great. And, yes, before I’m cut off by a sniveling “But it’s worth it to be so much safer!” then, actually, yes, I would rather take the risk of being whatevered by said rock-concert maniac that to have to be frisked and searched every time I want to listen to a few hours of live music. Truthfully, it’s much more likely that I’m going to die while driving to the show on the Capitol Beltway than endure anything more than a hoarse throat and ringing ears after the show.)
After being frisked, we hiked up the looong ramp to the top of the stadium. About halfway up, an usher called out to us, “Stop here for Club Level!” and we kept hoofing. Club Level? As if! I’m glad that my fingerless gloves and ten-year-old Adidas gave the impression of Club Level, but the only time I’ve been past the tinted glass doors to a Club Level was when the Ravens played the Raiders in the 2001 AFC Championship and M&T Bank nee PSI Net Stadium hosted an (illegal but free) game viewing on the Jumbotrons from the Club Level. I told Bobby that the day we go to a show more prestigious than a Hershey Bears game and don’t have to walk to the topmost level will be the day that we no longer occupy our accustomed identities. Though we were at the topmost level, the seats were actually nearer to the bottom than the top, for once. And, with the round and very weird stage just off-center from midfield, we had a great view. True, Bono and Co. were rendered in miniature form, but it’s a music show. And with televisions now bigger than our house, the entire stadium got to see what Bono looked like without his sunglasses, the one time he took them off. I didn’t need to pay a few hundred dollars for that privilege.
The stage was weird. It looked like an enormous greenish spider with half its legs missing and covered in orange welts. It squatted over a round stage with a round bank of televisions hung like a bizarre ovipositor beneath its body, only instead of shooting out little spiders, it shot out different colored lights in dart and beams and, at the final encore, produced a dangling, glowing microphone-cum-tire-swing for Bono to play with. There was also a concentric ring of stage that was connected to the round stage by two bridges. I didn’t see how anything was going to rotate and the whole thing, frankly, looked bizarre and was mildly disappointing.
There were three people occupying the seats directly in front of us when we arrived. They were clearly Redskins’ fans, although I don’t know when they went to games considering how dramatic they were about how c-c-c-cold it was. (It was in the mid-50s F, a clear night, with a brisk wind. It was chilly, yes, but no c-c-c-cold. Not quite.) They had blankets and gloves and winter coats and sighed over the lack of hot chocolate and coffee at the concession stands and crowed with joy when a young man passing with such a coveted prize directed them where they could purchase some. They were obsessed with the diminutive size of the crowd. U2’s website insisted that the show had been sold out, but there was a smattering of fans on the field and most of the seats empty. I’m not sure if these people had never been to a concert before (eavesdropping on the man’s conversation, he’d seen every rock band under the sun at some point), but they were convinced that U2 was going to come on at precisely 7:30–no mind the opening act–and all these missing people were going to miss the show. I don’t know if they didn’t realize that there was an opening act or what.
An hour before a concert is ample opportunity for people-watching. One thing I cannot understand is why people go to concerts or sporting events and eat a meal at the stadium. Food is ridiculously overpriced and ridiculously underwhelming. Yet just about everyone who trudged up the steps to the left of us–we were at the end of the row–was carrying a tray of chicken strips or a pizza box or a wrapped sandwich. And a beer. At $8 for a skinny can ($9 for imports!), Bobby and I will buy a case and get drunk at home.
People-watching makes me really irritated with people after a while. I think it’s because I stop seeing individuals and start seeing trends and thinking, “Who the fuck pays all this money for crappy stadium food when there are a half-million restaurants right off the Capitol Beltway?!” I start to notice how they wear their hair the same and dress the same and get irritated at their sameness.
Thankfully, Muse came on and the lights went out and I couldn’t see their annoying sameness anymore. Although this ushered in a whole new wave of annoying people trying to find their seats in the dark and asking, “What row number is this?”
Down the row from us was a group of young women who, I think, weren’t there to see U2 but were there to see Muse. The one woman shrieked–and I do mean shrieked, like concert-maniac-murderer-man who managed to avoid frisking was planting an ice pick between her shoulder blades; I kept looking down the row just to make sure that she was okay–throughout the opening act until the people who owned the seats they were occupying arrived, and the Muse fans and Shrieking Woman went further up top and shrieked elsewhere.
After Muse was done, the roadies teemed like ants onto the spider-stage. Muse wasn’t allowed to use the outer ring of the stage or the bridges; they were, I told Bobby, the big-boy stage, and Muse didn’t have their big-boy panties on that night. I like watching the roadies, particularly when they hoisted four enormous rigs piled with follow-spot operators up underneath the spider’s legs. I would like to sit up there and watch U2 every night, but I suppose a lot of people would say that. Bobby bought us a tray of nachos (but not a meal!) and a soda to share during the break. The sun was set and–despite the fears of the three folks in front of us–the arena was packed. It was no longer so c-c-c-cold.
Then U2 came on.
I’ve written all of this and, yet, it’s hard to describe the show. I’ll try. I’ll begin by saying that U2 is as close as this agnostic comes to a religious experience. I often try to put into words how their music affects me, and it comes down to two metaphors. Some of their songs are like standing on a high tower with a brisk wind in your hair: You feel a connection, however tenuous and swaying, to the earth but, mostly, you feel the wind and the sun and the freedom of the open sky above you. Or, their music makes you look in close at a wood-grained table under your hands, and you see the small swirls and the dirt in the grooves, at once beautiful and sordid. There is a line in The Silmarillion that says what I mean too. (Yes, I am totally about the quote The Silmarillion in a post about U2):
And this habitation might seem a little thing to those who consider only the majesty of the Ainur, and not their terrible sharpness; as who should take the whole field of Arda for the foundation of a pillar and so raise it until the cone of its summit were more bitter than a needle …
Or there is this great uplifting beauty but also this terrible, keen perception. As I said, it’s hard to put into words.
They opened up with a few of their new songs. I don’t know song titles, so I can’t say which, though I could sing along with the words. They did play “Magnificent” (which I have in my head right now). And the spider stage came to life! And did, in fact, turn out to be very, very cool. No, the whole thing did not rotate, but the two bridges would sweep in from either side, and the band would walk out around the outer ring like a big track with fans on both sides. Aside from depositing dollops of light here and there, the television screens under the spider broke into pieces and descended like a cascade; an interesting and beautiful effect. The spider itself–with its absurd greenish skin and orange pox–took on the hue of the spotlights shined onto it, and the stage seemed to completely change in appearance a dozen times during the show.
At times, the crowd was singing so loudly together that they drowned out Bono.
At times, I would just close my eyes and let the music thrum inside of me and let whatever images arose dance across my imagination.
They played “The City of Blinding Light.” This is one of my favorite songs and one that captures, in music, the feeling of awe in looking upon something of unimaginable splendor. My imagination soars to amazing places during this song.
“Sunday Bloody Sunday” is another of my favorites, but this one twists my heart in its fists for all the pain that has been done in the world and continues to be done. There is no imagination involved here. This song is one that reveals blight all the more painful for the beauty of the world it mars.
They did two encores. The first encore opened with “Where the Streets Have No Name,” which may have been the first U2 song that my maturing tastes recognized as possessing something special that other songs lacked. It continues to be one of my favorites, to this day.
The show ended, eventually, and we walked back out into the stadium with the memory of the music still heavy in our ears, then back down the endless ramp to the parking lot. Fedex Field handles parking with the usual ineptitude of any venue in the twenty-mile penumbra of idiocy that encircles DC, and it took an hour to even get out of the parking lot. Yet, as I told Bobby today, we were amazingly un-upset about that fact. It was the magic of U2. It was an amazing concert.