How do you tell the story of the greatest rock experience of your life? Well, I suppose you would start from the beginning…
4:30 am, April 6 2001. I decided to get up this early because I didn’t finish my laundry the night before, but to be perfectly honest, I knew I couldn’t sleep that long anyway. I couldn’t sleep as soon as my head hit the pillow 3 hours before that. So I trudged out of bed and slumped down the stairs towards the washer and dryer to dry my suit for work. After transferring my suit to the dryer I pulled myself back up the stairs, and made my way into the bathroom to groom myself for the day.
I looked into the mirror at my shockingly messy curly hair that I slept on wet the night before, and combed out the tangles. I wanted to do something extra special with my hair for the occasion. So I wetted my hair and let it curl up and wandered back into the bedroom. I threw together a change of clothes in my gym bag to change into after work, and tossed my ticket in with my clothes. My choice of wardrobe: a ribbed tank top with the number one written in blue rhinestones (“One”, having significant meaning.), my brand new dark jeans jacket, and dark cropped jeans trimmed with red rhinestones, topped off with my comfy brown sandals that match everything.
The next hour and a half was spent slowly applying my make up and staring off into space until I heard the dryer’s buzzer go off. I checked my face and hair in the mirror and rushed expediently down the stairs and quickly dressed in front of the dryer. It was time to go.
I ran upstairs and slipped on my shoes and grabbed all of my things to meet my father in the kitchen. We meet there every morning before we make the morning commute to work. Unfortunately I was not met with a cup of coffee, but with a plate of peaches. It had to suffice; I just prayed that food would make up for the lack of energy I lost the night before. We ran out to the car and hit the road.
I had to stop at Casey’s house first to drop off my bag of clothes. The reason: I lied. It’s very hard to get time off granted at work, so I told my boss that I had a very important court appointment I couldn’t get out of. In that case she granted me time off to leave work 3 hours early. But showing up to work with a bag of clothes to change into wouldn’t look good, so Casey and I agreed it would be best to leave my clothes with her for when she picked me up at 2:00.
So it was off to work, where I spent the next 6 and a half-hours, from 7:30 am to 2:00 p.m. being bored and restless out of my mind. I spent time on the computer surfing the net, writing emails, helping clients and answering phones. Finally 2:00 o’clock came and I made a beeline for the front door, where Casey was waiting for me out front.
So it was off to the Pepsi Center, making a couple of quick stops for gasoline and lunch on the way. I also made a quick change in the Men’s Bathroom of the Conaco station, but that’s a whole other story. As we pulled into the Pepsi Center parking lot, I watched the flashing marquee in the middle of the lot. It flashed “U2 Friday April 6 7:30 p.m.—SOLD OUT”. I was so there!
We parked and quickly ate our lunches, with a make up fix following. At about 2:30, we joined everyone else in line. We chatted with some people who had been there since 5:30 in the morning, and others who had been following U2 since Miami. Though verbally I expressed they were out of their minds, I secretly envied their financial/responsibility freedom that enables them to follow their favorite band. I was jealous!
I sent Casey around to the radio booths to score free stuff, and to kill time. I could tell she was getting extremely restless standing in line, so I hoped it would take her mind off the wait. She came back about 15 minutes later with her hands full of goodies such as key chains, balloons and magnets with radio logos on them. I wandered to the booths myself and entered contests in hopes of winning "Pit Passes" from the radio stations, and other prize packages. Normally I would never show up to a concert early enough to notice the radio booths, but I was extremely thankful they were there. They proved to be useful for "killing time".
As I was carrying on conversation with one of the radio personalities, Casey quickly called me over to receive my wristband, which was supposedly to get me inside "The Heart", and onto the General Admission Floor. I asked around to 5 different people what "The Heart" was, and I got 5 different answers, so I decided to wait. I later found out after arriving inside the arena that the first 350 people to be inside the arena got to be inside "The Heart", which I will go into detail about later.
So they crowded the first 350, which included Casey and myself, up by the door to "The Can" (nickname for the Pepsi Center). We stood there squished together for the next 2 hours. People passed the time by with chit chatting, and cheering. The highlight was when radio station personalities started to toss around balloons with their logo on them, and the crowd jubilantly went along, volleying them back and forth. Some that were knocked along had pictures of band members hastily drawn on them with markers. Others read "Elevation-2001". Altogether, the crowd was enjoying bopping about a lot of balloons. That is until the security guards started to snatch them out of the air and pop them. The crowd responded with a short boo, and went back to standing and chatting, but it wasn't before I managed to get some snapshots of Casey blowing up her own balloon, and sky shots of balloons being passed around.
3 hours and fifteen minutes passed, and they finally let the 350 of us in, and left the other thousands standing outside looking very pissed. But it didn't bother us. We had been standing in the same spot for 2 hours, and Casey was starting the get cranky, so the rest of the crowd didn't bother us one bit. They grouped us inside where they shouted out instructions on how to get inside of the arena and into "The Heart". We couldn't hear a word of what the man was saying, so we went about waiting for the next 15 minutes to pass by to run into the arena. After that 15 minutes were up, we rushed past the gate attendant scanning tickets, and decided to make a quick stop at the T-shirt table before they all sold out. One thing we did hear the shouting gentleman say was, "Take your time, you don't have to rush." So we did, only to miss our chance on being inside "The Heart", because they hastily let in the other thousands of people whom had only been waiting a short time, and a few of them beat us to it.
So after that we took our time getting our T-shirts, and key chains, and wandered into the arena, and picked a perfect spot along the railing right in front of "The Heart".
Okay, now to explain what "The Heart" is. The Heart is a large heart-shaped catwalk that arched at the stage and pointed in the middle of the floor. It was open in the middle, where the 350 people who beat us in stood. It was painted red, naturally, and it had lights framing the outside of the walk.
The stage was opened in the back, so the people seated behind it wouldn't have an obstructed view. The stage itself was stripped raw. I had never seen a U2 concert before in my life, but I heard stories of their previous tours being very exuberant and well set. Donned with large screens and extravagant stage and light set-ups (i.e.--giant lemon shaped disco-ball the size of a VW). This was an extreme opposite.
The following hour from 6:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. consisted of us doing more standing. We did take the time to chat with a few of our neighbors, but most of the time we spent getting to know the security guard standing in front of us between the rail and the catwalk. We chit chatted about where we were from, and what we did for a living. He talked about his family and pointed them out in the crowd. I regret not asking his name, because he was kind enough to take a picture of Casey and I together, and explain the rules on cameras: No flash photography. Which meant I would have to cover up the flash of my cheap Disposable Kodak Camera. He also explained the show schedule.
PJ Harvey opens at 7:30 and plays for 45 minutes until 8:15. Following is a half-hour intermission, which leads to U2's entrance at 8:45. Then they would play until 11:00. My only thought: We only get 2 hours and 15 minutes with U2? Can't we skip the opening act?
I had only heard of PJ Harvey before that night through reviews and hearsay, but from what I'd heard, she was supposedly very good. So I must make it clear that I approached her music very open-mindedly. I do not recall the names of her songs, but she launched with a very seductive opener, which I believe was about "going down". I won't go into detail. After that, and through out the rest of her line up, she followed with a very quiet "Thank You". Her music was not bad, please don't get me wrong, but she did not connect with the audience at all. I almost felt snubbed by her. It almost seemed as if she didn't want be there. But it could have just been me, because a good deal of the audience responded to her with great zeal. Especially the gentleman behind me who sang, and danced along to every word, while I did not recognize a note.
So throughout her set, I stood and propped myself against the rail, and tried not to fall asleep. I had also been going on 3 hours of sleep, and my thirst was evolving into extreme irritation. One crewmember passed by me with a package of bottled water, which irritated me even further. Now you're thinking, "Well why don't you just leave the floor and get a drink?" And lose my spot?! No way! So I stuck it out. It could have been worse. I’ve heard stories of some concerts that the performer wouldn’t allow any of the audience members leave to go to the bathroom, get food or drink because it drew attention away from their performance. Can we say, “Green Eyed Monster”, Mr. Denver? No disrespect of course.
PJ Harvey finally ended her set after the longest and sleepiest 45 minutes of my life. Following was the intermission. It was rather uneventful, except for the drunken woman who shoved her way in next to me, and tried to shove me off of the bar to take my place. I wasn't having that, so we spent most of the evening grinding sides, bumping elbows and knocking knees to keep my place.
A half-hour passed, and just as I started to wonder where they were the audience started to roar. Casey started to scream, "There they are!" and of course I couldn't see them. I was expecting the lights to go out and a dramatic musical build up, but they simply strolled onto the stage, and made a launch into "Elevation" from All That You Can't Leave Behind that was in itself absolutely thrilling with the lights on. Then just at the bridge the lights dropped out, the heart-shaped catwalk lit up, and stage lights blasted the band into sight. The audience screamed with delight, and heartily sang along. I myself screamed and sang along, while also snapping photos of the opener. Flash free of course.
Bono said a quick hello, and they led on into my song. Now I type my song this way because it has become my mantra. Now I don't know if that is the right word for it, so let's just say it's my theme song. "Beautiful Day". Simply put. Quick story: On the day I decided to make a huge life changing decision and leave my job, I was feeling extremely scared and rather depressed about the future. I was driving towards the Rocky Mountains on a warm Fall day, and I switched the radio on, and this was the song I heard. All in that 4 minutes and 8 seconds, a whole new path opened up, and I saw a new light to everything. It was all going to be…okay. As long as I kept it all in the right perspective. It's amazing how much a song can affect a persons point of view, life, mind, and heart.
The way Bono moved about the stage was enough to fill the room with enough energy to power up California. When he finally moved out on the catwalk, the crowd behind me quickly pushed forward, and hands flew above my head. So to get in on the action, my arms and hands joined the out stretched hands in hopes of a touch, hand shake, or high five. No-such-luck on my part. I will skip ahead by saying, that even though I was close enough to yank the mans trousers off, I did not receive the highly demanded touch, hand shake, or high five. I did get something a little better, but I won't skip ahead too far.
"Beautiful Day" wrapped, and Bono followed by asking, "Where are we?" Of course a very respondent crowd screamed with answers of "DENVER!!!". And Bono reminisced of recording "Under A Blood Red Sky" at Red Rocks, and thanked collaborator Berry Fey, and the city of Denver. I must admit I joined in on the fanfare: screaming, jumping up and down, dancing, and yes, a little bit of crying. I felt like a 10-year-old at a NSync Concert with front row seats. But the band was good. Real good. And real too!
They jammed into "Until the End of the World", where Edge playing some ripping guitar, and Bono used his fingers as fake horns to imitate a Bullfight, and at the end slid down flat on his back. Edge stood over him, looking empowered and energetic. Incredible.
Which led on to "New Year's Day" (Casey's favorite song), and "Stuck in a Moment". Bono kindly dedicated it to his late friend Michael Hutchence, followed by "Gone" and "Discotheque/Staring at the Sun". If memory serves correct, proceeding these songs was Bono's euphoric introduction of the band. He introduced Adam the base player as the original producer of the band, and the guy who hasn't changed his hair cut in 15 years. Larry as the founder of the band, and a guy who can sure play the drums but can't sing for shit. And lead guitar player The Edge (who donned an orange T-shirt that had John Elway's glittery jersey number 7 on it) as a man with a brain so big, he has to wear a hat.
"New York" turned out to be the flashiest part of the show, literally. Several white screens dropped from the ceiling surround the heart on either side. As Bono launched into song, the band member's silhouettes were projected onto the screens by spotlight, and when the song went into heavy disco-like interlude's strobe lights flashed heavily off of the catwalk, creating an almost enormous rave-like environment, while Bono danced exuberantly in front of the screens.
"New York" was followed by, well; "I Will Follow". They launched into "Sunday Bloody Sunday" which wrapped with an encouraging rendition of Bob Marley's "Get Up, Stand Up", as Bono clapped about the stage encouraging the audience to sing-along.
After this next sweet song, Bono explained it to be the most expensive apology ever. I'm referring to "The Sweetest Thing", that Bono sauntered behind the keyboard and sang the sweetest dedication to his wife, for forgetting her birthday. He explained that after presenting the song to her, she demanded the copy and publishing rights. Though she owned the rights to it, Edge decided to add it to the Best Of… album. Bono joked, "What do copy and publishing rights mean anyway?"
Before going into his explanation following the song, some audience members in "The Heart" spread a sheet above their heads that read; U2 IS THE SWEETEST THING. In which Bono responded by taking it and wrapping it around him self in a very Elvis-like fashion, and strutted down the catwalk before returning it to the fans.
And now the moment you've been waiting for (not really I'm sure): my moment with Bono. The band played sweetly into "In A Little While", while Bono swooned about the catwalk. I can tell you the exact moment it happened: I was singing along, with my right arm in the air waving about to the rhythm. I had stripped off my jeans-jacket earlier, so my arms were bare. Just as he hit the part, "Spanish eyes…" he sauntered right in front of Casey and myself. He looked at Casey and looked at me, and then suddenly I became very aware of the large embarrassing red strawberry shaped birthmark located on the underside of my arm, and yanked my arm back down. To which he responded with a sweet smile, and moved back down the catwalk.
For a moment I almost thought he looked at the breasts of the drunken woman who was shoving into me. I could understand, they were falling out of her halter-top, which I'm sure was planned on her behalf. I couldn't help looking myself. She was very tall and her chest was eye-level to me, so every time I glanced her way, I was met with an eye full of female anatomy. No thank you very much.
So that was my moment. Brief? Yes. Seems silly to you? Probably. Special to me? I would have to say…yes. If you asked Bono about it today, he wouldn’t know what you were talking about. But that glance and smile I received that night was a lot more than the thousands of other screaming fans received.
He then explained the next song, "The Ground Beneath Her Feet", written by Solman Rushdie, and swooned on, followed by "Bad-40".
They played on into "Where the Streets Have No Name", in which Bono responded to "I want to run…" by running quickly around the catwalk as the crowd and myself reached out to him. Bono had a way with the girls that night. The way he moved about the stage was enough to get a screaming rise out of anyone. He would gyrate his hips, take off his jacket just enough to flash a bit of shoulder, lean into the audience, and crouch down in front of a group of hungrily adoring female fans, and sing. The estrogen level was pounding. And it maniacally rose when they slid into "Mysterious Ways", when Bono snuck upstage and lay himself across a black platform that raised itself to reveal a silhouette of a slithery, sexy dancing woman against a colored background. He danced across other screens that revealed the same, and danced with the woman in front, until the encore of the song when they all rose together as Bono stood triumphantly atop them. Magnificent!
Wrapping into "The Fly", probably the largest incident of the night, if memory recalls, was when Bono was dancing about the catwalk, and a I'm sure overly elated audience member in the stands felt it necessary to throw a large cup of ice onto the catwalk. Just as Bono turned around to walk down the catwalk, he saw this and almost slipped, but quickly backtracked as he continued to sing. A quick recovery as the stagehands brushed and dried the ice off the catwalk. I was quietly hoping the insubordinate audience member was quickly removed out of the stadium, dragged out to the parking lot and was thoroughly flogged about the head and shoulders with a large shoe for their rude behavior. But I wouldn't never really wish that on another human being, for I am a member of Amnesty International, and do not believe in purposeful human suffering…jerk.
And the most surprising moment of the night: At the end of "The Fly", as Bono crouched towards the audience at the point of "The Heart", he jumped off of the stage and dashed into the crowd, quickly disappearing from eyesight. Very unexpected, and an exciting surprise for the audience members he ran into.
With this, the band exited the stage, and the lights dropped, leaving a very elated crowd screaming in the dark, aching for an encore.
For what seemed an eternity of screaming in the dark with thousands of other hungrily awaiting audience members, the screens on the rear of the stage raised to reveal Charlton Heston preaching his gospel on gun control. Now I expected in the state of Colorado, where the tragic Columbine incidents second anniversary was approaching in 3 weeks, that an extreme amount of jeers and hissing would follow. No such thing. It was almost as if the arena fell eerily and respectively silent, straining to hear what the man had the nerve to spout off about gun control. I felt like the worlds most insensitive jerk for being one of the only few persons in the entire arena to boo.
It was after that they re-emerged, met with an intense welcome from the arena. The band took their places and immediately crept into “Bullet the Blue Sky”. I must say that before that night, I had never heard “Bullet the Blue Sky” before, because I didn’t have the complete U2 collection (which was quickly remedied the following day). In my first experience hearing this song, my mind was opened. As flashes of war, guns, and innocent faces flashed across the screen behind, the man crept across the stage preaching his gospel. Edge ripped into his guitar creating a feeling that pounded through your chest into your soul. Bono slunk about the stage with a spotlight flashing it onto the band members and into the audience, almost as if he were searching for…I don’t know what. But just as he turned the spotlight my way, the words echoed in my head: “Outside is America. Outside is America.” It was haunting and religious all wrapped into a seedy little package. I was so grateful.
Without a word they slipped into the song that first grabbed my attention, and earned my full appreciation of U2. “With or Without You”. I won’t go into any long or sad stories about memories of high school, but this song not only opened a whole word of music for me, but also digs up memories of old friendships, flings, and sadness. I wanted to grab them and thank them for all of the beautiful memories, but all I could do was let the tears slip down my face and thankfully sing along.
“One” was the song that has held so many meanings for me. It’s meant forgiveness, sadness, breakups, being left behind, madness and sickness, being there, and going back. When they followed “One” with “40” it was the final nail in my cross. It was a breakdown of my entire belief system.
Finally, a dedication to Aung San Suu Kyi of Burma, “Walk On”. “Love is not an easy thing, the only baggage you can bring, is all that you can’t leave behind”. So much said in one line. It’s amazing how a song can say so much about love, life, death, dedication, courage, and baggage all in a short 4 minutes and 55 seconds.
I have been to so many concerts that by the end I was so tired that I couldn’t wait for it to end and left excited to go home and slip into my bed. This time I didn’t want it to end. With a perfect ending song to a perfect night, a perfect life’s lesson, they thanked the crowd and exited stage right. Once again left in the dark screaming with so much passion and pleasure for a band that has been around for 20 years. A Band that has taught us so much about life, love, balance, and has opened our eyes to the world around us. It was not a rock experience, it was a religious experience. The only words that I am left with are: Thank you.