18th June, 32 degrees at 11 AM – London City, Twickenham Stadium, the house of English Rugby. I am standing there waiting for my tickets to realize a dream. 32 degrees, it’s pounding down, no tickets yet, they say they’re getting printed come back in an hour, I come back later, no tickets yet, I am pushing the panic button, bloody hell, where are my tickets, they’re asking me to relax, they’re gonna be here anytime, I can’t relax mate, I have been waiting for this day for way too long, I’m walking up and down in front of the box office, I am trying to threaten the guy on the other side, “What if I don’t get in on time and can’t get right up, what are you gonna do?” – he just says sorry and I feel more frustrated. I am listening to the various sound checks, “Love and Peace or Else”, “Who’s gonna ride your wild horses” – It’s gonna be a great show, if only I can get those tickets in my hands!! Finally 3.20 PM, they call out “Mr. Bhatt, your tickets, we apologize for the delay, may we ask you to walk all the way to the right and line up at gate F” – I went gate F – I am on the way to get f***** with a capital “F”
I walk up to Gate F and rats, there is like a swarm of people ahead of me in a long serpentine line that had 25 folds in it. I am still thinking “F*****”!!!, We’re slowly being edged into an enclosure, a security guard walks up to us, has a look at our tickets and straps something onto our hands, it says “Inner circle – Concert 1” – F*****g hell, I know what that means, I am in the “Bomb Shelter”!!! the heat, the dust, the waiting, the frustrations of the day, the anger, the anxiety went poof in the air. I knew I was in, in where I expect to be, after 18 years of waiting.
Beers consumed, sausages devoured, we trundle into 2 levels of security checks right into the “bomb shelter”. Pushing and nudging a bit to get right smack in the center of the opening in the stage where the two ramps come down. Twin screens stand atop two enormous speaker towers and between them aluminium sleepers create a video wall that's at least 50 feet high. Athlete opened the show with Doves, I saw Athlete and think they were brilliant, good music, good lyrics and overall good performance, must be quite a kick for them to play to 700000 people.
9 hours had passed since I first reached the venue and the famous beats of the song that U2 marches into, go up loud in the air. That’s it the sons of rock and roll, walk up on stage, all wearing black. Quiet entrance, no smoke, no flash lights, and just 4 average heighted men in black clothes. They break into “Vertigo” and the crowd is reeling, or atleast I am reeling, my mind is spinning as if I really was at a place called vertigo…
They go through some real classics, ‘Electric Co.’, ‘I Will Follow’. Then Bono begins his showmanship, “Sexy London” he says while slowly getting the audience warmed up to ‘Elevation’. 70,000 people echoing oooh hoo hoo , ooh hoo hoo. Bono mouths out, “High, higher than the sun”, goes through the few lines, no other music, just the crowd singing along. The crowd expectantly and loudly goes “ELEVATION” towards the end of the first stanza, and Bono smiles, no music yet, he goes “Flirting, a little bit of flirting is alright in London Town right? Married man, flirting in London town”. The crowd goes wild, one more time still without the music, and finally, all hell breaks loose again! The crowd in a frenzy. E-LE-VA-TION!!!
Adam Clayton is standing 3 mts away from me, smiling down at the crowd, now he is smiling at someone at his eye level, damn that’s “The Edge” on the other side, 6 mts away from me, tearing away at his guitar and smiling back at Clayton. This is not happening.... could this be for real, I can’t zoom out enough on my camera to get a full body shot of these two guys, too close man too close… Bono is breaking into “New years day”, following it up with “Beautiful day” – damn you can say that again, that was one beautiful day and he closes with “Here comes the sun”. Next up, “I still haven’t found what I am looking for” – Bono runs down the ramp. The edge’s immaculate guitaring and the sun still shining bright. The crowd singing the song as Bono points his microphone out to the crowd. The song slowly segue’s into a sharp and very familiar guitar riff, “All I want is you” – Bono announces “We’re being broadcast live on BBC” – the audience is singing, bono is leading a choir of 70,000 crazy fans. I had to shut my mouth and listen and enjoy that feeling of the crowd singing along. I realize it’s been 9 songs and they’ve only sung 1 song from HTDAAB.
The lights start shining on what so far looked like a shining piece of aluminium screen, the band starts off City of Blinding Lights, moving into Miracle Drug – Bono reaches out to a silver balloon from the audience, stretches out far and picks it up, dedicates the song to the “doctors and the nurses of the world – especially the nurses”, the crowd is loving his sense of humor. He let’s go of the balloon. Next up is “Sometimes you can’t make it on your own”, he dedicates it, “This one’s for my dad, Bob, I miss him a lot”. Beautiful animation on the screen of a man walking and the other side of the screen projecting Bono walking across the stage. Brilliant stuff. Yes Bono has eyeballs and you can see them when he takes his patented sunglasses off for this special number.
There is a drumset set up 2 mts away from me. When it’s pointed out, I actually gave out a hoot and pumped my fist in the air (maybe like a U2 bitch sort of shreik) I knew what was gonna happen. “Love and Peace or Else” right there next to me with Bono and Larry Mullen Jr. and then Bono doing a drum solo. We had chosen the right side of the ramp to stay closer to. One of my favorite songs from the new album and the boys were really bringing it down. This was up close and personal. Bono got his “C(Islamic Crescent )oeX(Star of David)isT(The Cross)” white band and wore it and started banging those drums towards the end of the song and finally threw the drumsticks, I didn’t want to fight to catch it, but I did try. The song moved so beautifully into “Sunday Bloody Sunday” – Bono got into his sermonic mode, talking about religions to coexist, pulling the headband down over his eyes reaching out to the mic like a blind man, pretending to have been chained, he continued the rendition of SBS, the sun’s gone down you can see the brilliant light effects depicting a war, bombs dropping, jets flying off – ‘Bullet the Blue Sky’ with snippets of ‘Hands that built America’, ‘Johnny comes marching home’ and ‘Please’. 85 mins into the concert and the band starts “Running to a Standstill” dedicated to men and women of Britain who have been fighting in difficult places in the world – brilliantly done and then a very abrupt start to “Pride (In the name of love), dedication to Martin Luther King, you can see the crowd going wild and if that was not enough, they break into “Where the streets have no name” with the African flags going down on the screen behind them. The real fireworks are coming on. The song that apparantely has kept U2 together, the song that has got them where they are, the song the band swears by – the song they say that’s made U2 what they are today . “One” with 35,0000 cellphones lighting up the whole stadium and Bono’s plea to join the “One” campaign. What a show these guys are putting up..
The band walks away from the stage at the end of the song, the crowd is going crazy… a short break and they are back and they are bigger than ever, the Popmart meets, ZooTV, meets Elevation extravaganza is on!! The slot machine on the big screen with leaders faces dropping off till you get a jackpot with the animation of the Zooropa album cover. Bono’s shadow figure cavorting on the big screens, and then suddenly he is on stage staring into a small camera and running through one of my favorite songs of all time “Zoostation” – this is what U2 is all about, the glamour, and the class, and the raw energy and this is what the man Bono is all about as well, the real showman, the guy who likes to show he’s a rock and roll renegade, he does not need to conform, he needs to rebel – the swagger in his walk, the sneer to the crowd, I am falling short of words, but this was it!!! this is what I wanted to see… Bono in his element. Brilliant effects with huge Z and the band members on the screen, no way to describe what they did with “Zoostation” and “The Fly”, they were really tearing it down here, ‘The Fly’ started with words and sentences flashing on the screen, if you’ve seen any Zoostation concert or Popmart, you’ll know what I am talking about, words become, sentences, become lies, fill in the blank spaces – disb lief, s ll your shirt, s ld your soul…. words and sentences throwing themselves on the screen. This was true U2, this was the bigger than life, spectacle one would expect of a band of U2’s size. The lights, the band, the atmosphere, the people, everything was seriously electric… Brilliantest shit I’ve ever seen… and that’s when they break into “Mysterious ways” – holy f****g shit… Bono is doing the belly dancer moves, he leans forward into the crowd, gestures to a girl, I am sure there were over a 100 hands going up and he says no , not you, that one, no no not you too, that one, you, ya you.. you’re the one, gestures security ‘bring her up’ – girl is on stage, Bono says, “take some pictures for us?” gives her one of those funky small video cameras, the girl is holding the camera and pointing it at the crowd, pointing it at bono, pointing it at the edge, the camera is upside down, Bono and the girl don’t know about the camera, TheEdge is gesturing at them to look up at the screen, to see what they’re doing, they don’t get the hint, once he has his hands free at the end of the song he helps the girl hold it right. The Edge is grinning and laughing away. The show is coming to an end, A slow acoustic rendition of “Yahweh” and they do a second edition of Vertigo and close the show with it, with a quick wave good bye and “The End” emblazoned on the screen, the show had come to an end. I have to say the end was disappointing – If you have 50 odd other songs to pick from, why play the same song twice in the same show, but I am not one to complain, the experience in itself was too overpowering and difficult to take in, in the 140 mins that U2 were on stage.
I am a happy fan, I am a good fan, I demand the best from U2 always and I don’t think this was the best they could do, I have heard and seen better concerts by them, but this was my first U2 – Live experience and I have to confess I was/I am a bit overwhelmed, I still sit and look at the pics and the videos I managed to capture. I am sure if they would have closed with ‘40’ or played ‘UTEOTW’ or ‘Bad’ – this concert would have been out of this world, but ya you can’t expect to get everything in one show, so I am waiting, waiting for the 13th of July, my second date with the boys who play rock and roll…. Amsterdam see you soon!!