My first U2 show – correction - my first U2 experience, because this was much more than just a show.
I arrived at the stadium around 1.00pm – at this stage temperatures were well into the thirties, one of the warmest days of the year so far. I immediately made my way to the GA queue, expecting thousands of people to be there in front of me. Instead, there was a queue of maybe 500-1000, with space set aside for much more. I negociated through the lanes which had been fenced off by Twickenham staff (there were 25 in total) and ended up in lane 19 (my lucky number). I couldn’t believe it when word reached me that everyone from lane 25-14 would get a wristband to get access to the ‘inner circle’.
I didn’t have long to wait either; at 2.00pm, wristbands were handed out. Everyone around was sweaty, dirty and tired, but the smiles on their faces were defiant. Our arms weren’t entwined, but we were the chosen few. Under a bright blue sky, we waited for another couple of hours, before being slowly let in. I must give a special mention to everyone who works at Twickenham – the organisation appeared effortless, which is a real sign that they had it spot on.
As soon as I was in the stadium, I bid my queue friends farewell, and went to refill my water bottle and take a minute in the shade. Once I had my place in the crowd, I was determined there would no turning back for me. I made my way onto the pitch, and into the inner circle. This covered the front third of the pitch, and contained around 4000 people.
In my wildest dreams, I had never expected to get so close. I hadn’t thought about it, so had no idea where the best place to stand would be. The Edge’s side seemed to be more crowded, so I decided to stand beside the b-stage on Adam’s side, only one person back from the barrier. A good choice, close enough to see the stage, far away enough to get a good view of the big screen and every so often, a member of my favourite band would come and stand less than 5ft away!
The first support act, Idlewild, came on at 5.30pm. Only about half the crowd was in, and although I thought they were pretty good, the biggest reaction they received was a round of applause from the inner circle at the end of each song. The singer summed it up when he said “it’s not easy to open for U2….we’re doing our best”.
Ash, the second support act, were excellent. They seemed to really enjoy being up there, and by the end of their set, had us bouncing up and down to Burn Baby Burn. They wanted to keep playing, but it was time to prepare for U2.
At 8.15pm, the Arcade fire came over the PA; the hardcore fans in the ellipse recognised this immediately, and started going bonkers (something they would be doing a lot throughout the show.) A few minutes later and U2 appeared, starting straight into VERTIGO. This time, everyone went bonkers.
I had been hoping for a bit of a setlist shake-up, and wasn’t disappointed when we had a surprise as early as the second song – ALL BECAUSE OF YOU. This song rocks. And the rocking continued into THE ELECTRIC CO. – I’m not sure but I think Bono mixed things up and changed some words for this. We also got a snippet of Nelly’s Hot in Herre around this point. It was indeed hot in here, but nobody’s enthusiasm was waning.
As The Edge started into ELEVATION, we needed no prompting to start our off-key, out of tune woo-oo-oo’s. I sincerely hope there were no tapers near me. Bono seemed pleased with our enthusiasm, and it felt like we were left singing on our own for longer than usual.
NEW YEAR’S DAY followed – Adam made his first visit to the b-stage here. As I have read in other reviews, he looked happy and relaxed throughout, and seemed to enjoy the show almost as much as us. The Edge made playing two instruments almost at once look effortless.
On what was truly a beautiful day, BEAUTIFUL DAY came next. As for the last 20 minutes, everyone went bonkers for this.
Bono asked the audience to “turn this place into a church” for I STILL HAVEN’T FOUND – hands above our heads we clapped along with Larry’s beat. All that was missing was the gospel choir.
The major surprise of the show for most people was WHO’S GONNA RIDE YOUR WILD HORSES. I say for most people, because those of us by the b-stage knew this would happen when Bono’s tech came out before the show and taped the words to the foot of the stage. He sang it over on The Edge’s side, so I don’t know if he had to use them or not. As a side note, the tech had a good sense of humour, sticking a piece of masking tape to a security guard’s back. Everything about this show was entertaining.
CITY OF BLINDING LIGHTS was the first real use of the big screen. This was a disappointment, as it was still bright and we didn’t get the full effect. The song was still good though, and Bono raised his hands to the air to ask for blessings as he released a balloon from the crowd and watched it float off into the sky.
The next song, MIRACLE DRUG, is one of my favourites from the new album; one of my favourites ever in fact. Bono dedicated it to the scientists who will “shape the future”. The Edge really excelled himself during this song, really rocking the choruses. (I’m running out of new ways of describing how much each song rocked now, so you can take it for granted that they all did, even if I don’t mention it.)
Bono sang SOMETIMES YOU CAN’T MAKE IT on Adam’s b-stage. He took his sunglasses off, you could feel the emotion as he sang. I stood in awe during this song; quite literally stuck in the moment.
This was followed quickly by another special moment. As The Edge started the intro for LOVE AND PEACE, Larry moved to our b-stage (it’s not Adam’s any more!). As soon as he reached his drum, he got into the beat and was soon joined on the b-stage by Bono. Bono drummed the song out surprisingly well as Larry made his way back to start into SUNDAY BLOODY SUNDAY. The lighting for this was amazing, with Coexist showing up clearly on the big screen and the band bathed in red light.
BULLET THE BLUE SKY was excellent. The Edge’s guitar was shown on the screen during the solo, a welcome view of a master at work. As he has before, Bono fell to his knees with the blindfold down over his eyes. Still blindfolded, he stood up at the end of the solo and stumbled towards the microphone. I was a little worried he would fall off when he walked too far to the left but thankfully tragedy was avoided when his outstretched hand hit the microphone stand.. A snippet of Please was sung as well as the usual When Johnny Comes Marching Home and The Hands That Built America.
Another favourite song of mine, RUNNING TO STAND STILL was dedicated to Aung San Suu Kyi on her 60th birthday. Bono sang Happy Birthday in the place of ‘still running…’ at the end of the song, followed by a little bit of Walk On. This part of the show overran into the declaration of human rights slightly, which was probably no bad thing. Rather than being a poignant moment in the show, this seemed to slow things down a bit, probably to give the band (and us) a chance to catch a breath.
This was breath we would surely need, as the next song was PRIDE, a show highlight. The crowd was bouncing, singing and clapping so much so that when STREETS started, I was a little tired, and probably didn’t get the full benefit. Adam came out to us again for this, still smiling.
The last song of the main set was ONE – dedicated to too many people to remember. No chants at the end of this – instead a chance – a chance to text your name in support of…all Bono’s causes I guess. I had no reception on my phone, so I’ll never know.
The first encore consisted of ZOO STATION and THE FLY. Not two of my favourite album tracks, but they were both amazing live with the screen really coming into its own now that it was totally dark. Zoo Station had been played a couple of time during the sound checks; I’m not sure but perhaps this was to test a part where Bono performed part of the song to a camera on the stage, with his image filling the screen. I don’t know if this was new or not.
The second encore started with WITH OR WITHOUT YOU. Bono, who obviously has an eye for the pretty ladies, danced with a female fan from the crowd as he sang. A little bit of Take Me To The Clouds Above was a welcome addition, and quite interesting that the band take an interest in covers of their songs.
YAHWEH, a late acoustic moment in the set, was accompanied by the most beautiful visuals of the night. This song really works well in its stripped down form, with The Edge’s backing vocals also beautiful. Just beautiful.
There’s been a lot talk about this next song; maybe too much talk. When you get to the bottom, you go back to the top, and so we arrived at VERTIGO. Planting myself quite firmly on the fence, I really enjoyed hearing this song again, and it definitely got the crowd going one last time, but I do agree that it would be nice to end with a different song, just because U2 have so much you want them to play. It crossed my mind to start singing 40 at the top of my voice, but I chickened out on the excuse that I didn’t want to subject my near neighbours to my own brand of vocal torture…
And that was it. My first U2 experience was over. And that was it.