579 days. The wait between the announcement of the U2 concert at Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton and the moment that Bono, Edge, Adam and Larry actually arrived to the strains of David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” was long, but worth every second. At the risk of relying on overly used cliches, June 1 really was a beautiful day, warm and bright under a blue Alberta sky. Having heard that the general admission lineup was already attracting a number of fans, I was anxious to take my place. My sister and I arrived at Gate 6 at around 1:00 PM, and were already #684 and #685 in the queue. Not letting this deter us, we spent the afternoon chatting with other fans, from the woman who was waiting for her husband to get out of school to join her in line to Amy and her friend to the woman who had a gigantic poster made from one of the Pop photoshoots and wanted to get it autographed by the band (no word on if it ever happened, though someone from U2’s team did try to make it happen). Speaking of Team U2, a woman came out to the line at around 2:30 and announced that the first 2000 fans in line would be wristbanded and allowed “into the inner circle.” Much excitement rippled down the line as people became aware of the policy. By this time, there were probably about 900 of us in line, so capacity had not yet been reached. Aside from this, I’ve done this enough to know that not all of those 2000 fans want to be in the circle. Had I had my wits about me when we were finally allowed in (more on that in a moment), I’d have booked it for the outside catwalk rail center/Edge’s side, which for my money, is probably the best location to see the whole spectacle from.
Still, I was with my sister, who has only seen U2 once before, and never from the floor, so…
Doors were supposed to open at 5 p.m., but for whatever reason (probably primarily that U2 didn’t arrive in Edmonton until late afternoon and only got to the stadium just prior to 5 for a truncated soundcheck), the doors didn’t open until about 5:20. After going through security, where they confiscated our red and white ballons (part of REDmonton, a fan campaign to welcome the band to our fair city and in support of Product (red) and One.org), we booked it down to the field. I shouted to my sister to head to the right, to Adam’s side, where we’d have a better chance of getting as close to the stage as possible. Finally, we arrived at our chosen location, right in front of Adam, 3 rows from the stage.
Despite the quick four hour wait in line, it was the next 3.5 hours waiting for U2 to take the stage that seemed interminably long. Still, one of the best things about the GA line and the GA floor is meeting other U2 fans. On this evening, we met Amy and her friend in line, along with the two Johns who were just behind us in the pit. It was a pleasure to meet each of them.
But finally, it was showtime. The Fray, best known for their hit single “How to Save a Life” made popular on ABC’s “Grey’s Anatomy” took the stage late and ran through a short set that I quickly forgot. It’s not that I dislike the band, exactly, it’s just that they’re nothing to write home (or on a blog) about.
Finally, shortly after 9 p.m., the strains of David’s Bowie’s “Space Oddity” announcement U2’s imminent arrival.
Ground control to Major Tom
Ground control to Major Tom…
Liftoff! U2 began with “Even Better Than the Real Thing”, from 1991’s Achtung Baby, time-travelled back a decade to Boy‘s “I Will Follow”, and zoomed back to the future with the first single, “Get on Your Boots”, from their latest effort, No Line on the Horizon.
The remainder of the setlist included:
- Mysterious Ways
- Until the End of the World
- All I Want Is You – Needle and the Damage Done (snippet)
- Beautiful Day – Heart of Gold (snippet)
- Miss Sarajevo
- City of Blinding Lights – Singin’ In The Rain (snippet)
- Vertigo – Rocking in the Free World (snippet)
- I Can’t Stand the Rain (snippet) – I’ll Go Crazy (remix) – Discotheque (snippet) – Life During Wartime (snippet) – Please (snippet)
- Sunday Bloody Sunday
- Walk On – You’ll Never Walk Alone (snippet)
During the evening, Bono introduced his bandmates by telling a story about hitchhiking in West Vancouver the previous day and being picked up by none other than Oiler Gilbert Brule. He went on to evoke Edmonton’s athletic success by comparing Edge, Larry and Adam to Oiler superstars of the past: Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier and Grant Fuhr, to the delight of the crowd. The main set concluded with the customary homage to Aung San Suu Kyi, the Burmese politician imprisoned for almost the entire two decades from the date of her election in 1990 until November 13, 2010. For U2, and particularly for Bono, the political message was toned down from previous incarnations on the tour, but perhaps was more effective in its new-found subtlety. The message was simple: your voice matters. You can make a difference. You made a difference. So keep making a difference.
Previous to this moment of enlightenment, a light rain had begun to fall, prompting Bono to snippet “Singin’ in the Rain” and dance with an umbrella while roadies took care of setting up umbrellas over Larry’s kit and the other equipment on stage. Speaking of Larry, as the rain fell, he was out on the catwalk and threw his snare drum to one of the techs and ran back to the main stage, effectively nullifying any good opportunity that I had to see him up close or take a decent picture of him.
Despite this, U2, as always, did not disappoint. Because of the late start time and aware that they were likely running up against curfew, I was worried that they wouldn’t make it through the encore, but I needn’t have worried. U2 are consummate professionals and they always give the fans their money’s worth.
The encore opened with “One”, a song with myriad interpretations, but a universal message. It was followed by a snippet of The Shirelle’s 1960 hit “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow” (written by Carole King), and then the song that is live U2 for me – “Where the Streets Have No Name.” Streets is, quite simply, magic. It sends shivers up my spine, makes me feel united with my fellow U2 fans, makes me feel joy and wonder and see beauty. It’s a transcendent moment and I’m always left feeling blessed when I’ve been lucky enough to have Bono, Edge, Adam and Larry perform it live for me (and all those fellow fans).
Following Streets, U2 settled into the rest of the now-familiar encore: “Hold Me Thrill Me Kiss Me Kill Me”, a one-off from the Batman Forever soundtrack, “With or Without You”, perhaps one of U2’s best known ballads, and finally wrapped the show with a shout-out to the victims of the Slave Lake forest fires, with “Moment of Surrender”, during which Bono instructed those in attendance to hold up their cell phones and light up the night like the Milky Way. Standing back, listening to U2 play us home, seeing the brilliant scatter of light over the stadium, I felt happier and more at peace than I have in some time. That’s what U2 does for me. That’s why I am a fan, and why, despite not always loving everything they do, I have been a fan for over half my life and why I will follow them anywhere.
And I will. See you July 11, 2011 in Toronto, guys!