live entertainment · music

In the Howling Wind, Comes a Stinging Rain

It had to happen sometime.

For the first time since I started seeing them live back on the Popmart tour in 1997, I came away from a U2 concert disappointed.

I had muted expectations to begin with, having heard less than stellar reviews of tour openers in the past, but Vancouver was the closest stop to me this time and timing made it the most feasible of the shows to attend. Still, U2 are professionals, and I was excited to bring my boyfriend along for his first experience seeing Bono, Larry, Edge, and Adam.

We decided on a quick in-and-out trip to Van City, arriving late Thursday night with the concert the following evening. Because I’ve only been to Vancouver once before (also to see a concert, the inimitable Bruce Springsteen) I wanted to do some sight-seeing the day of the concert, even if that meant foregoing lining up for prime rail spots. My boyfriend lived in Vancouver for a time, too, so I wanted to see his old haunts. At any rate, although Ticketmaster sent out an email suggesting that concertgoers arrive as early as 5:30 for the show, I figured that was more for those who wanted a “good” spot on the floor. I would have been perfectly content back near the soundboard.

And so we went about our day, which culminated in a lovely dinner at Patsara on Seymour Street, just a few blocks from BC Place. After dinner, we arrived at the stadium and once we determined which direction our appointed gate was, we started walking towards it. And we kept walking. And walking, and walking… and walking. Finally, we arrived at the end of the line up shortly after 6:30 (it took us over 20 minutes to find the end of it, blocks away and around the corner from BC Place).

I can assure you, dear reader, that I have NEVER been in a lineup of that length for a concert, ever. Hopeful that it would move quickly, we took our place and were joined by Jon and Crystal, a mid-20s couple from Calgary who were undeniably, irredeemably blotto. In particularly bad shape was Crystal, who took a keen interest in my hair (which at the moment is the shade “Runway Red” from Vidal Sassoon, for those interested). After chatting with our newfound provincial compatriots (just be nice to, and then mostly ignore drunks), Crystal declared that not only was my hair awesome, but “I LOVE HER! OMG, YOU’RE SO CUTE! ISN’T SHE CUTE, JON? IF YOU GO!!!! IF YOU GO YOUR WAY I”LL GO MINE. ARE WE SO? ARE WE SO HELPLESS ALL THE TIME*”

*not the real lyrics

She and Jon alternated between screaming the incorrect lyrics of “Every Breaking Wave” with the incorrect lyrics to “Running to Stand Still” (plus accompanying howls) for the next two and a half hours.

Yes.

TWO AND A HALF HOURS.

Because that’s how long it took BC Place to get their shit together. Jon and Crystal aside, for the most part, people took the wait in stride for a long time, probably far longer than we should have, as the queue inched along with the clock ticking. However, when Mumford & Sons, U2’s opening act, started their set, the natives (and non-natives alike) grew restless. Soon, there was a low rumbling of complaints and worries that we would still be outside when U2 took the stage. Time seemed to speed up and slow down simultaneously. A few people pondered the likelihood of getting a refund. A few more debated the merits of using credit card entry. Jon and Crystal had a meltdown about missing Mumford & Sons and started butchering their songs. We inched along.

At one point, someone decided that regular floor ticket holders were surreptitiously getting in through the disabled entrance. (From all reports, this did happen until security caught on.) Crystal, in all her inebriated glory, decided to try her luck while Jon held the line. We inched along.

Some time later, someone behind Jon suggested that he should probably make sure that his completely blotto girlfriend was okay and not passed out in a gutter somewhere. Reluctantly, and only after assurances that we’d let him back in did he go check on her. Eventually Jon returned with Crystal in tow, almost literally, as by this point she had difficulty staying on her feet. More complaining. More inching.

Sometime during the evening, BC Place sent out the following tweet:

Eventually realizing this was a Herculean task, someone, somewhere higher up the food chain must have made an executive decision (after U2 agreed to delay their setlist start time) because suddenly the line was moving. Up the stairs, through two sets of switchbacks and suddenly, Gate E was in sight! A cursory bag check, a swipe of my credit card, some hastily slapped on wristbands and a short tunnel later, we were in! At 8:48 for what should probably have been a 9 p.m. set.

And so was everyone who had seated tickets. Only about a quarter to a third of the floor was full by then so we moved up as close as we could get. I could complain about how I got stuck behind two giant heads, but after two and a half hours of waiting, I was just ready for the show to begin. And mercifully, we lost Jon and Crystal in the rush to the gate (only after she flew into me and almost knocked me down).

Because of the delay in entry, it was nearly 9:20 by the time U2 took the stage, to the strains of “Sunday, Bloody Sunday.” Unlike previous tours, the stage setup wasn’t as elaborate, but the high-definition screen was glorious. There was a single catwalk in the shape of a Joshua tree where the band played the first handful of songs before reverting to the mainstage for the whole of the anniversary Joshua Tree album. Although I’ve heard a fair number of these songs live on previous tours, I was looking forward to some of the deeper cuts.

I wholly expected Bono to rip on Donald Trump before, during, or after “Bullet the Blue Sky.” Surprisingly, he waited (and was comparatively quite mild in his criticism than he was to either of the Bushes). The video accompaniment by longtime U2 collaborator Anton Corbijn enhanced the songs and was quite stunning at times in its own right. I’d be happy to see some sort of official release featuring his work.

Bono has struggled with his voice for a few years and as expected, he wasn’t able to hit the same notes as he has previously, especially in “With or Without You.” The long-anticipated “Exit” was almost half-sung, half-spoken, but was still a thrill to hear live.

But something was decidedly off on this night. Even “Where the Streets Have No Name” failed to elevate the crowd as much as it always has. Maybe Vancouverites, with their propensity for smoking pot (man, was it strong at times!) were just a little too mellowed out. The crowd was lackluster at best, something I’ve only experienced in Toronto when the suits are there more to make an impression on clients and each other than to fully participate in the show.

Bono, Adam, Edge and Larry tried, though.

I did feel terrible for my boyfriend, who has never seen them live and came as both a favour to me and to see one of the biggest bands in the world, even if he isn’t a superfan. He did give credit to Larry, though, as being the glue of the band. He was impressed with his drumming and also with the production values, despite Bono sounding a little “muddy” on vocals.

For all the time we spent in line, the shortlist was comparatively short. After The Joshua Tree songs were complete, the band took a short break before returning for only one encore. The final song in the setlist was a new one, from the (eventually) forthcoming album “Songs of Experience.” Titled “The Little Things That Give You Away”, it was a curious choice to end the show with, as nobody in the crowd knew it and it wasn’t a rocker or a psalm (like “40”) to send us away with.

And so it was over, the lingering image a picture of Bono’s son Eli holding hands with Edge’s daughter Sian, the photograph a grainy black and white that recalled the types of poses you’d see in photographs of dustbowl-era America. Sian wore a helmet reminiscent of the one seen on Peter Rowan on a few of U2’s past releases.

And I couldn’t help feeling let down. Not solely because of BC Place’s inefficiency, but also by a staid setlist and a crowd that even Bono couldn’t get going.

So I didn’t find what I was looking for, but there’s always tomorrow.

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