Tuesday, October 13, 2009

U2, Sept. 12, 2009, Soldier Field, Chicago

I’ve totally neglected this blog for forever – the result of too much other ‘social media,’ I think.

But I have some shows to tell you about – in September I went to three U2 shows and got some great pics.

First I went to the two Chicago shows on Sept. 12 and 13th; I met a bunch of friends from across the country and abroad for the occasion, which was great – some I hadn’t seen in a few years, and some I hadn’t met in person before, so it was loads of fun catching up and/or getting to know one another. (California, Colorado, Florida, Ohio, Vermont, Illinois, Indiana, Australia, New Zealand, and Sweden, and I know I’m forgetting some. There was a large California contingent.)

I had general admission tickets, as one does. The Sept. 12 show (Chicago 1) was the North American tour opener, so it was a big draw. There’s a tradition at U2 shows that the fans organize the line, so it’s first come first serve and you get on a numbered list. This allows you to come and go during the day with a measure of security and makes it harder to cut in line (until chaos happens). However, it’s considered good form and good manners to be physically present in the line for most of the day; that way you’ve done your time and earned it, and also the people around you in line recognize you; it eliminates misunderstandings and hard feelings.

So, since it was the tour leg opener, we heard that people had lined up a day or two earlier – to begin establishing the line and the numbering, although the facility (Soldier Field) wouldn’t allow them on the property overnight, so they had to leave, come back, stand across the street, etc. When we got there at 5 a.m. there was a bit of confusion; the ‘two days earlier’ group apparently had wristbands they were giving out to establish the order, but a different group seemed to be giving out numbers, as is the custom, so there seemed to be two lines. We were in a tunnel under a street, so the lines formed on opposite sides, and we got in the non-wristband line and got the numbers chick to give us some numbers (we got in the 60s, which is pretty good). One always does worry that there’ll be some kind of drama, and I never feel secure until I have my number – although this case was particularly worrisome! As it turned out, the tunnel area was used heavily by bikers, joggers, etc., so security had us all move over to one side, and the lines really kind of merged and fell apart at that point. At that point it really worked to our benefit; people kind of ignored the numbers and our group probably ended up further ahead in line than we would have. However, given the awkward scramble, we ended up more crowded under there than we should have, which made for some discomfort during a long day of sitting on cement. (oh, my elderly joints!)


Once in our proper places, we were well launched into the ‘hurry up and wait’ cycle. It’s always an anxious rush to get there and get your space established, and then you just wait and wait and wait, anxious for the next rush. People brought blankets, lawn chairs, etc; there was a lot of resting and sleeping, and some card playing, and a lot of chatting. It was a very long day for me, because I hadn’t done it in almost exactly four years and because it was the first show of the season; we didn’t know what to expect, most of us hadn’t seen the stage yet, hadn’t been to the venue before, etc. It was cold there under our bridge in the early hours, but the weather actually was great all weekend, and later we were so glad not to be out in the hot sun all day. It worked out really well for us (my U2 experiences often seem to revolve around having gotten somewhere in the nick of time; in this case, to the shade!).


but it was easy to get out of line and walk around, etc. I made a big effort to save my strength - but also we had a thin blanket, and the concrete really started to hurt our joints and ass bones after a while, so it was good to stand up. The best thing was that there was a food kiosk near the field museum north of the stadium, and also a real bathroom with plumbing in the parking garage - and they had staff people there all day both days, stocking and cleaning it - with water fountains and even a vending machine with water and coke. LUXURY. It was so much less horrible just having plumbing and water. I remember some GA lines with only port-a-johns and no vending, and it makes a huge difference. I brought a water bottle to smuggle in and refilled it a few times during the day. the rest of the time, it was just boring. we checked our phones for the time like every three minutes all day long.

Sometimes one can accost the band at the loading dock when they arrive in the afternoon for soundcheck (as well as after the show), but given that there had been some confusion over the line earlier, and the band usually arrives mid-afternoon when things are starting to get anxious at the line, we didn’t really go over there to wait. Apparently they signed some autographs at the hotel but not at the venue anyway.

As stated, things get anxious starting around 3:00, and people started taking things to their cars, going to the bathroom for the last time, ditching extraneous baggage, and so on, as more security people gather and you can see the ticket takers and staff members getting organized. finally they roped off the first like hundred people or so, and then the second, so they could let us in in groups. However, as soon as they dropped the ropes, we ran across a plaza to the turnstiles, where we waited for another minute. they let some of us through with nothing, and gave some people wristbands, and had some thing where they were hole punching some of the tickets, too. we ran inside and around a corner where we waited for 15 or 20 minutes while they made announcements we couldn't hear. do we need wristbands? nobody knows? etc. during the running there was pushing and shoving and I think they were really lucky nobody was hurt. Then they let the second group follow us in before we'd gotten to progress, so it got very crowded and pushy. It wasn't very well organized at all. Finally they let us through this narrow hallway toward the field. I saw a guy holding a bunch of wristbands and asked him for one. running running running across the field, looking for my friend Ally, who is little and spry and runs much faster. You know you’re going to get separated; the way to go is to agree on what general location you want and then whoever gets there first tries to save a bit of space, so you’re running and looking around for each other, passing security telling you to walk every few steps, slower faster slower faster. There was no way to stay together; it was kind of a madhouse. Ally got at the outside railing in the center and saved as much space as she could, so some 6 or 8 of us got to stand all more or less together. and then I finally had a chance to look up at the monstrous canopy over the stage and just go "holy shit" for a while.


The stage is just amazing. I don’t know what to say about it. It looks kind of ridiculous at first, too much, incomprehensible, but then you start to get used to it a little, and then when U2 are actually on, it’s such a part of the show, the lights, the smoke, the sound, it seems Just Exactly Right.

When you get up at 4 in the morning and haven’t had much sleep, it seems like nothing could be worth all this. And when you get to the venue before dawn and join the ragtag band of folks, with their odds and ends and sleeping bags and supplies and layers and sleeplessness and everything, you know it’s just going to be a big pain. And when you wait in line all day, dealing with whatever the weather throws you, and often physically uncomfortable, eating whatever comes your way, trying to get a nap, well, I seriously thought this might be the last time for me. Why do I do this? Why do I put myself through this? It’s such a hassle, and it’s so ridiculous. Sure, it’s a lot cheaper than seats, but maybe I’m getting to That Age, you know? A good night’s sleep, decent meals throughout the day, getting to the venue at a leisurely 6 p.m. … all that sounded pretty good.

And then the smoke and the lights, and the band comes out, and the music starts, and it’s all worth it just at that moment, much less throughout the night. It’s divine madness. At one point several of us had a good cry. And you jump up and down and scream and sing and cheer and wave. And they come around and stand right in front of you, and that would never happen if you hadn’t sacrificed for it.




And as soon as it’s over, you start thinking madly of how you can do it again, how soon, when, where, there must be a way, this can’t end. It’s more than a concert. It’s an amazing experience. I’ve seen U2 from the seats, and they’re amazing, but it’s not the same. In line, it’s a community. People share their resources, pass water and food around. You don’t have to explain why or convince anyone; everyone in line left a crowd of family, spouses, friends, coworkers who don’t get it and came here where everyone gets it. You see someone you think you recognize everywhere. Didn’t that chick get up on stage that one time; I know that guy’s in some of my pictures from that other show. It’s a different country.

Yeah, I’m kind of nuts that way.

Did I mention outside rail at the center??


After the show we went around to the loading docks, where a number of people were waiting around. We saw some of U2's crew, and some of them seemed to be carrying wine into the place, which did not indicate the band making their getaway anytime soon. While we waited, one guy (who’d been in line all day with us) told us that the next day’s numbers were being given out. Ally and I, who planned to come back early the next day (our group broke up and came at different times according to sleepiness and insanity), ran to find them. Around the stadium, under the bridge, under another bridge, around the corner, and they were just about to leave for a few hours’ sleep when we found them and got the last two numbers of the night, 46 and 47, which is very, very good. And so off to get something to eat, and so to bed for a few hours.

Here’s my flickr set from Sept. 12, 2009.

set list:

No Line On The Horizon
Get On Your Boots
Beautiful Day
I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For
Stuck In A Moment
Unknown Caller
The Unforgettable Fire
City of Blinding Lights
I'll Go Crazy If I Don't Go Crazy Tonight (remix)
Sunday Bloody Sunday
Walk On
Encore 1:
Where the Streets Have No Name
One, Bad
Encore 2: Ultraviolet
With or Without You
Moment of Surrender


David said...

color me impressed. Ive gone through some pretty miserable things to get concert tickets but getting up at 4am to get in line for a show that doesnt start till 7 or later two days in a row is pretty damn hardcore.

of course I really wish you'd done it for a different band. But ill refrain from my usual screed against U2

Occula said...

Thanks, Dave! Many times the first day I doubted the wisdom of my choices, but that all goes away as soon as the first show starts.