I Get The Picture

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By Jonathan Wayne -- U2Station.com

One minute past nine o'clock, I fumble for my digital camera and frantically look around me in a momentary state of vertigo. I gaze 10 o'clock and see the extraterrestrial, Edge, hovering around on the left corner of the stage, picking the beginning of that fantastic opening song called City of Blinding Lights, but I don't see Bono. The next moment, red light comes streaming down from the roof and all of these other directions, like from a UFO, crisscrossing right into my face. I'm standing in the photo pit at a U2 Vertigo concert in Pittsburgh, PA, on a chilly and rainy October evening, awaiting for the show to start. Suddenly, I see a short figure dressed in black standing literally right in front of me (or maybe its 30 seconds later), and there I am trying to keep my digital camera from not magnetically wobbling in my hands. Streams of confetti are floating down from the dome-shaped roof onto my face and Bono has his head turned skyward, 47 inches from where I am standing. I look around me trying to get my bearings, hesitant in taking the first of hundreds of pictures. A couple of photojournalists scurry past me and I try to keep my sign in one place. I am the only person with a photo pass who actually has a ticket to the concert this evening. I even bring a slightly vain sign I've made that I am hoping to hold up in my brief stay in the photo pit next to the stage, but my first instinct is to snap that picture. SNAP.

Those first few moments when Bono magically materializes on the walkway like some alien and stands like a statue right in front of me is a moment suspended in time. FREEZE.

It was freezing though. The rain and wind lashed out all morning, afternoon and evening. Of course, how would I know? I was only waiting in the General Admission line for 3 hours. I met a diehard fan from Philadelphia who was waiting since 2:30am, camped out on the sidewalk. Sixteen hours before the concert, he sent me a text message saying he was the 16th in line and it was pouring rain. About 15 minutes later, I headed to bed. The young man paid triple the face value of a GA (General Admission) concert ticket and bought bus fare on Greyhound to come to the show from Philadelphia. He was just one of many dedicated U2 fans who travelled from other cities to see the band play another show. Some people who had tickets to the show viewed it as just another rock concert, some people waited a few months or years for the show, and some waited their whole lives to see U2 in person. One of those latter fans who never saw U2 managed to log onto Ebay and bought a pair of tickets (the seats were literally right along the roof high above, on the opposite side of the stage). He brought along a friend who wasn't really a U2 fan. His dream was to hear Where the Streets Have No Name live. About 20 minutes before U2 took the stage, I called him up on my cellphone to tell him I obtained a photo pass and got into the "bomb shelter". I waved my orange sign (rolled up) to see if he could spot me, and he did. A few minutes earlier, as I entered the photo pit with half a dozen other photographers, the diehard fan from Philly called out my name from the outside edge of the ellipse (or the bomb shelter). He wasn't one of those lucky fans who were randomly selected to enter the ellipse, but he probably had the best view on the floor, as he stood in the very first row. I flashed my sign and smiled and pointed to that photo pass sticker I stuck on my tshirt (we had talked for a good half-hour earlier that afternoon whilst waiting in line about hoping to obtain that pass). So he got what he wanted, a great spot on the floor, the guy up on the roof got what he wanted, his first U2 concert, and I got what I wanted, that elusive photo pass. Now we all just wanted the show to begin.

Two nights later, I'm still thinking about that blur of a concert. That opportunity to see the band up real close. The chance to make the most out of a 2 hour event. I've read a lot of reviews on this Vertigo tour from high profile critics from various newspapers and media sources, some praising Bono's humanitarian efforts, while others bashing his attempt to politicize an otherwise musical event. Tonight in Pittsburgh, U2 were not on autopilot though, coming off of some big shows in New York City, DC and Philly, playing with the likes of Bruce Springsteen and Mary J. Blige.

Recalling the last time U2 played in Pittsburgh (during the Elevation tour in 2001), from my observations, I'd like to say Bono and the band appeared relaxed on stage. That trend continued tonight. Bono invited a young man to play Party Girl on stage with the entire band and then celebrated the fact that it was a Saturday night, by popping open an expensive bottle of champagne. Bono and the Edge even signed autographs for a fan in the audience, proclaiming that "we haven't done this before". Four years ago, when I was at the concert, Bono took a bottle of bubbles from a female fan in the audience and blew some bubbles in the final song in their encore. Whether it was suds from champagne or bottled bubbles, U2 have had a history of being in party-mode in Pittsburgh.

Tearing through a searing version of Sunday Bloody Sunday, Bono brought two young boys on stage to help in singing "no more" (as related in that song, no more war, strife, hunger and bloodshed). A magical moment appeared when Bono asked everyone to display their cellphones to create a surreal type of milky way galaxy, all in support of the One campaign, where later on in the show, callers' names appeared on a giant screen.

The night didn't go flawlessly however, as Bono apparently had to repeat some lyrics in Stuck in a Moment (You Can't Get Out Of). In addition, at least compared to their Elevation show in Pittsburgh, Bono didn't display that youthful energy he's been known to have, specifically running around the catwalk, posing in front of screens (a la the Fly, which was missing from the setlist) and doing some more Achtung antics (Bono and Edge's bull and matador moments from the Elevation tour were a lone memory in the mind). However, after playing over 80 concerts on this tour and tirelessly touring the world, I don't blame Bono for being worn out. Only one song from their classic album, Achtung Baby, was performed, appropriately named One. Missing were many 90's songs, but then again, U2 have mixed up their setlists throughout the tour, incorporating such staples as Mysterious Ways, Until the End of the World, The Fly, Zoo Station and most recently, The First Time (played tonight) on the Vertigo tour.

Tonight, the one real highlight was Miss Sarajevo, a song originally performed in 1995 with Luciano Pavarotti for a special concert in Modena, Italy, to raise money for Bosnian children war victims (later that year, the band performed it live in a special War Child-supported concert in Sarajevo in front of 50,000 fans). Illuminated in blue light, Bono uplifted the Arena in his operatic voice. Though the song didn't carry as much emotional or meaningful weight in tonight's show, it was still a vastly underappreciated song in the rock n' roll canon. U2 both educated and enlightened the audience with this soaring tune, in which he asked "Is there a time for human rights? Is this the time?".

In Bullet the Blue Sky, Bono dropped to his knees with a blindfold and bandanna on (with Islamic, Jewish and Christian symbols), pleading for us all to co-exist, no matter which religion you were.

Perhaps there is nobody out there, not even Springsteen, who works this hard at a rock concert to promote social awareness, centering on African poverty and human rights. Four years ago, U2 played a controversial video on the NRA, Charlton Heston and gun control at their Elevation show, but this time around the band's political messages were more well-received (perhaps the difference being last time U2 were in Pittsburgh, 9/11 hadn't occurred yet and the United States weren't fighting insurgents in Iraq). Of course, there are those national critics out there who openly bash Bono for overextending his political campaign activism in a musical setting. In contrast, the cliche titles of "shaman" and "spokesman" have been used endless times in more positive U2 concert reviews. At least to me, personally, Bono is almost a separate entity from U2 itself. Yet, amazingly, when Bono and U2's ever-changing musical and lyrical themes all come together live, something otherworldly occurs. Audience members are pulled into the power that U2 generates, the Edge's futuristic sonic guitar booms reverberate through human flesh and as witnessed on October 22, 2005, an arena of thousands of people all pull out their cellphones, display it like single stars in space and transmit their names through the atmosphere to satellites high in celestial orbit. Then like magic, minutes later, their names come back to Earth and like one of many marquees in Times Square, come flashing across a single screen. Instances of names like these that come to mind from other events are notably the 2002 Superbowl Halftime Show with the names of the victims of 9/11 rolling like credits up a massive monolith of a screen. Tonight in Pittsburgh, however, these were not names of remembrance, but names all actively seeking to revitalize life itself, to help humanity, to change the world. Even if Bono ultimately cannot singlehandedly save the world from poverty and AIDS and even if his concerts and legions of diehard fans (who camp out all night to see the band) cannot save the world, concerts like the one witnessed in Pittsburgh (one that has no true meaning in the bigger scope of the world, one that is just "another show", or one that is the big event of the weekend in a small city), reaffirmed one's faith in the love of music, in the love of rock n' roll and in the name of love.

And so, right after I get out of my momentary freeze as I watch Bono tower over me from the photo pit, I hear the booming bass of Adam Clayton's, the barrage of drums from Larry Mullen and the Edge's hailstorm of guitar riffing. I swing around and come back to my senses and realize I have three songs (and probably 10-15 minutes) to snap my shots before security ejects me out of the bomb shelter and I'm back on the GA floor again. But snap away I do though, and as the house lights come back on, and fans slowly exit the arena after that blur of a concert takes place, I jump over a barrier and sit down for a moment with my Argentinian buddy and watch the crew members quickly take apart the whole scene, faster than they put it together. It's off to another city, another state, another world, for a band to ride the crest of their momentum and spread their messages and music to more souls in their encounters. I get their music. I get their message. I get the picture.

Jonathan Wayne
October 25, 2005

6 Comments

Thanks Jonathan. I just found your comments and now I'm looking forward to again going to the concert on Tuesday here in L.A. I bought the ticket, yes, just for me, around my birthday in March and I paid ALOT. I thought at the time no one lives forever and it's my maybe last chance to see U2 so why not. Since then I've been thinking, ohmygosh what was I thinking???? Should I sell my ticket or what? So I'm going to go. I was going to wear a purple wig so Bono would notice me but I don't think I'm that close anyway. There'll be all those photographers and the standing in front people. I'm in a VERY good place on the side in the 6th row. I'm going early, who knows where I'll park, and I'm driving myself so I have to stay sober, but I bet I'll love it. Thanks for the uplifting commentary. . . .

John! What a well written article, and great recap of the Pitts show! I was waiting in line with Mike Snyder, when I met you and your friend. We went to the Detroit show and actually got into the pit and were 2 rows from the stage! A guy let me stand in his front row spot for 3 songs and it was the most amazing experience ever. Nice to meet you at the show!
Amy

WOOOOOW! great pic and an even better article, Johnathan. Way to go!!!

Congrats!

Congratulations and thanks for such a well composed recount of what must of been an awesome concert. I'm writing from Johannesburg, South Africa and cannot begin to express how great it would be for U2 to come out to our neck of the woods some time again.

I saw U2 last night in Oakland,CA. It was magic. I was brought to tears more than once. The Edge was in fine form as well.It was a Great show!!Damian Marley opened and he was great too. He did Could you be love? better than his Father before him.The croud was loud and pumped! Bono announced Green day,Sean Penn and Lance Armstrong (among others) were there. My only thought right now is They will be back and I am looking forward to it!!!

I am assuming this is Jon Wayne, the Cleveland photographer (also known as "Jay-dubya.")
Dude ... nice essay; you sure do use some mighty fine words.

later

John

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This page contains a single entry by Jonathan published on October 25, 2005 1:41 AM.

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