I was ready. I had spent the past several days reviewing the U2 canon — watching old tours and shows (PopMart Live from Mexico City 1997. Glastonbury 2011. Under a Blood Red Sky 1983), reviewing popular songs and their lyrics, skimming forums for set lists, and something new that completely blew my mind—watching live feeds and listening to live streams of the shows in Vancouver, San Jose, and Phoenix. Even before the tour arrived in Los Angeles, I felt a closeness to the show and to the band that I had never been able to feel before and it only heightened the excitement. With several weeks of U2 prep under my belt, my excitement had reached an all time high that awaited a release that couldn’t come soon enough.
Around noon on the day of the first show, I decided that I couldn’t take any more. I pulled on one of my new U2 T-shirts (a bright green shirt with a silhouette of the famous Joshua Tree imprinted into the letters “U2”) and took off for the Forum, the first of about thirteen round trips that I would make over the course of the week.
Just to reiterate—this was my first real attempt to soak into the concert experience. During previous shows I’d had school or my dad had had work and with seated tickets saw little reason to show up early. But I wanted to live this week in complete devotion to being spontaneous and seeing where experiences would take me.
I had heard rumors that it might be possible to meet the band if I caught them on the way to soundcheck, anywhere from 2:00pm to 4:00pm. I arrived around 1:30pm just to be safe and wound my way around the Forum to the loading dock. I slipped into a barricaded pen alongside a few other dedicated fans (as well as a few eBay autograph hounds, pretty scummy guys who talked about interactions with the band in terms of gaining notches in belts and collecting autographs like baseball cards).
But that was also when I met Emmy, the first of several U2-Fan-Friends who would come to make this week both memorable and unbelievable. Emmy showed me her purse—a nifty bag fashioned out of a pair of U2 records and sewn together with ribbon. During a previous tour she had met Edge, and already gotten him to sign it. She hoped to eventually meet all four of the band members and have them sign as well.
We all made small talk for about two hours, swapping stories about favorite songs and favorite shows and I finally began to slip into an ease and bliss that would stay with me for the whole week. I learned that here it was okay to talk about things that most people in the real world couldn’t stand to listen to. It was okay to babble about which of Edge’s guitars was the coolest (definitely the Explorer), or the disappointing track progression of “No Line on the Horizon,” or whether or not we’d get the chance to hear “11 O’Clock Tick Tock” at some point during their stay in LA. These were my kind of people.
Around 3:00pm, venue security joined us near the pens (always a good sign) and together we watched in moments of collective silence whenever black Chevy Suburbans would approach the loading dock. Most of them passed us by and turned out to be false alarms. But finally, one stopped.
It was Bono.
The SUV pulled up parallel to the pen and parked at the top of the dock. Through the front passenger window someone identified the bodyguard who climbed out to open the door behind him. Then Bono waved and I saw him up close for the first time. After nosebleed concert seats, this was closer than I had ever been to him before, this hero of my adolescence, my favorite singer and political activist. The crowd push was intense, autograph warriors and devoted fans clamoring in his direction. I admit, the first time I flowed with the crowd, pushing and being pushed while the security guards shouted at us to stop and no one listened. I was too far for a handshake (not that the bodyguard was allowing any) and too far to get anything signed, so I held up my phone and clicked away on the shutter, hoping some of the pictures would turn out all right.
Bono was patient, working his way around the pen, signing shirts and albums and (unfortunately) a few high value items that I’m sure have already been auctioned off to high bidders. I still couldn’t see, stuck at the interior of the crowd but still somehow felt graced enough by knowing that the two of us were breathing the same air to be satisfied. And that was when Larry showed up.
With most of us distracted by Bono, I didn’t notice Larry (the drummer) until he was already close. He walked brusquely down the side of the pen, smiling and saying hello. While most others scrambled to take pictures, I held out my hand and received a polite little handshake and a smile. Within a few minutes both were gone. In the chaos, I was pleased to hear that Emmy had managed to get her record signed by Bono, bringing the total up to two autographs.
By about 4:00pm most of us started to drift away. Still in a dazzle and daze I posted pictures and texted friends, already ecstatic for the start of a concert experience that I couldn’t imagine getting any better. I had decided to treat myself for one night and shelled out for a charity “(Red) Zone” ticket that offered perks such as a barricaded floor section and private bar. Mostly I just wanted to be close, and having never had a General Admission ticket to any show before, didn’t know if GA would score me a close spot or if this was my only chance. I slipped into the Red Zone line and tried not to brag about shaking Larry’s hand.
Around 5:30pm, our U2 tour liaison began the check in process. I felt the old excitement return, knowing that soon I would have very close to a front row spot, essential for a jumpy fan only 5 ft 2 in tall. During these first few of several lines, I chatted with a young girl and the father who had brought her to her first concert. I chatted with a pair of sisters who had flown in from North Carolina and were veteran mosh rockers (in heels no less!). We swapped more small talk—stories about Larry chilling at bars in Dublin, about Adam’s fairly recent wedding.
When the doors opened another half hour later, we all “speed-walked” (we totally didn’t run. of course not) around to our side of the stage, called the “North Side” and I grabbed up a spot on the rail. My first time in the front row at any concert anywhere, and it was for my favorite band for the first show of five. I was in heaven. I managed to snag a spot alongside one of the North Carolina sisters, named Bre, and we took turns trading off for bathroom breaks and food errands. Most Red Zoners were kind, casual U2 fans, but not many were diehards of the sort I had met earlier in the pen. I knew that the energy would likely change as my position in the crowd changed from night to night.
Once inside, we waited about two hours until 8:00pm. Then we waited some more. Theories buzzed in the crowd about what was taking so long—The first night at a new venue required extensive checks. The first night in Los Angeles required extensive schmoozing with celebrities backstage. We were amped. We were jittery. We wanted the show start. The pre-show music shuffled through The Talking Heads and The Virgin Prunes. I skimmed pictures on social media of other people scattered throughout the arena to get a sense of the calm before this ensuing storm which I sat in the middle of.
I remember telling Bre that I couldn’t take it anymore, that I needed the show to begin. And then it did.
The show starts with the refrain of “The Miracle of Joey Ramone” which Bono calls the most beautiful sound, a rising and wailing “Oh!” of excitement and devotion. A single spotlight at the back of the stage while Edge, Larry, and Adam take their places at the front in darkness. Bono holding his own on the catwalk, microphone in one hand and triumphant fist raised in the other, inviting us to join him in exultation.
To try and describe this further would do a disservice to the show itself. There are videos which also will not do it justice (mine certainly don’t). You have to go. The energy and excitement of an opening song can never be conveyed, no matter how skilled the conveyor may be. Let it suffice to say that it was the culmination of my experience as a U2 fan, and the perfect song to aid in such. A tune about a young boy finding his purpose through song which so eerily echoed the same tales that I would hear over and over again, about how at some point in adolescence we all fell into U2 and life skewed on a new axis, the world tilting in a way that made it curious and exciting. The theme of this tour is Innocence & Experience, named after the works of William Blake written in the late 18th century. We were invited to return to our youth and then ease back into age. But for these first few moments, these first few songs, we were all children.
There were other small wins that night — a smile and nod from Adam Clayton, U2’s bassist and most frequently best dressed, and the bliss that accompanies seeing my favorite songs live for the first time in years. That night I went home, buzzing with energy and excitement and waited for the week to only get better as I waited for my sister to join me.