In August of 1993, I'd made my way with three girlfriends on my first overseas trip to make the pilgrimage of all pilgrimages, to see U2 play in their hometown of Dublin. Of all of the many, many images that are still ingrained in my mind from that week, the one that stands out for me occurred as I was standing at the end of the b-stage extension into the massive general admission crowd. Me, separated from my girlfriends due to the surge of the crowd and our inexperience dealing with the push to the guardrails around the stage, but still ecstatic being within arm's length of U2 for the first time ever. I'd deal with finding my friends later, but right then, I was soaking in the moment. To wrap up that part of the show, Bono and Edge performed a haunting acoustic version of Stay (Faraway So Close) and I remember handing my camera to a girl on the shoulders of her boyfriend next to me, asking her to take a photo of them over the crowd. She framed it beautifully, capturing the moment for me forever, as simple and stripped down a moment as that acoustic version was, reminding me even to this day of what it meant to me then to be a U2 fan.
Fast-forward 16 years, where you'll find me complaining and whining about a horrible album (come on, it IS!) and the prospect of attending two shows which I had braced myself for, expecting only terrible, hoping that with such low expectations I would only be surprised. Well, it turned out not quite that way.
To put it simply, the first show was an utter embarrassment. I know we're all guilty of this at our own jobs at one time or another, but for the first Foxboro show, U2 phoned it in. They thought it was enough to show up, go through the motions, play the songs lifelessly and perform to a script that had worked for them in Barcelona, Amsterdam and London. I am convinced that they forgot where they were, who they were playing to and what this city expects of them. We are their second home. We made them in this country. We deserve something better than just phoning it in. This crowd, predominantly Irish itself, I might remind you, brings 100% heart and soul to whatever venue U2 plays in and apparently Sunday night that was not enough for the band to feed off of. It was a heartless, lifeless and flat performance. No spark, no sparkle.
In combing that night for something positive to talk about here, I come up only with the remixed version of I'll Go Crazy If I Don't Go Crazy Tonight. I've yet to figure out if I like it because it's better than the original, if I'm hearing it only for it's Spinning class potential or if it's just that Adam carries that song on the neck of his bass. But of the entire night, that was the standout moment for me. Everything else, the staging (which yes, does seem to be trying to compensate for failings in performance), the swagger, the canned video...it all fell short. The band spent so much time prowling the catwalks individually that unless you were within arms' length of them, you would have thought they were each trying out for their own solo projects.
But Bono's voice, oh man, Bono's voice. All too often he would attempt to hit and miss, or he'd talk the lyrics through without even trying, or he'd ask us to sing for him. Sorry, I didn't pay $300 a ticket to sing for you. A few times I felt like he was purposefully ruining the lyric with a god-awful cat in a blender strain (first line of Moment of Surrender, he did it in the Saturday Night Live performance as well). Is that attractive, cute or on purpose at all? If it was a deliberate strain to try to instill some passion, please, stop it. You're shortening an already short shelf-life for what's left of your nicotine-ruined throat. On top of the voice, Bono completely forgot lyrics (Ultraviolet, The Unforgettable Fire), mis-sang them (Magnificent) or changed them to something like a Christopher Walken rap (With Or Without You), making them regrettable despite the band's best efforts.
I spent a sleepless (thanks to coffee Bailey's and candy corn combination) 24 hours waiting for night two. We made our way back down to Foxboro, gluttons for punishment that we are. Things seemed a bit off kilter, as we were still nearly 2 miles away as Snow Patrol were going on stage. Snow Patrol started late and ended later than the night before, which makes me antsy, knowing how hard it is for U2 to change things up and adapt to something off-script. I wondered if we'd suffer due to Snow Patrol's tardiness.
The lights dimmed and Larry came out, tonight not alone, but with the full band. I looked at Allison and said "Something's up, this isn't going to be Breathe." And I was right. They committed what is, for them, a cardinal sin and changed up a strictly static setlist, and launched into Magnificent. I suspected that Breathe might make a later appearance but it did not. But the show already had a different feel to it. Bono was tearing around the main stage like a boxer getting ready for his title bout. He even seemed to acknowledge the lack of delivery the night before by saying: "Last night (shakes his head), this is the night. You want it as much as we want it, this is it." Everything seemed more on fire, everything had an edge, The Edge. On the second night they came to tear it up, and tear it up they did. It was a tighter, more cohesive, more electric performance. The band did not leave the main stageand wander individually as much as they did the night before. They stuck closer together and when they did venture off the main stage, they interacted more with each other. Was it this proximity alone that held this show together? Was it a caffeine injection, a better night's sleep or the scathing review in the Boston Globe that morning that slapped them back into reality? We'll never know, but it made for a better show. Certainly not the best I've ever seen, but night and day different from the night before.
Ultimately it turned out that Breathe was dropped for Your Blue Room (a hellacious choice of a Passengers track, but that's a big enough topic for another post), New Year's Day was dropped for Until the End of the World (a crowd-pleasing ass kicker) and Stuck in a Moment was dropped for a beautiful acoustic version of Stay. And during Stay I think I realized that my world had come full-circle in 16 years. At the point where Bono sings "and if you shout, I'll only hear you", I realized I was seeing the exact same silhouette of guitarist and singer letting their hearts out like they did in Dublin in 1993. And I found myself a little teary. Remembering that during the intervening 16 years, there were highs and lows, agonies and ecstasies, losses and celebrations, just like these two nights proved. Many things come and go: friends and lovers, jobs and projects, but it's good to know that the memory of a lifetime can find it's way back to you when you need it the most. And with that, I realized that while I may have been disappointed with this album and maybe even this tour and quite possibly this band, that is completely ok. I found it didn't take much to scratch the surface and find what mattered the most.