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U2 Tours (formerly part of AtU2): A Comprehensive Guide To U2’s Live Performance History
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by Sean Gates

The reports are true. I am here to confirm them, having finally been in proximity to verify. Bono is a leprechaun. But we love him anyway. I think if God put a personality that big in a body to match, the man would rule the world, so its probably better this way.

This was my fourth U2 show. Id never been on the floor until last month in Chicago. Never been near the stage until last night. I was with three of my closest friends, Steve, his wife Heather, and our friend, Jeremy. Jeremy brought his camera.

We weren't inside the Ellipse. Werent even against the rail. I had about two layers of people in front of me - small people, so it wasn't bad. It was, in fact, outstanding floor position. We were near the tip of the ellipse, but a little off to Edge's side. Across the catwalk, people Id been talking to in the line outside were inside the ellipse. But let me back up a bit.

We left the car in Springfield, VA, and took the Metro into DC. The MCI Center is right outside of Chinatown, so we came up the escalators and amidst the throng there's a big arch in green and red and gold with dragons and phoenixes and tigers flying over the street, marking the entrance to Chinatown, and a CVS Pharmacy on the corner.

Around the block we find the line, and follow it around the building to the ass end, people playing cards and smoking cigarettes. Every third person we pass on foot is propositioning us to buy or sell tickets. We were joined by two punk girls, a thick-bodied one with blue-black hair and black glasses, and a sexy one with a giant red Mohawk and a Social Distortion t-shirt (Red Hot Hits in '76). Her black jeans are rolled up to mid-calf and she's wearing big black boots that lace up the front. People keep asking to touch her hair and she looks as if she wants to kill them. It's 2:45.

One guy rushes over, a skinny white kid with pimples, short hair the color of old straw, and a white t-shirt, his voice a few octaves too high. He's in her face, saying, "ohmigawd I LOOOVE your hair, can I touch it!?!?" She slaps his hands away, looks him in the eye and says, "No. Please go away."

A black guy in baggy denim shirt and pants, Timberlands, and black wrap shades, his hair cut short, is standing under a lamp post behind us. About a foot above his head is a sign that says "Sale or Resale of Tickets is Strictly Prohibited." As people walk past him, he leans out and softly says, "Tickets."

Jeremy and I walk back around the block to the Ancient Chinese CVS and buy a deck of playing cards, four bottled drinks, and a bag of Reese's Cups. We play four hands of hearts, three of which I win, and deal a fifth when the line stars to move. It's 5:30.

We hustle, ending up near the corner now, in front of a bar that opens onto the street. We're standing, Fan Club Members inside the fencing and non-members outside. CSC Event Staff telling us to leave room for people to get in and out of the bar. In front of us is a mousy woman, maybe a little older than us, glasses, bobbed hair, slight build, her coat over her arm. She looks like a librarian.

I turn around, look at Mohawk Girl, grin, and say, "ohmigawd I LOOOOVE your hair, can I touch it!?!?" She laughs. She talks about driving her car; and the way she describes it, I can imagine her, a short woman with her seat pushed as far forward as it will go, the back cranked down, she's laying back driving, trying to see over the steering wheel and not crush her 'hawk.

At six they open the doors and we start filing in. Scan the tickets, down the steps, yellow wristbands, down the steps, scan the tickets again; some get a second wristband here, a pink one, to get inside in the ellipse. We do not. Through the doors, down the hall, around the corner, past locker rooms and offices, out onto the floor. The crowd is small yet. I walk past Joe OHerlihy, dragging a case, wearing a Vertigo crew jacket, his beard down his chest.

Far across the ellipse, up against the stage, Adam's side, I see a big red Mohawk bobbing up and down. Lucky woman. Jeremy is behind me, over my right shoulder. Over my left is Heather, and behind her, his arms around her waist, is Steve. Its 7:00.

At 7:30, Damian Jr. Gong Marley and his band, Empire, take the stage. Reggae by way of hip-hop, a spiritual, rolling beat, a beautiful sound. Damian has dreadlocks down to his ass. A guy follows him around, a big guy, strong, wearing olive green, waving a Jamaican Flag. They make a circuit around the ellipse, the sweat stains growing on his clothes, his pace never slows. The consensus we reach is that under no circumstances should anyone ever pick a fight with Flag Man. Anybody who can wave that flag for an hour nonstop while dancing around the stage, must be incredibly strong.

When Damian Marley and Empire finish their set, it's 8:30. U2's stage hands come out, dismantle Empire's set, set up Larry's drumkit, the mic stands, hoist themselves into the rafters, buckled into chairs, pulling rope ladders up behind them. Technicians do their soundchecks with all 6,000 of Edge's guitars, and Adams bass, testing the cordless pickups, throwing picks into the crowd, all smiles.

At 8:55 the lights go down, the stage lights up, the opening music begins.

"Everyone, everyone, everyone... "

BOOM, confetti, City of Blinding Lights, and suddenly, there's Bono; hes come up the steps at the tip of Ellipse, a scant ten feet from us. But the push doesn't come until the first chorus of City. All at once my feet don't reach the floor. It's like being adrift in the ocean. Steve is moved, bodily, two feet to his right, away from Heather, who remains behind me. Jeremy is suddenly beside me. I nearly fall but regain my feet, and I had no further trouble the rest of the night. When I Still Havent Found What Im Looking For, begins, the crowd, as one, dives into the first verse, Bono never has to open his mouth.

He puts the microphone down, steps back, and looks around the arena, smiling, a look of pure and absolute glee on his face. He lets us, as a crowd, sing the song. He joins us on the chorus. I can see it in his eyes, in his body language. This is a man who fronts the most popular band on the planet, arguably the greatest act in the history of rock 'n' roll, and some part of him is still a seventeen year old kid onstage in a club in Dublin, wearing black and white checked pants, and when he looks out at an arena full of people singing his song to him, not missing a beat... it astonishes him. He honestly can't believe it. It happens to him all the time, but it never ceases to humble him. And there's something to that.

Yes, Bono, we love you.

As he introduces Sometimes You Cant Make It On Your Own, Bono is standing on the catwalk, off towards Adam's side of the stage, the lights down but for the spotlight that halos our man. "This is a song for, my Dad, Bob Hewson... he was... a great man, a great patron of the opera. He had a great sense of humor. And he--" a stage hand, older, with grey hair and a moustache, has stepped into the spotlight, he taps Bono on the shoulder. Bono turns, nearly jumps out of his skin, says, "oh, hi!" and the guy hands him a bottle of water. "Er, thanks," Bono says.

"Had a bit of a fright there. For a second I thought he was me old man! I'd have some explaining to do. So would he..."

During "Sunday, Bloody Sunday," (This is your song now, he tells us) Bono, upon proclaiming "Jesus, Jew, Mohammad, it's true, all sons of Abraham... all sons... all sons of Abraham..." pulled a young girl onstage, named her "daughter of Abraham," and had her sit down. He sang to her the words, "Father Abraham, what have you done, Father Abraham, talk to your sons... Father Abraham... Father Abraham... alright, daughter of Abraham, sing with me: no more," and her child's voice echoes through the arena, "no more."

"No more!"

"No more."

"No more!"

"No more."

"No more! No more! NO MORE! Wipe your tears away... wipe your blood-filled eyes..."

During Bullet the Blue Sky, Bono, wearing the "COEXIST" bandana as a blindfold, hands behind his head, stands, staggers blindly for the microphone, his hand flailing until he finds it, and sings:

"Johnny come marching home again, hoorah, hoorah... Johnny come marching home again, hoorah, hoorah... no matter what he's done or seen, as long as he comes home safe to DC... Johnny come marching home..."

The crowd is undulating around me like a tide, and I have my head down, tears streaming from my eyes.

As Miss Sarajevo draws to a close, I feel a hand clamp on my arm, then another, and I turn to find Heather beside me, her knees bent, her head tilted down like a person in prayer. I ask her if she's okay. I keep asking it, but I know she can't hear me. I ask it again as the song ends, hoping the use the brief second of relative quiet to be heard, but by now I know she won't hear me. I try to get a look at her eyes, to see if she's having the trouble I think she's having, but she's holding onto my arm and finally she staggers against me, and I get a quick glimpse of eyes that are obviously not aware of what is in front of them. I put my arm around her and look back over my shoulder for Steve. There are one or two people between me and him, but I put my free hand back to get his attention, and pull Heather around so he can see her, knowing there's nothing I can say that he'll hear. I let the sight of his wife, limp in my arms, do the talking for me.

The opening of "Pride" is ringing across the arena. Steve's face goes from bliss to horror and then determination in about half a second. He wheels around and begins clearing a path as I pull his wife out behind him. When we get to the edge of the crowd a guy in a yellow CSC Event Staff shirt pulls her left arm across his shoulders and I take the other arm, and we move her off the floor into the hallway, where paramedics have a stretcher waiting. A big security guy picks her up (all six feet of her) like she weighs about six ounces, and puts her on the gurney. Steve bends over her and looks up at me. "Go on, man. Get back out there."

"You sure?"

"It's alright, bro, go on." I shrug and turn to get back out, but at first I go the wrong way and get turned back because I was taking the path for the ellipse, and I didn't have a pink wristband. When I realized that was the problem, I went back and tried to get through the crowd, but that was impossible. People thought I was just being a prick and kept telling me, "come on, man, get back there in the back." As if they didn't see me hauling a mostly unconscious woman out of there about two minutes before.

I can't get back to my place. I can't get back to Jeremy. I ask the staff for help and they keep telling me I need a pink wristband. I keep telling them I'm not trying to get inside the ellipse, I just need to get back down front to the rest of my party. They keep telling me I need a pink wristband. Finally I write the note down and they read it, then they write back, "pink wristband." U2 are playing "One" now, but I sure don't feel any love from anybody in the crowd.

By this time I'm absolutely livid. I'm no longer in a mood to enjoy the show. I'm concerned about Heather and I'm angry about the crowd and the useless Event Staff. I said, "you know what? The hell with it." And I went looking for Steve and Heather. I had to ask around but I was eventually directed to the First Aid Room, and there I found a surprised Steve and an essentially conscious Heather. She had a tube clipped to her nose and was laying on the gurney, her blood pressure being monitored and a bottle of water in her hand. Even here, up two flights of stairs, on the main level, across the concourse from the entrances to the upper level, I can hear every note of "With or Without You."

When they release Heather, the three of us are standing in the concourse as "All Because Of You" kicks into gear. We're talking about how we can meet back up with Jeremy, something we absolutely need to do. The show's almost over, and we wouldn't take Heather back into that crowd even if we could get back to our place. There's two ways off of the floor, and I can't cover them both, and Steve has to stay with Heather. I'm willing to go down and do what I can, but I know that even so I probably won't be able to find Jeremy in the mass of people leaving. Steve then has a better idea: have him paged. We spot two MCI Center employees in black jackets standing in a doorway, so I go ask them who I should see about having someone paged.

They look at each other and then back at me and say, "oh, we don't do that here." I've had enough crap at this point and I'm preparing to unload on two people whom I know can hear every word coming out of my mouth, but as I'm arguing the point I turn and notice Jeremy standing beside me.

I thank the staff for their help, I dont know why, and Jeremy and I go join Heather and Steve on the far wall near the bathrooms. "I couldn't enjoy the show," Jeremy said, "so I thought I'd come and find you guys."

The song "Yahweh" is audible as we make our way to the U2 Shop on the concourse, and while we're deciding what to buy, the band launch into "40." When we leave, it is amidst the first rush. The Metro station under MCI has two entrances; Gallery Place and Chinatown. The crowd seems bound for Gallery, so we turn away from the mass and head for the Chinatown side.

At the top of the escalators a Chinese man with a long ponytail down his back is playing a wooden flute; the sound is clear and beautiful in the night, and it echoes hauntingly down the escalators and into the dark, cavernous recesses of the Metro station.

We catch the train to Pentagon and switch for the blue line to Franconia-Springfield. Sitting in Pentagon Station we see a familiar face on the bench nearby; the mousy woman who looks like a librarian, alone with her coat over her arm.

Steve looks at his friends and says, "raise your hand if you're glad you don't have to work tomorrow," and we all immediately throw as many arms as possible towards the vaulted ceiling. Mousy smiles, and in a soft voice she says, "I have the rest of the week off."

Its an amazing thing; as bad a turn as the night took, it was still an amazing experience. Still the best U2 concert Ive ever been to. I wish I could have seen the entire show. But Im also glad that Heather was not beside a complete stranger when she fainted, and I was glad to help. And really, people being able to depend on people thats what U2 is all about. Some of the crowd could have been a little nicer, though. Some of them, I liked just fine.

On the train to Franconia-Springfield after the show, I take Jeremy's camera and go sit beside Mousy, showing her the pictures he got, and it is here that I learn she has tickets for the next show, too - Thursday, October 20th. "I got good seats near the stage. I figured I wouldn't want to be on the floor two nights in a row."

Way to go, Mousy.

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