U2 POPMART: My Experience

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Pittsburgh Popmart concert, May 22, 1997


U2 POPMART: My Experience

by Jonathan Wayne

I really dont care if U2's commercialism is making them look uninspiring.

It really does not matter if PopMart is an idea of a new crazed fashion.

I dont care if U2 doesn't sell stadiums.

The only thing that matters is being there. Being present with the greatest and most profitable band in the world. To experience a new and inventive concert unlike anything created before. To experience other people's imagination and not just to dream it.

So, here I was, about to enter my first U2 concert. I became a U2 fan just after the ZooTV tour was finishing up. After four years of waiting, my chance was finally to come. I had collected all of U2's albums, I had listened to many of them time and time again. Yet one matter had not been settled yet. To attend a live concert of U2.

I arrived at Three Rivers Stadium at approximately 6:05 PM on a sunny, cool, and breezy Thursday afternoon on the date of May 22, 1997. I came by myself. So here I was walking down the Stadium lot. I just walked briskly toward the stadium that loomed ahead. It was rather early by my standards since in the distance I heard Discotheque being rehearsed over the Stadium P.A. Yet, once I walked toward the concourse of Gate A, the music at once stopped and I was left amongst a growing crowd making their way into the vicinity. I of course, being part of Wire (the U2 mailing list) had to find the banner that was supposed to be displayed somewhere nearby. As I was peering about, I couldnt help noticing the merchandise that was for sale. U2 T-shirts ran for $25. Caps for $20. Sweatshirts for $50. Even Condoms were for sale. I suppose they were special "pop" ones that U2 endorsed especially. Well, very intrinsic i must say. All in all, the only piece of retail I bought that day was the official PopMart program that went for $15. It was this shiny and glossy book that had a contraption inside. A fold out Edge standup that could be found on the last page. Yet I didn't have time to look through the program, my first priority was to find the Wire crowd!

Well, I did find them. They were all spread about. A few of them were wearing dog-tags that were entitled "U2 Wire", but that was about it. I was expecting a lot more people but there were less than 10 actual Wire members that I saw. The main thing was, the banner! It was this huge and glorious 70 foot+ long sheet of cloth! I must have hanged around there for at least 55 minutes before I decided that was enough. I met Jason Herbe and another Wire friend named Charlotte who gave me a Wire tag. Meanwhile in the distance, WDVE (A Pittsburgh Radio Station) was blaring some U2 songs out the entire time. It was truly nice to sign my name on the banner. I hesitated for a few moments about whether to sign my name on the "i" or above the "d". I actually did on the d at the end of World. This is what it said to my recollection: U2 PopMart Tour 1997. [email protected] Still a Wireling! My signature. Pittsburgh May 22, 1997. Of course I could have made it more creative, but I believe the poems could come later. And yes, there were some poems that were to be found on the banner. One girl wrote about her obsession on Bono. Another person put their own song on it. There were funny and strange drawings of the band. And believe it or not, I had found Bono's little skit and signature right next to the "w" in world. Paul McGuinness's was to be found near the "o" in world. Overall, the banner read: WORLD WIDE WIRE. I didn't feel honored to have signed my name. I just felt like it was a nice and silly privilege to be recorded on the banner that was presumably to be passed from stadium to stadium on the PopMart tour. Thus, my Wire experience had it's good fate. Moreover, later after the concert, Edge was able to sign his name on the banner thus making it more infamous than it already was.

But, it was now after 7 PM. I had to get going and part from our Wirelings to make way into the stadium and event itself. I had high expectations that the concert would go well. I knew the set lists beforehand. But as U2 would say: Expect nothing but the best. That I did. How about this: Pop nothing but the best? Or maybe it should be Expect nothing but the Pop. In any way, I had the next 2 hours or so to think this over until U2 would come out and make their presence known. I presume it was 7:23 when I went through the turnstile and handed over my ticket to the collector. Oh yes! I was in!!! I couldn't wait! But I had to. The opening act took an hour. Than another 45 minutes or so of waiting till PopMuzik started. But that comes later! So once I got in amongst a bustling crowd, I made my way two thirds around the stadium and decided to turn back and walk around without a care in the world. I passed vendors of all types. Clothing vendors. Novelty vendors. Beer vendors. Coca Cola vendors. Program vendors. Cracker Jack vendors. But enough of that! And then, I saw in the distance a huge yellow arch with some orange oval on the top. I stood there near the top row of the bleachers for 4 minutes just looking out into the core of the stadium at this spectacle. It was all opened up. Brown field seats littered along the turf. Yellow security people guarding the zones. There I was. Right in front of PopMart itself! Just some hundreds of feet away from my seat on the field. Well, it was early, but I figured it's better off getting to you're chair right away so you don't run into the beer mongers. After a quick stop at the restroom, I started my journey downwards! I passed the first head of security, showed them my ticket, and proceeded down to the next level. Now I arrived at the field security. They took half my ticket, punched it, and put a strap around my wrist. One more block of security until my section. As I was walking, I got closer to the stage and set. I felt differentiated. I felt more "cool" as I was walking closer. Like I was more special that I had close seats than the people far behind me. But in actuality, my seats were not that easy at all as I found out later! I finally found my row. Row G to be exact. and I had the last seat on my row. Seat 23. So I was right next to the aisle. Not good at all. I'll tell you more about that later. But this was it! I was in the middle of this concrete jungle and in the center of it all. If there was a mob, I would never survive it. But luckily, the worst that happened is when I broke my chair toward the end of the show.

7:48 PM. Yup, it's that horrendous opening act starting now. Fun Loving Criminals. This group performed lots of Rap and Funk Rock for about an hour. And there i was, sitting there for 2 hours. Of course I got up now and then to stretch and look around. But I was cold. Very cold. I had on shorts and a sweatshirt. I literally sat there huddled over my PopMart program and a newspaper i had wrapped up in plastic. I said hi to the people around me, asked for the time here and there, and that's about it. A long and boring hour that stretched until 8:45 PM. I was thinking about the possibilities of bringing in a camera or tape recorder. I was thinking if I could get away with it. I was thinking too much. THEN SUDDENLY!!! This loud funky beat started playing. At first, I thought it was the opening to PopMuzik. But it was really this long stretch of ear splitting noise that would last another half an hour until the real show started. While I waited, numerous people started showing up and filling in the seats around me. the air grew cooler, the darkness settled in. An aura of of excitement was also filling the stadium even though I couldn't feel it myself at first. From time to time the Stadium jumboscreen flickered on and there were maps of the seating rows for people. But then, I finally realized the show was about to start when the security started taking the Seating flags away. Well, not to be. Another hopeless 20 minutes came and went while during this time, this loud and crude noise was being played on the P.A. The stadium lights were up. Daylight was fading and I knew its going to start any second. The giant video screen sat there shrouded in beam testing and light tests. Little red lines were dancing the screen making sure everything was alright. On top, the massive orange oval that sits between the yellow arch held the the P.A. equipment and main speakers. To the right was a long pointy stick with a lemon in yellow covering and near the top was an olive and a ring around it that would light up later on.

Somewhere between 9:12 - 9:22: SHOWTIME!

POP, POP, POPMUZIK. This blaring euro-squeaky music played while the crowd suddenly faced one side of the stadium. There, Bono, Edge, Adam, and Larry emerged out of the dugout and climbed onto the catwalk to get to the stage. Now the video screen came to life! P-O-P was written all over. With the ball in the middle rotating like some crazy blackhole, U2 took over. Yeah, the crowd lit up like a thunderhead and created a pretty loud background for U2 to perform in for the first few songs. And at once, I stood up on my chair. Everyone around me stood on their chairs. You would be crazy to sit, nuts to stand, but only on the chair you could view the scene in totality. I was right in the middle. The place was alive with sound. Bono was dressed in Boxer's clothes ready to take on the ring, punching his way to the stage as Edge had his pre-rattle n hum outfit on complete with cowboy hat. Adam Clayton had an orange surgical outfit with a mask around his mouth for the first few songs. Larry Mullen Jr. had the drum technician strap some headphones around him but was the most normally dressed. And that's how it started. POP-POP-POP Muzik, Pop-POP-Pop Muszik, etc,etc,etc. for 3-6 minutes. Then Mofo kicked in. Bono took off his hood and uncovered his superman shirt. He swung up and about, clicking to his right, clicking to his left with the mic in his hand and a full blown audience at the core. THE PLACE WAS LOUD AT FIRST, but as the concert went on the magnitude level dropped for a time. This is normal usually. Once the 30,000+ crowd has waited for so long, they release their excitement which blends in with the scene only to settle down midway through. I was in the center of it all. I had to stand pretty high in order to see the stage. Admidst the security's stand against standing, they fell apart once the lights went down. Later during the show, people started standing in the aisles. Actually it happened immediately once U2 came out. And so, Mofo ended and the stadium roared again with the start of "I Will Follow". I'm sure lots of people didn't expect U2 to play such an old song, but then again, I was prepared so it wasn't a surprise to me. During the duration of these two songs, the video screen mainly focused on the band with the live camera. The video screen ball in the center of the screen either showed Bono or different members of the band walking about playing their music. I Will Follow was a great version and one of the top songs in the concert.

Even Better Than The Real Thing was to be the next song of the night. Again, more camera shots of Bono and the Edge doing their thing on stage. I was very impressed with the quality of the video screen combined with the lights on the arch and the lighted olive ring. Not to mention the strobe lights that came to life later on in the concert. Overall, this song though did not capture the ambition in the concert. Not a very good pick for the night. But U2 decided to pick their old singles as backup for their new songs. Gone. Well, I really don't remember hearing the song played but a song that many U2 fans like on the new album. Pride (In The Name Of Love) kicked in after this. Now this was a great song for the evening. Just that it may not have fitted in with the songs around them. A song I wish they had played off of Unforgettable Fire would have been Bad. This song sounds awesome when performed live. As evidence from numerous bootlegs such as Duets and the Wide Awake In America mini album. After Pride, the crowd came to life again. I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For was played next. Lots of graphics on the screen and neat lighting going on. Edge was really into it that night. Even Larry was playing above his norm. I was just standing there. I wasn't jumping up and down (only until later) but I was just trying to take in the music and not the crowd. That was a letdown for the evening. Since this was my first ever stadium concert, I may be wrong about this. Just the noise seemed louder than the music at times. The guitar was ok but the drums were weak. I hardly heard them sometimes. Only until later when U2 played on the second stage, did I hear them more clearly. Another problem in the dramatic evening was the discomfort I had next to the aisle. I disregarded all of this during the show, but now that I think about it, it really was a hardship for me. People nearly pushed me off the chair. Since the chairs were tied together, the worst thing that could happen is if you broke it yourself. But read on. That's right, beer drinkers everywhere. Luckily no one spilled any on my lap. Yet, people in the aisle just could not get along with the security. Guys jumping all over the place at times. the yellow guards tried to push people out of the way but during the duration of the concert, whatever sense I found around me, people did not budge at all from the aisles. And so, I found it tough to stand with people on all sides, mayhem going on to my left at times and beer drinkers getting extras to my right.

Here we go. It must be way after 10 PM now. Stand By Me was played right after I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For. It was a perfect conclusion to that song. And, oh yes, people WERE INDEED standing by me. Too many of them! But Last Night On Earth was to be played next. Just that this version was not to my expectations. It didn't have the power of the album version. It was wild. It was unrestrained. It was tempestuous. Too much crazy guitar going on. But Until The End Of The World would be a perfect takeoff from this song. To me, this was a great song for the evening. This song has always been a favorite of mine. And oh yes, in the serenity of it all, the glowing blue screen was gloating at everyone. An AWESOME version. At that point, my experience took a turning point, I really started getting into it after that. I started waving my hands, rolling my arms, tossing my head. This all lead to the conclusive wild ending of my destroying the chair by accident. If God Will Send His Angels was poor. But then, everything went RED. EVERYTHING. The screen turned into orange, than red, than maroon. But pure red. Staring At The Sun was to be the next song. A pretty good song as well. An obvious song for the moment since it was the present single off of Pop. But it was fabulous.

"Ok..., Lets cut the crap". Edge walks from the stage unto the catwalk and in the background a fairly attractive woman is shown on the video screen. It was a funny and enjoyable song. The audience got into it with a lot of singing back and forth. Edge sung it all. With the cowboy hat dangling about, the Edge walked up the catwalk and strummed his guitar and the crowd beckoned to him. But beckoned for what? Sweet CAROLINE? Well, Edge sure did his job there. Go for it Edge! Play that Neil Diamond song at full volume! To me, just a folly of a time there. But I wasn't fucking laughing, I just wanted the lads to get the song overwith already! Ok, MY--MAMMY...

Here we go. Miami. A twist of the tropics. "Weather 'round here chopping and changin', surgery in the air, print shirts and southern accents, cigars and big hair..." No, not a silly song at all. Just too mellow. Too realistic. We don't want Miami, we want the end of the world! It just didn't have that U2 taste I wanted. I wanted the dust bowl. I wanted Memphis and the dry Arizona weather of the Joshua Tree. Not palm tree's of the other South. And yes, Bono brought up some lady on stage and danced with her for a time. It was nothing new. Ive seen stuff like that in the old ZooTv videos. Just that this time, Bono looked cooler. This was a new journey for U2. my,my, oh my, miami. Enough!

The spot lights go up. There must have been at least 6 of them all around the stadium. They just go straight up. They dont stream about. Just straight up like a bullet into the sky. It oddly looked like that as well. When U2 played "Bullet The Blue Sky" they nearly made me like that song for once. For a time, it seemed like the arch was the bullet. And the beams made it look like it was traveling somewhat, to somewhere beyond. Yes, a fabulous version for the evening! Bullet the Blue Sky was perfect. U2 nailed it. Please? Please what? Please that I broke my chair? No, it's the song. Please. Another excellent tune off of the new album. But definitely not a favorite of mine. Please has it's possible origins from their roots of Ireland. The song sounded somewhat religious as well. Maybe even personal to Bono? But what came next was the highlight of my evening. HANDS DOWN. Where the Streets Have No Name has always been a favorite of mine and getting to experience it live in concert can't be beaten. Especially the beginning. OH! I really was fired up. But I was touched by the song. I was emotional. I very much was. I'll never forget what I saw. The background grew very bright. The video screen burst up with red's and yellow's and orange's. Even in the ZooTv tour, that song was played with a lot of energy and sparkle. Bono was really going all over the place. I forget now what he was wearing at the time, but I assume he just had his T-shirt on. Oh yes! just great! Where The Streets Have No Name was as surreal as it could get. Hands down.

Now, the coolest part of the concert: The first Encore takes place. Now the lemon is starting to really buzz around. I was wondering how the crew would get that lemon cover off? Maybe it was automatic? In any case, that lemon that was sitting in the right corner of the stage the entire time started to take off! It started to hover above the crowd. It gradually approached the second stage at the end of the catwalk where Larry's drums were already in place. In the background, some remix was playing. I dont know if it was a Discotheque remix or some old Lemon Remix but it sounded familiar! And just like that, I watch as the band steps right out of the Lemon onto the stage. But first they just stand there in this UFO with their arms folded. Just staring away into nothing. They then walk down the lemon ladder and step onto the stage where they play three songs until the second Encore. Meanwhile, lots of things are going on. The strobe lights fire up and play everywhere. The mirrorball lemon takes the brunt of the light and the stadium is lit up into some flashy disco club with disco lights playing the upper deck bleachers. There is gas of some sort, possibly Water Vapor that creates a cloud for the mechanical lemon. Oh, what fun! U2 really knows how to entertain the crowd at the right time! But at this point, I really get a great vantage point to view U2 now. I'm literally 20-30 feet away from the second stage! Adam faces me while Larry plays at his tom toms. Bono also looks out amongst the crowd.

He might have looked at me for a moment? I would never know. It doesnt touch me. It's just great to see Bono's reaction when he looks about at the audience. For instance: what is he really thinking? Just after U2 finishes off Discotheque, they start If You Wear That Velvet Dress. Not good. In actuality, it's not a good choice song for a live concert. Better off picking an old classic instead. What was worse, U2 stopped short in the song.

But then they picked it up with With Or Without You. If this wasn't the best song of the night, Where The Streets Have No Name was. Just a nice emotional song as always. We all have to admit that. I didn't shed tears, but being a committed U2 fan, I did appreciate the song very much. Their older work will live on even beyond the technology of PopMart and any other trend that U2 goes through. With Or Without You is just a classic.

11:00 PM. Is the show over yet? Not yet. Three more songs to go. Now U2 is back to the main stage to perform the remaining songs. Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me is the song to start off the second Encore. Again, great version, but what really was the top of the song was what happened to me. About midway through the song, I was jumping with so much esteem that I literally went right through my seat. That's right, I broke my darn chair! Admidst the craziness going on, I really have to blame myself. But isnt it GREAT to be frantic? For a time like that, it was acceptable. Very much so. I mean, you're attending one of the greatest first concerts of you're life. Why not leave an impression that what you took in had to come out in some form or another?! And no, I'm not embarrassed at all. Even at the time I wasn't embarrassed. I just jumped right back up and went on the next chair. A man next to me wanted to get on my chair for some reason so he almost broke this next chair again. What a bastard! Now, that is true. Either the guy was drunk or he was out of his mind! What is this? Sir, it's PopMart. It's not K-Mart, it's PopMart. Think that over. What are the differences? K-Mart sells more merchandise and better chairs than Pop-Mart. Thus, the accident occurred. Hey, people helped me up, but I was laughing! I was laughing because of the scene. Because I had a right to laugh. The hell with the security!

Mysterious Ways takes place. The concert is ending soon. I could feel it. This is always a fabulous song! (Ive said fabulous three times now). But it truly was great for a finisher. That's what some people thought. But, it could have been more tragic than that! Bono nearly forgot about One! Luckily Adam reminded him that there was still one more song to go. And so, the greatest of all songs was played. One. There's nothing else to describe. It's not egotistical. It's not dissonant. It's not political at all though it could be to describe democracy in some regard. U2 has really supported Organizations like Greenpeace and Amnesty International throughout their lives now. Warchild is to support the victims in Bosnia while Greenpeace is to support the environment from corrupt destruction. That's what One is all about. It could be a love song. It could be about relationships. But it's really about peace. Harmonious Love as well. That's why a heart was displayed as the concert ended. It just stayed there until the end when U2 finished the night with a few verses from Unchained Melody. U2 can implement all these important facets into their music but U2 arent wimps. Just because they support peace very widely, it's because they come from such a destructive country. Ireland in all regard needs that peace that U2 has to take so seriously. For the most part though, the seriousness for the night was controlled. And thus, the concert had come to a closure. Ready to take on the next stadium. Ready to expand PopMart for the masses to other cities. Once the lights went up, I left. NO, I REALLY DID! Of course I had to wait for some time to get off the field. It wasn't eerily quiet or anything. But the sound was starting to evaporate into the air. I couldn't of course see the sound evaporate. It's just a nice metaphor to close the night. I walked out of the stadium and got my ride home. It was approximately 11:32 PM. Not bad for a concert. A little over 2 hours of U2 music. Maybe when they get in their 50's, they will have a 3 hour concert and play some real oldies! Such as what Pink Floyd had done back in 1994. But WHAT A CONCERT! WHAT A CONCERT! THAT'S IT! I'm out of creativity now. WHAT A CONCERT! Just let it out now.

To many people, this concert wasn't amazing at all. Just a cool show. But U2 will always be cool. The music is everchanging. PopMart is U2's imagination come to life! They have the money for that. They have the management. All they need is the music. And the music is what we received. PopMart is not visionary. But for a band that is so successful, being visionary may not be a good thing. Just make the music and get on with it! But make it good.

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Written June 7, 1997.

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About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Jonathan published on June 7, 1997 4:38 AM.

After The Show It Had To Be U2 was the previous entry in this blog.

Tibetan Freedom Concert, Downing Stadium, NYC (June 7-8, 1997) is the next entry in this blog.

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