By Beth Anderson, Republican Journal Guest Columnist
(Oct 8): Most would call it an obsession. There are, however, a few who would describe my apparent lunacy as well within the norm.
Regardless of the label, if you have the same goal as I, you will need to plan months in advance to get yourself a ticket, travel great distances, and spend at least 12 -- and in some cases upwards of 24 -- hours in line. You will need to go to such lengths if you want to see the Irish rock legends U2 close enough so that the only things between you and the band are a rail, a security guard and the stage itself.
Of course there are exceptions to the rule: those with inside connections, contest winners and, unfortunately, line cheaters, but almost all of the people I spent the third weekend in September with were just like me. Fans from all over the world who converged on Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Mass., to catch Sunday or Monday's performance and in many cases, both shows.
The first leg of U2 360 tour opened this summer in Barcelona and rocked the rest of Europe with a spectacular stage design that was paired with the band's latest album, "No Line on the Horizon."
The band has had a bit of a hiatus from touring, the last being the "Vertigo" tour that wrapped up in December 2006. During the past four years, U2 has been working on the new album, as well as planning the fantastic stage and light show with set designer Willy Williams. The spectacle recently landed in the U.S., opening in Chicago with the next stops in Washington, D.C., Charlottesville, S.C., and Atlanta.
U2 has a special tie with the city of Boston and therefore it is a great place to see a concert if you get the chance. The last time I saw the band on tour in Boston was in 2005 when they performed at the TD Banknorth Garden, or the "Gahden‚" as many still fondly call it.
The bond I have with the band was cemented during the Oct. 3 performance when I was brought onstage by the lead singer, Bono, when he saw a sign that I had made that said "Baby in my Belly wants to Dance with Bono." I was just 11 weeks pregnant at the time, but my now 3-year-old daughter knows the story well and was nearly as excited as I when I headed down to Foxboro to see them again.
Those of you who have seen a Patriots game played at Gillette know how the stadium looks when filled to capacity. Now imagine those 65,000 fans in their seats with room for another 7,000 on the field.
At a U2 concert, those on the field swarm around a circular stage that contains a center island holding the band. A middle ring has a space for 2,500 fans and the outer stage is connected by moving bridges to the island . Above the center perches a structure that looks like it belongs more in a sci-fi movie than a rock concert.
This "claw" has four 164-foot-tall spindly legs that contain speakers, lights, and a circular LED video curtain that act as both light show and band magnifier. The goal of this design is to enable the audience to have a better view and access to the band, hence the name 360. According to tour management, this whole contraption takes 120 tractor-trailer trucks to move around and seven days to assemble.
So, I found myself with my husband on Sunday afternoon as numbers 54 and 55 in line waiting for security to let us into the stadium. We had been standing since 8 a.m. and were eager to finally get in and claim our places in the inner circle. Finally, in a blur of ticket scanning and pat downs, we sprinted from the front gates down the length of the football field to find our well-earned spots, center stage, second row.
Snow Patrol, another band from Ireland, opened that evening and warmed up the crowd well. However, when Snow Patrol left the stage, Boston was ready to welcome back the lads from Dublin.
The band started off the night with three songs from the new album -- "Breathe," "No Line on the Horizon" and "Get on Your Boots." No sooner had we been pumped up with the new material than we were hurtled back to the 1990s with the crowd favorite "Mysterious Ways." With the next song we fell back another four years with "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For."
That's the way a U2 concert will unfold: songs that you remember singing as a kid, perhaps playing over and over on your first tape and then songs that will bring you back to a more recent time, like "Walk On," which was featured during the 9/11 tribute.
Sunday, Sept. 20 was a spectacular night at Gillette Stadium. The spaceship claw stage had landed and pulsed with lights and imagery, and four men from Dublin rocked its audience.
There were moments, particularly from a close point of view, when one could see that our hero was just as human as the rest as he sipped on hot tea and cleared his throat between songs. Lead guitarist, The Edge, bassist Adam Clayton and drummer Larry Mullen, supported Bono in magnificent fashion, despite rumors of illness.
The crowd that night did their part as well and sang along. Some participated in a tribute to Aung San Suu Kyi, the political prisoner in Burma who has been under house arrest since 1990, and carried cardboard masks parading on the outer stage during "Walk On."
In my own attempt to be a part of the night, I brought along a recent picture of my 3-year-old daughter with a smaller inset photo of Bono and me hugging during my moment on stage four years ago. Being so close, Bono's personal bodyguard saw the picture and took it from me in the hope of having it signed so that I might be able to frame it as a fantastic keepsake for her.
When the show ended, throngs took to the streets of Foxboro. From what I hear, a simple two-hour ride to Portland doubled. My husband and I were among the lucky who stayed the night on-site.
However, instead of going straight back to the hotel, I got back in line with a friend and we got our line numbers (25 and 26) for the next night, as my husband, Joe, would be heading home.
At Patriot Place, there is no camping allowed, so we headed back to the hotel and set the alarm to be back in line at 8 a.m. Okay, I admit how this may sound a little nutty to the average person. My only argument is that once you've seen U2 so close, any other spot isn't really an option.
The next morning brought with it the promise of another long day in line, but the returns that evening were worth the wait. I made second row center again and my aching feet and sunburned shoulders were soon forgotten once the spaceship landed. Bono rebounded from whatever ailed him and the band mixed up the set list to the thrill of the crowd.
The rock legends were "on" and the fierce bond that they have with Boston was reinforced when Bono plucked the city flag from a front row fan and cradled it like a baby. Even with all the visual stim, the band could hold all 70,000 of us in the palm of their hands.
Songs like "Stay (Faraway, So Close!)", were played with just the Edge on a miked acoustic guitar and Bono's vocals, and the effect was just as powerful as those songs with full-on light and camera trickery.
By the end of the night, I again made contact with "Murph," Bono's bodyguard. Through the din of the surrounding crowd he let me know that Bono had indeed signed my picture of Dana and asked for my phone number and contact info so they could get it back to me. Of course, I immediately offered to come backstage after the show to get it, but I was gently urged to just leave my number.
By the end of the night we streamed out of Gillette in high spirits and in a state of U2phoria. It was a bittersweet moment, as this was the last planned stop for me on this tour. I am hoping that they return to Boston during the summer of 2010.
If they do, and you have the chance, plan wisely. Get your ticket, mark your calendar and be prepared to see the rock show spectacle of your life. We will have a lot to talk about in line!
Beth Anderson, in addition to being a fan of U2, is a resident of Northport.