Opening Act(s): Stereophonics
Elevation, Beautiful Day, Until The End Of The World, New Year’s Day, I Will Follow, Sunday Bloody Sunday, When Will I See You Again-Stuck In A Moment You Can’t Get Out Of, Kite, Angel Of Harlem, Please, Bad-40, Where The Streets Have No Name, I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For, Pride (In The Name Of Love). Encore: Bullet The Blue Sky, What’s Going On, New York, One, Peace On Earth-Walk On, Out Of Control.
Bono and Edge sing ‘Please’ with Bruce Brody on piano. Two fans get engaged during ‘Still Haven’t Found’ and Bono wishes them well. About 20 FDNY and EMS workers are brought on-stage during ‘Walk On.’ One has a sign: ‘Tuesday Bloody Tuesday, 9-11-01’. They stay on-stage the rest of the night, even after the band has left, and many take the mic for spoken tributes to their friends and family. The show is videotaped by someone on-stage with a small, handheld camera.
Jim P. Freeman
New York is a difficult place to play in any given circumstance but in the wake of the September attacks, even more so. It is difficult to gauge people’s emotional states and this is an emotional show. Nevertheless, U2 pulled off a terrific show and struck the right balance between the poignant and the peripheral. For those who live and or work in NYC, this is a different world and this is a different U2. They sounded a little more jaded than jubilant, a little more melancholy than manic this third leg stop than their first foray to NYC in June. But this was altogether fitting in light of the trauma beset upon us here in NYC. But this is U2 and they have a keen sense of what is appropriate and that sense was not lost here.
I had my GA tickets from Propaganda and was determined to get a good place inside The Heart. I arrived at MSG at 8:55am and was lucky to get a good number—89, so I was destined to park myself in “front row” territory. It was a cold and blustery day at the entrance to MSG. Fortunately, this was a Saturday so the line was able to form without too much problem from Garden or local mangement (Wednesday’s line formed along 33rd Street while the Thursday line formed on 31st Street—considering the chaos on Thursday with the job fair attracting over 30,000 people to the Garden before U2 attracting another 20,000 that night). As usual, the crowd was comprised of a good natured bunch from all over the country and the world. I sat with a couple from Portland, Maine and we all shared U2 stories, pictures and travel difficulties. The prospect of sitting in the cold for over ten hours is daunting but we all agreed that none of us would do so for any other band. Also, with number 66 on his wrist was a Bono-look-alike named Tony from a U2 tribute band. He was dressed in circa 1992/93 U2 gear and the resemblaence is remarkable at first glance. He even posed for some pictures with fans. An amusing moment to a long day.
As 7pm came around people were really ready for indoors and knowing their fate in the GA area. In this column in June I remarked how good the MSG people were with the handling the whole GA matter but what ensued at MSG this go around bordered on utter chaos and a complete breakdown of the honor system! The line began to move in groups of 30. First through a metal detector scanner through one line of MSG personnel. So far so good.
The problem began when Garden personnel opened a second security gate that effectively disregarded all the people who sat all day in line. Mixed in with those of us who literally waited all day were people who had no numbers and just showed up. Instead of ushering each group of thirty nicely through the hallways of MSG as was done in June, the Garden people brought the entire GA line (now well above the 400 number) and those outsiders into just one hallway for a line up. There was nearly a riot between those who had numbrs on their wrists and those who came in just before 7pm! Very little in the way of security was evident and tempers were running hot (just five minutes before we were freezing!)Then the entire queue of what now seemed like 500 people was slowly scanned of tickets and then off to the races to get the wristbands for The Heart. However, once we all (and I mean all) got down to the floor level hallway the entire crowd came to a screeching halt. There seemed to be people coming from all directions. Those of us with low numbers now felt a sense of panic that we would be well back on the floor. Shame on those “fans” who proclaimed that they had been sitting on line since 9am yet had no number on their wrists as evidence! It is inconceivable to me that the Garden could let this occur considering the June lines went exceptionally smoothly. Finally some security people did show up but the wristband attaching took forever! After all this commotion I finally got inside The Heart right in front of Edge’s mic stand. Mission accomplished and a champange toast!
The Stereophonics came on at 8pm and played a fairly good set. For those of us unfamiliar with their material we all commented and agreed that they sounded like a slowed down version of Oasis without the bad manners.
By the time 9:15 rolled around it was amazing from the vantage point I was in to see virtually every space of the vast MSG full. We have all seen big bands play clubs to get close to the people but only U2 can play at MSG and create a club-like atmosphere. The Heart shaped stage creates this intimacy and immediacy with the fans and once U2 step on stage the distance and depth fans experience at other rock shows disappears. With the band connecting on the same emotional current that the fans are riding MSG felt like the bona fide club days of yesteryear. From the tip of The Heart to the last seat in the house no one sits down for the two hour show.
The anticipation is overpowering once the last of the house music is etched higher in volume (Sgt Pepper’s and remix Elevation). The band walks by Edge’s keyboards and pandemonium erupts. The opening salvo of chords from Edge and backbone beat of Larry and Adam creat a near rave-like sensation in The Heart during Elevation. This is rave for adults. All fans in and around that area are jumping up and down in unison pumping fists to the “Woo Ooos” of Bono’s lead. At any time you just think that Edge’s delicate rig assortment will just melt or blow up. The chorus to Beautiful Day resumes the madness.
The show allows the fans to take a catch of breath for Kite which seems particularly moving as Bono mentions his father before the song is played and it immediately connects us to those we lost in the attacks. Gone are the outrageous Fly and Mysterious Ways and replaced, appropriately enough, with When Will I See You Again and an acoustic version of Please—timely fit into the show with the peace process in Ireland over another hurdle.
Just when the show seems to be set in a perfunctory tone (quick moving with little Bono banter)the pulse is jacked up with the familiar but unabashed organ intro to Streets and the second eruption starts—with I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For and Pride to end the show proper. The band is smiling throughout this phase of the show perhaps part relief at playing to the “hometown” crowd, as Bono called it and part sheer fatigue at the emtional tone of the show, now close to 100 shows completed in just seven months. Bono handed the mic to a fan who proposed marriage to his girlfriend towards the end of Streets and Adam never had a broader smile on his face. It is amazing through this all to see that workmanship still at the top of the band’s priorities. Edge, for instance, shouting over to Dallas “More vocals” during Still Haven’t and becoming incensed that his guitar was not sounding properly during New York—a song that saw Bono improvising lyrics as “nuts” and “fanatics” were not welcome here.
The band sounded in fine form and I finally have an appreciation for Larry, Adam and Edge that I had not had before and that is they never missed a beat—tough to do when Bono is parading about and improvising all through the show. The sound down in The Heart area was clear, crisp and actaully not too loud. I am not sure that bono’s guitar playing holds to close scutiny during I Will Follow but who cares? Those vintage guitars are fun to look at and his voice was fine.
I am still somewhat surprised that the band continues to play Bullet the Blue Sky in light of the attacks. I figured it was a sure fire put to pasture song—as a good many fans figured too for such a blatant portrayal of US politics. But this is 2001 and not 1987 and yet Bullet seemed to work as well. It was more of boasting about the US than berating it.
The show could have easily ended with the usual succession of One and Walk On and been considered a success blending what Jimmy Page once said was the balance of “light” and “shade” of a rock show. But during Walk On the band brought out members of FDNY and EMS in an emotional, highly charged farewell. They walked around The Heart with Bono leading the way decked out in an FDNY tee-shirt and fireman’s hat. Just as the the FDNY and U2 were finished with Walk On you could see band members sort of huddling around (you could barley see them from the first row as they were hidden by all the people on stage) and out of no where the opening chords of Out of Control came out of the PA and once again MSG rocked on. This incredible and unexpected encore recalled the club days when one more meant the band played one of its songs for the second time only this time the entire stage was filled with these heroic figures singing with U2 to one of its oldest and heroic songs.
Once this fit of exuberance was over some members of the EMS and FDNY embraced the band (the band embracing them back and saying “thank you”), had them sign autographs and slowly, seemingly, one by one, paid his own tribute to the open mic. It could have gone on all night. It was an amazing moment listening to each one of these men tell his story in a way that was completely different to the way U2 told its story that night. In a strange way but a fitting way it was just the right way for ending U2’s last NYC show this year after all that has happened. Who would have guessed that the phrase “All That You Can’t Leave Behind” coined in 2000 would would take on such a heavy vibe in a world so changed in 2001?
Just as Grace played over the PA and I received one of Edge’s guitar picks the world seemed to be, at least for a few hours, a safer place. That a rock band named after a spy plane built during the cold war, before its members were born, could achieve this is, I suppose, just symbolic of the bizarre world we live in today.
All images are © Kevin; © Foxy; © Henry Wagner; © Jim P. Freeman