Last night my boy Ryan and I made our way downtown, to the East Bank of the University of Minnesota, to TCF Bank Stadium. The Occasion: The U2 360 Tour.
I’ve seen U2 two other times, November 3, 1987 on The Joshua Tree tour, at the old St. Paul Civic Center, and again March 3, 1992 at Target Center, on the ZooTV tour. Both of of the other shows were incredible, for different reasons. 1987 was magical, earnest, uplifting, and an awakening. I was 20 years old, and having grown up Catholic, had never considered the spiritual power that secular music could carry for me in my life. I did not even realize it that night – it took me several years to connect the dots on how that experience shaped me, and opened my mind to ways of thinking I had never previously considered. It was a true convergence of the secular and religious worlds for me, even though it took we a long time to figure that out, and even longer to understand how I could benefit from that knowledge in my life. I think that show marked the beginning of a new chapter in my life. I met Jennifer a few weeks later, we regarded one another, and never looked back.
In 1992 Jen and I saw them, and it was yet another amazing experience. The band had entered the second phase of its career, with the epic Achtung Baby, which to this date is still my favorite U2 record. The show was loud, raucous, a little naughty, yet still spiritual, and like every U2 show that has ever been, a little pretentious and Highfalutin. Exactly how I love it. Big themes, big melodies, big messages, overblown metaphors – all swirled together with Big Fun. At 25 years old, I had been married for more than two years, had just finished college – yes I took some time off during my expansive seven-year-plan – and was working in my first corporate job.
Jump ahead to last night, in 2011, and I am a 44-year-old man. I have 21 years of marriage under my belt, a wife who loves me (and likes me on most days), and two beautiful sons. I have this passion for what this band U2 has contributed to my experience, and also for the doors it opened, giving me perspective into things I never even knew were there. I am so looking forward to sharing this with Ryan, who is finally old enough, mature enough, and self-aware enough to Get It, to understand the connection that I have. We’re at at time in our relationship where it is sometimes hard to find places where our lives can meaningfully intersect, to find things to talk about, to have real connection. So maybe this show affords us that opportunity. U2 will never be his connection, but maybe he will understand mine, and gain a little glimpse into his old man’s crusty soul.
Jen bought these tickets for me as a 2009 Christmas present. The show was to come in June 2010. Then Bono injured himself, had back surgery, and the show was postponed for a year. I asked if it was ok to take Ryan instead of her, although I already knew the answer. My wife is really smart, and while she may have been just-a-little disappointed that she and I could not do this together, she understands the rare opportunity for connection it provides for me and my 16-year-old boy. As we approach the stadium, we’re awed by the sheer audacity of the stage. It is friggin’ HUGE. Larger-than-life. Gawdy. Ginormous. We enter the venue, and are awed-anew. We have general admission ‘seats’ – standing stage center – about 40 feet from the front row. After a forgettable opening act, at 9:00 PM, on the nose, under a dark and foreboding sky, the lights went down. It’s been 19 years since I’ve seen The Fellas in person, and here we go.
Ryan and I knew of friends and acquaintances that would also be at the show. To those I knew were planning to attend, I predicted that the event would be very much like a Big Tent Revival, based on my previous experience. In hindsight, I have to say, it was perhaps the most intimate experience you could ever expect to have with 60,000 of your closest friends. The 25-song set opened with four straight songs from Achtung Baby, as if they were channeling my desire. By song #7, I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For, the clouds had fully opened up, and absolutely dumped on the packed, open stadium. The crowd responded — accompanying the band vocally, loudly, to the point where Bono finally just smiled, dropped his microphone, and just let us sing the song for him. A tent revival indeed. The evening was on.
For the next two hours Ryan and I stood in the rain, and sang and swayed, bumped against other soaked patrons, and shared in a temporary community that was unlike anything else I’d ever experienced. The rain created an intimacy that might not have otherwise existed. It created a camaraderie – a shared experience – within the crowd that was real and palpable. The band, fully participating in our experience, soldiered on, playing with wet footing, drumheads, fretboards, and the ever-present fear of lightening from above. The giant claw stage morphed from song to song, physically expanding and retracting, creating a brand-new visual experience with each song, all during a torrential downpour. I’m still amazed that no one was electrocuted.
I have few complaints about the show – songs I wished they’d played – New Year’s Day, Love Rescue Me, Running to Stand Still, and my ever-beloved 40. The complaints I have were far outweighed by the care and attention to detail the band displayed with the songs they did perform. Bono’s idle chit-chat between songs reflected a more-than-superficial knowledge of Minneapolis-St. Paul, which further served to facilitate a true connection with the crowd. There were omnipresent good vibrations emanating from the the U, a pervasive sense of harmonious chill.
As for My Boy, yes we also had a true connection. We both were poured upon, stood on a hard metal floor for 6 straight hours, and sat in the car for 90 minutes trying to escape the parking garage. We were cold, hungry, and each enjoyed insufferable pain in our legs as we walked back to the car (although I suspect he suffered a lot less than me).
We also both marveled at what we had seen – the spectacle, the grandeur, the intimacy, the utter display of might – from the world’s biggest band, still at the peak of its powers after 30 years together. I think he understood that this was a rare and unique experience in the community, since it was 30 years since the last show this big in the Twin Cities. Most of all, I think he understood it was a rare and unique shared experience for the two of us too. We were both exhausted, but deeply content. He’s a 16-year-old boy, and all that implies. So if he ever forgets the coolness of what we experienced, here it is fully documented for him, to relive again.