Yesterday, my husband and I celebrated our 19th wedding anniversary. Tonight, I am celebrating the 15th anniversary of my first U2 concert. It was an event that was a decade in the making.
My love affair with the band began in 1987 with the release of With or Without from The Joshua Tree. I was 12, and when I saw the video that accompanied the song, Bono, then 27, stole my heart. (He never gave it back.) There was no chance of seeing them on tour then, and I missed an opportunity to see ZooTV just before my 17th birthday in 1992. It was a chance I’ve always and will always regret not being able to take. It would be five years and a lot of life changes later before I’d have the opportunity to see them live.
U2 released Pop in March of 1997 just 6 month after my dad had passed away. Discotheque, the first single, was released in early February, and the band revealed the plans for their tour, PopMart, at an over-the-top press conference at a NYC K-Mart. When the official dates were released, I discovered that the opening in Chicago would take place the day after our 4th anniversary. There was no stopping me. We were going to see U2!
U2’s ZooTV was a ground breaking extravaganza that changed concert stage sets forever, and the staging for PopMart was equally breathtaking. The video screen was one of the largest, if not the largest, constructed at that point at 170 feet long. The graphics, created by Roy Lichtenstein, were visual overload. The stage set also included a 100 ft high golden arch, a giant swizzle stick with an olive perched atop, and THE lemon. The lemon stood 40 ft high and converted into a giant mirrorball from which the band would emerge. It was outrageous. It was overtop. It got stuck once.
Downtown Chicago was a 2 1/2 hour drive from the town we had moved to after getting married. After dropping our 18 month old daughter off at my husband’s brother’s house, we arrived at the stadium around 6:00. It was a beautiful Chicago night, and the show was at Soldier Field so lake breezes could be expected. I still remember the giddy anticipation I felt as we entered the stadium. It was tempered slightly when we realized our seats were on the other end of the stadium from the stage.
The opening act was the Fine Young Criminals, and I couldn’t tell you what they performed. Sadly, most of that night has become a blur for me. The energy of the audience was unbelievable. And the moment the band appeared on stage will stay with me forever. I cried. I was so embarrassed at the time, but I couldn’t help it.
Bono was at his best as he hopped around the stage dressed in a boxer’s robe. He is a frontman in a class of his own. Sexy. Funny. Self-deprecating. Aggressive. Brash. Intense. Sexy. Bono goes places with his songs and his bandmates that other bands just cannot reach, and he is not happy unless he has taken the audience to those places with them.
The set list was heavy on songs from Pop and looking back, I’m glad it was. Pop and the reception to PopMart waned as the tour progressed. The band perceived it as a failure of sorts and few of those songs have not been played since then. Of the Pop songs from that night, Please and If You Wear That Velvet Dress are the only two I really remember clearly. Please was an intense, impassioned performance that I think is one of Bono’s best, and Velvet Dress was hauntingly sensual. I remember chills when I realized they were playing it. Until The End Of The World from Achtung Baby was and still is one of their best live songs, ever. I hope you’ll watch the YouTube video of the performance I saw that night. And of course, there were the performances of the songs which had made me a fan in the first place, Where The Streets Have No Name and With or Without You. Hearing With Or Without You live for the first time, performed the way Bono performed it then, was an out of body experience for me. They finished the night with their most iconic song, One, and Hallelujah which brought back the tears for me.
I remember sitting down after they left stage and being speechless. The music, the graphics, the crowd, the experience . . . it had all overwhelmed me. My husband was more than willing to let me just sit so we could wait out the traffic. It was after midnight when we got out of the lot. We stopped at the Denny’s in my hometown of Aurora for food, and then made the hour drive to his brother’s in relative silence. It was almost 3 when we got there to crash for a few hours of sleep before taking our daughter home.
When I walked into Soldier Field that night, I was a dedicated fan. When I walked out, I was a fanatic. My love had turned to passion, and it has only intensified over the last decade and a half. When I walked out that night, I knew I’d be going back. I had no idea then just how long it would be before I did.