When I walked out of Soldier Field following my first U2 show in 1997, I had no idea it would be 14 years before I saw them again. Life is funny that way. Sometimes even when there is a strong will, there is no way.
In 1998, we moved from IL. Our new location meant that we were now at least 4 hours away from the nearest venues where the band would play on their next 2 tours. Combine our location with the births of 2 more children (the 3rd right before the 2005 Vertigo tour) plus the financial strain of my finishing my BA and you have me missing those tours.
Like all U2 fans at the end of 2008, I was eagerly anticipating the next album and tour. We were financially stable, and the kids were old enough to leave for an overnight trip. We agreed we could swing at least one show and go from there. The universe had other plans because I learned I was pregnant for the 4th time just before Christmas. My concert hopes were over again. I was hugely disappointed to sit this one out because the U2360 tour was shaping up to be the tour of the century. Then, in 2010, Bono suffered a terrifying back injury which required major surgery, and the 2010 dates were postponed until 2011. And new shows were added including Nashville and St. Louis.
I should have lost my fangirl card for missing the initial announcement of the Nashville show. In my defense, it was a late announcement and came in October of 2010. I was knee-deep in kid’s soccer practices, work, and planning my daughter’s birthday. I found out by accident while perusing my favorite fan site in a rare moment of down time. I read the announcement more than once. I am pretty certain I stopped breathing for a few seconds, and then I cried. I knew this was the answer to my prayers. U2 was going to practically be in my backyard on a Saturday over 4th of July weekend. It couldn’t be more perfect. A tearful phone call to my husband at work followed, and a few minutes later, I was buying tickets.
Since our anniversary had been a few days earlier, we splurged and booked what we thought would be a fantastic hotel suite. We arrived in Nashville later than planned because of delays with our car rental, and we found our reservation completely messed up. Lesson: Always take your e-mail confirmation. I had booked more than 6 months in advance and pre-paid. They fixed it, but we didn’t get what we booked and received no compensation. Moral of that story is we will never stay with that chain again, ever. Now an hour and a half behind schedule, we rushed upstairs so I could change. I had done my homework, and the plan was to arrive at the stadium early enough in the hopes of seeing the band arrive and maybe, just maybe, meet them. OK, meet Bono. It didn’t quite work out. What did happen was that the band drove by us on the way to the stadium that evening. I didn’t know for certain until I found a video on YouTube which confirmed that the 3 black SUVs and the car that rolled by us were the band. It was a remarkably low-key arrival.
When we arrived at Vanderbilt, The Claw towered over the stadium. Pictures don’t do it justice. It was an imposing structure. This was one of the smallest, if not the smallest, venue they played, and the smaller stadium size guaranteed everyone had a great view. It is such a small world that we ran into former co-workers of mine who were there with another co-worker and her husband. One of the stylists from my hair salon was in the crowd that night, and I found out later that my pediatrician’s college age son and a friend were there too. It was definitely shaping up to be the event of the year despite the unbelievable heat which was not to be taken lightly.
After grabbing cups of lemonade, we found our seats. People watching made for an entertaining way to pass time. Florence and The Machine took the stage as the opening act around 7:00. I was only passingly familiar with them, but they have a great stage presence and were an excellent opening act. When they finished, the stage preparation for U2 began. It was an incredible process to watch. The video screen scrolled different facts about the state and the world. The picture above shows some of them. The scrolling facts slowed down and became fewer in number the closer it got to showtime. Finally, sometime after 9:00 the screen went blank, and the entire stadium went black for a few seconds. My heart leaped. The Claw lit up, and smoke rose from it like a space shuttle preparing for lift-off. Space Oddity began to play, and in the far corner of the stadium near an entrance, fans began to scream. I wish I could put into words what I felt at that moment. Fourteen years of waiting were ending in the most spectacular fashion. When the band appeared on the video screen and we could finally see them in the stadium, the floodgates opened. Tears of joy rolled down my face, and my wonderful husband just hugged me. The tears disappeared moments later as Larry’s drum beat began, and the guitar intro to Even Better than the Real Thing filled the stadium. Moments later when Bono hit the stage, I was on my feet and screaming with the rest of the crowd.
The heat was intense, but the show was hotter. Bono spent the evening clad in his signature black leather. He never missed a beat and neither did the rest of the band. They were clearly enjoying the night as much as the audience, and that is one of the things which make a U2 concert so special. They love what they do and their audience, and it shows in every move they make. The set-list was the standard one they had been playing for the last few weeks which was fine with me. I finally had the chance to hear some of the songs from Achtung Baby I had never heard live before. The Fly was unbelievable (“Achtung y’all!”), and Until the End of the World was mind-blowing as usual. Zooropa and Stay (Faraway, So Close) are rarities from the Zooropa album and were amazing performed live. I hope they continue to have a place in shows in the future. Miss Sarajevo, another rarity from the mid-90s, was a song the band had done with Luciano Pavarotti. Bono taught himself the opera part of the song, and it is breathtaking. It brought me to tears. There were many more classics as well as songs from the last decade which I had never heard performed live before.
The only set list disappointments from that night were minor. I wish they had kept No Line on the Horizon and Magnificent in the show. I was also very disappointed when they removed Ultra Violet from the encore. I desperately wanted to hear it as it is one of my all time favorite songs. All said though, the encore was incredible. Bono had a jacket with LED lights on the sleeves that threw laser-like light out to the audience. He also had a microphone which was shaped something like a steering wheel and was suspended from the Claw. It was strong enough for him to swing from and swing he did! The crowd loved it. The light show created by the Claw and the video screen are beyond description.
There were a couple of surprises in store for us too. Bono and Edge threw in part of The Wanderer. It is the closing song from the Zooropa album, and the vocals had been performed by Johnny Cash. Bono initially tried to channel Johnny’s deep voice but couldn’t quite pull it off. It was a fun moment. The biggest surprise of the night came after the concert ended. As the band were making their exit, Bono pulled a man up onto the stage and handed him his green Gretsch Irish Falcon guitar. The man began playing a few chords of All I Want is You that he dedicated to his wife. Bono began singing and in a few seconds, the entire band had joined in! We were getting a bonus performance! When they finished, Bono hugged the man and gave him his guitar! The crowd roared. It wasn’t until security helped the man off stage that those of us in the seats realized the man was blind. It was one of the greatest things I have ever seen and speaks to the heart of the band.
It was an incredible night. A night that I will carry with me forever. Even my husband, a fan by association, had a great time. It’s hard to believe these are men in their 50s because they give a performance full of electricity. I left the stadium ready for another show but grateful for the one I had just experienced. Little did I know, that less than a week later, my husband would give me one of the best gifts he has ever given me.