Over the years, I’ve gone to see U2 a total of four times. Each show was special for different reasons. In 2001, I saw them for the first time after years of trying. Four years later when I saw them perform in Washington DC, they busted out the rarely played “Out of Control.”
I knew U2’s show in Baltimore, as part of their 360° Tour would be a special one, too. As a Christmas present, my older brother and I bought my mother a ticket. Not only would this be her first time seeing U2, it would also be her first rock concert. After years of watching her sons go to the band’s concerts without her, my mother would finally get to see Bono and company in the flesh.
She’s listened to U2 for almost 25 years, mostly because my older siblings exposed her to them. She’s always enjoyed The Joshua Tree; though it took her fifteen years to declare that Achtung Baby is “one of their best.” It’s hard to listen to “Bad” without thinking back to Friday afternoons when she made pizza in the kitchen.
When the day of the show finally came, my mother was nervous about the large crowds and the stage show. She became concerned about the band’s moving catwalks after hearing about them on the radio. I was a bit apprehensive about going to a concert with my mother. This was a new experience for me.
Naturally, I wondered if it would be too loud for her. Maybe the giant video screen and flashing lights would be a bit much for her. Bono’s politicizing is sometimes off-putting for even faithful fans of U2. What would she think if he gave the audience a lecture on Africa?
Eventually my fears began to subside; as we made our way into the stadium, my mother seemed less nervous and more excited. She had even brought a pair of earplugs, on my friend’s suggestion. “What’s the name of the song about Bono’s father?” she asked as weaved our way around the hundreds of people inside the stadium. “I like that one.”
“Sometimes You Can’t Make It On Your Own,” I said. “Though I don’t think they play that one on this tour.”
After walking half way around the stadium and climbing to the upper-deck, we finally made it to our seats. U2’s elaborate stage with its massive spider-like claws stretching into the air, circular video screen, and giant antenna took up much of the field. “It’s crazy isn’t it?” my brother asked. “It’s wonderful,” she replied in awe. She might have been referring to the stage, but it was also much more significant. She had finally made it, and enjoying the company of her two sons.
When U2 finally appeared on stage – Bono appearing last – my mother let out an enthusiastic whoop. The earplugs were no where to be found. From the very beginning, it was clear that I had no need to worry. After every single song – even the ones she didn’t know – she cheered so loudly that it put the audience members around us to shame.
The set opened with four straight songs off of 1991’s Achtung Baby. “Even Better Than The Real Thing” was given a dance-vibe treatment to the audience’s delight. The Edge showed off his guitar heroics from the distortion-heavy “The Fly,” which was played for only the second time of this two years and still running tour. But it was “Until the End of the World” with its stadium-sized riffs that really whipped the crowd into a frenzy exploding into a wall of noise at the end. On two separate catwalks Bono and The Edge provided a stunning visual to accompany the chaos of the music. Bono looked like he could barely hang onto the sides of his catwalk. My mother was amazed at how The Edge could play so well, as the catwalk beneath his feet moved over heads of the audience.
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Thankfully, Bono kept his political talk to a minimum, and instead offered kind words and praises of thanks. He seemed grateful to be back in the United States. (U2 were supposed to tour here last year, but had to postpone several dates due to Bono’s back injuries.) “It’s so hot,” He commented at one point. I definitely agreed with him, but perhaps he would have been cooler if he had taken off his leather jacket.
The set-list was divided between greatest hits and deep-cuts. While I prefer the latter, I could have dealt with an entire night’s worth of well-known songs for the look on my mother’s face when “Pride,” “One” and “Sunday Bloody Sunday” were played. While “Sunday Bloody Sunday” was played without the flare and anger of its earlier days, it was given a visual treatment to reflect the Arab Spring. “Walk On” was dedicated to Burma’s Aung San Suu Kyi.
After the show, my mother left with a huge smile on her face. She was amazed at the visuals, and U2’s level of playing. “I’ve never seen anything like it,” She said as we walked through the crowds out of the stadium.
U2 are the biggest band in the world not because they put on great shows. Their songs speak universal truths and offer hope in a world full of confusion. Songs even my mother, who is almost 20 years older than Bono, can relate to.