An Unforgettable Night: U2 Live (Finally!)
On Tuesday, September 5, 2017 my sister Tracy and I saw our first ever U2 concert at New Era Field, home of the Buffalo Bills. I stated a couple blog posts ago that amazing is an overused word, but it certainly applied to this occasion. The only thing "bad" about it was that my deceased father missed the show. He would have immensely enjoyed the performance put on by the lads from his ancestral homeland of Ireland.
The night started with tailgating in the parking lot of Pino's pizzeria and restaurant on Abbott Road about four blocks from the stadium. Tracy and I were joined by our cousin Brion Scime, who drove in from Ithaca to see the concert. We hung out in the lot eating subs, listening to U2's Rattle and Hum, and All That You Can't Leave Behind. I also drank a few beers and purchased a concert T-shirt from some shady guy, one of many selling shirts outside the venue. He said, "It's $20- $40 inside." So I went with the bargain.
Unfortunately, during the jaunt to the stadium, Tracy's back went into spasms and we had to stop several times for her pain to subside. By the time we reached the front gate, waited in line and went through the metal detector, opening act Beck hit the stage with "Devil's Haircut." Since there was a small concession stand located on the exterior of the stadium selling Molson Canadian, I stopped to buy a cup not knowing if there would be any Molson available inside. Due to that decision and the delay from Tracy's multiple spasm stops, we missed the second song of the set- his biggest single "Loser," which I was surprised he did not save for later in his performance.
We finally reached our seats way up in section 338, row 30, which was about eight rows from the very top of the stadium, and not only provided a panoramic view of the venue, but we could see Buffalo's skyline about six miles to the north. Beck had a great backing band, with a black male drummer and bassist, a white male guitarist, a white male key-boardist, and a three-member support group consisting of one guy and two white girls that he referred to as the B-53s, who sang back-up vocals, and depending on the song, provided extra percussion, keys or guitar. They ended with an extended jam version of "Where It's At," with each member of the band getting a brief solo, including Beck, who played some blistering harmonica. Though I am not a big fan of Beck's music, I was very impressed with the band's performance. This was only Beck's second night opening for U2 on this tour and he stated that he saw U2's performance the first night and he assured the crowd that we were in for a hell of a show. Beck also was gracious in thanking U2 for the opportunity and thanking the crowd for coming early to catch his set and showering him and his band with generous applause.
U2 was supposed to start at 9 pm, which made the wait after Beck's set increasingly anxious as the minutes interminably ticked by. During the interim, verses of poetry by African-American poets describing the brutal history of racial injustice in this country alternated with poems celebrating the unique cultural accomplishments and natural beauty of the American landscape scrolled down one section of the massive video screen set up as the backdrop to the stage. One strikingly intelligent poem, expertly capturing the visual imagery of growing up in the distinct geography of the Central Plains called "Prairie" by Carl Sandburg, had me especially transfixed in admiration, though each work had a certain charm or power to it.
Finally around 9:30, a half-hour later than expected, Larry Mullen Jr. walked out alone, traversed a long catwalk to a small satellite stage set up amidst the crowd on the stadium floor, and sat down at the drum set. As he bashed the opening militaristic gunshots-like beat of "Sunday, Bloody Sunday," the Edge followed onto the catwalk with the opening guitar chords, and right behind him, Bono and Adam Clayton bringing up the rear. It was on this mini-stage that the band played the first four songs of the night: next came "New Year's Day" with the Edge switching rapidly between guitar and a small keyboard set up in the back left corner of the stage; the slow-building, deeply emotional lament "Bad," which triggered much of the crowd to hold up their lighted cellphones- from our seats, the far side of the stadium looked like a whole galaxy of stars, which perfectly complemented the night's full moon playing peek-a-boo with the on-again-off-again clouds that continuously rolled by. Bono introduced the song by reminiscing about the first time U2 ever played Buffalo- they opened for legendary local band Talas at the now long-gone Stage One nightclub on December 8, 1980, the night John Lennon was shot and killed in New York City, which had a tremendous impact on the group as Lennon was one of their biggest influences. They finished the mini-set with their ode to Martin Luther King, Jr. "Pride (In the Name of Love)."
Now came the juicy, delicious meat of the program and purpose of this tour- a rousing performance of U2's masterpiece "The Joshua Tree" in its entirety to celebrate the 30th anniversary of their most enduring and influential album. As the members of the band strolled from the satellite stage to the main stage, the massive screen, which stretched the entire width of the stadium's floor, and rose up about 30 feet above the stage, turned a solid shade of blood red behind the distinctly shaped silhouette of a Joshua Tree, the hearty plant that thrives in the parched habitat of the Great American Southwest desert. As the pre-recorded keyboards of "Where the Streets Have No Name" droned on, the band assumed their positions and the Edge kicked off the concert proper with the song's jangling opening guitar chords, and the band and crowd were off a glorious journey thru the group's magnum opus.
Besides an amazing performance- the sound system was both VERY loud and crystal clear, Bono's voice was in great form, and the band's playing was tight and emotionally charged- the visual images on the screen were outstanding and perfectly complemented the music. Throughout the remainder of the show, short films were interspersed with live camera shots of the band, some transcendingly altered with wild psychedelic effects that blasted the crowd with near-hallucinatory sonic and optical stimuli. During "Where the Streets Have No Name" one long continuous camera shot of a car traveling down a highway in the desert, with sand and cacti as far as the eye could see on either side of the road, occasionally punctuated by a wandering individual or two walking alongside the highway, destination unknown, served as the visual backdrop. Other highlights were several people standing outside a shack in that same desert environment, each one placing a military helmet on his or her head while accompanying the anti-war song "Bullet the Blue Sky;" during "Red Hill Mining Town" the video began with a close-up of a blonde woman in a blue military dress uniform playing a french horn, and as the song progressed, the camera slowly pulled back revealing a full brass band of more than a dozen members all in the same uniform playing as if accompanying U2 live on the stage; and another song (I'm not certain, it may have been "Exit") was escorted by a film of a tall, skinny, 30-ish white woman with long dark hair wearing jeans, a long-sleeved shirt, cowboy boots and matching hat coming upon a dilapidated shack and proceeding to paint an American flag on an exterior wall of the structure beginning with a blue square, followed by red stripes, white stripes and lastly the white stars on the far right section of the massive screen, while on the opposite end of the screen, the same woman, wearing the same outfit except the shirt was removed revealing a Star-Spangled Banner bikini top, repeatedly spun a rope lasso as if she was about to capture a wayward calf or horse. It was all very entertaining.
After the last notes of "Mothers of the Disappeared" completed The Joshua Tree inter-pretation, Bono et al. left the stage for the customary interlude to the encore, then returned to play six more songs: "Beautiful Day;" "Elevation;" "Vertigo," which was accompanied on the screen by perpetually-in-motion black-and-red stripes, checker-board patterns and spiral shapes that were displayed to truly dizzy-inducing effects; "Mysterious Ways," during which Bono brought up a young woman from the audience onstage, and using a special camera, took photos of her dancing that appeared on the screen but altered with splashy colors; "Ultraviolet (Light My Way)," during which a tribute to women, both in America and elsewhere around the world, who have made significant contributions to society was celebrated by a litany of stylish, almost comic-book-like portraits of everyone from the early suffragettes and leaders of the feminist movement to Oprah Winfrey, Hillary Clinton, Maya Angelou, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Mala Yousefzi, the youngest winner of the Noble Peace Prize for her advocacy of education for girls in Afghanistan who miraculously survived a gunshot wound to the head by a Taliban militant; and lastly Bono introduced "One" by stating that there has been a lot of divisiveness and hate expressed recently in the U.S. going back to last year's presidential election, the many controversial tweets and policies put forth by Donald Trump, and culminating in the white supremacist/neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville, Virginia followed by the crazed individual who drove his car into a crowd of people protesting the white supremacists, killing one woman and injuring several more. However, when he saw the people of all races and creeds helping each other out in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey in Texas, he thought, "Now there is the America I know and love. America is more than a place- it's an idea, one of the greatest ideas ever. Whether it is putting a man on the moon, or pulling a neighbor out of flood-waters, there is nothing this country can't do when it works together as one." Then as the band played the song, the visual backdrop onscreen started as the Texas Lone Star flag, which morphed into the logo of the Red Cross, the American flag, and finally back to the Red Cross logo with the text number to make a donation to Hurricane Harvey relief.
It was the perfect ending to a fantastic night. For two magical hours, tens of thousands of people, led by Bono, the Edge, Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen, Jr., came together as one to enjoy an unforgettable experience and bask in the warm glow of a communal, reciprocal outpouring of love between true artists and an appreciative audience. Thank you U2 for coming back to Buffalo again and displaying your intense passion and talent.