Seats: General Admission – Fifth Row between Edge and Bono
Arrival and Seeing Old Friends
I arrived in Anaheim the afternoon before the show and was looking forward to linking up with a host of friends I knew were attending these southern Californian gigs. I was going to be staying with Nate (from Phoenix) and Naomi (from Hamilton), who were gracious to allow me to crash with them and catch a ride around Anaheim. I was excited about seeing Brad and Jorge (from San Francisco) – friends who I’ve come to enjoy seeing U2 with ever since we met up in Mexico City, as well as Nick (from San Francisco), Amp (from NY), and Carlos and Fernando (from Mexico City).
There was also the Spanish/Valencia crew – Juan, Javi, and Raul – who always make me smile and laugh. When talking about them flying to the Moncton show, they respond, “It is possible, it is possible…” in their great Catalan accents. Needless to say, a major concert city like Los Angeles / Anaheim was bound to attract a lot of the ‘die-hard’ fans, and it was pretty cool to see almost the entire cohort of veteran GA fans from the United States, all of whom I had met along my 360 tour travels. There are far too many names to mention here, but I must say that it was comforting to be among familiar faces as it reminded me of my past travels around the world over the last two and a half years of the 360° tour.
Making New Friends
A few days before the show, Jennifer (from Santa Monica) had contacted me asking for my help to get her to the front for the first Anaheim show. She had been a long time fan – ever since the Joshua Tree era (if I recall correctly) – but had never made it front row before. Jennifer offered me a free GA ticket, but I already had one. I was happy to help out a long time U2 fan. I always get a kick out of enjoying the show with someone who had never been to the front. We met the day before and she turned out to be a very lovely person and wanted to have the full GA experience as I had described in my Unofficial Guide to the U2 GA Queue. Brad and I often lament at how the U2 GA queue has changed over the years in the United States and Canada. Instead of lining up early and camping out, the sign-in sheet and roll call has become more the norm than the exception. I’ve been fortunate to have the classic queue experiences in Europe, Australia, and Latin America this tour, and I’m afraid that the community development that is associated with the camp-out is being lost in Anglo America, mostly due to the banning of camping by venues. Jennifer did her best to take in as much of the queue experience by staying in line most of time and by chatting with U2 fans who were arriving to get their numbers. I was happy that she was able to get to know a few of the die-hard fans like my friend Brad and Nick, and another fan Erick (from Idaho), who we got to know fairly well over the weekend.
The Morning of the U2 Queue
Melissa and Matt (from LA) had organized the line. The venue disallowed any camping, so fans had to sign their names in the GA book and get a number. Similar to the way we organized the Las Vegas and Vancouver queues, you needed to make sure you were at roll call at 6AM the morning of the concert, otherwise you lose your spot in line. At 6AM, the queue managers had to split the line because there were two entrances – Edge side and Adam side. We had to proclaim which side we wanted to be on. Nick, Jennifer, Erick, Jorge, Carlos, and myself chose Edge’s side, while Brad, Naomi, and Nate went to Adam’s side. I ended up being number 17 in my line, and we planned to meet in the pit once the gates opened up. It was easy to assume that we had a good spot in line with a fortuitous chance to make it to the front. I had mentioned in my guide that there are a lot of variables that can complicate the entry such as failed ticket scanners and incompetent security staff. Security clearly had no plan and were ad-hoc in their approach. I should have seen the changing security rules as a portent of stormy events to come.
* Before I go on my rant, I acknowledge that I will sound like a baby throwing his toys out of the pram :) It simply reflects my poor and isolated GA entry, which unfortunately tainted my concert experience. For the majority of others, Anaheim I was an amazing show, but I wasn’t in the right frame of mind to take it all in. What was worse, I felt like I let people down. That’s what made it a difficult experience for me.
The security had initially told us that around 1PM they wanted us to remove our chairs and belongings before they issued GA wristbands. We were ready to pack up, but a few minutes later, security said we could keep our belongings until 4PM. It was a bit of a frantic atmosphere among the crowd when there was initial movement at 1PM — people running back from the washroom to get back into their spots or hustling it back from their cars to get wristbands. These are ‘tectonic shifts’ as I like to call it whenever there is movement in the line before the ensuing tsunami of panic. All seemed to be going okay in the queue and it was nice to chat with a few fans who I had seen from previous shows or meeting U2 fans who had read my blog.
In theory, both GA gates were supposed to open at the same time at 5:30PM. The people in the Red Zone lines either entered at the same time as we do or go after the GA line entered, so that they could go to their designated areas. I couldn’t believe what I was witnessing. I had heard this happening at other venues, but I watched in horror as the entire Red Zone 2 enter the gates before us. They were supposed to turn left to their reserved Red Zone area, but they began walking right, into the general admission area. I knew exactly what was going to happen — they were all heading into the inner circle ahead of us. Later did I find out that the other line (Adam side) was let in at the correct time, but we were delayed by almost 5 minutes. After a failed ticket scanner and being given ambiguous directions to get to the floor, by the time I got into the pit, the first 5 rows were occupied. The closest I could get for me and my friends was 5 rows back in between Edge and Bono. I realize that under different circumstances, this spot would have been an amazing position to be in the pit, but I had promised Jennifer I would get her to the front. I was disheartened to see a lot of people who came late into the queue ahead of us in the pit. Worse, I saw the first 2 rows occupied by Red Zone people. What grates me about the Red Zone folks in the inner circle was that they paid a lot of money to have early entry into the pit. This bothered me at a very fundamental level.
The U2 general admission was set up in 2001 as a way for dedicated fans to pay for affordable tickets and be closest to the front. The caveat was that you needed to line up early because it was first-time-first-serve. Gone were the days of the well-heeled and rich paying big bucks to get to the front. I liked the egalitarian aspect of the GA because everyone paid the same amount, and you were able to get to the front so long as you planned your vacation / time-off and came early in the queue. Many of us in the queue came early that morning, and endured the scorching sun. The security kept changing the rules, but we remained patient. In the end, it was frustrating to see Red Zone people get in first because they paid the money. In my Guide, I do mention that we need to accept certain variables that can frustrate the GA process such as failed ticket scanners, slow administration of wristbands, or long security checks. What was dis-empowering was seeing people who have the means to pay for expensive Red Zone tickets (prices vary according to city, but it was safe to assume LA/Anaheim Red Zone tickets were pricey) to not go their designated spots
, but to go into the inner circle where they are not supposed to be. Even during the show, I saw Red Zone people make their way into the pit and disregard those who had been in line for the entire day for their spots.
Rightfully or wrongfully, I perceived some (not all) Red Zone people as a privileged and entitled class of fans, and at the time, I resented them being in the pit. I probably sound spoiled and like a child at this point. I have seen a lot of shows at the front and should accept the chaos that is often found in Californian queues (madness occurred at the Pasadena and Oakland shows too). And I might have been okay with me being where I ended up because I knew there were more shows to look forward to, but when I saw Jennifer run into the pit and and see the tears stream down her face – that was soul crushing. It was the antithetical feeling of being at the front. The experience was such a disappointment, and I had utterly failed Jennifer in my promise to get her to the front for the first time. She was so excited at the prospect of making it to the rails, but there was nothing I could have done to beat the Red Zone people into the pit. I was filled with anger, sadness, lamentation, jadedness, and regret – feelings you should never have at a U2 concert. I kept apologizing to Jennifer but she assured me it was okay and not my fault. The security botched the entry and wrongfully admitted the Red Zone before us (security later realized their folly and corrected it for the next day). Conversely, the Red Zone people took advantage of a faulty system and got to the front before we did. It was rather hard to watch these people not be as excited about the show as most ‘die-hard’ fans usually are. They loved taking pictures of themselves while the band played, but didn’t sing along nor jumped up and down during Where the Streets Have No Name or Vertigo. Some of them even looked bored. Perhaps they just liked the status of being at the front and didn’t care too much about the overall U2 experience.
Again, I admit I sound like a spoiled! My friend Barbara who is a professor has actually done research
into the psychology of the queue. She found that those who queue up earlier are more repulsed at line jumpers, in part because those who came early had invested a lot of time and view queue jumping as unjust behaviour, compared to those who did not invest as much time in the queue and aren’t as bothered with queue jumping. One remedy is to not line up early. Why would someone subject themselves to waiting all day for an uncertain outcome? But what we are led to believe about the GA is that if you get there early, you get to the front, not because you can afford the most expensive seats as it was before. Indeed, it is completely rational to come early if it means getting closer to the front, particularly for those dedicated fans.
In any event, for the first time this tour, I was so distracted and disenchanted that I actually regretted being at the show and of being in California. The GA entry experience left such a bad taste in my mouth that I could not get myself into the concert. Even Zooropa failed to lift my spirits! Although I was only 5 rows back, I felt so removed due to circumstances beyond my control. Moreover, my friend Cathal often complained about the static set-list and I began to sympathize with him. For the first time as a fan, I became jaded. I tried really hard to be reflexive about the moment. I tried to remind myself that there were 50,000 other fans loving the show and excited about the songs. The new friends I made in the pit were having a blast. But seeing Red Zone people in front of me and even around me, devalued my Californian adventure. I was trying so hard to find something salvageable from the Anaheim I show. Love rescue me.
In my GA Guide, I do conclude that the GA queue is more than just getting to the front. I really should swallow my own medicine, eh? In the end, the GA is also about developing community and making new friends. When we were all finally settled in the pit, I was with Jennifer, Erick, Jorge, Carlos, and Makiko (from Tokyo). I was also able to make new friends with people around us, and they reminded me how privileged it was just to be in the inner circle. Although I wasn’t into the music at the time, these kind people made the show memorable. Jorge had made a sign that he wanted to hold up for the U2 fan cam picture, “I found what I’m looking for: Ilse, Evita, Carlitos,” who were his wife and children. Jennifer ended up having a great time despite the poor entry, and wants to do GA again. Carlos famously commented about the static set-list, “It pisses me off, but I still enjoy it!” Erick and I were forged in our disdain for the Red Zone folks, and cheekily booed the line cutters when Bono mentioned their presence near the end of the concert.
When Moment of Surrender came, each of us wrapped our arms around one another and belted out the closing, “Uh, uh, oh, oh, oh, oh…” It was a cathartic moment. My 29th show of 360°. It was a terrible GA entry but at least I was with my good U2 friends. I realized I’d rather be 5 rows back with friends I spent the queue with than at the front all by myself. Happiness is only real when you spend it with others. I walked away with a bitter-sweet feeling, and it didn’t help that I had to explain to my friends who were in the Adam queue – Nate, Naomi, and Brad – as to why we were so late getting into the pit. They made it to the front and we were unable to share the same positive experiences together. They were ecstatic and I was wallowing. In my self-loathing nadir, little did I know at the time that the next evening’s gig – Anaheim II – would become one of the best concerts I’ll see on tour.
My pictures from this concert is available here