360˚ Tour Review: Part 1 – Pre Tour and Europe

In February 2009, I was visiting New York for a vacation with some friends.  Just before departing for my trip, I had downloaded No Line On The Horizon 2 (the alternate track to the Get On Your Boots single) and had listened to that song over a hundred times while I was in New York.  Unsurprisingly, that song will forever be linked to my memories of that return visit to my favourite city.  The album had yet to be released, but I was looking forward to hearing their new material.  Every snippet and each rumour were devoured — waiting for the chance to hear them live again.   As the weeks unfolded, a trickle of emails and phone calls with U2 friends regarding the upcoming tour began that spring.  It hit a fever pitch through using our U2.com membership presale codes to buy general admission (GA) tickets for the first leg of the tour in Europe.
I remember being up at ridiculous hours (i.e. 3AM) to buy tickets for European cities like Dublin since they went on sale at 10AM Ireland time, and coordinating efforts of who was buying which tickets for cities that had multiple shows.  I recall being at Oxford University for an academic conference, slipping away between sessions, logging on to the computer, and missing out on buying tickets for the Wembley shows.  At that point, I wasn’t sure if I could make it to the London gigs, but hoped that my friends could help me find GAs later on.  I look back at that initial period with much fondness – the anticipation, anxiety, excitement, and prospect of seeing U2 and my friends once again on tour.   I had seen U2 eight times in Europe during the Vertigo Tour (London, Dublin (X3), Milan, Berlin, Oslo, and Munich), and I was yearning a return to see them again on a continent I enjoyed traveling.
The Fan Site and Guide to the GA
As a U2.com member, I was a regular contributor to the Zootopia forums – a place where I shared some insights with other fans who were equally passionate about U2 and our community.  It’s very similar to Interference, but a different crowd.  The folks on Zootopia, including myself, often met each other during the Vertigo Tour.  I was known by some in the online community to be a provider (distributor) of U2 concert recordings, and it was neat to come across fans that were able to re-live their concert memories as a result of the recordings hosted on my fan site.
On this tour, my website evolved to something more than a warehouse of concert recordings.  I started to notice that there were frequent postings and questions on Zootopia about how general admission worked, particularly from North American fans that never had a GA experience in stadiums (arenas, yes, but not bigger venues).  As a result, I thought it would be fun to create an Unofficial Guide to the General Admission Queue to help answer the questions fans had.  Based on my GA stadium experience in Europe on the previous tour, I tried my best to sketch out what people can expect in the GA.  At first, it was a simple FAQ, expectations at different times of arrival, the number system, camera allowance, etc.  My friend Cathal (Me & U2) christened the Guide as the GA Constitution.  I’m not sure I’d go that far, but I was happy that people found it instructive.  On the tour, I became know as that guy with the blog or the Guide.  Donal, a writer for atU2.com ran into me at the first Dublin show and called me ‘GA Joe’, which I think was funny, and had since stuck.  Needless to say, as the tour evolved, so did the Guide.  I made the point that the GA was more than attempting to secure a good spot in the pit, but also about developing friendship and a community with others.  It was touching to receive many messages from fans around the world that were able to experience the same kind of kinship that I found when I’ve been in the queues. 
First Leg: Europe – Barcelona (X2), Dublin (X3), Chorzow, Zagreb (X2), London(X2)
The summer of 2009 would prove to be a very memorable one.  In June, I started my trip in London where I stayed for a week and to celebrate my birthday with some friends.  From there we flew to Barcelona for the first two shows of the 360˚ Tour.  We got there the day before and made it straight to the queue.  That evening, we were treated to a full dress rehearsal outside of Barcelona’s famous stadium – Nou Camp.  U2 had invited about 100 workers / volunteers with the Special Olympics for a full preview of the concert.  We were outside of the stadium listening in for the first time the entire sequence of the show that we were going to see the following night.  It was beyond exciting because the tour did not officially start yet, but we were hearing never-before heard songs from No Line On The Horizon and a tremendous teaser – Drowning Man (which never ended up being played during the tour, but was still great to hear during the rehearsal). 

It was magical to see the tour for the first time with over 90,000 screaming Catalans, and I was blown away by the sheer size of the stage, the lighting production, and the new songs on set list – particularly Unknown Caller, I’ll Go Crazy If I Don’t Go Crazy Tonight (Redanka Remix), and Moment Of Surrender.  When I first heard I’ll Go Crazy from outside the stadium the day before, I wasn’t such a fan because I thought it veered too much away from the original version.  It wasn’t until I saw the song live that I finally appreciated its performance value – it was so much fun to dance and sing along to when seen, not heard.

The second night in Barcelona was even better with the very rare inclusions of Electrical Storm and an encore performance of I’ll Go Crazy If I Don’t Go Crazy Tonight (album version).  These were the times when the hanging microphone at the start of Ultra Violet (Light My Way) was not yet lighted, but still impressive.  Michael Jackson had just died, and Bono was singing snippets of Billie Jean or Man In The Mirror after Desire or Angel Of Harlem throughout the leg.  The shows were even more special to be able to reunite with my European friends, particularly the Dutch crew, who I hadn’t seen since the Vertigo Tour.  Snow Patrol were the opening act – a band I had come to admire since I last saw them as openers for U2 for many of the European shows during the Vertigo Tour.  Songs like Run, Chasing Cars, and Open Your Eyes stood out for me.  They were able to get the crowd to sing along and get pumped up for U2, which any good opening act should be doing.

After Barcelona, I took a brief hiatus from 360˚ for a three week backpacking adventure in the Middle East.  I flew into the region and traveled overland from northern Iraq, on towards Turkey, into Syria, and eventually crossing over into Lebanon.  It was my third time traveling this part of the world, and loved the challenge of making it from desert to sea.  All the while, I was listening to the album No Line On The Horizon during that journey, and songs like White As Snow and Fez-Being born resonated with me because of their references to the Middle East.

From Beirut, I made my way back to Dublin for the three shows in Croke Park.  I was there in 2005 for the Vertigo Tour, and I was determined to make it back to the north side of Dublin.  I had made plans months earlier with my friend Carrie (NY) to get GA tickets for nights I and III and seats for Dublin II.  I hadn’t seen her since the Vertigo Tour, but was nice to have a reunion in Dublin four years later.  It was a festive, almost carnival atmosphere in what I would consider the Mecca of any U2 tour.

More than any other city that I had visited, it was amazing to see how many international fans made it to Dublin.  I had a great time being with my British friends in the queue, as well as a host of American fans that made it out for this Irish celebration.  There were of course many nationalities at the Dublin gigs, some as far away as Brazil having made it to the show.  For example, I made friends with Marina (Brazil) at Barnacles Hostel where we were staying.  We met up again when I visited Sao Paulo for the shows there.  Making these connections with people around the world is one of the many benefits from going to multiple shows, especially a hub like Dublin.  I reconnected with Amy and Abby (US) who I met in Oslo during the Vertigo Tour, and it was really nice to meet Amy’s four year old daughter Anwyn who was already a big U2 fan!  Amy was 3-months pregnant when I first met her and Anwyn claimed that she remembered me when I was in Oslo – very sweet of her to say so!

I will return to Dublin on the next tour for many reasons.  The distinct Irish feel to the show, the fan reunions, and the atmosphere after each show are not to be missed.  We had Damien Dempsey, Republic of Loose, Bell X1, and The Script open the shows over those three days – all of who were Irish bands.  At the first concert, Bono and the Edge performed The Auld Triangle, a traditional Irish song.

We also saw the introduction of the computerized voice narrating W.H. Auden’s poem, “Funeral Blues” right before Ultraviolet (Light My Way).  Hearing Bad being performed was special because of the song’s context being set in Dublin.  Bad had been performed 13 times on the 360˚ Tour, but it was particularly unique to have heard it twice in Dublin.  During the last Dublin show, at the end of Moment of Surrender, it was rather appropriate for Bono to mention their local roots,”Thank you to Mount Temple Comprehensive,” where it all started for them as a band.  Walking back from Croke Park into the Temple Bar district for drinks in the pubs was a lot of fun, particularly seeing the many U2 cover bands playing with three different Bonos singing on stage.  It was a perfect area to reunite with old U2 friends and make new ones.
After spending a few extra days in Ireland, I flew to Gdansk, in northern Poland.  I wanted to relax by the Baltic Sea and visit the place where the Solidarity (Solidarność) movement began.  I went to the shipyards and strolled through the museum to gain a better appreciation for the people who were instrumental in bringing down the Communist regime in Poland, and were a part of the chain of events that eventually brought down the Iron Curtain.   When I made it down to Chorzow, I was amongst mostly central and eastern European fans.  I didn’t see many familiar faces, but still felt like I was a part of something.  When U2 started the opening chords of New Year’s Day – a song in honour of the Solidarity movement – the fans on the field held out red cloth while those in the stands waved white cloth, thereby turning Slaski Stadium into the Polish national flag.  I appreciated being with the young people who directly benefitted from Solidarity and were there singing and celebrating their present-day freedom.  I have heard New Year’s Day several times in the past, but given the context of being in Poland for their song, it held so much more meaning, and to this day stands out as my most special moment during the tour.

From Poland, I took a train to Zagreb for the two shows in the Croatian capital.  There were two people I met who were sharing the same train berth with me – Nick and Bronwyn (San Francisco).  Overhearing their conversation about U2, we started chatting and found out that we shared the same passion to travel and see U2.  They had gone to several European cities to see the band as I had, and I learned quite a bit from them.  Up until that point, I started to find myself more agitated about the queue experience, particularly at Dublin III and Chorzow.  Although I was high up in the queue, my tickets failed to scan, and had a delayed entry.  I was separated from my friends and increasingly frustrated with the experience.  Nick and Bronwyn had a different philosophy.  Some shows, they would arrive at the concert venue at 6PM and be happy wherever they ended up on the pitch.  Other shows, they would queue the day before and make it somewhere on the rail.  Perhaps it was their west-coast mentality, but I was really inspired by their relaxed attitude.

After a positive Zagreb I experience, the second show was a real test.  I met a new friend Simona from Italy while waiting in the line.  She just finished her PhD, and it was nice to converse with someone who understood the challenges of doing a doctoral degree.  Around noon, my friend Andreas and I went to get a sandwich around the corner, but upon our return, the security kicked everyone out of the line to re-orient the gates.  In the mass confusion and rush back to back to the gates, the line was jumbled up leaving everyone standing and packed in like sardines under the blazing sun.  I was separated from my friends Simona, Andreas, and Lia and was angry at security’s lack of organization and empathy.  Taking a step back from the situation, I realized that I defaulted back into that frustrated mood and needed to literally get away.  Thinking about Nick and Bronwyn, I made the decision to leave the queue to relax, get some rest, and come later in the evening.  I called out to Andreas to inform him that I was leaving and that I would see him in London – and then I left.  It was a surreal experience to leave the queue.

I jumped on the tram to go back to my hostel and felt good about my decision.  Upon passing the Regent Hotel, I saw a bunch of people with U2 t-shirts waiting outside the lobby.  I figured that this was the time U2 would be leaving their hotel to go to Maksimir Stadium.  I got off with the hope of meeting U2.  10 minutes later, Larry came out and I was able to greet him and shake his hand.  Bono then appeared and was able to get him to sign the only book I had on me – Will Durant’s The Story of Philosophy.  Adam subsequently came around and signed my book.  I was ecstatic!  This never would have happened had I not left the queue, vindicating my decision to be more relaxed and to temper my expectations.  I saw some of my Italian friends, including Eleonora at the hotel, and we all decided to go back to the stadium.  We got there just as the run-entry started and as I got into the inner-circle, I found Andreas who was saving me a spot at the front.

The show itself was amazing.  Maksimir Stadium was a relatively smaller stadium compared to the other venues I had been to, with a little more than 60,000 people attending each show (Barcelona had over 91,000 each night, Dublin had about 81,000 per show, and Chorzow had 75,000 fans).  There were many central and east European fans, as well as several Italian fans at this show (since Italy is just across the Adriatic Sea from Croatia).  I didn’t have tickets but Davor (Croatia) had contacted me through my website and helped me out with GAs.  Zagreb was significant because it was the most proximate city for those who lived in the Bosnia and Herzegovina region and had suffered through the Balkan wars.  Alma Catal, the star of Bill Carter’s documentary Miss Sarajevo, was at the show and listening to the song Miss Sarajevo was all the more touching because of the historical significance to the region.  Context matters.

I was also over-the-moon to see Simona make it up on stage to dance with Bono during Mysterious Ways.  She was so good that the entire stadium started chanting her name after the song, “Simona! Simona! Simona!” It was the perfect way to end her European tour.  At the end of the concert, Phil fulfilled the promise he made to me at the previous show and gave me Bono’s set list – my first of five on the tour (Zagreb II, Chicago I, Sydney I, Vancouver, and Winnipeg [Larry’s set list]).  The afternoon started as a nightmare, but by the end of the night, a dream of a show materialized.  Leaving the queue and calming my attitude turned out to be an valuable lesson.

After Croatia, I made it back to London for the two shows at the new Wembley Stadium.  I didn’t have tickets for these shows either, but my friend Wendy (London) helped secure some GAs for me at the last minute.  There were two gate entrances to Wembley, so I had to divide my time between the two to see my friends.  I hung out mostly with Adrian (Leeds) and it was good to have a buddy in line to talk to during those long hours.  Unlike in North American and Latin American where multi-day queues are the norm, most European shows simply required an arrival time of early in the morning to have a good spot in line.

One thing I enjoyed about seeing U2 live was their banter and story telling.  Just before Stay (Faraway, So Close!), Bono’s speech was as follows:

 … the man who was mixed our sounds since we were 17 years old, still mixing our sound, his name is Joe O’Herlihy, he came to this building when it was being built and Joe told me yesterday that he put one of Edges’s plectrums (guitar pick) in the foundation of the new Wembley Stadium – ‘just under the Royal Box’ he said.  So the Edge is always with you, he is always with us!  He is ever present!

It was a funny moment and a memory that stood out from the London shows.  The London Tube was remarkable in being able to ship 80,000 people out of Wembley.  Mnay cities like Edmonton or Chrozow could learn from them!  After the first concert, I was able to get back to my buddy’s flat within an hour for a nap before going back in line the next morning.  The police were very comedic, using U2lyrics in their instructions of how to get on the Tube easily.  I was sad to say goodbye to my European and Middle Eastern adventure, the European shows, and the friends I made on this leg, but was confident that I would see them again in the future.

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My 360˚ Tour Review will continue with Part 2 – North America and Tour Postponement on my next posting.

6 comments

  1. Anonymous - reply

    Hi Joe

    thanks again, as usual you make too much sense LOL

    Yes very true, how to predict how many casual fans, I was just wondering your take, it was a real mix around me, U2 fans, arcade fire fans, and casual observers, and after seeing video from Europe, especially new years day from Poland, and hearing people talk about concert the next day, especially arcade fire, it made me wonder about Moncton crowd, but who truly knows, difficult to say.

    In fact, Bono had crowd jumping at a few times, seeing entire audience clapping at times.

    I had a good experience, I made the mistake of setting expectations a bit high hoping the final concert to blow me away.
    It didn’t do that, simply because the element of surprise is gone after just seeing them in Edmonton.

    However, there were definitely some special, emotional moments:

    – the singing of
    “I Still haven’t found what i’m looking for”, got me really pumped, and Bono proclaiming at the start of the song “this is our Community!
    (a song that wasn’t played in Edmonton, nice!),

    – followed up by an amazing, true to the original I add, a cover of “Springhill Mining town, was also special

    – Canadian Flag on the Screen, and a rendition of “Oh Canada to the start of Get on Your Boots was cool

    – Singing of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah to interlude with the Streets of no Name,

    – The mentioning of injured U2 truck driver Ray Bailey

    – also before the singing of “one”, when the candle bearers were on stage, and Bono was mentioning Burmese in prison simply for being democratic, I found very emotional despite experiencing it in Edmonton which surprised me , the same can be said when the lights were turned off and people illuminated the venue with their cell phones with Bono commenting:

    “we’ve created our own milky Way, we are this blue, green planet, revolving around the Sun, and tonight there are some people doing their best just to hold on, tonight we dedicate this next song “Moment of Surrender” to the people of Somalia”

    – The singing of scarlet with the crowd, especially the folk in the inner circle, and serenading the band with the song “40” to close,

    were all special magical moments that make U2 fans so love this band, great themes, great messages, hard to complain with that.

    PS my next post might be s a suggested a killer/dream set list

    thanks again for sharing your experiences and this blog, great stuff

    John M

  2. Joe - reply

    With respect to the setlist, it didn’t deviate tremendously from the last leg of the tour, but that’s no different from past tours. Sure, there were variances in setlists when U2 were playing arenas, but those were only in cities like NY, Chicago, or LA where there were multiple shows in a week. But the backbone of setlist rarely changed – with the exception of the Lovetown Tour, the Joshua Tree, Zoo TV, Pop, Elevation, or Vertigo tours, the setlists largely remained the same throughout.

    I agree with you that songs like A Sort of Homecoming would be great to hear, but this has been an endless conversation I’ve had with many fans in the queue – haha. We have to admit that U2 does not design or perform a concert for the traveling fans like us or those who follow the setlist everytday – the concert really made for those who may only see U2 once in their home city, which is the vast majority of the crowd. I’ve always enjoyed bringing friends who had never seen U2 before and them walking away thinking it was the greatest concert they’ve ever seen in their lives. I may have thought it was a so-so concert because I would have heard the standard bearers like Streets, Pride, WOWY, and One. Personally, the shows that do stick out are the ones where I heard the rarities like Electrical Storm, Party Girl, I’ll Go Crazy – Original version, Drowning Man, and Your Blue Room. But these songs may not excite the rest of the crowd as much. I guess I’m a realist in that I understand why U2 has the setlist they have – it’s a winning formula that entertains 95% of the audience. With that in mind, I do appreciate the little deviations and additions to the setlist when it happens. I got so much value in Moncton when Bono added the lyrics at the end of Stay and all the references of it being the end of the tour.

    My friend Lori-Jo (aka EdgeFest in the U2 community) made a good point, the setlist becomes irrelevant so long as you spend a concert with all your good friends. You make a good point, it is a matter of perspective. I’ve often said that if this was a movie, the concert is the end-credits. The journey to these cities, the people I meet, the challenges of traveling is the story line, the main plot. And U2’s music forms the soundtrack. You’ve probably noticed that the vast majority of my U2 reviews is about the people I’ve encountered – but in the end, we all have different perspectives of the shows we’ve been to. It’s too bad Moncton was a let down for you. Hopefully there will be positive memories are subsequent shows on the next tour!


    Joe

  3. Joe - reply

    Hi John,
    I’m probably not the best person to ask about how good a crowd during the show, as I tend to be at at the front, where the crowd tends to be excited and hyped. My friend Cathal who had gone to almost 90 shows on tour (and will write a book about the travels), but most of the time he was in the cheap seats and was able to get a better view of the crowd and their noise levels. In Europe, some cities are louder than others like Barcelona or Rome, whereas Berlin or Oslo could be a little quieter than say Montreal. So I probably wouldn’t over generalize when comparing North America and Europe. However, Cathal did mention that Mexico City was by far the loudest on the tour – over 111,000 fans at one show and Azteca Stadium is built so high up that the sounds are better contained in the venue.

    In Moncton, I’m sure the damp weather had a negative effect and the excessive mud at the back not making it the best places to enjoy a show. Also, there were far more general admission than there were seats, so sound would be harder to contain than say Azteca Stadium. You’re right about inadequate facilities at Magnetic Hill compared to Commonwealth Stadium, and that’s down to poor planning and regulations. However, I’m not sure about Moncton having more ‘casual observers’ than Edmonton. How do we know that? Is there a way to quantify the number of ‘true’ fans in a stadium? Both cities attracted many people from the region. Edmonton had Edmontonians, Calgarians, and folks from Saskatchewan drive to Commonwealth. Moncton attracted people from all over the Maritimes and the north-east US, which also requires major financial and time commitments. There are some pretty die-hard fans I know from out east and are equally as passionate as someone like me living in Alberta. That’s the beauty of U2, they attract a wide audience from all over the world. We all share the same passion for the music and are willing to travel to be a part of it :)

  4. Anonymous - reply

    Hi Joe,

    thanks for the reply, no i found the queue to be fine, just thought fans weren’t as enthusiastic in Moncton as Europian crowds based on watching videos, or Edmonton for that matter, maybe only my perception?

    As for concert, the elements, 3 hours sleep, having us stand at top hill for an hour after letting us into the venue after making us throw away some protective elements like an emergency bag, left me no protection for my feet, having them get soaked, and incredibly sore when all said an done, ( I had to let them dry for an hour after concert with shoes and socks off just to make the trek back to camp, feet were so tender and waterlogged.)

    An once in the venue, unlike Edmonton were you could drink anywhere, including the inner circle, drinking was only allowed in a beer tent half a mile away on a muddy hill.

    And unlike Edmonton, where prota potties were accessible just outside Red zone and inner circle, Moncton forced us halfway up a muddy hill to use a porta potty instead of the ones behind the rear grandstand, did not help my enthusiasm, however, it din’t rob me of it either, but the experience was incomplete, and after seeing them in Edmonton, show was seeming too familiar at times.

    I realize U2 appeals to the region they are playing in, Moncton might have consisted of more casual observers than true fans, playing commercial songs like on your boots or kill me kiss me thrill me, instead of playing breathe, no line on the horizon or stand up comedy.

    Playing Scarlet, 40, and out of control, were nice touches but not the same impact as the more well known core songs like Bad, a sort of homecoming, running to stand still, New years day, miracle drug, original of the species would have made it epic.

    The boys gave us 2 extra songs to make it 2.5 hours but 3 hours would have finished things nicely, maybe they should have started earlier? Yet, U2 never plays 3 hours unlike Bruce Springsteen for example.

    John M

    Thoughts?

  5. Joe - reply

    Hey John,
    Thanks for the comment! Wow, waiting in that Moncton line was wet wasn’t it?! Epic show though.

    Some European queues and crowds are easier than others. Typically, northern European lines (i.e. Scandinavia or England) are easy going. Southern Europe can be a different story, especially Italy – but the Italian crowds are so passionate that the chaos in the queue is actually a cultural and worthwhile experience. I’m thinking of returning to Italy on the next tour because of that!

    Joe

  6. Anonymous - reply

    Joe , John M from Edmonton you gave me instructions at commonwealth when to arrive for inner circle latest time, and I met you briefly at Moncton in line for the show, thank you so much for sharing your personal journey with us, that description of lesson learned in Poland was amazing, you describe it so well it’s like being there, great lesson and story. waiting for your Moncton review maybe it was the grueling journey to be in line and endure the elements but europian crowds seem so much better, no? And the poland show seemed so much better, no?

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