360° Tour Review: Part 2 – North America and Tour Postponement

Second Leg: North America – Chicago (x2), Phoenix, Las Vegas, Vancouver

Less than a month later, I was back on the tour, this time in North America.  I enjoy going to openers because of the chance to hear new material.  The night before the opening North American show (in Chicago), we were treated to a lengthy rehearsal and heard Your Blue Room for the first time.  We were excited to hear this Passengers song because it hadn’t been played live before.  Chicago was also the city where the lighted microphone for the closing encore set (Ultraviolet (Light My Way) and With or Without You) was revealed on tour.  It was pretty eye-catching to see this microphone / prop change between Europe and North America.  Chicago was also the city where I met the band again on the tour (having met them previously in Zagreb).  I had bought Cathal’s book Me & U2 earlier in the day and had that signed by Bono, Edge, and Adam when I saw them after their rehearsal at Soldier Field.  Being back in the United States gave me a chance to reconnect with most of the die-hard American fans there that didn’t make it over to Europe.  I also brought my good friend Chris along for his first 360˚ show.  He was the one who converted me to a U2 fan in the first place, and a real joy to have him finally experience the grandness of the tour.

It was a few weeks before I returned to the tour to catch the last couple of concerts in Phoenix, Las Vegas, and the closer in Vancouver.  The Phoenix show was the first real experience for me of what would later become known as the GA list system – a North American method of queue management I’ll explain later on.  On a lighter note, this part of my trip was a bit of Joshua Tree pilgrimage between the Phoenix and Las Vegas shows.  My friend Vik (London) and I made a journey to the Joshua Tree National Park.  Although it is not the site of where U2’s actual Joshua tree is located (it’s lying in a restive state in Death Valley National Park, California), it was still a magical place to visit.

We also made a trip to the old Las Vegas strip on Fremont Street to walk in the steps of where the music video was filmed for I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.  Security questioned us as to why we side-stepped into the alleyway and explained it was where U2 started their video for that chart-topping song.  The guard understood our intentions and left us in peace.

The opening act for these last few shows of the North American leg was Black Eyed Peas.  They garnered split opinion amongst fans, but for me, I thought they were incredibly entertaining.  I had never seen an opening act have the house lights off and have their own laser show, nor seen the venue almost entirely full during their performance before Black Eyed Peas.  They had a lot of radio friendly hits to play and were able to get the crowd jumping and pumped for the show.  They were a nice change from Snow Patrol, and a chance to hear and see someone different on the tour.  Those who did not enjoy Black Eyed Peas were most likely those who didn’t like the genre of hip-hip in the first place.  I grew up with hip-hop and rap before switching over as a die-hard U2 fan, which explained why I liked Black Eyed Peas and later Jay-Z in Australia as opening acts.

Las Vegas was the first time where I was a part of the organizing team for the GA queue.  I had always been an observer of queue management but never really had the appetite to run one because of the huge effort and lack of sleep involved.  I was #1 in line and Vik was #2 and we took charge of the queue since we were the first ones there.  One thing I had learned was that you can’t manage a queue on your own; a lot of help is required from fellow fans.  Pat (Arkansas) had stepped up to the plate, as a few others.  One fan worked for security and was able to provide a direct channel of communication with the venue staff, which was valuable.

Like most North American venues, Sam Boyd Stadium disallowed camping, so we instituted a roll-call system, an arrangement identical to what I went through in Phoenix.  For all those who actually showed up in line (and not pre-signing friends who have yet to fly into the city), we took their names down in the GA book, assigned them a number, and asked them to come back the next day at 6AM for roll-call.  The vast majority complied and when the gates opened at 7AM, we walked in accordingly with security as planned.  Security were very helpful and the fans were happy that there wasn’t queue jumping.  Drinking was allowed in the line and it was more of a party atmosphere in the Vegas queue – little surprise there!  The show was more-or-less a dress rehearsal for the subsequent Pasadena filming, but there was certainly a carnival mood in the air.  I reckon it was because there were a few celebrities in the crowd such as Coldplay and Bill Clinton, and because of this, U2 must have felt compelled to elevate their performance to entertain their peers.

Although I was offered a ticket, ride, and a place to stay, I decided to skip the Pasadena show.  There were two reasons why I decided to miss the DVD gig.  First, I heard there were people already queuing up even before the Las Vegas show and felt that even if I left immediately after the concert to go to California, I’d be far behind in line and may not be worth my time.  I was already spoiled from being at the front row too many times, and figured that my chances were slim to repeat that in Pasadena.  Second, and more importantly, two of my best friends from Winnipeg came to Las Vegas with the intent of hanging out in the city after the show as our reunion.  I did not want to ditch my buddies for another concert, even if it was U2.  In the end, I felt vindicated because of the ensuing chaos in the queue that occurred in Pasadena.  Apparently, a pair of fans pretended to work for U2 and convinced security to recognize their line and abandon the already established queue at a different gate.  There was mass confusion, accusations flew, and a mad rush to the front.  My friend Stephan (Calgary) who was in the 200s later told me that he made it to the front row centre position after capitalizing on the melee in the queue.  It goes to show that when there is chaos in the line, it can be a real advantage to those at the back.

The Pasadena Rose Bowl show was broadcast live on YouTube and my friends Chris, Eddsel, Daniel and I watched it from our Las Vegas hotel room.  We stocked up and had a U2 party as the show was being video-fed live to the world.  10 million people watched the concert online.  As the camera panned the crowd at the front of the stage and around the catwalk, I was able to identify several of my friends in the audience.  Although the adrenaline was flowing in my body knowing how intense and fun it can be at the front, I was really sad that I wasn’t there to share the historic video taping with them.  It was a standard, well rehearsed set list, similar to the ones played in Phoenix, Las Vegas, and eventually Vancouver.  U2 wanted to play it safe and take no risks in the video sequencing, performance, and outcome.  Fair enough, but I felt it lacked the spontaneity that the 2001 Slane Castle DVD had, which embodied so much raw energy and emotions – mainly because of the passing of Bono’s father Bob Hewson.  Nevertheless, I still was deeply lamenting at not being there.  We sung our hearts out during that YouTube broadcast until I ‘fell asleep’ from inebriation before hearing Moment of Surrender.  What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas… and is written in a blog.

The last show of the leg was in Vancouver.  I was #1 in the line again, and got the help from my friends Chris (Winnipeg) and Bryan (Vancouver), as well as Salvi (Edmonton) to manage the queue.  I learned a lot from the Las Vegas line, and implemented similar ‘rules’ in Vancouver.  It was a cold two days in the line, and it was clear not many fans wanted to camp out.  The venue had originally banned overnight queuing, only to change their minds and said that it wasn’t a problem.  Due to the mixed signals given by BC Place, we gave people the choice to camp or not.  Understandably, most decided to stay in their beds that evening because it was so cold, but would show up for roll-call the next morning at 5AM.  However, there were a few of us hardy types, maybe 20 give-or-take, who did camp out and it turned out to be such a fun time.  Dino and Debbie (Vancouver) brought their BBQ set up and Tri (Vancouver) was our chef.  They also brought their propane heater to keep us warm throughout the night.  We shared hot dogs, hamburgers, and seafood with each other.  Security stayed and chatted with us the entire night – they were great company to have.

The next morning, fans arrived for the roll call, and security walked down the line with me to help cross off names from the list of people who failed to show up – luckily there weren’t very many.  We continued to assign numbers to new GA arrivals up until 3PM and were in the thousands to ensure there was some order in the otherwise non-gated, non-taped-off queue.  Upon the initial entry, security would not let anyone in unless they had a number.  It was the best example of when there is synergy between the fans and security, and everyone was happy.  Other fans shared coffee and donuts in line throughout the day, adding to the already strong communal atmosphere that I have come to value at a U2 queue.  It was at that Vancouver show where I realized that the line was more than getting to the front, about also the development of friendships and community.  I duly added this to my GA guide as a central tenet, and hoped others would come to experience these special moments I had in the queue.

Third-Leg: North America and Its Postponement
On October 27, 2009, the next leg of the 360° Tour (summer 2010) was announced.
June 3: Salt Lake City, UT, Rice Eccles Stadium
June 6:  Anaheim, CA, Angel Stadium
June 7:  Anaheim, CA, Angel Stadium
June 12: Denver, CO, Invesco Field
June 16: Oakland, CA, Oakland Coliseum
June 20:  Seattle, WA, Qwest Field
June 23: Edmonton, AB, Commonwealth Stadium
June 25: Pilton, UK, Glastonbury Festival
June 27: Minneapolis, MN, TCF Bank Stadium
June 30: East Lansing, MI, Spartan Stadium
July 3: Toronto, ON, Canada, Rogers Centre
July 6: Chicago, IL, Soldier Field
July 9: Miami, FL, Land Shark Stadium
July 12: Philadelphia, PA, Lincoln Financial Field
July 16: Montreal, QC, Hippodrome de Montreal
July 17: Montreal, QC, Hippodrome de Montreal
July 19: New York, NY, New Meadowlands Stadium

As before, my friends and I coordinated our efforts in renewing and securing our various levels of U2.com presale codes (Horizon, Breathe, and Boots) for the next round of North American shows.  My original plan was to go to the opener in Salt Lake City, the two Anaheim shows, Oakland, Seattle, Edmonton, Minneapolis, the two Montreal concerts, and the closer in New York – all GA.  I was particularly thrilled with the news that U2 were coming to Edmonton, my adopted hometown.  It was a chance to share my U2 happiness with all my Edmonton friends and for them to finally see how grand a production the 360 Tour really was.   On top of that, we were also excited at the prospect of hearing new material that was rumoured to be released.  Tickets were bought, flights booked, and accommodation sorted in anticipation of the upcoming leg.  According to an Irish Independent article:


Paul McGuinness: “I have heard some of the stuff the guys have played and, yeah, it is great. Bono is always an optimist but he seems confident of getting a new record out by the end of the next six months. They’re talking about June. By that time we will be ready to go back on tour and I think that will give it a different flavour.”
Bono: “We are working away and we have a couple of yearlings in the stables that could really turn out to be thoroughbreds in the future. As a band you are always trying to work on new material and we had some unfinished material from the last album.”
In a January 2010 issue of Q magazine, Bono stated, “We’ve been listening to material for [possible next album] Songs of Ascent. We haven’t fully decided to press ‘go’ on that. But we’re touring at the end of May and it’d be nice to have some new songs. Even if it’s an EP or a single song.

Then in late May 2010, news began circulating that Bono had injured his back and that it may affect the tour dates.  We weren’t sure how serious it was at first.  We were holding our breathes that it wasn’t too terrible of an injury, hoping that Bono was alright, and that the tour would go on, even if a few of the dates at the beginning (i.e. Salt Lake City, Anaheim, and Denver) had to be rescheduled.  On May 25, 2010, an official statement by U2 cited a “severe compression of the sciatic nerve,” as a serious enough injury to postpone the North American leg until further notice.

It was far worse than anyone could have imagined.  Bono had suffered the compression of the sciatic nerve, the longest nerve in the body which runs from the lower pelvis and down both legs to the feet.  A slipped disc in the lower back can damage or put pressure on the nerve, resulting in severe pain.  According to Dr. Muller Wohlfart who was assessing Bono at the time, “On review of his MRI scan, I realized there was a serious tear in the ligament and a herniated [slipped] disc, and that conservative treatment would not suffice. I recommended Bono have emergency spine surgery with Professor Tonn at Munich’s LMU University Hospital on Friday.”  Professor Tonn added, “He (Bono) was already in severe pain with partial paralysis in the lower leg. The ligament surrounding the disc had an 8mm tear and during surgery we discovered fragments of the disc had traveled into the spinal canal.  This surgery was the only course of treatment for full recovery and to avoid further paralysis.  Bono is now much better, with complete recovery of his motor deficit. The prognosis is excellent but to obtain a sustainable result, he must now enter a period of rehabilitation.”  Dr. Wohlfart stressed that the next few weeks were critical in Bono’s speed of recovery, “We are treating Bono as we would treat any of our athletes and while the surgery has gone very well, the coming weeks are crucial for a return to full health. In the next days, he will start a light rehabilitation program, with increasing intensity over the next 8 weeks.  In our experience, this is the minimum time,” (qthemusic.com).

After hearing the news, there was a flurry of online discussion regarding the injury and consequent tour postponement.  I was pretty cheerless and got a few emails of condolences from friends who knew that I was looking forward to the recommencement of the tour.  It wasn’t the end of the world of course.  The entire tour wasn’t cancelled, nor was the band calling it quits (which I think will be a very sad day for all of us fans when it comes).  Nevertheless, the build-up, excitement, and anticipation left me deflated.   The cancellation of flights was perhaps the costliest expense.  There was no such thing as flight insurance to cover injured rock stars.  When the North American leg was postponed, there was no word of where or when U2 would continue their tour, so I was uncertain when I would be able to enjoy the company of my U2 friends and the adventures associated with traveling. 

At that time, I was not confident I could return to Europe when the tour was supposed to recommence.  First, there was no guarantee that Bono would be fully fit for Europe and I didn’t want to take the chance of booking an expensive overseas flight with the possibility of cancelling again.  Second, four of my friends were getting married during the months of July and August (when U2 was to be in Europe) in different cities throughout Canada and traveling back and forth to Europe would have been a stretch.  When I go to Europe, I prefer to stay there for several weeks or months.  In the end, I decided to skip Europe in 2010, which was unfortunate, but necessary, since I had been returning almost every year since 2003 (2003, 2005, 2007, 2008, and 2009).  I’ve been very lucky to travel that continent several times, but my friends’ weddings were more important.

A month before U2 returned to Europe for the tour, it was announced that the postponed North American leg was to be rescheduled the following summer in 2011. It was going to be a very long wait for US and Canadian fans to use the tickets they bought in the fall of 2009 and to see U2 live in concert again two years later.  As I will later discuss in Part 4 of this Review series, the changes to the set list will have made the wait worthwhile.

New Third-Leg: Europe and a New Tour

Despite not making it to the 2010 European tour, I followed it very closely like everyone else – starting in Turin, Italy – and loved some of the alterations U2 made to mix the set list up.  Changing the introductory song Soon with the Return of the Stingray Guitar – a stadium rocker that upped the tempo when U2 entered the stadium.  Beautiful Day as the first song instead of Breathe.  Replacing Ultraviolet (Light My Way) with Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me.  There was one acoustic performance of No Line of the Horizon (Helsinki II).  There were the inclusion of new songs like North Star, Mercy, Glastonbury, Boy Falls from the Sky, and my favourite – Every Breaking Wave.

Described by Bono as a “surging anthem,” that was from their supposed new album Songs of Ascent, Every Breaking Wave was a metaphor of human struggle.  That ‘struggle’ we face can be widely interpreted – a conflict within ourselves, in a relationship, or against external events – but the beauty of U2 songs is that they are malleable enough for us to infer a meaning that is important to us.  The lyrics paint a picture with a dark palette of human emotion: sentiments of self-defeat, “Every gambler knows / that to lose / is what you’re really there for”, personal uncertainty and being recluse, “I don’t know if I’m that strong / to be somebody to need someone”, loneliness, “Every sailor knows that the sea / is a friend made enemy / every shipwrecked soul / knows what it is / to live without intimacy”, the desire for solitude to find answers, “I thought I heard the master’s voice / it’s hard to listen while you preach”, “accepting defeat, “The waves know / we’re on the rocks / drowning is no sin”, and brinksmanship and fear of self-destruction, “We know / the fear of winning / should we end before we begin?”

I have to admit that I tend to be drawn towards the pathos side of U2.  Listening to songs like Every Breaking Wave, Moment of Surrender, If God Will Send Us His Angels, So Cruel, Love is Blindness, Acrobat, Mothers of the Disappeared, Running to Stand Still, With or Without You, Bad, and 40 can be a very cathartic experience.  To me, it’s in these low moment when we can find the greatest cause for hope.  There are two historical figures that I attribute for making me a student and practitioner of political / civil rights – Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X.  When I hear these songs, I often associate them with a famous quote that Malcolm once said in 1965 (after he had broken away from the NOI and was more open to wider civil rights movement, “It is only after the deepest darkness that the greatest light can come; it is only after extreme grief that the greatest joy can come; it is only after slavery and prison that the greatest appreciation of freedom can come.”  From a concert perspective, my biggest regret of missing the 2010 European leg was not being able to hear Every Breaking Wave live and to think about what Malcolm said.  U2 played it only three times on tour – Helsinki II, Vienna, and in Zurich I – and I wished I was there to be with my friends and to listen to this poetic song.

A month into the European leg, on August 23, 2010, U2 announced they were going to continue their tour into New Zealand and Australia – Auckland, Melbourne, Brisbane, Sydney, and Perth – at the end of November and all through  December 2010.  This was welcome news to all the fans down-under because it was not always a guarantee that U2 would travel to their part of the world on this tour.  I wasn’t certain at first whether I would make the trip, but after a month, on September 18, 2010, I bought GA tickets for the two shows in Sydney and the two concerts in Perth – the last cities on the tour in 2010, and a Christmas-themed show in Perth no less!  I had the means and availability to go.  My new job with a social policy research firm had a very flexible vacation package and I would be able to stay in Australia for four weeks to attend the shows and enjoy their summer as a vacation.  Although Australia would mark the mid-point of my 360° adventure, the trip would start a thread that would eventually weave into a strong web of U2 friends spanning four different continents.

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My 360˚ Tour Review will continue with Part 3 – Australia featured in my next posting.

2 comments

  1. Anonymous - reply

    Fabulous blog Joe! Falling asleep whilst watching the YouTube concert in your Vegas hotel though …? Classic! :)

    Cathal

  2. Anonymous - reply

    I’m jealous! LOL Good for you Joe! looking forward to Australia and Jay Z!

    John M

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