"Rock and roll started out as dance music, but somewhere along the way it lost its hips and became rhythmically simplistic."
Like a Video: Angel Of Harlem (U2 I+E Tour Edition)
February 24, 2016
[Ed. note: This is the 31st in a series of essays by the @U2 staff about U2-related visuals and videos. Some essays may be informational and educational, while others may be more personal.]
I’m affectionately calling this month’s Like a Video installment “A Tale of Two Videos.” A lot of that affection is coming from the fact that these two videos are from the I+E tour last year. I chose to write about “Angel Of Harlem” because it’s not only one of my favorite U2 songs ever (it’s in my top 10 for sure), but hearing it live last year during these two moments helped me make an important discovery within myself.
On July 22, U2 were playing their third night of an eight-night residency at Madison Square Garden. I was feeling particularly good about this gig. Three is my favorite number and I was with a friend who is a huge U2 fan. I’d been waiting forever to see U2 with him. The two previous shows at MSG were amazing yet had no surprise guest appearances. Everyone kept hoping for Bruce, but we (unknowingly) had to wait five more shows for that. This was New York; where was everyone?!
U2 were setting up the Meerkat girl when Bono suddenly said he was looking to bring someone else on stage and asked if there was anyone out there who played guitar. From our seats, my friend and I saw on the screen a fan with a sign that said, “singer with a broken finger” The person’s face was covered with the sign but I could see a cast of some sort, so I turned to my friend and said, “Oh, this person is injured. I’m sure they’re gonna be brought up on stage.”
The person slowly walked onto the stage and the sign was lowered to reveal that this broken finger belonged to none other than late-night talk show host (and mega U2 fanboy) Jimmy Fallon. MSG erupted in applause at the big reveal and Jimmy performed an electric version of “Desire” with the band that had the crowd roaring along. It was his legendary moment that I was so proud as a fellow U2 fan to witness. I found watching Jimmy jam with U2 more enjoyable than watching some random girl dance with Bono.
After “Desire,” Jimmy said he wanted to bring some friends on stage too. His friends turned out to be The Roots. (No big deal, right?) They made their way to the e-stage as Bono began to sing “Angel Of Harlem.” It warmed my heart to see Larry play tambourine and let Questlove (another admitted U2 fanatic) sit at his drum throne to play. I remember shooting a one-minute-only video of it because I wanted to take in all this infectious energy. This performance put such a delightful, sparkling spin on the song. And to be at MSG to hear this ode to NYC play out in front of me was something I was never going to forget. I felt so lucky to get to witness such a New York moment. My friend and I were dancing in our seats and singing like there was no tomorrow. I’ve seen U2 26 times now. This particular show is my favorite gig ever.
Fast-forward a few months later to Halloween night. I was at a downtown bar with friends, and amid a group of younger patrons in questionable costumes, we found a nice spot near some regular uncostumed older men. During breaks between the baseball game on TV, we engaged in small talk with one of the guys. He said he lived in Queens, to which I said I did as well. He asked if I was from there. I said no, I was from New Jersey. He asked how long I’ve lived in the city and I said about a year and a half. He said without hesitation, “You’re a New Yorker.”
I’ve often had this weird internal tug-of-war with myself when it came to considering myself a New Yorker. I’ve always classified a New Yorker as someone who was born, raised and continued to live in the city for life. Or someone who wasn’t born there, but has lived there at least 10 years or more. While I certainly was no stranger to the city (I went to college here and always knew I wanted to be here), even while living in NYC for as long as I had at that point, I still never felt like a true New Yorker. I was still, in my mind, Jill from the Jersey shore who happens to live in NYC. Even though I can hail a cab with no problem and can easily navigate my way around the city, I couldn’t define myself as a New Yorker, even though this nice man said I was.
It’s now a few weeks later in November and I’m in Dublin with many of the @U2 crew for U2’s hometown shows. I had never been to Ireland before and always told people the only reason I would ever go is for U2. Being in Dublin was a lot like being in NYC. There was that same crowd surge of people on the streets, various forms of public transportation, the glistening sights of holiday decorations in store windows, numerous tourist attractions, and a ton of Starbucks scattered about. But the atmosphere was a lot calmer than being in NYC. Dublin didn’t have the sense of urgency that New York has. When I’m walking around in NYC, I’m usually in a rush to be somewhere. In Dublin, you walk because you enjoy the scenery. Just like NYC though, everything around you in Dublin is beautiful.
November 28 was Dublin 4. Because it was the final night U2 were playing, they had us constantly guessing what they could possibly pull out of their catalog. The one-two punch of “Mysterious Ways” with Panty Bliss and “Desire” with Imelda May was like a crackling set of Irish fireworks. The crowd was into it and we were ready to keep this e-stage party going.
Edge began strumming on his guitar the opening to "Angel Of Harlem." Crowd started to get pumped and then his guitar string broke! And because this area of the stage is so intimate and close, it felt like you were in some nightclub in the city and an instrument breaks or the sound fails and the band tries to come up with a solution. It was definitely a fun moment.
The song started again (new guitar in Edge’s possession). Everything at this point felt so accelerated. Everyone’s hands went up to clap along and it was like the most harmonious showing of fans I’ve ever experienced at a U2 show. It was almost as if we rehearsed this sing-along together and were now showing it off for the band. Everyone was on cue singing, our claps were in sync to Larry’s drumming, and this wave of bliss radiated throughout the 3Arena. U2 looked like they were having the time of their lives. It was the most perfect song for them to play on this final night.
I was toward the back and it didn’t matter that I wasn’t near the stage to soak up all the energy because my heart was still overflowing with cheer. Here I was, all the way from New York to see my favorite band in THEIR hometown, hearing them play a song that’s about MY hometown. Hearing “Angel Of Harlem” in New York is, of course, a treat. But hearing it played in Dublin felt so different. And what was particularly special is that the bakery where I work is in Harlem. So I truly felt they were singing it for me that night. It was very full-circle.
And it was at that moment, surrounded by my friends and singing along to the band that brought us all here, that I felt like a New Yorker. All thanks to my Angels of Dublin.
(c) @U2/Marino, 2016