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"Sometimes with U2 you can end up talking about U2 in the abstract but the music is very real." — Bono

U2 in Chicago: The Quadropus Has Landed

@U2 reviews opening night of the U2 360 North American tour



This item topped my list of 22 mostly negative expectations I had prior to U2's opening-night performance at Soldier Field on Saturday. The list was influenced by a summer's worth of naysaying comments I had read while lurking on a newsgroup for U2 überfans (ü2berfans!). Those comments, along with my own been-burned-in-Chicago-by-U2-before experience, caused me to conclude at the bottom of my list: "expectations = lowered."


A lot of changes have taken place in my life since the last time I saw U2 (Portland, December 2005), and the most important one is my husband, Jeff. I've been married for a year and change to this smart, Clooneyesque, ever-so-slightly-misanthropic and maybe-just-a-wee-bit-agoraphobic creature. Jeff was kind enough to accompany me on my journey into the center of a bowl of humanity approximately 300 times the size of his hometown. He deserves a medal. As we walked hand in hand around Chicago on the day of the big pow wow, I devised a U2 Fan Identifier Code: when either of us spotted one, we'd squeeze the other's hand two times. This got a little ridiculous as the day wore on. They were everywhere.

After downing a couple of Gold Coast hot dogs (sans beverage), we made our way to the venue around 5:30 p.m. We had GA tickets and were impressed at the ease with which we entered the stadium. Then BOOM, there it was. I watched a few groups of people walking ahead of us as they caught their first glimpse of the Claw; every head snapped skyward and they all said, "Wow ..." So did we. And we were able to get close to the stage! I was deeply satisfied and pleasantly surprised with the spot we found near the Edge-side-front Claw leg. Some of my @U2 colleagues were able to weasel their way into the inner circle as late as 5:45, but I was not that wily. I figured that since people were already standing outside the circle, it must have been full. Apparently that was not the case, but our spot still afforded us a commanding view of the screen and stage. (I've got to admit it: after months of hype and stunning worm's-eye-view photography, along with my own screwed up ideas of what 170 feet looks like in real life, it wasn't as big as I thought it would be. But it was still huge.)


Fans around us sat on the ground, contemplated the hulking techno mastodon and drank beer.


Included in that group were two huge guys and two tragically short women.


A couple of shrill blondes lived up to their stereotype in every way, and they built an impressive beer cup pyramid with their tipsy entourage. (Question: If you have to be completely wasted to enjoy U2, do you really like them at all?)


Also circulating in our area were a cluster of frighteningly tall Giraffe Men and a duo I started calling The Guy With the Head and The Other Guy With the Other Head, all of whom threatened to block our view before thankfully shifting southward.


After we sat down, I immediately took out my sketchbook. I produced three drawings of parts of the Claw while Jeff read a book. Yes, we are one nonstop party. Whenever I draw something, I begin to fall in love with it, whatever it is, and I came to love the Claw's sci-fi complexity as I drew furiously and sometimes poorly in an attempt to capture all of its expensive-looking innards.


Everyone who writes about the Claw has a new way of describing it. I think it resembles an upside-down four-legged octopus, or if I may invent a new word, a quadropus. I wanted to tweet my drawings, but cell phone reception evaporated as bodies filled the seats. During conversational lulls, people around me gazed at the Claw with curiosity and awe, as if it were the alien spaceship in Independence Day and they were about to be zapped by that cigar thing in the middle.

As daylight faded, the Claw began to spew small clouds of fog and the cylindrical screen started up. General bedlam erupted. Everyone crushed forward — Jeff spooned a happy me for several hours — and a nearby woman fainted as Snow Patrol took the stage. I only knew them from that one hit they had; I figured they were going to be mopey, but instead they were peppy and praised a receptive Chicago repeatedly. It seemed like only about 10 percent of the Claw's bells and whistles were being employed for Snow Patrol.

Finally, after about a half hour of Dallas Schoo's guitar noodling, fog billowed from the Claw as if it were about to blast off. The stadium erupted in ecstasy as David Bowie's "Space Oddity" played. I took an arm's-length photo of Jeff and me — I had eyes so crazy that the photo will never see the light of day — right before darkness fell and the green clocks lit up the screen. Mass hysteria!

If you're like me and have spent the entire summer memorizing and yawning at @U2's Twitter coverage of each European concert's unchanging set list, you might be surprised at how none of that boredom matters once Larry Freaking Mullen Freaking Junior hits the stage and starts beating the hell out of his drums. And he plays the intro to "Breathe," the first of four new songs that you personally have never heard live before. Then his bandmates appear one at a time as the song reveals itself, ending with Bono, who right out of the box epitomizes that classic line from The Simpsons: He's a white-hot grease fire of pure entertainment.

I can't imagine anyone in that stadium having a less-than-stellar view of the screen, except maybe the fans closest to the band, for whom I can't feel a whole lot of pity. During "normal" use, the screen showed footage of the band, but it wasn't a mere live feed; it was as if we were watching a well-edited concert DVD that could be released as-is six months from now (how do they do that?). While I had an above-average view of the band, I found my eyes returning to the screen frequently. This was a shame because I think I might have missed some Bono/Edge onstage grab-ass during "Get on Your Boots" (can anyone confirm?).


The screen took up my entire field of vision when, mid-concert, it fully expanded for "The Unforgettable Fire" and "City of Blinding Lights." The sensory overload that accompanied those two songs in particular constituted the most exciting and beautiful concert visuals that I have ever seen. The spaces between the screen's hexagonal units provided dark counterpoints to the bright colors on the front of the screen, for an effect that was dazzling, ever-changing and well-nigh indescribable.


The rather menacing-looking pylon that hovered over the center of the stage gave the stratosphere its own little show, shooting beams of light far above the stadium a la the Bat Signal. After a while I started to become angry with the band's many critics who view the Claw as a wasteful, hypocritical, over-the-top indulgence that is not in keeping with These Troubled Times. As I wrote in my notebook later, "It is an art object so f--- off! WHAT DO YOU WANT FROM THEM? A stage of recycled tires, cardboard boxes and energy-saving fluorescent light bulbs?"

But ultimately I believe that U2 could have pulled off a show on a bunch of biodegradable, ugly garbage if they had to do it. The Edge is the hardest-working man in show business. He's a one-man orchestra ... no, wait: he's a one-man ELO. Did he wince inwardly when Bono compared him with "Dr." Spock? I certainly hope so; get it right, Bono. Adam continues to exude an effortless, rumbling cool. He just plain knows how to stand. Plus he moves now! Larry's stamina as he pounds through song after song — and I've got to think through pain — is gutsy and inspirational.

And oh-oh-oh-oh OHHHHH oh oooh oooh oh-oh OH oh-oh The Bono. (They should have named this album "Oh," seriously.) The Claw is his house, just like Zoo TV was. His explosive, outsized movements that can look goofy or spastic anywhere else worked here. He seemed to feed off Chicago's intense love and channel it back via his huge, fabulous mouth. I'm not sure if this is a venue problem or not, but at times his voice seemed somehow sped up and higher than his recorded voice. E and A vowel sounds seemed especially piercing, and this prompted Jeff to ask me, "Does he sometimes sound like a Muppet, or is it just me?" It's not just you, Jeff. Whatever was going on there, Bono sang "oh oh oh oh" at us and we thundered "oh oh oh oh" back at him, and he seemed genuinely moved and possibly relieved by this reception any number of times. Did this man, who has had to face tepid, half-empty American stadiums in the past, have doubts that this would be the case? While he can still hit the high notes, you can indeed see the cracks in his near-50-year-old face, but the glee, joy and wonder in his smile remain extremely endearing.

While the set included some reliable crowd-pleasers aimed at the casual fan, the seven songs from the new album, along with a couple of rarely played old songs, were the bone U2 threw to their hardcore fans, and it was a big, meaty bone. These new songs were not rewarded with the same rapturous stadium singalong that the old favorites received, but so what, you know? It was interesting to watch U2 translate NLOTH's layered soundscapes into something playable by four men. Edge's guitar became the cello from "Breathe," and that worked nicely, but Bono's game mimicry of the French horn from "Unknown Caller" ("bah bah bababa, bah bah bababa") made me long for the real thing.


After about 90 minutes of U2 being U2, all earnest political statements and the desire to please, the encores began and for one shining, transcendent song, U2 became Something Else. The song was "Ultraviolet (Light My Way)." Bono wore a coat studded with red lasers, which I never quite "got" when I saw still photos of it this summer. It seemed like he was wearing lasers simply because he could. But in the context of this song, it helped to tell a story, and it turned Bono into The Last of the Rock Stars. I also never understood the circular, glowing microphone that dropped down from above, boxing ring-style, but it became a poignant prop for Bono's performance: it was the song's "light bulb hanging over my bed." He became UV's narrator and sang to the love he felt that light bulb contained — were we even there? He clung to it, danced with it, hung from it gracelessly, tossed it around, grabbed it with anger, and wailed into it. Was the light bulb also us? Did it symbolize his time left onstage? Was it his time left on earth? Maybe I read too much into it, but more than any other song, "Ultraviolet" was thought-provoking, riveting and artistic, and it made me cry. I've become weepy every time I've talked or even thought about it.

Throughout the concert, the screen flashed images of ticking clocks, an interesting choice for a motif. U2 are marking the passage of time. They are getting older. This could very well be the last rock show of its kind. U2 could very well be the last band of its kind, and as I left the stadium I wondered if I would ever see them again. And you need to see them before time runs out. Tick tick tick tick tick tick tick.

© @U2/Eddington, 2009.