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Playing with Paul McCartney. Having that opportunity, something that for me personally, I just. . . . It's like unimaginable. It's like goosebumps. -- Larry, at Live 8, 2005

When U2 Comes to Town

Sofia Echo
There is a belief that if you leave a piece of paper with your wish in a crack in the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem, it will come true.

When my mother went to Israel eight years ago to visit a friend, I gave her a handful of wishes to stick in the cracks in the wall. I don't remember everything I wished for back then, but I recall that one of them was to see a U2 concert.

Eight years after she put my wish into the wall, it finally came true.

On July 5, 2005, in Chorzow, Poland, I finally saw Bono, the Edge, Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen Jr. play in front of 70,000 ecstatic fans from Poland, Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania, Slovakia, the Czech Republic and some Russian-speaking country.

I will not go into details about getting to Chorzow -- that is another tale -- I will only say that it was a train trip from hell.

After two days of travelling on various trains throughout Central Europe, I was convinced that someone or something was putting our faith on trial.

Chorzow turned out to be a nice clean little town in the mining countryside of Poland, near Krakow, which has a big stadium, and the local promoters manage to attract big names.

It seemed, however, that U2 was the biggest by far.

The local Metro newspaper had nothing but Bono on its front page, the posters were all over the place, groups of people with backpacks were camping out in front of the stadium hoping to get better places when the gates opened at 3 p.m.

After sleeping for several hours in the hotel, having lunch and stocking up on Polish vodka and beer for the afterparty, we got into the stadium and sat under a tree along with hundreds of other eating and drinking fans, slowly sipping our beer with a growing sense of belonging -- between the 10 of us and the thousands of other fans from near and far.

Halfway through the first support band -- the Magic Numbers -- set, the sky ripped open and drenched us. Then it stopped.

When we were almost dry, after the set of the second band, the Killers, who I am told are big on MTV now, it rained heavily again.

But it didn't really matter. We were keeping ourselves warm by doing the Mexican wave.

At around 9 p.m. they switch off the stadium floodlights and turn up the music.

The 70,000 people go eerily quiet.

It stops raining.

All eyes are trained on the empty stage, waiting for it all to start. And then U2 walk out, just like that, and Bono counts: "Uno, dos, tres, cuatro!!!"

The stadium explodes into screams and applause, while Bono greets us with, "Hello, hello, we're at a place called Vertigo."

For the first few minutes I just cannot comprehend the events around me. Ever since I saw the Zoo TV concert in Sydney 12 years ago, I've been dreaming of seeing this band live.

To put it simply, U2 is the soundtrack of my life.

During "I Will Follow" and "Electric Co." I finally come to my senses and totally appreciate the snippet from "I Can't Stand the Rain," which Bono sings looking at the low grey clouds.

"Elevation" follows, which, elevating as always, prepares the audience for "New Year's Day."

At the first chords of the Edge's piano, something astonishing happens and sends chills down my spine.

The fans on the floor take out red cloths, flags and T-shirts, while the people in the stands take out white ones and form a huge red-and-white Polish flag.

Bono, being the showman he is, hits his chest and bows, then takes off his black jacket, turns it with the red lining out and puts it back on. The audience goes bananas and starts waving their flags frantically. After the concert I found out that the Poles associate this song with the Solidarnosc movement of the 1980s.

In "Beautiful Day" Bono, still affected by the sight of the enormous flag, changes the lyrics to "see brand new Poland right in front of you" and the audience applauds.

"I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" turns into a gospel choir with everybody singing, shaking and clapping in unison.

Spirits are already high and the general feeling of elated joy spreads among the people.

During "All I Want Is You," probably one of the most passionate love songs ever written, people take out mobile phones and lighters and the stadium turns into a sea of tiny lights. Bono walks out onto the catwalk and pulls a woman from the audience up onstage, holds her and they dance cheek to cheek.

The lit-up stadium blends in nicely with "City of Blinding Lights," during which the huge light bead curtain behind the stage finally comes to life with images.

Before "Miracle Drug," a song from U2's most recent album, How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb, Bono tells the story about a Polish boy who grew up in that region who once stole his sunglasses, but gave him a rosary in return. "Miracle Drug" is devoted to John Paul II.

The next ballad, "Sometimes You Can't Make It on Your Own," Bono devotes to his father, Bob Hewson, who died of cancer in 2001. Lighters and mobile phones are out again.

The following three songs -- "Love and Peace or Else," "Sunday Bloody Sunday" and "Bullet the Blue Sky" -- are so full of the raw energy and passion typical of U2, that the 70,000 fans, myself included, just cannot stop screaming, jumping and stomping their feet.

The entire band walks out onto the catwalk among the audience. Bono wears a white bandana with the Christian cross, the Muslim crescent, the Star of David and the word "coexist" interwoven through the symbols.

"Lay down your guns/All your daughters of Zion/All your Abraham sons" -- Bono is marching around, twisting and turning, demanding and pleading. The audience responds with screams and applause.

"From the firefly, a red orange glow/See the face of fear running scared in the valley below" -- Bono is on his knees, blindfolded, with his arms behind his back, creating a disturbing image of the kind we all have seen on CNN and Al Jazeera.

The stage is flooded with smoke and blood red lights while the Edge is making his guitar screech and weep.

The audience is clapping in unison and screaming at the tops of their lungs, while Bono takes up the beat of "When Johnny Comes Marching Home." The emotions in the stadium reach another peak when Bono takes out a harmonica from his pocket and strikes up "Running to Stand Still."

People are holding each other and slowly dance in the stands, while from the stage Bono raises his voice in "Hallelujah" against the background of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights projected onto the light curtain behind him.

"Pride" and "Where the Streets Have No Name" raise the spirits to new heights and everybody feels that the time for a sermon has come as the flags of African countries run up and down the light curtain.

Bono, however, only gave a little speech about how we should unite our efforts to make poverty history and how G8 should cancel the debt of the poorest countries. Perhaps he feels that the audience in this former communist country is not as wealthy as those in the U.S. or Western Europe. The concert ends with "One" -- that lovely song of which I can never get enough.

There are two encores, which include "Zoo Station," "The Fly," "With or Without You" and "All Because of You," "Yahweh" and "Vertigo."

During "Zoo Station" and "The Fly" we get a taste of the glorious days of Achtung Baby and Zoo TV and it looked like Mr. MacPhisto was back to make a phone call.

No phone calls that night. At least not during the concert.

Maybe Bono had a word with the skies and arranged for the rain to stop. Or perhaps Bono stopped it himself.

I don't know.

The fact is that there was not a drop of rain from the low, grey-orange clouds hanging above our heads during the entire U2 concert, which lasted slightly more than two hours.

After the indisputable "The End" was projected on the light curtains, the stadium emptied quickly.

As we were walking back to our hotel that night, we agreed that this was the greatest night of our lives. We had waited a long time and had come a long way to make this dream of ours come true.

Maybe next time U2 will come to Bulgaria and we can stage a Bulgarian flag in the stadium, just to show our appreciation of the fact that this band has finally honoured our country as well.

Because after sharing that evening with my nine companions and the other 70,000 fans, after this almost religious experience, being the true fan that I am, and sensing the sincerity this band puts into everything they do, be it music, charity or politcal statements, I am sure that having a U2 concert in my country, would indeed be a great honour.



© Sofia Echo, 2005.