Expect the unexpected, they say. I didn’t expect to see a U2 concert this year. I didn’t buy tickets. But I went to a U2 concert, thanks to two people bowing out of my cousin’s extra ticket.
I’ve always been more of a casual fan. I love certain songs, like “Where the Streets Have No Name,” “Pride” and “Bullet the Blue Sky.” And I have so much respect for them, for their place in music history, for The Edge’s innovative guitar, for their humanitarian work, for their renowned showmanship. So I always wanted to see them live. Now I have. And they lived up to the hype. They also made me realize that they’ve been with me throughout my life more than I knew.
I expected “Where the Streets Have No Name” to be a religious experience. Even on casual listens, The Edge’s intro, drenched in delay and slowly building, gives me chills. It was definitely stirring. And it clearly hit the crowd harder, placed as it was near the end of the set, than any other song. The band seemed truly moved by the raucous cheers as the last notes chimed out. It inspired Bono to wax, hands on his heart, about how moments like that remind him how fortunate he is to be able to do what he loves for a living.
But it was more “Pride” that provided the religious experience. Unexpectedly, it took me back to Grade 6. It took me back to being a self conscious kid in the schoolyard, confused about the cliques forming around me, but quietly confident that sports would give me at least one very small foot in their door. Very small. Like pinky toe small. But it was something. My lip actually quivered as I reminisced, recalling an end of some kind of innocence, and how this band was there for it, so long ago.
We were on the floor for this show and there was a long catwalk 15 feet in front of me. During the first chorus of “Pride,” Bono stopped right in front of me, in profile, head tilted back, mic raised high. Rock star pose. But my proximity brought him into focus, dropped the rock star lens and showed me there was a human being there. A not very tall human being. A human being standing there wearing clothes, like anybody else. He put them on himself. I assume. A slightly aging human being, with crow’s feet peaking from behind his tinted glasses. A human being with a strange orangish dye job. A human being who was working his body hard and had beads of sweat glistening on his forehead. It’s obvious, sure, but easy to lose sight of: Bono is human.
The Edge, too. He stood there in front of me a few times, eyes closed intensely as he plucked arpeggios. Then he heard a call from the crowd. He opened his eyes and cracked an amused smile. I loved watching The Edge move, twirling and swaying and stutter-walking along the catwalk. Nobody crushes an open sixth string E like him.
I didn’t expect a new rock star to be born: Stephanie, a black-haired, red-shirted girl plucked from the crowd to dance with Bono during “Mysterious Ways.” It came to light that she played guitar, so she strapped on an acoustic and led the band through “Angel of Harlem” and “All I Want is You.” She plowed through them like a pro, occasionally showing some genuine shock and gratitude for her unexpected place on stage, like a real Canadian girl. As she left the stage, hugging each member of the band, the ACC crowd cheered her like they used to for a Wendel Clark wrist shot into the net.
I didn’t expect to feel so fortunate. For just being there. For being so close to these rock star human beings. For hearing those open E’s. For my cousin asking me to go. For his wife giving up her ticket. For my wife being okay with me adding a third concert in a span of five days: Foo Fighters the next night and Big Music Fest on Saturday, featuring Soundgarden, Jane’s Addiction and Extreme. I can’t wait to see what expectations will be shattered at those shows.