If you can spot the favicon of this website you might notice some familiar figures. It is indeed the four members of the musical quartet, U2.
U2 turned me onto the emotional power of music, and helped develop my passion for music.
When I first really latched onto the music of U2 it was circa 2004. Obviously the band has been around since 1978, a good ten years before I was even born.
In my fifth form English class we were shown the film version of Looking for Alibrandi. Our teacher said that even though it was a mature film, and she needed parents permission to screen it, she was going to play it anyway. You gotta love those teachers that break the rules!
In one of the key emotional scenes, a U2 song plays in the background. But it’s not even U2, it’s a cover by Hamish Cowan performing With or Without You. A rather nasally lead singer that now I can’t help but screw my face up at. But at the time it stuck with me.
It was a little later in the year when I found myself watching C4, New Zealand’s television music channel. I think I was procrastinating study at the time. I hardly ever watch music television, and that still applies today. But it was on, and I was in the room when the C4 presenter described the next song as the one played at the end of a school disco, the one that makes everyone stop on the dance floor. I recognised the beginning beats of this particular song. But it was better, much better. It was the real With or Without You.
From that moment own my fandom grew. And I finally realised all those songs on the radio were actually by U2 — songs like Beautiful Day, I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For, and Where the Streets Have No Name. I wasn’t much of a music fan before U2. I ripped CDs and pirated music. I had never bought a music CD. If I go back now, and look at my old mixed CDs, most of those songs I downloaded were Pop garbage, now lost in time, and only played on those Class of 1990/2000-something radio segments.
I bought my first U2 CD (and first CD at that) at the now-closed Real Groovy in Wellington. The CD was How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb. We went off to my Uncle’s house and I tried to listen to it on my teal-lidded laptop. Of course the first thing I did was rip it to the hard drive, and then I listened to it over, and over again. Years later I now own all 16 main U2 albums on CD, most of the DVD concert releases, The re-mastered Joshua Tree album, and assorted U2 memorabilia. A few bootlegs of course. Yet thanks to B-sides and hard to find releases, I’m still discovering their music even today. Just last week I found out about an old instrumental I’d never heard of.
As an aside: Five years ago dear reader, I convinced my friends to help me make this embarrassing music video. We promised to make more videos of its kind. We never did…
If I think about it now, my activism today goes back to U2 for inspiring me to take action against extreme poverty and encouraging solutions like Fair Trade and Aids & HIV treatment. We all know how much Bono loves the poverty issue, heck the whole world knows about it now! Love him or hate him, Bono and the band introduced me to a world outside of music. Something bigger than the sounds emitting from my speakers.
Their music is inspirational. It’s encouraging. It’s stirring. Listening to songs like Sunday Bloody Sunday you can’t but help but feel swept up in the revolution, the cause. Like Christianity and the church (which I was a part of for a few years), the songs move you. Many of the songs have religious undertones. Sure some songs are just for fun, but each one has an origin and a meaning. The best part about them is that you can attribute your own meaning. Bono’s lyrics are metaphorical poetry. The perfect imprint for what ails you.
Something U2 is well known for is its concerts. Oh their concerts. I have only seen U2’s last two tours as that is as far back as my fandom reaches. But my first concert was a U2 one and left such a deep impression that it would sour every other concert for from that moment on.
Vertigo Tour (2006)
I was in the middle of my sixth form year and when I heard U2 were coming to town (pun intended) I knew I had to be there. Unfortunately Wellington was not to host the Irish quartet. That privilege would go to Auckland. The morning the tickets went on sale I waited in line at my local post office as they were using TicketMaster. We waited in line for ages only to get turned away. The first guy in the line got through, but the system had crashed across New Zealand. I was devastated. A little while later the second night was announced.
I still hadn’t told my parents at this stage, but I had to now. The post offices weren’t doing tickets again and I wouldn’t have risked it anyway. I needed to book online with a credit card. I told my parents about my plans. They were baffled. They knew how much U2 meant to me but my Mum said I could buy a DVD for a lot cheaper and save all the hassle. My Dad was worried for my safety and tried to get work off . I’m not an adventurous sort of guy so I guess this was pretty big back then. In the end they withdrew their complaints and let me buy my concert ticket.
I was looking forward to the March 18th concert in 2006, when it was suddenly postponed due to The Edge’s daughter struggling with a serious illness. I wasn’t mad, how could I be? So I waited… and waited… And then we got the announcement that the concert would be rescheduled to November 25th, which happened to be right in the middle of exams. Fortunately for me the tail-end of the exam period didn’t have any of my subjects.
I wasn’t the richest of teenagers at the time. Hilariously I recovered this futureme.org email I sent to myself:
The U2 concert is on November 25th after being postponed from July. At the moment I have no money to get up to auckland and back! I wonder if u went and do u even still like U2??
But somehow I made ends meet. To get up to Auckland I ended up taking the cheapest (and most uncomfortable) option; the Overlander — a train that runs from Wellington to Auckland in under a day. This was my first time on the Overlander, and although the journey was very long and sore on the old behind, I reckon it was worth it. The ride featured breathtaking views of New Zealand greenery, farmland and viaducts. And I’m not just reciting the leaflet here. Besides taking photos on the way up I read the U2 by U2 book I was given for my birthday.
I was to stay with my cousins in Auckland. They let me share a room and meals for a good few days.
And then it was concert day. One of the most fondest days of my life so far — if i recall.
It started with a trip to the Auckland harbour where my relatives took their boat out for a spin. The white sun was shining, the blue water glistening. The wind ruffled my hair. Below deck it was like a luxury hotel. I even convinced them to put on my U2 18 Singles compilation CD. My Aunty asked me if the word Bloody in Sunday Bloody Sunday was just an excuse to swear. I said it was in reference to the conflict in Ireland, and that kept her happy enough to let it keep playing.
That evening my Aunty dropped me off at Mt. Smart Stadium (previously named Ericsson Stadium at the time of the concert announcement). I bought an expensive t-shirt at the merch caravan, and hid my camera under my jacket hoping the security at the entrance wouldn’t spot it. They did. Fortunately they let it slide as it was only a tiny digital camera. Would I have thrown away my Mum’s camera for a chance to see U2? After coming all that way, most definitely. I wouldn’t have been happy about it though. Neither would my Mum. After that ordeal they made me feel more at ease when they removed the lid of my drink bottle. I asked for it back but they sharply refused. If I wanted to make a Molotov cocktail with my water bottle I would’ve filled the damn thing with spirits!
Inside I found a spot close to the front in the general admission. I didn’t want to be crushed so I was still a bit away. Soon it was pretty much packed and I had to stand holding onto my merch bag & camera, and tried not to spill my lidless drink bottle. A couple in front of me smoked for the entire night and I could smell booze in every which direction. But even all that wasn’t enough to stop me from enjoying the hell out of that evening.
Kanye West came on and did his thing, bass shaking the stadium. After his departure and a few songs then Wake Up, the Arcade Fire hit (which I didn’t know at the time) kicked in. An emotional flurry took on the stadium. We knew the band was soon to come on. We just felt it. Giant inflatable beach balls danced around on top of the sea of people.
And then they were here.
Bono, Edge, Adam, and Larry. They opened with City of Blinding Lights. The rest of the evening was a blur of good feelings. I sang my heart out to most of the songs. The crowd did the same along with me. I was amongst people just like me. U2 fans. That blew me away more than anything. My family liked the odd U2 song, but I think it may have driven them batty seeing as it was all I listened to.
I laughed when Bono came out in his Warriors jacket. I was delighted when I heard the Beautiful Day lines changed to reflect New Zealand.
The night closed, the lights turned on, and my ears felt like I’d been under water for the last three hours. We herded out of the stadium like cattle. I looked dumbstruck at the scene below with all the empty cans and litter everywhere. I walked away from the stadium and over to McDonald’s where my Aunty was waiting for me. I went to bed late and I found it hard to sleep. In the morning I got up early, put on my U2 shirt, and caught the train back to Wellington.
360 Tour (2010)
Things were more relaxed this time around. I was so desperate for them to come to New Zealand, I thought the claw would stop them from visiting entirely. But then the tour was announced for Downunder and it all just seemed like it was always meant to be. After my trip to America, and my six week stint in the Army, it was basically a trip up to Auckland that next week. Even though I was planning on going to see U2 all year it was almost an after thought compared to all I’d been through.
This time it wasn’t a solo affair. I was heading up with my Dad, his partner, and my friend Stephen. Stephen told me he would like to see a U2 concert (and this was his first visit to Auckland in fact). We flew up together by plane and couch surfed at my Dad’s-partner’s-son’s-flat (geez that’s a mouthful!) while the others stayed at my Uncles. we did various Auckland sight seeing. Stephen took a trip up the Sky Tower. As I had visited the Sky Tower earlier that year (and sometime before that too) I couldn’t bring myself to fork over money. We visited MOTAT (The Museum of Transport & Technology) and took a ride in a spaceship, together with examining ancient NZ relics. My favourite sights were probably going through what kiwis had as household entertainment, starting from balls on paddles and army men through to retro videogames.
Then it was show day. I bought another t-shirt, even my Dad bought some merch. I learned from last time not to bring a camera, though I did have one on my iPhone. As for the drink bottle I knew I had to surrender the cap, and I gave it up without a wimper. A special section of the tent was reserved for taping up said bottle, which was probably worse than having it spill on people, I didn’t have a sip until the end of the night. We were starving upon entering the pearly gates. I managed to follow a path of arrows leading me to a pizza place hidden behind the other food wagons. Stephen and I shared different pizzas and munched on garlic bread.
Stephen wanted to get to the very front. I don’t much like mosh pits, though U2 concerts aren’t known for those. He convinced me to go closer than I would’ve otherwise. Jay Z was soon on stage with his band putting on a show in the little daylight that was still left.
Some more waiting and then David Bowie’s Space Oddity started to ooze out from the stage speakers. “Ground control to Major Tom”, Bowie’s slow words filled the stadium. This time I didn’t feel that U2 would be on next, I knew. I’d seen the show twice before ,which is most likely one of the reasons the tour didn’t blow my socks off like the first. There were no surprises thanks to my several screened viewings of the tour at the Rose Bowl. First the live stream on YouTube, and then on DVD.
I found the sound in the stadium a little distorted. Something I didn’t recall from my first concert. But that’s being very picky. I still loved seeing the gang in person again, and having some others enjoy it with me.
The claw structure was easily impressive and something you really need to see in person. The expanding screens and circling bridges sure make a brilliant spectacle. The band definitely appeared closer than in the Vertigo tour, especially with the bridges and outer rim for the four to prance around. Even Larry got on his bongo and went for a walk.
The night closed with Elton John’s Rocket Man, another fitting song to the theme of the tour. We didn’t get a live connection to the International Space Station, but the video was still in place.
While it is incredibly hard to choose between such a selection I managed to narrow it down to three songs I never skip when they come on.
1. Beautiful Day from the album All That You Can’t Leave Behind.
2. With Or Without You from the album The Joshua Tree.
3. Ultraviolet (Light My Way) from the album Achtung Baby.
All three are very emotional and often leave me singing my heart out. Beautiful Day is about enjoying the moment, and forgetting about everything else, saying it’s good to be alive. With or Without You is more melancholy, embracing the pain, and feeling everything even the bad. Ultraviolet has a bit of happy and a bit of sad, almost a mix of the above two songs. It’s optimistic, about finding the light and surging forward. I’m not a music critic and I don’t pretend to be one!
So that my friends is the end of my story — a rather haphazardly spun tale of my U2 fandom. Even if you aren’t a fan of the band I hope you gained some insight into what it’s like to be a fan (or a total cliché of one anyway).