U2 2001 Concert: Who's to say where the wind will take you?
September 11, 2002 One Year Later
Is about to give
I can feel it coming
I think I know what it means
On September 11, 2001, we all experienced something that was surreal. It was something we will never forget. While I was not in New York, I work spitting distance from the Sears Tower in downtown Chicago. As I left work, I saw fear on people's faces. A fear I have never seen before. A year later, we can all relive the details of that day as clearly as anything that has ever occurred to us in our life. So what's the point? I guess it is that none of us will ever forget the events of that day, no matter how old we get. It's fingerprinted on in our memories and souls. There is nothing that can change the events of that day. But, we can choose to inspire ourselves to live our lives to the fullest. In the last year, we have all experienced a wide range of emotions. A year ago, we were all sitting around wondering what would happen next as we were all stuck in a moment that we could not get out of. Me personally, I struggled a little every day for about five weeks.
An event that occurred five weeks after 9/11, that helped me through my funk and more importantly, reaffirmed that there is hope in this world of ours. U2 came to town. U2 made their final go round on their world tour through America. I got tickets to a total of 4 shows. Between October and December of 2001, I saw a band who knew its place in the world and captivated its audience and provided better healing than any therapist and gave more meaning to what they do than any tribute concert did in the wake of 9/11.
In October 2000, I received an advanced copy of All That You Cant Leave Behind. It did not leave my disc player for the next year. It was a return to form for the band. Its a staggering album that reflects on the things we toil and covet for in our everyday lives. I know of numerous individuals who felt closer to this album and the 11 songs on it, after 9/11. Why? Because I think an event like 9/11 puts your life into perspective. They found the key of life...to keep your own life viewpoint from getting blurry. Do whatever helps you, whether it is a song, a movie, a relative or a close friend, always keep the road ahead of you in mind. For me, it was this album.
I'm not afraid to live
And when I'm flat on my back
I hope to feel like I did
The first U2 show I saw was the first date of the fall tour at Notre Dame University. It was a great show, if for no other reason than it was the smallest place (during a tour) the band had played since 1989, and the smallest in the US since probably 1984 or 1985. The show was a rehearsal of sorts. It was obvious that the band wanted to make a statement with their music. They played two more gigs later that week, in Canada, and the set list had reverted back to what it had been throughout the first legs of the tour. However, I had a feeling that the band would be making some kind of a statement on the next stop, which happened to be in Chicago.
Chicago has become something of a second home to U2. They played more dates in Chicago in 2001 than any other city in the world. More important than that, the shows collectively (all 6 of them) had more songs performed at them than anywhere else U2 has ever played. Chicago is one of the few cities that the band really mixes things up for. Along with Boston and New York, we stand among the cities that have supported the band from the beginning and continue to do so. I guess what makes us special is that Chicago was one of the few crowds that reacted strongly to the Popmart tour in 1997. The band had been getting beat up in the press on that tour. In fact, Chicago was the only city where they actually added a show, instead of taking them away. In an online chat earlier this year Bono spoke of his feelings: This band has a feeling for Chicago that is impossible to describe. During POPMART the nights at Soldier Filed were the best on the tour and last year we felt like we kind of moved in. The 1997 shows were not forgotten on the band as, in May 2001, the band played 4 uniquely different set lists that were better than even the shows in Boston, New York and their home, Dublin. The bottom line is this band loves Chicago. More importantly, Chicago love U2.
A two-night stand began on Monday October 15, 2001. I walked into the United Center in Chicago full of bewilderment. I think it was safe to say that many people were just dreading daily life during this period. What was the point of getting up everyday and going to jobs we hate? Were we adding anything to the world? Did anything we do matter to anyone or anything in the big picture? For those of you who know me, its nothing new to you that I consistently reexamine my life on a regular basis. I just found everything about my life confusing at this given moment: relationships, work, where I was going what did it all mean? We all go through these moments from time to time, but the utter mystification I felt during the 2nd half of 2001, was unlike anything I had experienced since being in college. After that cold October Chicago night I felt some reprieve.
Around 8:40 Little Stevie Wonders "High Ground" came on and was followed by a Beatles two-pack, "All You Need Is Love" & "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band". From here, everyone knew it was coming this led way into a frenzy I can honestly say I have only seen at 2 other shows in my lifetime (Bruce Springsteen at Madison Square Garden in New York and Bon Jovi, in Chicago, at the Rosemont Horizon). The band walks on stage one by one, looking like prophets on a mission, with the house lights on. Bono walks up to the mike as the intro music to "Elevation" is in the background. Right before the band kicks into the song, Bono grabs his microphone and yells, "I wouldnt be anywhere else!" and they slam into "Elevation" with full throttle. The crowd, in the heart shaped center, goes into hysteria along with the other 20,000 people fortunate to witness the show. The band is much more vigorous than I have seen them since their first show in Chicago this past May. They obviously are feeding off of the Chicago crowd. Ive been traveling all over the country to catch shows the last few years and Chicago is easily the best city to catch a rock show in. The people, the atmosphere and the mentality its all there. Certain acts like U2 feed off this and in turn, give their best and most inspiring performances of nights like these.
"Elevation" leads into "Beautiful Day" which holds new meaning after the September 11th aftermath, in truth, for no other reason than we need to always look at the brighter side of things in our life and be happy for what we have and, most importantly, be able to turn the other cheek. The band follows with more hits, "Until The End of the World" and "New Years Day". Then came surprise number one, "Out of Control", from their debut album Boy. Here is a song that sounds as fresh as it did 20 years ago. Why? Because the band is playing like they are 19-year-olds wanting to conquer the world. How many multi-millionaires can you say play with that kind of passion? This leads into "Sunday Bloody Sunday". It is at this moment when the concert went into another atmosphere. The ambience in the room is unlike anything I have ever witnessed in my life. Twenty thousand people attending a therapy session, letting all of their angst and dissolution out in one place, at one time. This is a song that we have raised and pumped our fists to many times in the past, never knowing the terror with which inspired the song. The band played their hearts out on this song for five years, and put it into semi-retirement, mainly because they thought it had lost some of its meaning. It was brought back with full force for the Elevation tour. Right after the guitar solo, at the tip of the heart shaped stage, someone was holding up an American flag. Bono struts out to the edge of the heart and took it and draped it around his body, to a roar from the audience! He very easily could have taken it for a run around the stage, but instead he sang, Wipe your tears away and slowly handed the flag back to the crowd. It was at this moment that I realized I was watching the band perform in a way that they have never done before, and will never be able to recapture again. If the goal was elevation, then they had undeniably achieved it.
Next up was a cover song of a Three Degrees' 1974 soul hit, "When Will I See You Again? which leads right into "Stuck In A Moment". This is a song that was played almost non-stop in the wake of 9/11. In fact, I could not turn on the radio for all of September and October without hearing U2 in some fashion. There is a good reason why; their music had more meaning than anything else on the pop-culture. After that, the band gets ready to play Kite. Its a song that even those who did not know it, knew of its power upon hearing it. Bono said that he wrote, "Kite" for his children, however, he was recently beginning to think that his father (who passed away in August of 2001) wrote it for him. They then launched into "Kite" which may very well be the best song on All That You Cant Leave Behind; this is an extremely poignant, emotional and loving song. It's about letting go, which is something we all have problems dealing with whether it be a loved one, and former love, or coming to terms with your life.
That you don't need me anymore
I want you to know
You don't need anyone
Or anything at all
No sooner did "Kite" end then the Edge is walking up the heart plunging away at "Angel of Harlem" which sounded fantastic. The entire band played along as the crowd sang the chorus to a deafening volume. The songs from Rattle & Hum have aged well. The second night, a stripped down Desire is performed and both of these songs have never sounded better. As much of a mess as the album may have been, its still an album that has a lot of truly great songs on it. Towards the end of the Angel, you saw the Edge pull someone from the front of the inner tip of the heart, which later became a tradition on this tour. At this point, the crowd begins to go insane. They bring out an acoustic guitar for the lad. Bono asked him if he could play guitar and he nods. The guy gets the acoustic and starts jamming away to the riff from "People Get Ready". Bono, Edge and the guitar slinger make their way across the stage and play the song to perfection. This was completely spontaneous. This was an added touch of how genuine this show, and the whole tour was. The added touch of actually having fans on stage was introduced by Metallica in 91, where they had a pit on stage, the tradition later continued as Bon Jovi set up bars on both sides of the stage, but the spontaneous U2 moments like this one, eclipse those, because the people who got up there, were up there for a reason other than winning some radio contest.
Following the acoustic interlude, the band came back on stage for "Bad" which is probably one of U2's best live songs. Its a song about heroin addiction on the surface. An artist writes something and it directly influences us in such a way that we make it our own. Whether it being not able to put down the needle, or wanting to be loved, I feel that this song connects with U2 fans in a special manner that is rarely seen. Bad gets rotated on multiple nightstands with what is arguably the best love song ever written, All I Want Is You. On the second night, the audience participation during this song was almost deafening. It's during songs like these that you cant even consider seeing the band play these live without crowd interaction. Think about it, how extraordinary is it that you have an audience completely in sync with what you are doing?
Both Bad and All I Want Is You slowly fade into what is possibly U2s best live song, "Where The Streets Have No Name". If "Bad" brought the crowd to neat frenzy, this is the song that put everyone into overdrive. I can honestly say that "Streets" is possibly one of the greatest live songs to ever be performed by any band, anywhere. This is one of those songs, in which, even if you are not a fan of the band, you appreciate the energy and the fact that everyone in the 300 levels is on their feet and cheering like Bono is right in front of him. Few songs have this appeal live ("Piano Man", "Born To Run", "Livin On A Prayer", "Jack & Diane", "Satisfaction" etc.). It evokes a feeling of pure joy seeing everyone on their feet, not so much singing but jumping up and down to the point of near exhaustion while belting out the lyrics.
I Still Havent Found What Im Looking For followed for only the third and fourth times on the tour. Its a song that I felt, and apparently, the band felt was necessary to bring back out after 9/11. The song is a gospel like prayer, which has a great sing-a-long and brings a smile to your face, its about the here and now. As they ended the set with "Pride", they left the stage, they crowd was in a frenzy that I can honestly say that I have only seen at a half dozen shows in my lifetime.
The encores were completely changed from the first 2 legs of the tour. Gone was With Or Without You but this was followed by a great version of the Marvin Gaye classic "What's Going On". The first encore, from the Chicago show on, ended with a powerful and passionate performance of "New York", which was the only song to fall on semi-deaf ears at their Chicago shows in May. However, the events of 9/11 made this quite possibly the highlight of the show with Bono changing the lyrics and even saying "Even Chicago loves 'New York'" to a thunderous roar from the windy city crowd. Its rare you can turn the one song that crowds were going to the bathroom during, into an anthem within a few months. The bands performance of the song was also significantly enhanced as they felt the emotions running in the room while playing this one.
The band returned after a brief moment to the stage to perform "One". One thing Bono has been criticized a lot about is his persistent bantering during performances. The fall tour found him rather muted. He only spoke before Kite and One. At the beginning of One he empathized our sentiment because of what he and the band witnessed first hand growing up in Ireland. He actually gave a concentrated sermon without going over the top or preaching too much. He simply spoke about extremists putting off random bombs in his home, Ireland, and of an unbelievably stirring story of how he had a cup of coffee in a shop when he was a teen, and within an hour of him leaving, the shop was bombed by terrorists. If that was not enough, the back screens displayed the names of those who lost their lives on the 4 flights from September 11th. Somehow they managed to bring about the right degree of emotion. I think everyone in the place just stood there and really listened to this song like they never had before.
We get to
Carry each other
Carry each other
The shows finished with "Peace On Earth"/"Walk On". The band stuck to their guns and chose to end their shows on a high point with a positive message for their fans to carry with them as they left the arena, and I sure did.
And if the daylight feels like it's a long way off
And if your glass heart should crack
And for a second you turn back
Oh no, be strong Walk On
I for one left the shows with a rehabilitated implication of what is imperative and poignant in our lives. Many people criticize this band for taking themselves too seriously, but my theory, life is way too short to NOT take earnestly. The shows I attended last year were pricey, yet somehow; I rationalized it that it was cheaper than therapy. More importantly, I was able to witness shows by artists who truly try to change the world we live in. Granted, they may not change the world, but they can move us and inspire us to enhance our lives and those around us. I've always felt that great art, whether it be a movie, a book, a CD or a concert can motivate us to great lengths and try to broaden our mystical existence in this world. The key for us is to take what they bestow on us and reveal it with those we love and care about.
Anyone who witnessed a U2 concert between October 10 and December 2, 2001, saw what might possibly have been the best rock show to ever cross this country. Not so much because of the performances or the music, but for the state of mind we were in. We desired healing and somehow, U2 managed to alleviate the anguish, and in the process let their music move us to tears of sorrow and joy, all at the same time. I love music and there is nothing better than witnessing a band live and in the flesh. In the last few years, I have witnessed some truly miraculous performances by a wide variety of artists. However, none have been as prevailing, or as needed as those U2 performances in the fall of 2001. A challenge was thrown to them and they answered by not only playing the best concerts of their twenty-five year career, but by bringing significance and resonance to my life and numerous others who witnessed that two hours of magic over a two month period.
The impact of October 15th and 16th shows will live with me forever. Seeing a band and 20,000 people completely in sync with one another are more than special, it was life changing. I just hope that somewhere down the line I can give that hope to someone in his or her hour of desperation, like U2s music did for me last year. The best thing in life is hope. Its key that we keep it with us on our life voyage. Its also imperative that we keep an affirmative mind-set for those close to us, because life will pitch us a curve here and there. They key is to stay hopeful. The best art makes you feel incredible things, on that cold October night, U2 made us all feel a little safer and that there was a light at the end of what appeared to be a very dark tunnel.