Friday, July 29, 2011

Heart of Gold

U2 7 Part 2: Winnipeg.

Right before Australia, U2 announced that they were adding more dates to their summer 2011 tour and added my home city Winnipeg.

I found this out at 6 in the morning and ran into my sleeping sister’s room and jumped on her bed, freaking out, “U2 ARE PLAYING WINNIPEG!” If there was anything that could have eclipsed my trip to Australia, it was this. My favourite band finally playing my city after a decade of skipping us, I was so ready for May 29th.

The few days before the show were the most surreal of my life. For one, I was certain something awesome unrelated to the show was in my future. I wanted to meet the band and thought that I had no better chance to do it than in my own city. It was the Thursday before the show and I heard on the radio that U2 were going to be rehearsing at a downtown theatre and filming a movie. I’m quite convinced the band themselves released the information as they could have totally kept this a secret if they really wanted to. Anyway, that day the theatre (The Walker/Burt) was crawling with people who were trying to catch a glimpse of the band despite being told that they weren’t there. One funny bit from that day was this woman asking a security guard/roadie if U2 were really coming. The guy was standing in front of equipment that had “U2” written on the side and he deadpans, “No, of course not”.

That Friday was buzzing with potential energy and that whole day at work I couldn’t sit still. Over lunch, my u2 requests to a local radio show were played with the DJ wishing me luck on my Bono encounter quest. Later that afternoon, I got a text from a friend that said they knew when U2 were arriving and if I wanted my chance to meet them this would be it. They couldn’t tell me where their plane was going to be but they told me the band would arrive at 5:30.

The rest of the afternoon, I was a bundle of nerves. I kept wrestling with the decision to go. Should I go? What would I say if I actually met them?

What decided it for me was when I asked myself Will I regret it if I don’t go?

I would regret it and so I called my sister and asked if her boyfriend and she would be willing to come with me to the airport to find U2.

I guess everyone who admires someone imagines what it would be like to meet that person. Meeting Bono, Adam Clayton, and The Edge was better than I imagined it would be. For one thing, all three acted like they were absolutely excited to meet me (and everyone else obviously). Adam approached me and I remember I said “hi, Adam” to him while my sister filled in the blanks when I was struck dumb by his awesomeness. She told him I was a huge fan of his hence my inability to speak. He shook my hand through the fence and held my hand. He looked me in the eye and smiled and told me how happy he was to meet me. I must have said something but I think I only smiled.

Adam is my favourite member of the band in case it wasn’t obvious.

My sister and I both talked to The Edge. I told him how awesome it was to meet him; my sister added that she hoped his trip was fantastic. He was shyly smiling and thanked us and told my sister that the trip was great. He hoped we had a good time at the show and we scoffed and told him, “Of course we will!”

Then we met Bono and I could tell my sister was waiting for the epic freak out. To be honest, I was expecting it as well. We waved to him as he stepped off the plane and he waved back. (My sister: "Did he just wave back?") I was the second person he approached and as he stood in front of me in his Spice Girl-like platform shoes, I saw myself reflected in his sunglasses. He smiled warmly, “Hello.”

The most common remark I’ve always heard from people (even people who aren't u2 fans) that have met Bono is that he makes you feel like you’re the only person in his universe. Of course, I didn’t believe it.

That day at the airport, he kept smiling at me like I was the most precious thing in the world. Looking back on it now, I wonder how I didn’t freak out.

I mirrored his smile and said, “Hi. Umm...would you sign my picture? It’s from when you played Sydney.”

He looked at the picture and grinned, “That was a fun night.” I agreed and watched as he signed the back. He and I worked out a plan to get it back through the fence as he smudged the date on his autograph when he tried to send it through the first time. He apologized and I told him it was ok. “Aren’t you a sweetheart, “ he said.

The rest of the conversation was a blur as I was overloaded with serotonin. I remember they took the time to talk to everyone and I spoke to Bono briefly but can’t remember what I said. Finally, Edge and Adam headed to their cars while Bono started to take pictures with the people who were left. I remember slowly sneaking forward and saw my moment to ask, “Hey, Bono? Is it ok to get a picture?”

“Of course!” He said happily.

I’m going into the 3rd month of having that picture of Bono and me as my profile picture on Facebook.

U2 have officially ruined me for every other celebrity encounter I will ever have. And this was just that Friday!

Me reflected in B's glasses

The next night my sister and I went to snoop around the Walker/Burt Theatre as I had heard that U2 were rehearsing songs off of Achtung Baby (my favourite album). Though we heard no songs off of Achtung Baby, we did hear Elevation. And we arrived just as they were finishing up and they came out to sign autographs. My sister didn’t get a Bono autograph the Friday at the airport as Bono took my only Sharpie. The best bit of that night was when Bono recognized my sister from the airport and drew a flower for her as he signed his autograph.


I wasn’t certain how show day was going to top the Friday and Saturday preceding it. Show day cracked its knuckles and said, “Oh, really?”

Since I had the end of the year ceremony for my part-time job that morning, I didn’t arrive in the Red Zone 2 line until 4. The Red Zones are 2 VIP areas near the stage that are won through auctions with some of the proceeds going to charity. Sometimes the auctions can get a little pricy (I paid 250 for the one I had in Vancouver) but sometimes fortune smiles on you (The Winnipeg Red Zone ticket was only 10 dollars more than what I had paid for my mom’s GA ticket). The Red Zone 2 line was about 30 people strong when I arrived. I ended up passing the time by trading stories with this couple about our U2 encounters that weekend. Security and cops were out in full force. I saw some cops sending people away from the tops of a nearby parking garage with a top level that looked into the stadium. I saw employees of the multiplex next door on the roof of the theatre, snapping pictures of the stage.

It was a fun environment to be in and everyone was hyper with anticipation. Red Zone 2 was a little surprised when a police car with its lights on came rolling up the closed street right next to our line. The police car was followed by a fleet of Escalades and everyone knew who was inside. When Bono rolled down his window, the line cheered and waved frantically and pressed against the fence to check out the rest of the band as they made their way into the stadium.

One of my favourite memories of that night was sitting on the pavement in the Red Zone line, when u2 started sound checking this haunting version of Magnificent. They played it 3 times, each time incompletely. Some guy yelled on the last restart, “IT SOUNDS GREAT. IT’S FINE, GUYS. LET US IN.”

My spot on the floor was great with the best view of the screen and the stage; it was also right in front of where one of the bridges stopped when the band moved to the outer walkway that haloed the main stage. My mom was surprised when the bridges moved above the heads of those in the GA pit that surrounded the main stage (she being in the pit that night with my younger sister). My mom and sister were right in front of me, across the runaway. As a result, my sister got a bunch of hilarious pictures of my reactions to whenever Bono was in front of me.

It was my mom’s second concert ever and she said her favourite part was when Bono sang “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?”

My dad meanwhile was in a parking lot nearby when U2 started the show and he said he was almost knocked to the ground by the sound of Even Better than the Real Thing starting.

The much argued over bit of Mysterious Ways mentioned below

That night, I was so surprised by the crowd. Winnipeg is well-known for its concert heckling and general hard-to-impress attitude so I could not believe how excited everyone was. People I had heard say they wouldn’t be caught dead at a U2 show were sitting in the most expensive sections. Merch was sold a day before the show because there was such a demand for it (I heard from a friend that everything U2-related at the nearby shopping centre had sold out the day of the show). When Snowbird jets flew over the stadium right before u2 came on, the whole audience reacted like little kids. And when the show finally started, people went insane. It was great! It reminded me of the Sydney crowds and the energy fueled my already extremely hyper mood.

Earlier that morning a severe storm had been forecast but by show time the sky was clear but it was so cold. I once joked that I hoped it snowed on show day and thought it might that night. I borrowed my friend Joyce’s gloves for a bit to try and get the feeling back in my hands.

Once the show started, no one cared about the temperature. At times my hands felt like they were going to shatter when I was clapping and the cold metal rail hurt when it touched my skin but that was just background noise and was like it was happening to someone else.

Winnipeg is my favourite show of the 7 I went to. Hell, it’s probably my favourite concert ever. The audience was full of energy, the band fed off the energy and gave it all back (despite Larry disappearing 3 or 4 times to put on more clothes), and the set list was full of surprises as I hadn’t spoiled myself for the show.


Best bits?

  • The sound of Even Better than the Real Thing blaring through the frozen air of Winnipeg at the start of the show
  • The Desmond Tutu additional bits and the gospel backing that made Magnificent even more...well magnificent (Even if Bono said they messed up the ending)
  • Joyce, her friend, and I pulling all sorts of faces (ranging from happiness to awe to “HOLY SHIT”) when Bono stood in front of us after coming off the bridge during Mysterious Ways. We later fought over who he had been singing to (it was me)
  • The “serious” poem Bono had two girls read that ended up being the lyrics to “You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet”.
  • The singing of “Heart of Gold” by Neil Young at the end of Beautiful Day
  • Everyone hearing me squee when they started the intro to All I Want Is You and my surprise when everyone sang along to the song
  • Everyone hearing me squee again when they played Stay (Faraway, So Close) where they added the “You can go anywhere: Miami, New Orleans, London, Winnipeg and Berlin” lyric which caused my friend Trevor to grin
  • Zooropa which I never liked until I heard it grooving out of the extended screen (and which a few friends asked me about saying, "What was the name of that song where the screen asked me 'What do you want?'")
  • The slow dance where “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?” went into Where the Streets Have No Name

At that last point, I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry and I just cheered like I never cheered before. The red light they use for that song shined out of the 360 screen and lit up the audience like we were all around a fire getting warm. I couldn’t believe I was finally seeing U2 in Winnipeg and finally hearing Streets echo through the city. Best version of the song ever.

The coolest moment of the night was when they began With or Without You and Bono asked the audience to lift their lit-up phones to the sky to “make a Milky Way”. I’ve seen it done before but it was so cool to see it in Winnipeg. The screens of lit up iPhones, Blackberries, and other mobiles were pointed skywards and it looked like a winter sky, the “star” light sharp, ghostly and chilly.


That weekend I met my favourite band, ended up with a picture in the paper, bought an obscene amount of u2 t-shirts, had an absolute blast at the concert, and ended up walking home that night because everyone that was at the show thought I was getting a ride with someone else.

All in all, not a bad weekend. It was so good I almost didn't want to go to Montreal and Minneapolis.


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