October 1, 2011 |  by  |  Show Recap, U2360 Tour

And the trees are stripped bare
Of all they wear
What do I care?

And kingdoms rise
And kingdoms fall
But you go on
… and on.

Fans can’t resist pushing play on the second song on the second side of U2’s second album as Oct. 1 hits and seems to officially usher in a new season. I dutifully play 1981’s October, and its eponymous track, letting the sound of The Unforgettable Fire, an album that encompasses summer for me, fade out. If time must march on, the beauty of an oncoming fall eases the process.

Bono paints a beautiful, barren picture for us in fewer than 30 words of both mortality and infiniteness. Edge trades the guitar for the piano, Larry plays just a woodblock, Adam plucks a few quick notes on the bass. It’s sparse. But despite the minimal lyrics and the minimal musical arrangement, it inhabits a huge space inside of me.

Unlike U2’s October, early fall in Florida is still steamy and sweaty and lush and green. My air conditioner is still cranking. Fortunately, October has come through for me this year, with a gorgeous 75-degree day and the promise of cooler weather. Oct. 1 also brings with it the memory of my best U2 concert experience. I suppose every day determines the direction of our lives, but I can look at exactly where I am today and trace it back to what I saw and those I met at the 360 show in Charlottesville, Va., two years ago.

When U2 announced their dates to tour No Line On The Horizon (back when they were actually promoting that album), I was floored when Charlottesville, Va., appeared on the list. It stood out from Chicago, Boston, Atlanta, Tampa, Vegas … It’s a tiny college town that hosts the stunning University of Virginia, where my brother is working on his doctorate. (He’s the smart one. I’m the pretty one.) It made my decision of where to see the show easy. And that’s what I knew back then — you see the show once, in the closest or most convenient place. My brother, a U2 convert and my favorite show buddy, was happy that his little sister and the biggest band in the world would be coming to Virginia.

Lighting tests on The Claw the night before the Charlottesville 360 show.

I flew up the day before the show. I was in the middle of applying for an adjunct teaching job I’d just found out about the previous week and was frantically trying to get my application in. Every WiFi chance I got, I was ordering transcripts, pretty-pleasing for recommendation letters and updating a résumé with three years of dust on it. I took a nap as soon as I got to my brother and sister-in-law’s house that afternoon, knowing I had a long night ahead. The last time I did a GA line (Vertigo, Charlotte, December 2005), we showed up at 4 a.m. and got low numbers in line. I had no idea what to expect from Charlottesville, from the new tour, from a stadium show, from a college town (Do these kids even listen to U2?). Antsy to see The Claw and just to make sure there were no crazies starting the line yet, I insisted on a drive-by around 7 p.m. And, of course, crazies had started the line. So, we joined them and got Nos. 15 and 16 on “the list.” I didn’t realize it in that moment, but as we passed the legal pad and Sharpie off to the next group, I met the remarkable No. 17 — Irena, a UVA third-year who, 24 hours later, would be one of my best friends. I was immediately drawn to her. She was a 20-year-old college kid, but her passion for U2, a band some argue peaked before she was even born, rivaled my own.

Over the course of the nippy evening, into the first few hours of October and the light of the next day, I met amazing people. Katie was an even younger college kid, a second-year, who’d last seen U2 at the Vertigo finale in Honolulu, where she traveled to on her own as a high school student. I met Amp, who I learned had been on stage with Bono just a few nights earlier, at the show in D.C. He’s Bono’s pet, having joined him on stage on several occasions before and since. I met Casey and Tim C., whose combined knowledge of U2 and concert tallies made me wonder if I was really even a fan. I met Martin, an Englishman who’d hopped the pond and several other bodies of water following U2 around on this tour — Charlottesville would be his 16th 360 show. I met C.J., a charming law student who would end up singing for Bono from the pit two nights later at the Raleigh show. I met Libby, a drummer from New York City who, like me, was going to this particular show because she had family in town.

And there were others at the concert and in the GA line — Jennifer, Edward, Ann Marie — that I’d never actually interact with in the line or during the show, but through the beauty and the beast that is Facebook, would get to know in the coming months and years and be reunited with at future shows. A year and a half later found me meeting and becoming good friends with several other fans who had been at the Charlottesville show, and who even turned up in some of my photos. (I’m talking about you, Pink Heather.) I love Facebook for many reasons, but especially because it has such a role in fostering the camaraderie after a show and turning fans into friends. We get to see each other’s photos, pore over each other’s history with the band, stay in touch afterward, despite being cities and states and countries apart. This round of touring has seen a new kind of connectedness that has transformed a U2 concert into an experience as much about the people you meet as the performance you see.

This was my first round of 360. At the time, I made a point of avoiding set list spoilers — I knew nothing about the show. I was sure they were going to open with Magnificent, as it had the same type of ascending intro as City of Blinding Lights (which opened shows on the Vertigo tour) followed by a sonic overflow and spilling out of sounds. And I’d seen U2 on SNL a few weeks earlier, which was my first glimpse of the jacket. I was naively wide-eyed and hopeful it would make an appearance at the concert. I would hear Space Oddity come over the PA that night, but had no idea it was the preface to the show — that it would become the stimulus that triggered my inner Pavlovian dog. In fact, I thought for a moment it was Peter Schilling’s sequel to the Bowie song, Major Tom (Coming Home).

The U2 GAng hoping to catch the band on their way into Scott Stadium.

Oct. 1 was a perfect day in Virginia. It was the quintessential beautiful day. The sun thawed us out after a chilly night spent camped out on the dewy grass across from the stadium. (Forever grateful to Casey for the cardboard carafe o’ Starbucks.) Later in the afternoon, we staked out some spots between bushes and barricades at one of the stadium entrances in hopes of catching the band’s arrival. I was sure this would be the day I met Bono, but felt that familiar consolatory relief when it didn’t happen, as I’ve still come up with nothing pertinent to say to the man whose voice has been in my head for 20 years.

Worried security was about to open the gates, we sprinted up an absurd hill to reclaim our spots in line. One security woman spotted Jason’s BTFL DAY license plate he was planning to bring into the show and told us it could be considered a weapon and it would be confiscated. As she was admonishing us, a security guy stood behind her motioning for Jason to stuff it down his pants. So he did.

After a day spent nagging the 360 pros about the best vantage point for the show, we settled on front row, despite warnings about stage height and low Larry visibility. I don’t remember the run being too frantic — we had to navigate stairs down into the stadium and then it felt like forever to run the length of the field, only to have to round the curve of the inner circle and double back to the front of the stage. But, we did it. And it was exhilarating to realize I had my spot, that I’d be just a few feet away from Bono the whole night. This was my first true front-row experience. I was on the outer rail at Vertigo, which I wouldn’t have traded for anything because Bono walked onto the catwalk right in front of me, but there’s something about getting that front-front-row spot that makes you feel like hot shit.

A wonderfully full moon rose over Scott Stadium as the temperature dropped. I was too wired to sit during the three hours before MUSE took the stage — undoubtedly my favorite opener ever for U2 (out of Third Eye Blind, Nelly Furtado, Institute, The Fray, Florence and the Machine and Interpol).

It may have been because it was my first U2 show in four years. Or because it was my first front rail experience. Or because it was a show I was at and I want to believe this: There was a different kind of magic in the air when U2 took the stage. Bono felt it. The crowd felt it. I think the band probably had reservations about playing the tiny college venue, not sure what the audience vibe would be, and were surprised and overwhelmed by the exchange of energy. And I think Bono, a longtime Ameriphile, felt the spirits in the air of the founding fathers that called the city home, including Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. In the 2011 U.S. leg, he would regularly preach that “America is an idea.” This night, he was walking the same grounds once walked by the men who thought it up.

Baby, baby, baby, light my way.

The 360 set list we saw in 2011 was a 180 from what they played in 2009 (see the whole set list here). The presence of six NLOTH songs meant they were actually touring their newest album, before the powerhouses of Breathe, No Line On The Horizon and Magnificent sadly disappeared during the last leg of the tour, as Bono sulked about NLOTH’s comparatively low sales figures and the show became an advertisement for the Achtung Baby anniversary releases instead. But the show starter of Space Oddity followed by the intoxicating and haunting Soon (which sounded distinctly like U2, but sounded distinctly unlike anything I’d ever heard U2 do) followed by a very pregnant pause before Larry kicked in with the opening beats of Breathe … it was a rousing entrance. The loose electricity danced around us.

Bono was feeling frisky ahead of Mysterious Ways: “Some funky stuff from a’ Dublin, bubblin’ Dublin, from a’ bubblin’ Dublin … Check it! Check it!” Beautiful Day lacked the grandiose intro of a man hovering over the earth with greetings for [insert your city name here] and instead started with Bono’s simple observation of, “Oh, truly,” then ended with a snippet of The Hands That Built America. A fan had knitted a scarf for Edge, which Bono hijacked and playfully pranced around in during Elevation. I was floored to hear Your Blue Room — a Passengers: Original Soundtracks 1 track that most of the stadium had never heard (and the reason I painted my bedroom a shade called “Faraway Blue” when I was in high school, which my mom is painting over this week). To many fan girls’ disappointment, Adam didn’t sing the “zooming in, zooming out” verse as he does on the album. That’s when we got our space link-up — Frank De Winne, commander of the International Space Station, recited the lines. Thanks, Frank. Thanks, Frank.

Bono’s band introductions, always playful, were collegiate themed. Edge was the nerd: “It was been said of him that, without him, we would be nowhere, and that is true. But it has to be said that, without us, Edge would be still in the lab trying to blow himself up.” Larry was the jock, “the captain of the football team, a man whose sporting prowess is off the scale, a powerhouse, a man-machine capable of handing out great encouragement and great criticism at the same time — on the drums, the man who gave us all our first job, Larry Mullen Jr.” Adam was the cheerleader’s friend, “a champion of the co-ed system. He plays the four-stringed instrument, he says, because girls love bass.” And in typical Bono fashion, he made light of himself as the college dropout: “I’m still standing on this stage because I still feel I got a lot to learn, and these three men are the ones I’m going to learn it from.”

I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For was one of my favorites from the Charlottesville show, or any show I’ve been to, between the crowd singing the opening verse as Bono just listens, then his leading us along in a hand-clap with the words, “All right, take me to church,” (which I would replicate a few months later in my debut karaoke performance) and then the fairly rare snippet of Primal Scream’s Movin’ On Up at the end: “We’re movin’ on up, yeah, out of the darkness. Our love (light?) shines on, our love shines on, our love shines on.”

The Unforgettable Fire hadn’t been played live since the Lovetown tour in 1989/90, so it was a set list shocker, and its inclusion led to my heavy rotation of the album by the same name in the following weeks. It’s not an album I’d spent much time with, so that night the song itself was like someone I knew I’d met before, but couldn’t quite place.

The sign's first concert.

Bono took some time during Sunday Bloody Sunday to read the front row signage. We all squealed when he worked Irena’s “Birthday Serenade?” sign into his snippet of People Get Ready, and I swooned when he smiled as he read my “U2 is out of control” sign, which made its debut that night.

Amazing Grace into Streets was transcendent.

Bono sang a beautiful “broken Irish lullaby” with MLK to honor Aung San Suu Kyi, at the time still a political prisoner in Burma. What a difference a year makes. At the opener of the final tour leg in Denver 2011, the show included a message from a newly freed Suu Kyi. The final encore set was preceded by a robotic voice reciting lines from W.H. Auden’s “Funeral Blues,” a lovely extension of 360’s outer space leitmotif, which transitioned us perfectly to Ultra Violet.

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone.
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,

He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last forever, I was wrong.

The stars are not wanted now; put out every one,
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun.

Ten shows later, seeing Bono wearing a laser-embedded jacket and singing and swinging from a round, red, glowing microphone was just part of the routine. But that night … Bono was wearing a laser-embedded jacket! And singing and swinging from a round, red, glowing microphone! The red glow faded to a cool blue as Bono serenaded us with With or Without You, and seemed genuinely overwhelmed at the song’s end: “Goodnight now, Virginia. Wow. Thank you for an incredible night. A beautiful, beautiful, warm, warm, warm, warm night in the chilly evening.” Likewise, Bono.

Scott Stadium turned into a Milky Way of stars when the audience held up their cell phones ahead of Moment of Surrender, a low-key but high-emotion finale. As Bono ended the song and stared out into a universe of fans orbiting around him, he spoke his final words of the evening: “That is mad,” and seemed reluctant to leave. Edge, Larry, Adam and Bono stood on stage applauding us as much as we were applauding them, and they hugged one another before walking off together — a change from the way Vertigo shows ended with each band member leaving separately.

If I’ve had a better day in my life, I cannot think of it. Every sense that day is vivid in my memories. I was closer to the band than I’ve ever been and experienced a show I know stood out for them as much as for me. But even greater than that (and that’s saying a lot), the people I met transformed me. For one, I met some of my best friends in that span of about 28 hours. I felt like the Ugly Duckling finding a whole lake of beautiful swans just like her. I felt comfortable showing my crazy for the band to these people. I saw other levels of fanaticism — some that frightened me, but most that made me want to broaden my U2 experience, which became the motivation for major life decisions I would make in the following months. I would go on, a year and a half later, to have the summer of my life seeing eight more 360 shows and my elusive, favorite U2 song performed live. But Charlottesville stands out as the highlight of the 360 tour for me. My only regret was not making a sign for the show that said, “Virginia is for U2 lovers.”

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