A ‘Bad’ end to a good summer

September 5, 2011 |  by  |  Show Recap, U2360 Tour

A great summer. The perfect summer.

My U2 360 journey ended six weeks ago. And in the curious way that time works, it feels like it’s been a year, and it feels like it was just yesterday. My life has done a 180 since then. I’ve changed careers and changed homes and changed cities. It’s an overwhelming amount of transition, but U2 remains my constant as I find my way in this new place, and my 360 tour memories bring much comfort in this temporarily unfamiliar world.

I remember looking at the calendar in January, and the summer months seemed impossibly far off. Now they seem impossibly long gone.

I flew into Pittsburgh Saturday night before the Tuesday show. By the time of the Pittsburgh concert — the last U.S. show of the 360 tour — the GA line-up was legitimately ridiculous. I realize as a fan going up three days early, I’m part of the problem, but I also am a fan who knows how it works at the moment and knows she wants to be on a rail of some sort. I’m anxious to see what the next tour will bring and how the GA will operate. But, knowing people would be a little more frenzied before the last U.S. show, I decided to get there in plenty of time. Since most venues don’t want the liability of fans sleeping on their property, a self-policing system has emerged in which a list is kept and you check in a few times a day, rather than spending all day and night camping out. Extensive debate on the merits and flaws of this system aside, it leaves a lot of good time for sightseeing and socializing with some of your favorite people on Earth. While we weren’t hanging out in the GA line, my roommates for this trip (Casey; Michelle and her husband, Craig; Katie; and Tim C.) and I explored Pittsburgh’s North Shore. We popped into the Carnegie Science Center on Sunday to escape the heat in their Omnimax Theater for a showing of Tornado Alley. We did plenty of Claw-stalking and watched as the crew went through lighting and screen tests, and ended their day with some daredevil rope diving from the gigantic structure.

Poison and Mötley Crüe were playing a nearby venue that night and we had to walk past their GA line to get to our GA line. We saw fans with signs and band shirts and the unmistakable anticipation of seeing your favorite group in just a few hours. It was like looking into a mirror, only with slightly more tattoos, bandanas and skank. Casey and I worked a line shift that night that was timed perfectly to hear “Every Rose Has Its Thorn.”

Monday, we hit up one of the Primanti Bros. restaurants, where I devoured their corned beef sandwich, stacked high with French fries, and then we headed up the Duquesne Incline, which is as terrifying to ride as it is to spell. It’s a funicular that treks up and down Mt. Washington at a 30-degree incline on what I’m positive are the original wooden ties. But, once at the top, and once your pants dry, it offers a beautiful view of Pittsburgh’s Golden Triangle and, on this day, of the Claw perched in Heinz Field.

The Claw viewed from atop Mt. Washington after a ride on the Duquesne Incline.

Monday night, Tim C. and I headed out to Midland, Penn., about an hour from Pittsburgh, for @U2’s screening of Killing Bono, followed by a reception with Neil McCormick, who wrote the book detailing his pursuit of rock-stardom in the all-encompassing shadow of the man who used to be Paul Hewson. To quote the tour’s favorite Englishman, Martin: “Great book, shite movie.” The movie went darker than the book, and needlessly sexed and drugged it up. It took the book’s cheeky but harmless title — inspired by a phone conversation in which Bono tells McCormick he’s his doppelgänger, and if he wants his life back, he’ll have to kill him — and turned it into a literal plotline that was fairly disturbing to the theater full of people all counting down to seeing a very alive Bono the next night at Heinz Field.

Not Bono, but close. With Neil McCormick at the east coast premiere of Killing Bono.

But, it was exciting to see the movie at the east coast premiere, and McCormick was charmingly self-deprecating (perhaps a reason he and Bono have stayed friends since Mt. Temple) as he shared his thoughts on the film adaptation and told stories that transferred to us a little of his own intimacy with his former schoolmates. Matt McGee and the rest of the @U2 staff put on a wonderful event, and it was great to meet them, along with other fans and Twitter and Facebook friends the tour has brought together. Neil stayed very late to see the autograph and photo line to the end, and graciously smiled his way through my awkward attempt at a conversation with him. I jokingly asked if he was getting up at 4:30 a.m., like Tim C. and I were, to get in the GA line. I can’t remember how the rest of it went because my internal dialogue was screaming something along the lines of “OMG! This guy has known Bono since they were kids and he’s going to be with him tomorrow night and maybe if I squeak out a brilliant enough conversation with him, he’ll mention to Bono tomorrow night about the brilliant conversation he had with the intriguing redheaded girl!!!” But, nothing brilliant ever came out. Maybe he told Bono about the redheaded twit instead. I’d settle for that.

Catnaps on concrete in the Pittsburgh GA line. Photo by Michael Druce

Tim C. drove us in his trusty-ish Buick back to Pittsburgh, past the nuclear power plant in Limerick Township (add radiation to the list of things I’ll endure for U2, along with bankruptcy, unemployment, freezing cold and burning sun) and into the City of Bridges. My head touched the pillow around 1 a.m. and it was time for one last pre-show-day nap before heading to the GA line in just a few hours. The 3:30 a.m. (and 3:39, 3:48, 3:57 and 4:06 a.m.) wake-ups are the hard part. Fatigue takes over and the voices of all the friends and family who don’t get it become a little more rational (“You’ve seen the same concert how many times?”, “You’re going where to see them play?”). But then clarity finds a way through: It’s U2. Get your ass out of bed. So, we march toward the stadium, with sleeping bags and camping chairs and coolers and grocery bags filled with fruit snacks and Slim Jims in tow. We take our familiar places — on the concrete, under an overpass, in the midst of a city going about its day — one last time and settle in. We look around and see old friends and new friends all happily miserable and we soak it in because we know it will be a long, long time before it happens again.

Beth and Bono's jacket.

All my GA traditions started ticking off for one last time. I spotted Cathal with his ever-present red book in hand, seeking out No. 1 in line to document for the next chapter of his Me & U2 adventures; sleeping Anthony, worn out from whatever traveling travesty had occurred between this show and the last; Mark, the Mirror Ball Man 2.0, lassoed by his U2 BROTHR license plate and flush with an entourage of picture-takers; Martin, with a cigarette and/or beer in one hand, and some remarkable U2 treasure in the other (this time it was Bono’s jacket from the 2009 360 opener in Barcelona, which Martin let us all try on and ooh and ahh over); Amp, with his glowing aura of having shared several minutes of stage time with Bono; Tim C., unloading enormous amounts of U2 trivia on unsuspecting but riveted fans; Casey and Michelle, refusing to stop making signs for the band members and their techs until they bled their Sharpies dry; Tim N., with his camera at the ready to catch the latest Rolling Stone-worthy concert footage; Romi, making new “friends who love U2”; Deena, in her concert uniform of cowboy hat and “Larry Mullen Band” black shirt, making a b-line for the most likely point of entry for the band; Lisa, proudly flying her “The weather is hot, but the leather is hotter” flag; Val and Adge, leading the rock ’n’ roll life I wish I’d had the sense or swagger to lead a decade ago; and GA Dave, doing what he does best — walking the line between keeping security happy and keeping the fans happy.

And I was there, with my “Out of Control” sign in hand — now serving more as a security blanket than a song request, having gotten the show of my life in Chicago. GA day flew by, as it always does. And for one last time, 5 p.m. was nearing and the nerves were setting in — not as bad as usual, though, as I was in the top 20 in line, but had my sights set on an outer rail spot. Still, something always happens, and something did happen — security failed to tell us that men and women would be separated into different lines, ticket scanners were reliably unreliable and there were pat-downs and bag searches. After that, though, I set off on one last exhilarating walk/speedwalk/run to the rail and got my spot — next to Tim C. and Katie, just left of center on the outer rail, almost exactly the same place as I’d watched Denver from three months earlier.

The sun set behind the stands. Interpol played their same “we know they’re talented, but they’re horribly suited for this venue” set and left the stage. And then, like I’d done for four hours since reaching the rail, for three days since arriving to Pittsburgh, for five months since planning my wanderlustworthy summer and for three years since the tour started, I waited. I looked around and tried to take everything in — my familiar and unfamiliar railmates, the just-as-diehard fans in the nosebleed seats, the signs, the sound techs, the crew climbing up into the crevices of the Claw, the songs playing on the PA, the dwindling trivia blurbs on the screen, the crowd murmur that turns into a roar with the subtle strumming of Bowie’s Space Oddity, and then the crescendo that announces U2’s arrival into the stadium as they appear on the screen and make their way to the stage.

I heard the boys launch into Even Better Than the Real Thing for the eighth time this summer, and it was just as electric as the first time I heard it back in Denver. Bono aroused the crowd: “Oh, yeah! Hot summer night in the ’burgh! … Where you gonna take us? Where you gonna take us tonight?” Higher, Bono. Higher than the sun.

The set list didn’t deviate too much from what had grown familiar (see the full set list here), but it was no less mesmerizing. The Fly fucking rocked, complete with one of my usual favorite concert moments, when the boys all play to each other and forget us for a minute. Until the End of the World included the Anthem snippet (“There’s a crack in everything; it’s how the light gets in.”) And while Bono was on the catwalk singing UTEOTW, he was diligently reading the front row of signage. He got to Tim C.’s simply stated “BAD” sign and nodded at him then put his fingers to his lips, entrusting Tim C. with the secret that we would, indeed, get the live favorite tonight. Vertigo included a jaw-dropping snippet of Two Hearts Beat As One, which hasn’t been played live since 1989’s Lovetown Tour at the Point Depot and which had never been snippeted. One trailed into a heart-wrenching rendition of Hallelujah, which carried us into the heart-soaring Where the Streets Have No Name. And I learned it is possible to jump, sing, smile and cry all at the same time. Without question, Streets is my favorite concert song. It’s every fan’s favorite concert song. Even if you say it isn’t, it is.

Bono’s introductions of the band are usually one of my favorite parts of the show, but this night they were a little awkward. Larry, Adam and Edge were, respectively, Charles Bronson, Perry Como and Andy Warhol — famous Pittsburgh residents, I suppose. But Bono knew his own intro fell short when the crowd seemed puzzled by his reference to Bo, the White House dog, and stumbled through an even less successful attempt at recovery with likening himself to Christina Aguilera (“I’m in touch with my inner chick.”) But Bono did what Bono does best and self-deprecated his way to salvation — the band started playing and Bono followed with, “They get me out of trouble. They know when to start the song.”

We got the usual encore of Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me (Bono’s antics and acrobatics still leave me wide-eyed), With or Without You (Bono brought Matt and Melissa, a couple who have seen 60 U2 shows, up on stage to sweetly slow dance through the song — celebrating a true love story, rather than manufacturing a romance by bringing a girl up and singing to her. Let it be noted, however, that Life Goal #4 is still to be said girl.) and Moment of Surrender. Bono, Edge, Larry and Adam waved goodbye to the crowd. “That’s a night not to forget,” Bono said. And when the four of them turned and huddled together, we knew we wouldn’t. They broke from the Mt. Temple Huddle and Bono raised his hand to say “one more.” The crowd went wild. The boys took their places again as Bono speechified about “a very special city” and “a very special man”: Andy Rowen, for whom he wrote Bad in 1984 and who was in attendance that night. (Andy is Peter Rowen’s little brother, and Peter, of course, is the boy on the Boy and War album covers.)

And then … Bad. It was as emotional a performance as I’ve ever seen by Bono and an even more emotional reception by the audience. Bono’s cries of “wiiiiiiide awake” reached down into my stomach and gut-punched me from the inside. He snippeted In the Garden and Walk on the Wild Side, the Lou Reed song that made regular appearances as a snippet in the ’80s, but hadn’t been included in Bad since Elevation 10 years ago. Huge thanks to Tim Newell for capturing it and letting me relive it many, many times since July 26. The song was made even more special by my trip to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland earlier in the summer. I promise I’ll get to that blog post eventually.

Bono quieted the band and started up a chorus of “40” that the audience took over and sang as U2 said goodnight to the States and left the stage. It was a moment plenty bitter but mostly sweet, watching the four members of this remarkable band embrace each other after an unforgettable few years on an unrivaled tour. And I’m not usually such a weenie (yes, I am), but I cried at the end of Pittsburgh. A lot. Because of the beautiful sound of Bad followed by the “40” intro. Because the tour was over for me. Because I would no longer see on a weekly basis people who have become my best friends. Because a frustratingly unknown amount of time must pass before I hear Bono’s voice live again. And because of all the other unknowns that lay before me after that night ended. But the moment would have been wasted on sadness. I wiped the tears from my eyes (mostly onto the shoulders of friends) and smiled at the songs I’d just heard and the summer I’d just had. I pried myself off the Claw leg, I hugged friends goodbye and I floated out of the stadium one last time to Elton John’s Rocket Man.

Beth and Tim C.: Wide awake in Pittsburgh

And I think it’s gonna be a long, long time …


  1. This is the perfect snapshot of what is, undoubtedly, the best show of my life. Granted, I’ve only seen 10 shows over the course of 25yrs but it’s going to take nothing short of a miracle to ever top Pittsburgh 360. Thank you for helping me relive it so vividly. (And thanks for immortalizing my sign! ;D )

  2. This was sweet and funny and a little sad, and you really put into words what this summer was for you, for me, for so many of our friends. I hope it won’t be too long a time till we get to do it all again.
    And thanks for the shoutout- I’m flattered ;D

  3. That made my heart ache all over again. If I could just have one more Streets, one more song, one more moment… Ah, it’s never enough. It was, however, a summer never to be forgotten and hopefully to be repeated. Thanks for bringing it all back for an instant.

  4. A great review of a great day . I saw 40 on the tour and so glad I flew in for this one .

  5. A wonderful review Beth!! I had to move heaven & earth to get to the Pittsburgh show (well, flight to Washington from Miami for US senate hearing, then 4.5 hr drive to Pittsburgh!) but it was so worth it. Your review captured it and the tour perfectly.
    My lasting memory at Moncton was standing in the pit between Bono & Edge during the start of Streets, savouring ever second, watching the video screen go red for the last time and…. you’re right. I denied it for years but Streets is the essence of why we fanatically follow this band!!

    By the way, I don’t think it will be a ‘long, long time’ before we get this feeling again 😉 2013 is not that far away 😉

  6. couldn’t have said that any better.
    *sigh* It’s gonna be a long long time…

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