For the first time: PopMart Tampa kicks off my addiction to U2 live

November 10, 2011 |  by  |  PopMart, Show Recap

I saw U2 live for the first time unos, dos, tres ... catorce! years ago at PopMart Tampa on Nov. 10, 1997.

Fourteen years ago today, I got my first taste of mothersuckin’ rock and roll. (In fact, “Mofo” was the first song I ever saw U2 perform live.) I’d fallen for the band six years earlier, with the release of Achtung Baby, and ZooTV even kicked off in my second hometown of Lakeland, Fla., but I was 13 then and had no idea how big all this really was. I still cry myself to sleep every night over missing that one.

Instead, my U2 concert history started my freshman year of college, with PopMart. I remember buying 1997’s Pop my senior year of high school, after seventh period but before I had to be back to school for a play rehearsal — it was the first U2 album I bought originally as a CD. For a high-school graduation gift, my mom surprised me with four tickets to the show in Tampa on Nov. 10, 1997. My concert-going experiences up to this point included a New Kids on the Block show when I was 11, a slew of country artists (Reba, Garth, et al.) as I went through my hillbilly phase in middle school, and a Phish concert I got dragged to in high school, where I naively asked what that smell was (possible answers: patchouli, body odor, weed). Now I had floor seats to U2, but zero knowledge of the right way to see a show. My college boyfriend was (as required) a U2 fan, too. But he was one of those pre-Rattle and Hum snobs who would just listen to War on repeat and spout that U2 hadn’t done “anything worthwhile since The Joshua Tree.” But, love is blindness, and I kept dating him. After we finished classes for the day, we drove down from Gainesville with my roommate and another dorm-mate, just in time to see Third Eye Blind wrap up their set. (This was a vastly different world back then, arriving 10 minutes before the band took the stage rather than two days.) We had assigned seats and were pretty far back on the field — there were metal folding chairs in our section (very rock ’n’ roll) that we stood on, and it drizzled the entire time.

Time for some confessions of a U2 fan. Remember that 165-foot-wide screen and 100-foot-tall bright yellow arch and huge mirrorball lemon that made Pop the sensational mockery of consumerism that it was? I hardly recall those things about the show. But, I vividly remember Bono and Edge singing an acoustic version of “Staring at the Sun” (probably because they were on the B stage and so much closer to me) which Edge followed with a solo acoustic of “Sunday Bloody Sunday” (a mind-blowing reworking of the song to hear for the first time); and I remember the rain (unfortunate weather for the set’s first outdoor show of the third leg) because Bono worked some rain song snippets in; and I remember my boyfriend’s excitement when they started playing “I Will Follow”; and I remember “All I Want Is You” sounding as sweet to me then as it did on 360 … but I just wasn’t as aware of everything then as I am now. I was walking in blindly to a show I’d never seen before and wouldn’t see again, and the innernets hadn’t yet morphed us into one giant shared brain where I could do pre- and post-show research and study every detail and compare notes. U2 were my favorite band then, but they didn’t have the same presence in my head and my heart that they do now. Despite the memory’s being soft, though, the U2 high was there.

Fortunately, my first show exists in audio and video formats out there in magical places on the Web, allowing me to fill in the gaps and rebuild my memory of the show. Here’s the set list from the concert:

1. Mofo
2. I Will Follow*
3. Gone
4. Even Better Than The Real Thing*
5. Last Night On Earth
6. Until The End Of The World*
7. New Year’s Day
8. Pride (In The Name Of Love)*
9. I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For*
10. All I Want Is You
11. Staring At The Sun
12. Sunday Bloody Sunday*
13. Bullet The Blue Sky / America (snippet)
14. Please
15. Where The Streets Have No Name*
16. Discothèque / Black Betty (snippet) / The Fly (snippet)
17. If You Wear That Velvet Dress
18. With Or Without You*
19. Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me*
20. Mysterious Ways* / It’s Raining Men (snippet) / Can’t Stand The Rain (snippet)
21. One*
22. Wake Up Dead Man

  • I heard 11 of these songs* (half the show) at my most recent 360 concert: Pittsburgh, July 26, 2011. Also, the same Melissa who got on stage at that Pittsburgh show and danced with her husband as Bono serenaded them with “With Or Without You” also got on stage at my first show and bellydanced for, around and on Bono during “Mysterious Ways.” Melissa, I love and hate you. I know you get that a lot. I love that those are the moments that make up the live U2 experience, but I so fiercely hate that I don’t belong to the Girls Who’ve Been On Stage With Bono Club, and get to go to the quarterly meetings where you talk about how tickly his scruff is, and what temperature his sweat is, and how intoxicating his combined scent of Guinness, cheroot and Lucky Charms is, and how cute his undereye freckles are up so close.
  • Also in attendance that night was Deena, who blogs over at She and I met at the 360 Denver show in May and became friends as we hopped from city to city over the summer. Would have been cool to meet her back then, but it’s fun just knowing we were both there, unaware our paths would cross many years later. U2 fandom is a small world.
  • Bono sang the final verse of “One,” which I’d never heard before: Do you hear me coming, Lord? Do you hear me call? Hear me knocking, knocking at your door? Do you hear me coming, Lord? Do you hear me call? Hear me knocking, will you make me crawl?
  • After “Streets,” the band came back out for the mother of all encores — they emerged from a giant mirrorball lemon to perform “Discothéque.” Edge made the Sign of the Cross before descending. Let’s all relive it now:

  • I know they struggled on that tour with mixed reviews from fans and critics, and it was a rainy night in Tampa, and it was a Monday. Bono was grateful, as always, for the fans. He opened the show saying, “So you’re the diehards?! That’s why we’re here! You keep us here!” I don’t remember a small crowd (but this was my first non-arena concert), but as the video pans around the brightly lit stadium during “Streets,” I understand why he’s saying that. It’s empty. Mind-bogglingly empty. He ended the show with “Thanks for sticking by us. It means a lot.”
  • Bono’s speechifying is my favorite part of any concert. Between “Pride” and “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For,” Bono seems to have a chip on his shoulder about the critical reaction to Pop, and speaks to the band’s need to keep things relevant (fast forward 14 years and replace Pop with No Line On the Horizon — it’s his same old same old). Here’s his speech, my all-time favorite Bonoration:

    Maybe sometimes we make it hard to follow this group around but, you know, we get restless and we always want to move on. And we want to keep it interesting for ourselves, because if it’s interesting for us, it won’t be bullshit for you. So that’s the thought. Anyways, it’s OK to be restless. All right?! Who the fuck isn’t restless? Anyway, I, we pray that you find what you’re looking for. Thanks for sticking by us.

    And now, in 2011, as he continues to hem and haw about what’s next for the band, I know Bono’s just restless, the band will figure it out, and the fans will stick by them. I bought a tour shirt (shopping cart orbiting lemon) and program (complete with pop-up Edge) at my PopMart show. As I skim through the program tonight, it’s a comfort to read what Bill Flanagan wrote back then: “U2 like to leave things till the last minute. Like the smart kid who writes his term paper the night before it’s due and still scores an A, they are at their creative best with a gun to their heads.” With all the talk lately about U2’s being on the verge of irrelevance, which Bono initiated at a press conference for “From the Sky Down” at the Toronto International Film Festival, I believe he’s just putting the gun to U2’s head himself. As Neil McCormick said in a recent article in The Telegraph, U2 have to manufacture a sense of crisis to drive them.

  • They closed the show with “Wake Up Dead Man,” which sounds like a somber way to end, but as Bono describes in the program, “It’s a downer of a song in some ways, but on another level it’s actually incredibly hopeful. I think people connect with the reality of it, which is its strength. It’s both crushingly real and sort of optimistic.”

So, I celebrate tonight 14 years of seeing this magnificent band live. And while all the recent speculation and rumor-mongering about U2’s farewell has been crushingly real (as every fan knows we’ll have to deal with it some day), I remain sort of immensely optimistic that in a few years U2 will wow us — as they always do — with a taller arch, a shinier lemon, a better heart and a bigger claw.

1 Comment

  1. Have you checked out U2start dot com? They have a great audio recording of this show, I think they have opening night from ZooTV as well. Cheers!

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