U2 at Soldier Field in Chicago: An Irish boy salutes an Irish town. And did we mention the spaceship?

September 14, 2009

DSC00436
Ground control to Bono…

Given I went to both U2 concerts in Chicago this weekend, I find it hard not writing about the experience. For those unawares, the foursome from Ireland landed their spaceship-like stage in Soldier Field, opening up the North American leg of their so-called “360 tour” in support of the new album, No Line On The Horizon.

For those unawares, I am a big U2 fan. Without question, they are my favorite rock and roll band in the world today. U2 plays a big, soulful kind of rock that feeds me like no other band or, for that matter, genre of entertainment can. More beautiful than Led Zeppelin, more bombastic than Coldplay, while many concert acts can amuse and distract, few are as transcendent as U2. On their game, Bono & his crew can bring chills; they can even make you cry.

I only really got into the band a decade ago. Sure, I’d listened to Joshua Tree in the eighties. Who didn’t? But it was their later live shows that hooked me. If the “Elevation” tour was a conversion, the “Vertigo” concerts had me born again. I kick myself for having not laid out the 5 dollars to see them in Madison, Wisconsin in 1982. I was across the street drinking beer in my dorm.

On a picture-perfect evening, U2 absolutely delivered at Soldier Field. For roughly 2 hours the jam-packed football stadium became the band’s oyster. They made a case for their new album by opening with four straight cuts. Ballsy move, given Horizon hasn’t caught on like their previous blockbuster. Then came the band’s gorgeous opus, Beautiful Day. Fitting, given Chicago’s rare, perfect weather. Bono opened that number with a mini-ramble about being an Irish boy in an Irish city. He said he liked to think his countrymen had a lot to do with building Chicago’s glorious skyline. (Actually, it was our sewers but who’s quibbling?)

For its architectural splendor U2’s colossal and lunar stage didn’t completely work. Instead of bringing the group closer to the people, as Bono had openly suggested, I found it alienating. Indeed, the four diminutive musicians looked like aliens beneath it. Based on some of the band’s joking rapport –repeatedly calling it a “spaceship” I got the sense that they, too, view the thing as a big but fun mistake. Resembling the iconic restaurant at LAX, it is something to behold, especially plopped in the center of a football field.

On the matter of said football field, I need to make an editorial. Getting to and from Soldier Field in Chicago is a nightmare. Period. And because of its location and size, there is no trick to getting it right. Everyone gets screwed. I’ve gone to football games and other shows at Soldier Field and always the same misery: parking is far away and hugely expensive. Cabs can’t get anywhere near it. Most people (myself included) end up exiting a stuck cab one half mile away or further…Adrenalin pumping, the walk there was somewhat agreeable but at 11:30 PM, exhausted and spent, I wanted my bed ASAP. Instead we had to trudge a mile and a half before absconding a taxi. And even then I had to fight for it.

To add near-injury to insult, both my wife and I were forced to climb a fence to escape the crush of exiting concertgoers. I kid you not. Police and roadblocks seemingly corralled our misdirected throng into this hopeless situation. Our only escape was to climb. I saw people falling and getting hurt. Ridiculous.

As Chicago anxiously awaits the outcome for its Olympic bid, I have to wonder how it can manage an Olympics if the City cannot even get folks safely to their cars (let alone home) from its primary venue! Mayor Daley, before building any new stadiums or other structures, how about fixing the main venue first. Soldier Field may be renovated but the transportation issues are manifest.

Despite the Bataan Death March to my car, I was exalted by U2’s performance. I couldn’t wait to go through it again the following night! For a detailed and, in my view, accurate review of the same concert here’s Greg Kott’s review from the Chicago Tribune:

Chicago Tribune\'s U2 concert review

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15 Responses to “U2 at Soldier Field in Chicago: An Irish boy salutes an Irish town. And did we mention the spaceship?”

  1. KK said

    S, my friend, why do you keep calling it Soldier’s Field? How long have you lived in Chicago? Soldier Field.

  2. SRP said

    KK-
    Brain freeze on my part…
    As you can see, I made the correction. Thank you!

  3. sr said

    No you didn’t … check the 6th graph.

  4. SRP said

    Picky…picky…
    At least I spelled “U2″ right!
    As always, thank you shrewd readers for setting me straight.
    Steffan

  5. migrane66 said

    as i stared at the vast sea of whiteness on saturday night–if there was a person of color in the crowd i didn’t see them; it was more a stew of suburbanites and near north nancies and todds–i suddenly understood why kurt cobain put a shotgun in his mouth and pulled the trigger. he looked at his future and saw something like soldier field this weekend: banners reading “blackberry loves nirvana”, a huge, dumb stage that was there to take to the focus off the average musicianship emanating from said stage, and a group of musicians who have become mere props in a corporate money grab. very sad.

  6. glad to hear they delivered, steffan. i remember seeing U2 play a free gig in dublin back in 78. I was 11 yrs old. next time i saw them they had three speakers. and even then bono was climbing on them doing a stadium show, in the back of a pub. the funny thing is U2 never changed. only the venues changed.

  7. SRP said

    Migrane-
    I get those thoughts, too. Oddly, I can attribute them to almost anything that becomes successful: restaurant, movie, sports team, band…Even the Clash became kind of stupid after scoring some hits. As for the white comment, I don’t know if that’s fair. u2 fills stadiums with people of color in other countries -Brazil for example.
    Vinny-
    Were you up on the speakers with Bono?

  8. no way steffan! i was an iron maiden fan. i was dragged to U2 gigs by friends. always thought the name was terrible. and it is terrible!

  9. theescapepod said

    migrane66, just read your comment. what a depressing and condescending interpretation of a joyous occasion.
    you are surprised that is a largely white crowd attending a U2 gig in 2009? wow. what were you expecting? Mongolians?

  10. SRP said

    No worries-
    There’s a good essay brewing in terms of broader reaction to Migrane’s comments and I’m gonna write it!

  11. migrane66 said

    theeescapepod,

    wasn’t being condescending at all, just reacting to how homogenous both the crowd and the event were. rock music was once a bit dangerous, now it’s safe and suburban. thanks, in part, to carefully managed bands like U2 who will sell their name to anyone. it’s also lost all relevance. the crowd was mostly upper middle class professionals who would’ve lit their hair on fire if bono had instructed them to. if you considered this event joyous, well, you might want to take a hard look at what true joy is (the birth of a child, etc) because this was all carefully manufactured joy from a band that long ago jumped a number of sharks.

  12. theescapepod said

    migrane66,

    well criticizing the crowd for being white suburbanites (guilty on both counts) seemed a little weird. U2 first made their mark on (white) US college radio in the 80s. so it should surprise absolutely nobody that white-now-suburbanites would make up the bulk of their audience.

    and you say their music has lost all their relevance. well clearly it hasn’t the millions who have seen u2 on this tour and for whom that night will be a fond memory for years to come. maybe they’re right and maybe you’re wrong.

    helpful hint: if you’re looking for contemporary edgy music that hasn’t sold out to the man, don’t go looking for it in at a U2/Snow Patrol gig in Soldier Field.

  13. migrane66 said

    theescapepod,

    wasn’t looking for either contemporary or edgy music. just looking for music that meant something. clearly they’re a popular act–everybody loves raymond and transformers are popular as well–does that mean they’re good or just popular because they pander? which, to come full circle, is exactly what i thought u2 was doing this past weekend.

  14. theescapepod said

    migrane66,

    everybody loves raymond was an exceptionally well written and acted sitcom. what on earth are you talking about? you don’t like it, ergo it sucks. are you a teenager? i’m beginning to suspect you are.

  15. varundbest said

    Cool! I just came to your blog via Google and I seriously loved it! The effort you do in posting here is seriously fantastic and I am pleased about it. Keep going buddy.

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