U2 at Soldier Field in Chicago: An Irish boy salutes an Irish town. And did we mention the spaceship?
September 14, 2009
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:
April 27, 2009
I still haven’t found the tag line I’m looking for.
Featured in the lyrics of U2’s exceptional new album, No Line On The Horizon is this exhortation from Bono: “I found grace inside a sound. I found grace that’s all I’ve found.” On an earlier track he beseeches (God?) to “let me in the sound…let me in the sound.” Over and over again. Until he finds grace. And then he can “breathe again.”
God, I love U2. Whereas some tire of Bono’s grandiose soul searching and God-filled exhortations I can’t get enough. Many years ago, when it dawned on me that U2 was making music primarily about God and the search for Him something clicked. Here was a rock band looking for greater meaning and not a cold one or a hot piece of ass. Nothing wrong with singing about beer and women but eventually we grow up –or try to anyway.
But if the popular reading of U2’s lyrics is about searching for God, there is another view and one I think all readers here can appreciate: Bono is singing about creativity. You know… when it’s just you and the keyboard, looking for words, playing with an idea, shaping and rearranging it until it’s almost perfect? That. That moment of Zen is what he is singing about. This is where he finds grace.
When I sit down with a brief, I begin hunting for one true thing I can say or express about the client I’m being asked to advertise. If I hit upon something then I go about trying to prove it out in a paragraph or two. We call this a mantra. Writing a mantra is akin to making art. We do not just hash something together. We roll the words around like stones in a rock tumbler until they are perfect. We find grace.