U2 in East Lansing (before and after)
Somewhere, right now, Bono is in East Lansing
— Me, to my family when I arrived in EL on June 25th.
Thing I most remember was Bono climbing around on the lighting equipment like an Irish monkey.
-– Chris, my longtime record store friend who was in attendance when U2 last played East Lansing on 7 December, 1981.
Sunday afternoon: 2:19 p.m.
The germ of the idea for my attending the U2 concert at Spartan Stadium happened two weeks prior to the actual concert date. I had pulled together a few friends from my East Lansing record store days for an extended break to start the summer. My manager at the time asked me if I wanted to see U2. She had purchased the tickets when they were initially put on sale. Bono’s back injury the year before had postponed the original planned date, but the tickets were still good for the rescheduled 2011 performance. The people she bought the tickets before lost interest or too much time had passed and she asked me. I thought about it, checked on my own schedule, and committed. I would have felt odd turning down a free U2 ticket. I must remember to get her a lovely Christmas gift this year.
I drove by Spartan Stadium today. Many of the roads were shuttered and closed. You could see the top of the giant stage popping up over the walls of the Stadium. It was impressive. It seemed expensive. It made me think back to the first concert I saw at Spartan Stadium, seventeen years prior. Y’see, when MSU spruced up the Stadium in the early to mid 90s they presented it to the public as if they were going to be gunning for the BIG acts to come and fill the stadium. We’ve got a 76,000 seat stadium, why not try to use it? The first act booked was the Rolling Stones, during 1994’s Voodoo Lounge tour. I remember the show as being a fun time, a nice mix of old and new music. Lenny Kravitz opened and it was the first time I had really heard him and I really dug it. I also remember Mick Jagger talking about East LAHN-sing and how they had never played in East LAHN-sing before. The Rolling Stones may have never played in town before, but U2 have.
The band played three Michigan cities in December, 1981: Detroit at the Royal Oak Music Theater, Grand Rapids at the Fountain Street Church, and East Lansing at Dooley’s. Looking at their tour itinerary on the band’s official website I don’t see a listing for the gig, but it happened. I can only figure that on the way to Cleveland from Chicago the band went through Michigan and took the booking. Touring behind their LP, October, the group crisscrossed the States and Europe on their gradual assault on the world. Two years later the band were back, touring the USA. U2 played the Grand Circus Theater in Detroit. One year later they played the Fox Theater and the next year on the same tour played the Joe Louis Arena. In 1987 the band filled the Pontiac Silverdome. U2 played 18 songs at Dooley’s. I wonder how many they will play tonight.
I’ve been looking around U2’s website and digging through their merch store (I’m a sucker for band t-shirts) and for some reason, for as much as I like and respect the band for the music they make and just what they are, I can’t get over the fact that more than anything the band is a corporation. A business entity. An entertainment entity, sure, but a business at the core. I read in The Detroit Free Press how the band is footing a $253,000 bill to replace the grass at Spartan Stadium due to the extreme weight of the stage. What does this have to do with business? I’m not sure but there is something bigger when it comes to thinking about this band. At the end of this tour they will have grossed $700 million. Seven hundred million dollars. Mind-boggling.
Sunday evening: 12:04 a.m.
Amazing. Simply amazing.
I won’t bore with the usual recaps, I’m sure that every gig U2 does could contain the same points and observations. What I will bore with is the fact that this may be the greatest show I have ever been to. It felt non-stop and action packed and full of sound and energy. It was almost too much.
Florence and the Machine opened for the U2 and I enjoyed their set. What I did enjoy was watching the lead singer come onto the stage. Where the rest of the band dressed in black, she (Florence) wore a red, drapey billowy dress that would catch on the wind. It made for a striking visual. The break between the opening set and the main show was brief, which was a plus.
Bowie’s “Space Oddity” was the opening music, the refrain into the countdown. And then U2 were on the video screen descending into the open. They came on stage, one by one: Larry Mullen Jr, then Edge, Adam Clayton and finally Bono. They opened with “Even Better Than The Real Thing.” Cameras filmed the band and the shots of the Edge or Bono with the blue sky and backdrop of the fans in the stadium was terrific. In fact that video screen was amazing all night, from the shots of the band to the differing visuals throughout the songs. It added more than it subtracted and it was nice to be able to see the band and see them on screen.
While I was enjoying the show there was a moment, crystal clear, that took the evening to the next level. The band began playing “Beautiful Day” and something in me lifted. The song lifted me up. I looked around the bowl, I looked at the lights, I heard the music, I felt alive, and I started to cry. Not all the way, but enough to wipe at least once. The music moved me, the whole swirl of the event moved me, I was almost deliriously happy. I just felt so lucky, to be alive, to have the life I have, to be sitting there watching the show, so many things in place for me. The song just made me feel amazing. Three songs later the band played “Zooropa,” a song I absolutely adore. I never knew they even played the song live. My own personal favorite period of the band is Achtung Baby/Zooropa and the show featured a heavy sample of those songs. As the video screen dropped and expanded like a giant butterfly net words were displayed on the screen and voices spoke various lines of questions. The one that stuck with me was, “Am I a good father?” Then the opening riff came in, I was completely blindsided and once again moved to tears.
Music is so personal yet so transcendent. Music gets within you, changes you so that when you re-encounter certain musics you go right back to when you first heard them. The middle period of the show made me love my life and miss my family. I could see my children’s faces in my head, smiling and happy in the sun. I could see myself at 13 watching the video for “With Or Without You” on MTV in the middle of the night. I could see myself listening to Achtung Baby on a bus ride back home after a High School football game at 17. I could see myself driving around town listening to Zooropa when I was 19. I could see myself walking to class in the MSU Auditorium or listening to Pop when I was 23. I could see myself downloading All That You Can’t Leave Behind off of Napster when I was 26. I could also see myself driving across town at the same age listening to the same music. I could see myself getting a U2 iPod for Christmas and listening to How To Dismantle An Atom Bomb while driving to Traverse City to see my girlfriend at 30. I could feel and sense and remember my life, all within a few songs. I am sure that many other people had that connection during the show, remembering the first time they saw the band or heard the songs.
Earlier today, before leaving for the show, I wrote about the band as a business. I still think that is true but having been at the show and taken it in U2 really are so much more. I felt as if every worry, every concern or stress I had been carrying with me throughout the day, week, and month disappeared at the show. I was swept up in the sound, the visuals and the moment. It was an escape, an incredibly personal escape shared in the company of 67,000 other people. It reminded me why I love music and what is so great about music, that connection. The four men in U2 are millionaires who own so much land in Dublin that it is said you could walk entirely on ground they own while visiting the beautiful city. Yet they are also gifted musicians that have been producing epic, personal and transcendent music for over thirty years. I felt lucky to be at the concert, and I felt grateful (if you could call it that) that I have had the music of U2 in my life for so long. Without my connections to the music tonight’s show would have been great but I doubt I would have been moved to tears on different occasions.
I did go into the show wondering if something would be addressed, something I wrote about in the top part of this column: the show in town thirty years ago. Bono cheering “Go Green” was nice, but easy. I wondered if he would reflect or mention the time they last were in town. As he spoke of the making of Achtung Baby twenty years ago, mentioned the fall of the Berlin Wall while mentioning a wall being constructed in the studio, Bono stood at the lip of the stage next to the Edge. While playing an acoustic Bono said he wanted to change the atmosphere in the stadium, he didn’t want us to think of the song as if they were playing it in a stadium. He said let’s bring it down to a pub, “a pub like Dooley’s. Anyone remember that?” he said with a smirk. “Some of you may.”