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An Unforgettable Flame Burning
Slane Castle, Ireland #1
August 25, 2001

Newspapers all over Dublin were covered with the news. Bobby Hewson was dead and the burial had been that Friday, the 24th in Howth. Pictures were on the front page of every newspaper. Bono shouldering his father's casket. His eyes hidden behind purple glasses. But the glasses didn't hide everything. There was grief written everywhere. His father was dead and he missed him. Larry Mullen could be seen over the top of Bono's head as the procession was coming down the church steps. Bobby had always liked Larry and they had both lived in the northern suburb of Howth. Norman Hewson was in the front on the other side. It was a family thing.

Everyone had seen. *Everyone* knew what the band and especially Bono were going through right now. They knew he must be hurting. Everyone realised how easy it would have been for U2 to cancel the show... and how hard it would be for the fans, but they'd understand. But no word had come about cancelling the show. Slane, when first announced, had been touted as the greatest opportunity for U2 to put on a concert for the ages. The gorgeous natural amphitheatre deep in the Royal County of Meath, below the hill where St. Patrick is said to have defied King Laoghaire and lit the flame before Tara had lit theirs... site of Lord Henry Mountcharles' castle and the scene for the yearly rock festival. This year, it was less a rock festival and more of a homecoming for Ireland's sons, legendary band U2. The first time they had headlined Slane. A night twenty years in the making. But now, the cloud of death threatened to hang over Slane. If they weren't cancelling the show, how would Bono react? Would he just hold it in and go on with the show, risking a stiff performance while his mind was elsewhere? Would he be able to sing while his heart was so bruised? Was it too much to ask?

August 25th dawned with heavy rain in Dublin. I mean, HEAVY rain. Damn. The yard was soaked. I love U2 but I wasn't ready for a mudbath. No one was. Tempers were a little irritable, a little too much tension that morning. No one had counted on a dry Slane, of course. Counting on sunshine in Ireland is like counting on rain to water your crops in the Sahara. But we definitely didn't want rain like THIS. It was like a shower head.

I was getting a ride up with a couple of friends. The others in the house we were staying at were taking the bus up. They had already left at 9AM that morning. We went out to the Spar a few blocks away to get stuff for lunch. The tickets didn't say no food or drinks so we decided to risk it. The sandwich assembly line in the kitchen yielded three sandwiches a person. I also brought some apples and Cadbury biscuits along. We had two 2 liter bottles of water as well.

We finally set out at 1130AM in the relentless rain. One of the radio stations was having a U2 Weekend and they played U2 tunes almost non-stop. The DJs played a clip of their interview of the fan who was first in line in the GA queue for Slane. The guy was German or something and said he was happy to be #1, but he didn't sound very excited. Maybe because by comparison, I'd be like, "OHMYGOD!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!" Or I'd be speechless and completely unable to speak, just mouthing a silent, "Bono..."

The traffic got bad around Dunshaughlin. Now that I'm looking at a map here and reliving the journey up, we passed not far from the Hill of Tara. A friend who I'll call Peter (as always, names are changed to protect the guilty) was driving and he was on his cell phone with other friends who were already there or on their way up also. The friend gave us bad directions from Navan so we wound up going in circles for a bit. The traffic was bad by now. It took like 15 minutes to go through a roundabout. The road to Slane was marked by big orange signs saying CONCERT TRAFFIC ONLY. The village of Slane was closed to traffic for the day. The barriers started appearing. Garda were out in mass numbers, 800, I think. They had their fluorescent green jackets on and were directing traffic, answering questions, and basically making sure things ran as smoothly as possible. Getting 80,000+ people to a small Irish village in the middle of the countryside on tiny two lane roads with no markings was a huge job. The garda siochana did a fine job.

The most exciting thing was that shortly after leaving Dublin, the sky had cleared. Only tiny fluffy white clouds hung here and there. Harmless. The day was radiant. Sunshine everywhere. It was cool and there was a nice breeze. It was amazing. It was completely unexpected. Dublin was getting dumped on while Meath was enjoying glorious weather. The ground was only damp if you sat there for long enough. No mud. Just an endless dry green carpet of grass everywhere as the sun smiled down. It was glorious. We kept our fingers crossed that Dublin's rain clouds would go out to sea and stay away from Meath that day. As the Irish saying goes, "If you don't like the weather, wait 15 minutes." But this was weather we wanted to keep. And it stayed, people. It stayed all day long.

Signs started popping up in the fields. "Event Parking". Right there on the farmland. Gates had been opened and cars were parking on the long-haired fields. We went on until we came to the first Official Car Park. A garda was waving us in. Peter stopped the car and rolled down the window.

"Is this the closest one?"

"Yeh, everything else is just about full up. We're getting a lot of traffic out here now."

"How far to the castle?"

"Oh, just down the hill. Five minutes."

"Is that an Irish five minutes, or real time?"

"No, real. Real. Just down the hill there," and he pointed down the street that was flanked by walkers on one side and buses on the other.

Whatever. We decided to leave the car there. The lot was already halfway full. We parked at the end of the second row. There were people there tailgating. Sitting on the lush grass under the glorious sunshine with U2 playing in the tape decks. "Kite" was soaring out from one. "Walk On" from another. Guys were taking their shirts off. Girls with tank tops. But no one was far from a raincoat and/ or a sweater. After all, this was Ireland and if you don't like the weather, you wait 15 minutes...

Never believe an Irishman when he's giving directions. The five minutes the garda had said turned into 30 and then 45 until we finally got to the castle entrance. The first garda checkpoint was well out on the road, though, just after the VIP parking. They checked tickets for frauds and no one without a ticket was allowed any farther. There were people selling water, food, and dinky Slane souvenirs along the way. At the actual gate into the castle grounds, they checked tickets again and the gardai were shouting, "Girls to the left, guys to the right."

We thought they were going to search us. And apparently they did frisk some people if the pictures in the next week's Hot Press don't lie. But we got in without any delay. I was at first glad I hadn't brought my camera but then sorry I hadn't. They made us take the tops off our water bottles and throw them on the ground but nothing else. At the end of the rows of barriers, they checked tickets again and tore them this time. No re-entry. Heather and I joined up with Peter again and reassembled our stuff. It wasn't easy carrying around an open 2 liter bottle of water.

There was an outlet of Abrakebabra right there. They weren't selling anything, though. It was a tasting cart or something. A girl came out in the middle of the walkway with a huge tray of hot chicken tenders. "Take as many as you want!" she was saying. Free lunch! A souvenir stand was there also, right next to the Abrakebabra. We stood there and surveyed the merchandise as we nibbled our chicken tenders and JJ72's raging music floated around us. That's when I saw the hunter green Slane souvenir shirt. U2 Slane 2001. I didn't really like it. It was green with red and white lettering. Talk about looking like a Christmas ornament! IR£15. I wasn't overfond of it and didn't buy anything.

The walkway wound around and then spilled out onto the field. That first view of the field at Slane is something I'll remember for as long as I live. The bright green land fell away from us to the Boyne River. People were everywhere. Sitting there on the grass having lunch, lying there catching rays that so rarely kiss the Irish soil. A solitary tree stood there in the middle of this teeming mass of humanity. It was the information booth. Several massive screens were placed in strategic places around the venue. At the moment, they showed Mark Greaney's young face as he raged earnestly about not needing anyone else, just you and I. Hillary Woods coolly strummed her bass. Fergal Matthews was hidden somewhere to the right of the tarp-covered mass of Larry Mullen's drum set, tapping out on his own smaller drumset. It was JJ72 and they tore on about angst and alienation in spite of the sunshine like Radiohead in miniature. Slane Castle peered out from behind the VIP seating area, like a lord overseeing something he's created. The turrets catching the breeze. The River Boyne sparkled below, aware and silent about its significance in Irish history. The Hill of Slane peered down. The site of one famous fire looking down to the site of a new one.

We made our way through the crowd on the little stony path that wound down the hill. The pit was jumping down in the front. The heart was covered in black plastic. We couldn't tell at first, but there were people in it. The soundboard was there in the middle, a great silver booth. It would stink to be caught behind it. Winding our way through, we eventually found a free patch just to the left and behind the central lighting rig. Three big towers all along the middle had all the lights on it. Some of the larger projections were covered in red plastic. Everyone still feared the possibility of rain.

But as we spread out our stuff on the grass, rain looked like it was a thousand miles away. There were a few clouds in the sky but they only served to occasionally block out the worst rays of the sun. The sky stayed a deep blue and the sun continued to peer out. I used my raincoat as a tarp. We munched sandwiches and listened to JJ72 finish out their set. The sound was good in that even if we were outside, we had to shout to hear each other. My hearing's going out in a blaze of glory.

Peter went on a reconnaissance mission and returned saying that the food prices weren't as bad as we had feared so there were no worries if we ran out of food. But the queues were massive, especially the beer queues. I won't even wager a guess as to how much beer was consumed that day. People walking by had at least two glasses each... and were spilling it everywhere. I got dumped on twice. Just watch where you're going, people!

The crowd was a young one according to the papers. And really, I didn't see many lined faces :) Mid to late teens to the 20's were probably the most common ages. Wooooo-hoo! Nothing against older U2 fans, but it was great seeing such a young fan base... all wild about U2.

Videos filled the screens and music came over the PA after JJ72 had thanked us and U2 and had disappeared from the stage. They had gotten a good reception for how small-time they still are. Chances are that many of you reading this maybe haven't even heard of them. Their songs DO tend to sound the same, but they're awfully young and only have one record out. That's an import for all those Americans out there.

We hung out and vegetated in the meantime. People watching can be great fun especially when a few folks have had one too many and have started to become comfortably drunk. The day wasn't at all hot and the sun wasn't too angry. But girls with the tank tops who had been there since the beginning were starting to turn a bright red. Irish skin not used to seeing the barefaced sun too often. My silly U2 tan got a bit worse.

Kelis was on next. I had never heard of her prior to the Slane lineup being released. I had heard her at Manchester where she and her band opened for U2. Sorry. I wasn't at all impressed. Worst part is that her sound has this awful, grating, ear-damaging quality that I don't care for especially before a U2 concert. No one cared that she was on stage. Too bad, I guess. But really, she is too far from the tastes of a U2 audience to have been well-received. People clapped at the end of her set though the cheers seemed to be more for relief that she was done than any appreciation for her music.

Another 45 minute break between performers. I knew Coldplay was up next. This I had to see. I had heard that they really weren't that good live, didn't have a huge stage presence. Supposedly, they had been flat in one of their stateside concerts and when opening for Radiohead at a British festival. Or so I had heard. But I still wanted to hear them. They write surprisingly mature, intelligent music and "Yellow" is another song I thank VH-1 for. I loved it the moment I heard the video from my kitchen at home. But first to pay a visit to the port-a-potty city spreading out far to the left of the stage. Everyone else seemed to have the same idea so I was glad of the long breaks between the bands. It was cool of the planning committee to have set up pipes with fresh water. Both hot and cold water... in the middle of a field. It was cool of them and I was glad I was able to wash up. Some people were drinking the water. Cool of them to let us bring our own food also. Thanks, Slane planning committee.

I got back a few minutes later and had sandwich #2. We had planned the food situation earlier. Have one when we got there for lunch. Have #2 midway through the afternoon, and have #3 just before U2. There was plenty of water. If it had been hot, we would have needed more water. But as it was, the 2 liters were more than enough.

There was a roar from the pit and then moments later, the first intro to "Shiver". I was on my feet in a moment. Coldplay had come out swinging. They sounded tight and well-rehearsed. "And it's you I see/ But you don't see me/ And it's you I hear/ So loud and so clear..." Well done. The crowd loved it. And it only got better. The crowd was involved and ecstatic. The weather was beautiful. This was SLANE. The band played off of it and they got better and better and BETTER as their set went on. Chris Martin was obviously as glad to be there as the fans. He said they had bypassed other offers to be here with us today at Slane. As he introduced "Don't Panic", he said this was a song about the world being a beautiful place, it being a beautiful day... and he was sure Bono would go on about that later.

"Yellow" got a tremendous response. "The colors shine for you/ The colors shine for you/ The colors shine..." Thousands of arms waving in the afternoon sun. It really began to feel like a huge, outdoor music festival then. With the crowd being involved and all that. And it was awesome when Chris Martin introduced the song in a very U2-fan way: "'There's been a lot of talk about this next song. Maybe too much talk. This song is not a rebel song, this song is called Yellow'." The crowd recognised that and LOVED it. They were playing right to what they knew was a common sympathy and capitalised on that big time. They knew "Yellow" would be a hit, and adding the Bono ad lib bit, they scored a home run with that.

I believe "Everything's Not Lost" was the last song though I could be wrong. He introduced it as needing people to help out with this one, this being an Irish sing-a-long if you will. People responded by the tens of thousands. At the end of their set, Chris Martin (tickled pink by the audience participation) said he was sure U2 were in for a treat tonight as we had been a great crowd. Loud cheers ushered Coldplay off the stage and we sat down and geared ourselves for the last break. It would all be on our feet from here on out.

The crowd was very excited and very numerous and in some cases very drunk by now. There were multiple attempts at tower building. Some of them were successful and they drew cheers. Others were entire failures. People had started to pack up their picnics and put their stuff away. The floor was covered with trampled beer cups as there were no trashcans so you had to throw everything on the ground where thousands of feet soon crunched it all up more effectively than a garbage compressor. The "Ole! Ole! Ole!" soccer game cheer made a few appearances. It would make a reappearance the next week in a more robust form. Peter wanted to go find his friends who were calling him from somewhere near the VIP seats, but the crowd was compressing by now, no doubt pushed forward by all the latecomers coming in through the gates now. There was a good chance he'd never find Heather and I again in the throng. So he stayed put. The people near the stage were packed in like sardines but since we were a good 100 feet out, we had room.

It was past 6PM and the sun was setting on the other side of the castle and the hill it was built on. The light became that bright yellow infused with orange glow that makes everyone look sunburned even if they aren't, of the late afternoon. Dramatic light with dark shadows and bright highlights. The sky was a deep blue. Clouds caught the colors of the sunset and sparkled overhead. And the Red Hot Chilli Peppers made their appearance. They got a deafening cheer. The crowd was all on its feet and ready for a concert by now.

For their cover of "Higher Ground" (same song in the set U2 uses as intro music, except they use the original version), they asked people to take off their shirts and spin them around in the air like helicopter propellers. Thousands obeyed, though as Hot Press writes, "Irishmen being Irishmen, they seemed to have another seven layers underneath." It was quite a site as I, near the bottom of the hill, turned around and saw thousands of shirts being spun around manically in the light of the western sun. The setting sun had also brought a new chill to the air that no one minded.

The energetic, loud set pumped and primed the audience up for what was to come. By the time the Chilli Peppers left the stage, the audience was raucous and the sun had set over the hill. Everything was ready for U2 and their sort of homecoming back to Slane.

It was about 45 minutes as the crew set up the stage. The heart had been uncovered since before the Chilli Peppers. Their bassist had actually ventured out onto the sacred U2 turf on a couple of occasions. The sky remained clear and it was turning purple in the east and pinkish to the west where the sun was waving goodbye. Two guys that had been standing next to us starting playing WWF with an inflatable chair with an alien face on the back rest. Heather almost got trampled so we moved a little ways over. I ended up in back of a fairly tall person with bushy curly hair. Damn. Oh, well. What I would have been able to see would be 2 cm tall versions of U2 anyway. And the audience has a tendency to shift during a show. I tried not to be too concerned.

As the clock moved towards 830PM, the loud music over the PA started. It wasn't a tune I knew, though, having been to *multiple* shows by now. Thin Lizzy. "The Boys Are Back in Town". Fitting. The crowd cheered. They knew what was coming and they seemed to appreciate the message in the choice of intro music. Thin Lizzy gave way to the original version of "Higher Ground". And then those four lads from Liverpool with their "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Heart Club Band". The news had traveled like wildfire. People knew this was the song. They were coming out just after this one. Thousands of hands clapping in unison... somewhat. And then the psychedelic sound of those wild days in the 60's gave way to titanium notes of modern dance/ techno music. But it was a tune we knew. "SOUL!" yelled out a familiar voice over the PA. "SOUL!"

It's hard to judge how loud they were. This was an outdoor concert and though the noise must have been deafening, it dispersed and scattered in the plentiful air everywhere like notes of music caught and snatched away by the breeze. But every arm was raised. The thousands crammed into what I must call the front (though it's difficult to give a region a name when it's that sprawling) were bouncing up and down. From back where I stood, it looked like a black mess of insects tossed up and down by a huge hand beneath them. The guys in front of me with Irish tricolors tied on like capes looked like orange and green-striped grasshoppers. They were no more than 18 years old. And they were beside themselves... caught up in a moment no one wanted to get out of. "SOUL! SOUL! YOU ELEVATE MY..." And then the high-pitched yodels, wordless cries of joy. The crowd obeyed the unspoken command to sing and the out of tune, "Woo-hoo! Ooo! Ooo!" filled the glen. They must have heard us as far away as Dublin. London. The world over.

And then a roar. The attempts at singing abandoned. Adam Clayton must have walked on stage, with that smile of elegant and pleased English gentleman I've seen more than once. I couldn't see him. The sea of arms was tossing around without a break between the waves. I imagined Larry Mullen slipping on stage just behind him, sliding behind his drumkit trying not to be noticed, though he couldn't help being pleased. They must have all gotten goosebumps. The view of so many maniacal tens of thousands there for YOU must be an overwhelming sight. Young faces lighting up at your appearance on a stage, loving you for doing what you love. It must be an amazing feeling.

I did see Edge. He came to his corner on the left and dutifully picked up his guitar. I swear I saw him smile even from a distance like that. Bono must have come in right behind him. The crowd screamed out louder... if that was possible. Face hidden behind sunglasses. What was he feeling then? What contradictory array of emotions were going through him then? Part of him must have been absolutely thrilled. This was possibly the biggest, most exciting gig he and U2 had ever played. Historical Slane. 20 years after opening for Thin Lizzy at the first festival. And now THEY were headlining. It was a long way to come for four boys from north Dublin. It should have been an AMAZING night for him, the world's greatest frontman of the world's greatest band at the greatest event in the world. But part of him must have been still in the numb, freezer-burnt stage of grief that sets in after a personal tragedy. He had buried his father the previous day. Put him in the ground. And when the casket hits the bottom of the grave they've dug, suddenly it has a way of hitting home that it hasn't before. An air of finality that feels like cold water down your back. Between the dizzy heights of joy and the pit of sorrow, Bono stepped up to the mike and jumped into the fervor of the 80,000. "Hooo! Ooo!" They answered back.

"Elevation" was unreal that night. Maybe because we could jump around with abandon and not get elbowed in the face for it. 250 lb. giants and 5" sprites all had enough room to celebrate that night. Even if it was only a few inches, it was enough room. Much better than the crush. Everyone sang along. Everyone seemed to know every word.Not just the chorus. People were laughing outloud. SCREAMING just because of the overflowing joy. The crowd screamed out as one when after the "I believe in you," Bono yelled out, "Do you believe in me?!" No one answered "Yes". They just screamed. But that must have answered him enough. And then the end. "SOUL NATION! SOUL NATION! SOUL NATION!" and his soul nation of fans, countrymen and countrywomen, Dubliners, friends, believers yelled out in appreciation. Soul nation... and this was the sound of its beating heart.

Hot Press writes that "Beautiful Day" was all the more poignant that night because of what had just happened to the U2 family. A beautiful day in spite of death, in spite of losing someone you love. It's was still a beautiful day. I didn't notice any double meanings with "Beautiful Day" that night. Maybe because it was so amazing to be there, that I forgot all about the implications for a bit. Just too busy rejoicing in what was happening. "Until the End of the World" passed in the same way. The same crowd-pleasing antics from Bono and Edge. The crowd had opened up so I could see the left side of the stage during the bullfight, but Edge changed his usual performance and went down to the heart via the right side, having to go around Adam Clayton in the process. I don't know why. Maybe there was a logistical reason that I couldn't see from my spot.

After the stack of aces they had just served up to open the show, Bono returned to stage and picked up his guitar. He thanked us all for coming out that night. He thanked the Irish people for waiting, It had taken them 20 years to get to that moment. He thanked the sun for shining. A thunderous sound of "Bono! Bono! Bono!" started ringing out, to return several times during the show. He thanked God for taking his father away from his sickness. People cheered but suddenly there was an air of discomfort. How were we to react? How was it best to react when he was hurting so much? He said he had thought he had written this song for his children, but actually his father had written it for him. He said his father had just died. He said this was "Kite".

It was beautiful. And from that moment on, the whole concert began to change. His voice caught and cracked several times due to the emotion. Each one was like a tear drop rolling down his face. The image on the black and white screens was that of a sad little boy who had just lost his father. He repeated the "Goodbye" in the "I know this is not goodbye" line of the song. He repeated it out. He cried it out, like someone saying his final farewells. "Goodbye! Goodbye! Goodbye." The images in the papers. Bono shouldering the casket, Larry behind him, burying his father. Saying goodbye for the last time. He was opening up, he was letting us in. He had played the rock star for four songs before then. Now, he had given that up. He was letting us into that secret, quiet place we all have and let very few see. He was opening up and letting us watch him grieve. Letting us see the cracks down the middle of his heart. The crowd seemed to gather around him and hold him up as somehow at the same time, he seemed to hold us up. It was a strange thing. Though I was so far away I have never felt closer to him. I'm sure there were many tears being shed that night. The pain was suddenly so brutally out in the open. I don't really remember what he sounded like before "Kite". But I remember what he sounded like during and I remember what he sounded like AFTER. It was like the sorrow had tapped a reservoir of beauty that comes out only when it's needed most. His voice opened up. He started singing like a clear, silver bell ringing out in the morning. Like some heavenly or Otherworldy creature. So like a human shouldn't be allowed to sing. And he only got better. By the end of the show, he was shattering glass... and making it impossible for all us poor humans to sing along. He left us all behind. It was amazing.

Heather had said earlier she wondered if they'd play the "Unforgettable Fire" or something since they HAD recorded that here at Slane Castle. She was almost prophetic. Almost. Shimmering rays of light started coming from Edge's guitar. Bono said this was a song they had written in "that castle over there". And he started singing. I didn't recognize the song at first. I followed the lyrics down in my head. Before long the answer came, "A Sort of Homecoming". Bearing many many meanings that night, "A Sort of Homecoming". U2's homecoming back to Ireland after 4 years. U2's homecoming back to Slane after 20 years. Bob Hewson's homecoming into another life. A sort of homecoming in more ways than one. Bono's voice sounded paper thin as no doubt the multiple meanings weren't lost on him. He knew. He knew that when the words, "No don't sorrow/ No don't weep/ For tonight at last I am coming home" came out of his mouth, his father could have been speaking to him once more. Thousands of arms went up with lighters. Those that didn't have lighters rolled up newspapers and lit them in smoldering, crumbling torches. It was dark by then and the flames danced in the field like wisps of support and honor. Thousands of voices knew all the words.

Amazing for many reasons but not the least of which is the ability to cover a laundry list of human emotions and experiences in a few short moments, Bono had spun on a dime and was lecturing us from his heart during "Sunday, Bloody Sunday". "People are more important than ideas! Irish people. Valuable!... This island is big enough for those that are big enough! ... We're bigger than bigotry! We're bigger than racism! We're bigger than our past! I said, we're bigger than our past!!!" Delerious and in a state of unquestioned worship the horde of thousands screamed out their approval, their belief, their amazement. It was mindblowing. Amid the militant beat of Larry's drums, a single man had focused the attention of tens of thousands on the pains and troubles that assailed their world and what they could do about it. It seemed that we could do anything. We could take anything on. Love was rolling around like a beach ball on everyone's fingertips, like a cottony mist filling the hollow between the hills, shimmering in the starlight. Yes, you could see the stars, nestled in the black blanket of sky. They were watching U2, too.

"In A Liltte While" is a personal favorite and it was warm and syrupy that night. "You turn me ON!" And thousands of people hooing along gently with the soft, sweet tune. U2 needn't have worried that large outdoor concerts lost their intimacy. Though I was probably 100 feet away, I felt like I was RIGHT THERE. Edge cleaned upon the song on the last line. Bono let him sing it alone. That clear, soft Welsh voice "Slowly, slowly looooove..." and it was strange in how I felt that I was hugging someone very dear to me. Don't know who. Just someone very very loved.

Bono introduced the band members and they all came out to the tip. If there had been any doubt before, now we knew. The heart had been expanded for the outdoor setting. Larry and Adam took twice as long to get out there than they usually do. Bono thanked Phil Lynott and Thin Lizzy. He said that he remembered opening for them 20 years ago here at Slane Castle. He said they had been "crap" but Thin Lizzy had been wonderful. The Hot Press guy begged to differ in his article. He said U2 was wonderful, too. Regardless, U2 launched into what seemed to be a spontaneous version of Lizzy's "Dancing in the Moonlight". It was only part of the song, but the crowd loved it... even the people who didn't recognize it.

The sequencer started swirling out the familiar and very loved tune of another song recorded during the "Unforgettable Fire" era. Drawing cheers on first recognition, splendid and powerful as always, glorious in its tangled web of nondescriptive lyrics that can't be hammered down to a simple explanation, transcendent because of its ability to be felt and thus understood rather than heard and explained, every time different... "Bad". And "Bad" in a surpassingly gorgeous incarnation of itself. The vocals came out of him like a river of silver, smooth starlight. The voice. The VOICE. Those that hadn't already noticed couldn't miss it during this one. He was singing beyond and above what seemed to be a human's lot and ability. The music and the starlight bonded and seemed to become one. 80,000+ hearts seemed to be beating as one. And then, "Hoo-ooo... Daddy hear a fool cry..." and his voice almost broke. "Daddy..." and it sounded like a boy crying for his father. In just one word, he had summed it up again. I think I was crying, but I'll never be sure. A snippet of "Yellow" followed: "Look at the stars/ See how they shine for you... Look at the stars/ See how they shine for you..." Chris Martin must have been pissing himself. If Bono began singing a song I had written in "Bad", I would have. "40" made a cameo appearance and then one of those long, drawn out notes that mean *everything* came soaring out of Bono's throat and my hair was just about standing on end... especially as the screens behind the band turned red and the familiar intro to "Streets" began. The crowd lost it... again. It was bright as day under the lights. "I'll show you a place/ Where there's no sorrow or pain..." Even if this world if full of those two things, it seemed like a pretty good place to be just then.

He had a girl come up and dance with him during "Mysterious Ways". She didn't really dance. She seemed so shell-shocked that out of all those people, he had picked HER... She just *stared* at him. I must say, I think I would have done the same thing. Especially when he was moving around like that right in front of her. The rock god himself with everything that had happened, with the way the show had been. Poor girl. It really would be a fabulous experience, when you read about it, but I really doubt I could handle it in real life. Actually, I know I wouldn't. Those of you that have seen the Elevation shows know how he moves around during "Mysterious Ways". I would NOT have been able to handle it. The girl didn't dance much but she did pretty well. She didn't faint... or fall all over him. There was a point when I think every female just SCREAMED OUT, "OH MY GOD!!!!!!" He must have been doing more of that *dancing* around that just about kills every girl in the audience who can see what's going on. I couldn't really see what was happening, but I did see the girl and I saw the look on her face when he had invited her up. She followed him around like an obedient puppy. But seemed incapable of doing a single thing of her own volition. I think he had a photographer come up on stage for a moment during that song also. I'd love to see those pictures if in fact the poor guy could get his head together enough to take any.

"Pride", sung in a way it hasn't been sung in years, closed the regular set. I couldn't help remembering the silly little "Pride" #2 video filmed at Slane that's floating around out there. Chants of "Bono! Bono! Bono!" and "We want more! We want more!" and "Ole! Ole! Ole!" filled the intermission gap.

"Bullet the Blue Sky" was absolutely vicious and very close to home. "War's over, we don't need your help/ Here in Ireland, we're at war with ourselves!... Put away the guns! Put away the guns!" and then a laundry list of the paramilitary groups and extremists that have ravaged Ulster for years. And a list not just read out. SCREAMED out in all the rage he could muster up. All the rage of a nation at war with itself. Screamed out for all the dead, all those in prison, all those whose lives had been destroyed by ideas gone dangerously awry. The guys in front of me just looked at each other and shook their heads in disbelief "Whoa!" One guy had his hand over his heart, as if to made sure it hadn't been frightened into stopping.

I know I'm probably getting really boring by going through so many of the songs like this, but I have to mention "With or Without You". That glorious voice made that song shine more than it ever has for me. The extra verse with the "We'll shine like stars in the summer night..." felt so right under the canopy of the night. The torches made another appearance. And at the end... everyone just bit their breath. They just held their breath. Not daring to breathe, in case any extra sound of your lungs filling with air would somehow dilute the most beautiful sound I have ever heard. "One heart, one hope, one love..." and then he repeated it, "One heart". But it was as if he had uncorked the bottle where he keeps his voice, like he had completely unleashed it. It seemed like all those times it's sounded insufficient, he was just holding it back on purpose. As if there's only so much we humans can handle. Only so much beauty we can take in at once. But he let it loose just then. Let it engulf us in its absolutely glorious sound. It was a moment that you wanted to shut your ears because it was just TOO beautiful but you wanted to hear *everything* at the same time because when could you count on hearing something like that again? There were many many assertions of "Unbelievable!" when people could talk again. Absolutely.

He got on his little soapbox again (he can do it as much as he wants) before "One". Human rights were irrefutable and undeniable to every person on this planet... more so than civil rights. "Human rights.... the right to live like a human." He said if there was anything he had learned from his father, he had learned that. Scenes of the buffalos played on the screens behind the band, but scenes of the "One" video starring Bobby Hewson appeared on the four screens hanging over the stage. When the first image appeared, Heather and I just looked at each other. It was poignant. It was sad.... but thanks to what Bono had said at the beginning, it was also victorious. It had become a wake by then. The rock concert had become an Irish wake, a celebration of Bobby Hewson's life, not just mourning his death anymore. The bonfires and torches and cigarette lighters came on again, gently floating on the sea of arms. Maybe Lord Mountcharles was looking on a bit anxiously since fire it was that had damaged Slane Castle several years ago. But the fire seemed incapable to doing any harm that night. It seemed like a further show of what was happening. A sea of love. A sea 80,000 strong. "One life with each other/ My father/ My brother..." And he added in the "Hear him calling, Lord..." part that just yanked the tears out of many eyes and choked up many voices trying to sing along.

He sang a snippet of what I understand was a Rolling Stone song between "One" and "Walk On". Again, that voice was glorious... even a capella. ESPECIALLY a capella.

"Bob Hewson, WALK ON!" and the band launched into the closer. Bono pounding his guitar, playing it like it was a life preserver and he was a man out at sea. That song is perfect. Absolutely perfect for the situation. Walk on. Walk on towards the light, Daddy. "You're packing a suitcase for a place none of us has been/ A place that has to be believed to be seen..." Wow. He probably had no idea he'd use it as a way to bury his father when he first wrote that song. I guess these songs just have a life of their own and they come up when they know he or us will need them the most. I gave in and had had to put my jacket on during "One" but I think it was more than the breeze that was giving me chills. The words coming up and scrolling in the background. Leave it behind. Gotta leave it behind. Walk on. Oh, my God. You know those really amazing moments in your life you know you'll never forget because they're so amazing. You'll always remember EXACTLY how you felt because they became tatooed to your *soul*. That was one of those moments. I swear, people were a step away from throwing themselves on their knees. It was so emotional, so real, so poignant, so... other things that words cannot possibly describe. It was amazing that a man could write words like that. Sing words like that like THAT. He yelled out "Thank you!" three times. But it was us that should have yelled it out... a lot more than three times. "Unto the Almighty!" Certainly. And thank God for YOU, Bono. That night was beyond any concert experience should be. I know I'm gushing, but if you were there, you'll know I can't gush enough about this.

The band did a slow lap around the heart to thunderous cheers. Bono lingered the longest. He didn't seem to want to leave. WE didn't want him to leave. The other guys of U2 are fantastic, fantastic people and the band wouldn't exist without any of them. But Bono was the beating heart and soul that night more than ever. Grieving and battered, he had delivered the show of a lifetime. He had dared to let us in, let us watch him grieve. As a rock star, it isn't cool to admit your Daddy's gone and you miss him. But he did that. And it won him everyone's heart that night. If he had said to go jump in to the River Boyne, people would have done it. They were in his pocket so snuggly, they had him in their hearts so tightly. Gorgeous, gorgeous man for far more than his already good looks. The crowd was in an exhuberant state of shock. They didn't want U2 to leave, but I really don't know how much more any of us could have taken. It was so overwhelming as it was.

The cheering continued even after they all had gone. But no chants this time. The crowd knew it was the end. They just made noise because they had an overabundance of emotion they needed to let spill out or they'd just burst. Music came out over the PA. This was "The Unforgettable Fire". And then the fireworks. Heather and Peter said these fireworks were WAY better than what they had for St. Patrick's Day even. They were amazing fireworks. The sky was clear and sharp. The fireworks were amazing. People stood there going, "Ooooooooooooh!" No one made a move to leave. Fittingly, the larger ones burst into a shower of sparks right on cue as Larry pounds his drums in that song. It was that kind of a night. Even the fireworks obeyed. The lights continued on after the song was over for a few minutes longer.

Then, huge white lights came on that cast huge shadows and were in your face anyway so you couldn't see a thing. A little guy got on stage (gasp! Blasphemy!) and started repeating the same annoucement over and over. I thought it would become lodged in my brain forever, but I can't remember what he said now. Bono's voice is the one that's endured. Something about instructions on leaving. Not to push. The two exits to the right went to Dublin and Drogheda and the two on the left went to Navan and the West. Peter wanted to find his friends again so Heather and I went to the tree and waited for him. People everywhere, in the darkness, were screaming out what a wonderful concert that had been. The best in their lives. Unbelieveable said many others. Some people were crying right out there in the open. Others were drying their faces of tears shed earlier. Bono. Amazing man. Still others were speechless altogether. Heather and I stood there waiting for silly Peter. We didn't talk about the show at all. It just seemed too big just then. Too much.

Peter turned up a little later. He had found one set of his friends and they had agreed on a place to go for a pint some other day. Couldn't you just CALL them later and agree on that??? Whatever. I couldn't be even annoyed at anyone just then. The exit to Navan wasn't full at all and we had no trouble getting out. It was very dark though and my tiny flashlight came in handy. We walked back to the car park amid buses and cars and a sea of people.

The traffic was so slow getting out that me, useless when it comes to automobiles anyway, fell asleep like an idiot. My God, I'm USELESS! I woke up as we were getting into Goatstown again. It was 2AM. We were exhausted. I guess I missed the scenic ride through Navan and Trim on the long way back to Dublin. Peter's effort to avoid traffic.

Peter went home and Heather and I crashed into very very deep sleep. Irish angel sang in my ear all night.

That's the way I remember it. And I don't want to forget one single thing. It was the most amazing night of my life. I can easily say that. It was jaw-dropping good. Bono was amazing. His voice... that VOICE. Heather and I talked about it later. That voice was glorious that night. Slane had outdone its hype. U2 had outdone even themselves. They had lit a fire that is STILL burning.

 

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