24 June 2005, Croke Park
"Bruce, light that up so I can read it..."
Actually, this section is going to be short because I didn't buy tickets for this show. An Irish friend had gotten through the Irish version of Ticketmaster and had purchased tickets for the first night at Croke Park. I hadn't even attempted buying any as I had been so depressed over the failure of the American sales and I thought I wouldn't be able to afford it. I wrote this friend mentioning that I hadn't been able to buy any hometown tickets. She told me of her good fortune and offered me one. For a while, I hesitated. Tickets to Ireland are expensive and I wasn't sure about how I would be able to get time off work. But it happened. It happened and it was beautiful.
This story actually begins the day before. The friends I had been staying with in Dublin live in the western suburbs and I needed to take a train to get back and forth. The day before the show, I went up to the northside to do a walkabout Croke Park. There were people already queuing there and I'm not mad enough to do that, so I just walked by and took a few pictures. I had never seen that stadium that close before. I returned to the center of town and involved myself in buying things for people back home and in blogging what I had seen around Croke that morning. Tired, and the shopping bags being a bit heavy, I headed off to Tara Street and took the 1830 train out to the house. The elevated train tracks run right alongside Croke, behind Hill 16. There's actually a corner there where if you're quick, you can peek in and see and hear what's going on at the venue. The train was standing room only and I was on the opposite side from Croke's. We were passing by the wall and then the open spot and that's when I heard it. Chiming, ringing guitar and then a clear voice. It wasn't distinguishable what they were playing, at least it didn't make sense to my addled mind. I just felt my heart leap and my knees shake. He was there. I'd forgotten all about the existence of soundchecks. No one visibily cared and I didn't run to the other side of the train and hence brand myself as a U2 freak for all eternity in Dublin. But it was just enough to make me crazy and emotional. He sounded beautiful. Everyone else was just too cool for that rock and roll shit.
The friend who was giving me the ticket had to work for half the next day. It had taken me a few day to reach some kind of peace that I wouldn't be there early in the queue to get a good spot. Reports were they would open gates at 4PM and apparently the earliest we would get there was 12 noon. It took a while, but I got over it. She offered to give me the ticket so I could queue if I wanted but I discovered I'm not a complete waste of DNA and refused. I mean, she was the one who had gone through the trouble of getting the ticket in the first place and then offered it to me instead of selling or trading it for another Croke night. It ate at me, though. I'm such an ingrate.
I Will Follow
The Electric Co.
New Year's Day
Beautiful Day - Rain - Here Comes the Sun
I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For
Who's Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses
City of Blinding Lights
Sometimes You Can't Make It On Your Own
Love and Peace or Else
Sunday Bloody Sunday
Bullet the Blue Sky - When Johnny Comes Marching Home
Running to Stand Still - Walk On
Where the Streets Have No Name
One - Rain
With or Without You - Take Me to the Clouds Above
All Because of You
Vertigo - Jailbreak
I met the friend in downtown Dublin and we walked up to Croke Park after buying victuals for the wait. The area around Croke Park was a network of cops, barriers, signs, and garda vehicles parked on the sidewalks. Enlightened by the latest e-mail from Ticketmaster and text messages from a friend already in line, we found where the real GA queue was, which was in an entirely different place than where the tickets said. Gardi checked tickets and our bags for alcohol just off Summerhill and they checked tickets again before we went into the outer gates around Croke Park. They had lined people up in parallel, non-snaking lines between barriers. We asked a garda there which line we were supposed to get into and he said, "Whichever one you like." Since we're honest fools, we got into one near the back that looked appropriate for our tardiness. Fools, I say. By the time we were in and hunkered down for the wait, it was close to 1330.
It was hard to say how many people were there and I'm not good at estimating so I won't even hazard a guess, but it looked like a lot but not as many as I had feared. I texted the other friend in the queue ahead of us and she couldn't give us better information. I never tried to go out and see if I could meet her, but we were terrified of losing our spots or doing something we'd regret. The sky looked heavy but as yet it hadn't rained beside a few sprinkles. We sat down on the pavement (I was right next to a dirt patch, as befits my luck) and had our sandwiches. No free fluids from here on out, though. Kidneys suffer for a U2 concert.
Among a few Italian fans and many Irish, we waited. The sky continued to threaten and the walls of Croke loomed over our heads. I think we all had thoughts on whether we should go get shirts or not but always decided against it. we didn't know when they'd be opening doors and so we chose to stay put. I have a clear imagin ein my mind of the patch of dirt we were standing on and I kept thinking how it would turn to mud if it rained and how I wouldn't be able to sit down if it did. That's just a brief example of the strange, mad thoughts that occupy my mind when it isn't busy.
I believe, though I'll never know, that it was about 3PM when we began to hear sounds rattling inside the park. Soundcheck. My heart leapt and burst and seized. After a very brief tuning session, the band, our beautiful, bold, rock band launched into a full version of "Who's Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses". The gathered crowd cheered when they started and it felt oddly, like Bono were addressing us, all together, all individually. "You're dangerous, cuz you're honest..." We heard the sound bounce from side to side inside the park as they checked it. But it didn't feel like just a check. This may sound stupid, but I can only assume they heard people cheer and they knew they were being listened to. He didn't talk or say anything out of the script. He just sang it. And then they played most of "Vertigo" with Bono dropping out about halfway through. And then the drums (Larry!) continued along with the guitar for a bit and then just the guitar. Edge. We looked at each other. There was the world's greatest guitarist, working as if he has anything left to practice. This is what separates the good from the great. The crowd of about 2000 at that point cheered and then we settled into waiting. It was a sample, an appetizer, of the main course that night. It took me a while to get back settled into the bottom of my shoes.
It wasn't long after when a man with a megaphone began making rounds with an announcement. At first, we couldn't hear since he started on the side of the crowd closest to the stadium. We were a row up from the back, green fence. The Irish guy on the row beside us towards the park was saying, "Come on, lads, pass it back." No one really did. I called my friend closer to the front and she said something about everyone being guaranteed a spot in the pit. So that's what they were cheering about. But the guy with the megaphone was making rounds and he finally got to us. The announcement (paraphrased) was this: "Since there are about 2000 people here, all of you are guaranteed a spot in the pit since it holds 4500. We have a few requests. No professional cameras or tape recorders will be allowed. No brollys, no bottle caps, no alcohol. We'll be opening the gates shortly. Have a great show."
We knew we were in but we still didn't know how they were going to handle the line itself. Would people run? Would it be a madhouse. We didn't have long to wait. I was happy I could take my digital camera in. I'd taken a chance by bringing it that day. I'd have lost it if they weren't allowing cameras at all. The gates ahead opened and they let in the first six lines at the same time. We shook hands and bid the Canadian couple we'd been talking to a good show and good luck. The had home-made t-shirts with Canadian, Irish, and an ex-Soviet republic flags on it. They'd made them in memorial of their trip.
The first part of the line was in. Shortly, it was our turn. My heart was thudding away. At the end of each line, there was someone there to inspect our belongings and make sure we didn't have one of the banned items. It was a crush at the gate and we linked arms to get through. They checked tickets there at the huge green gates into Croke. And then we had to get through the swarm of officials who again checked tickets. Since they knew there would be no official line, they'd covered area as much as humanly possible to keep out people trying to get in free. We passed underneath the eaves of the huge sport stadium. I can almost visualise it if I try hard enough. Yawning darkness, and beyond... steep walls covered with seats and at the end, red and black. One more row of officials was lined up right before the start of the pitch and then they finally tore our tickets. We were in. I had never in all my life imagined I'd be walking out onto the GAA's hollowed turf in my green sneakers and stars in my eyes. I only quickly noticed the ground was covered with some white plastic. No one was running, but of course I'm obsessed with nearness so we pulled along the GAA fan along with us to the gate into the pit to the left of us. There were turnstiled there. No one gave out wristbands or stamps. For one awful moment, I thought we were getting separated and I actually halted in my footsteps rather than making the beeline to the stage as I usually do, drawn, impossible to resist to the catwalk.
Suddenly, I was seized with military zeal and I lead my compatriots around the front to Adam's b-stage, knowing "Love and Peace or Else" would be there and also knowing Adam's side gets less attention than Edge's, especially as it was the farther side. We drew up behind a bunch of people spread out on coats and mats, about 10 feet from the stage. I tried to rationalize that it was a good spot. I just hoped there weren't many people pushing. I called my friend who had queued since early and she was first row on Edge's b-stage. She came by for a minute to say hello and then one of the people I was with ran to the bathroom quickly, but then we settled down to wait. The news was that they were selling beer outside but you had to drink it outside as well. No alcohol was allowed on the pitch. I like that rule. A lot.
No rain though the sky looked like it had other plans. More and more people came into the pit. The center part surrounded by the b-stages looked completely jammed. Some of the people around and in front of us must have gotten up or moved because suddenly we were really close to the railing until we were only about a person or two back. Maybe we screwed someone in the process but no one said anything and I don't remember pummeling someone out of my way. Maybe it was just a matter of the crowd compressing. We took turns sitting down. Light rain started to fall at some point. I hadn't a rain coat, but it wasn't heavy enough for that to be a problem. Two Italian guys who were sitting back to back and reading the paper were in front of us and then on the railing was a raggle-taggle bunch that looked a little worse for wear. To our left, there was a guy with a #1 on his hand. We shrugged and looked at each other. We were standing beside the #1 person in line?
Finally, the afternoon wore on and it was time for the opening band. There were going to be two. The first one up was called the Radiators. It was the most bizarre 45 minutes of music I have ever seen. To this day I don't know what moved U2, chance, or the powers that be to choose this, I guess I have to call it a band, to open that night at Croke. Not many people had heard of them or any of their songs. They all sounded the same eventually, the songs, old 80's post-punk garbage. The Italian guys standing next to us were looking at the stage with confused expressions on their faces like someone had told a joke and they had entirely missed the punchline. They would look at each other and shake their heads. After the fact, I hear now that one of the guys in the band is Steve Averil and is supposed to be involved with the design firm that does the covers for U2 albums. Whatever fun facts on members of the band, it was still bizarre and weird. So weird that the band members looked old enough to be U2's parents. They ended their set to scattered applause. Being at Croke to see U2 makes a crowd generous.
The light sprinkles that had been spattering a bit all day began coming down as light, yet steadily growing rain. I thought, "Shoot, and I don't have a rain coat." All focus moved to protecting my digital camera from the water. It wasn't too hard. The crowd had pressed forward so much by then that only shoulders and up were in danger of getting wet. The Irish guys behind us started making comments about the stage set up such as the speakers being painted red and black, "Why did they paint them for? We know what they are. Waste of paint." It almost really rained for a bit there. Some people ahead of us brought out a small blue tarp and held it up like a little tent. The Irish guys started saying it was just water, "This isn't a camp."
The beachballs and other inflatables were still making their rounds and the crowd got a Mexican wave going. The guys in front of me, the Italian guys, were a bit confused as to why the stadium wasn't full ("isn't it sold out???") and what was up with all the other bands. Wasn't U2 coming out? I'd been hearing them talking to each other in Italian but then the shorter one turned around and asked me in the Italian version of English if U2 were coming out. At least I was made to understand that. Italians have a way of not speaking English but with a few strategically placed words, emphasis, and hand-gestures, they make themselves understood. Anyhow, I told them that yeah, U2 was coming on after Snow Patrol and that made them happy. When Snow Patrol was off the stage, the stadium really did begin to fill up. In minutes the thousands of empty seats were full and not a pin could fit in anywhere else. It really was sold out, but as the Irish person in our group, they were all probably Irish and had spent their time socializing at the pub and then coming to the show near 9PM.
845PM. All eyes were on the stage and the rain was almost becoming raiin by then. The Irish guys behind us began to comment on the rain gear the roadies were putting over U2's gear. They were calling it lawn furniture. "Look, Larry's got himself a gazebo there. And Edge, look Edge's got a shed. Adam too." "What about Bono then?" another one said referring to the lead mike out front uncovered. His friend put his hand on his shoulder and said gravely, "Bono's got the crowd, man. Bono's got the crowd." This was the world's best crowd.
It was after 9PM. Well after. I'll never be sure when because I wasn't really looking at my watch. And then the "Wake Up" song began playing. Enough people knew what it meant and a quiet roar went up, but the roadies were still on stage. It was late, but since we were so far north in the Northern Hemisphere, it was still light out. Even with the cloud cover. It's bizarre to see the sun go down at 1030PM. It was bizarre enough when the band came out without fanfare with roadies still on stage. Four little guys who looked like they'd taken a wrong turn somewhere. At least it would have been that way if they weren't U2. And the stadium exploded.
I think I took a picture of them waving from the front of the stage, but it turned out to be a blurry shot of the b-stage. I've called it "Pandemonium", because that's what it was. The Italian guys cheered as if Italia had just scored a goal at the World Cup. Everyone cheered as if their team had scored a goal at the World Cup. Joy. On cue, the rain let up. The sun had come out. Using minimal lighting and stark against the grey steel of the screen behind them, they launched at full flight into "Vertigo".
I love Bono. I adore his voice. But it took three full songs to hear him sing. Though people in the back suffered bad sound, us at the front had a great audio experience, but I couldn't hear a single word though on the monitors I could see both jugulars out. Everyone was singing along. Everyone knew every word. Every one. Even if they didn't speak English. The two Italian guys in front of us who were swaddled up as if it were the middle of winter didn't stop jumping up and down. The crowd was tight, but no one was pushing.
This crowd knew the old songs, unlike the two shows in Philadelphia. Maybe because this was a crowd who'd grown up with old U2 in the backs of their minds. U2 while they were just Ireland's. "Electric Co" got a great reception and it had the "Until the End of the World" moment in that Bono and Edge came out to the farther b-stage and circled each other like two boxers in a ring sizing each other up. The place was a madhouse. From Dublin boys to Rock Gods. Their former selves wake up and walk around inside them at shows in Ireland. Especially this one right in Dublin City.
It's an odd thing, and a maddening one. I remember the before and afters of the shows more than the shows themselves. Almost like it's easier to see and remember things that aren't as blinding. I don't know why and it infuriates me. I got the setlist on this page from U2Tours.com. If you had asked me after the show what they played, I'd be able to guess at a few songs since I know they play certain songs, not like I necessarily remember. It's infuriating. So, here, I'll have to focus on what I remember not on what I know they did.
Bono sang a great version of "Who's Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses" on the other B-stage with his back to the stadium. It was like he was singing to the band. It was then or nearly then when the Irish fan i was with poked my elbow and said, "Look, the train's stopped." There's a corner of Croke Park that the elevated railway rides right past. Trains stop during GAA matches, I've been told, so the passengers could take a peek in during the match. Here, the train was stopped so the people on the train could watch a little slice of the U2 concert. This would only happen in Ireland... where there are no U2 fans but trains stop on their routes so people can see a little nugget of the U2 concert. You know you're in Ireland when. Part of me wishes I could have transferred myself to that train for the few minutes it was there and witness the scene inside.
Bono was back on the stage right before "Miracle Drug", I think, when he spotted a sign over the railing on the top level. He said, "Bruce, light that up there so I can read it." The spotlights are manned by actual human beings. I thought they were automated for some reason. And then he read the sign into the mike, "See you in Rome." And then he said, "Ah, Roma." The Italian guys went nuts. They started fist-pumping, jumping up and down, kissing each other, and chanting "Roma! Italia!" And then Bono did something Bono does. He went into this monolouge of interconnected stream of consciousness that linked Rome, the Spanish Steps, Keats, poets and into "Miracle Drug". I may be wrong if that was the next song. I'll have to listen to the boot. But that's the next thing I remember.
When the album first came out, "Miracle Drug" was one of the songs I didn't love. Actually, I almost didn't like it. But that was before Bono said this song was for the "scientists, the doctors, and the nurses who work to keep us alive. Especially the nurses." He went on to thank some reps from Crumlin children's hospital. While he did that, I knew some kind of dam was going to burst someplace. I was either going to laugh or cry. I don't cry, so I started laughing. My friend turned around and asked if I was okay. I said yes, but I was overwhelmed. I've never been so overcome or felt so appreciated as I did then. He didn't have to say that. He didn't have to take notice from amid all the spotlights and cameras and microphones. He knows and appreciates. I have never felt more welcome. Oddly, there had been some kind of appreciation week at work shortly before then, but it was hear in a rainy, sweaty, loud pitch in Ireland with words not directed solely at me, that I felt it. I have never loved that song more and the EKG that keeps time with the music and then flips out during the chorus is the most perfect marriage of song and visual that I have ever seen. I felt tempted to take a quick Quicktime movie of it with my camera. But I couldn't rationalize or act just then. I'll have to hope one of those European concerts makes it to DVD because I loved it so much beyond music, or leather, or song. And then the EKG line goes flat and Bono took off his glasses and started coming down our ramp and telling us about his father and how this next song was for him. "Sometimes You Can't Make it on Your Own". It was the first time during the show that we were seeing him this close.
He walked down slowly, singing out in a white excorcism all the things he remembers and knows and thinks contained in a 5 minute song. Cameras were going off like fireflies all the way down the ramp. He sings with his eyes closed for much of it and doesn't seem to see or notice, stuck inside the song as he is. The man sings with his whole being. This is why they love him so much in the Latin parts of the world even if they can't understand a thing he says. Bono, and U2, make music you can feel. The crowd pressed forward then as everyone leaned forward to photograph their hero. No one called out to him, though, the gravity of the moment was understood and respected. I was so close, I could see the texture of the material of his clothes. But oddly, though I have more than a few pictures of that song, only one turned out. The one on this page. I have Bono Shake. I must have been shaking or just unable to let the camera focus. You really need to think when you photograph and I wasn't thinking. I wasn't thinking at all.
In Philadelphia, I'd seen him change his clothes on stage for the next part of the set. I'm sure it was similar in Dublin but the fading light and the red lights hid that. He disappeared over on the stage and a small drumkit was hoisted onto the b-stage. Here began the most mind-blowing part of the show. Larry emerged from beneath his gazebo and came walking down the ramp towards us. He waved a couple of times to people but never cracked a smile. He's at work, you know. None of that light stuff. We laughed about it afterwards, he came out in front of 80,000 people happy to see him and turned his back squarely to the stadium, took up the drumsticks and waited like a soldier awaiting orders, for his cue. The cue came in the form of Bono emerging from somewhere on the lower level of the stage dressed in that busy jacket and shades back on. Gone was the reminiscence, the grief, and the melancholy on display for the previous song. He was a howling tempest of rage now. Larry was watching him until hhis cue came and then started to play. Bono came down the ramp, screaming and howling. I had to photograph him. He was so close during that completely awesome part of the show. But some part of my brain said, "Stop it, moron. He's right there. LOOK at him." I forced the camera down and did. I could see the wrinkles in the leather of his jacket as they caught the spotlights. I could see the drops of sweat sneaking down his face and the ones flying off. And then he came to the edge of the stage and for a moment, looked down. You can't see his eyes through those glasses, but he was looking in our direction. That's the picture in my mind that I remember the most. A forest of outstretched arms and through them, above them, Bono looking down into the crowd to see who was there in his pocket that night. I still get shivers thinking of it.
I remember looking at them and thinking, "These men are supposed to be really short. Do they look short? Not really. No, he doesn't wear leather pants anymore." And then Skinny Legs Larry left and it was just Bono. Some blonde girl with one of those trendy, too-small purses came around our side of the b-stage and gave him the headband. Someone wondered aloud who that was, but no one knew. And then Bono, alone on the b-stage now, tore into the pounding drum part of the song. It does rattle your spine and we heard the sound before it came out over the PA. That's a Live Music moment right there.
It ended, he went back up to the stage, the drumkit magically disappeared and the concert went on. Those were absolutely awesome moment to have witnessed from 5 feet away. "Running to Stand Still" was quietly devastating and the main set came to an end. "Streets" was once again a pandemonium moment. I took a picture of the stadium full of cell phone lights.
But we hadn't seen anything yet. For the wait during intermission, I noticed the sun had set and it was absolute blackness outside. Someone made a comment that they were going to be over the curfew. The Italian guys were on their cell phones. There was a lull for a moment, but then the little space man came on the screens. Let me say that at the Philadelphia show, the mini ZooTV part almost had me in tears of gratitude. Long have I hoped/wished/desired I had been old enough to see that when it happened. I'm so grateful to U2 for inserting that into the set complete with the flashing words (although they're different now and Bono doesn't try to squeeze himself back into the black leather pants). But this, this was unreal. It left the Phhiladelphia version in the dust. Being at a stadium now, it was a bigger, badder, monster out of its box. There was a lot of steam and smoke and out of it and the red light, Bono and Edge came down their corresponding ramps. Oh baby. The searing graphics, the bad boy/ bad ass walk, the somewhat filthy self-indulgence of it. Gone were the pleas to help Africs, gone the idealism, the sunny hills, the hope, this was the bottom of the trash heap. It does strange things to a person. This was Bono filling out every inch of the Decadent Rock Star persona and everyone loved him for it. He was some kind of fallen idol on the prowl. "Zoo Station" was better than I could possibly imagine. Once again, I missed great photo ops because I was so overcome. I hated when it was over.
It was well after the curfew of 11PM when they started the last "Vertigo". Actually, they cut some of the banter he wanted to get into just to fit it all in. Something's wrong with the world when great rock bands have to mind things like curfews. CURFEWS. My God. All the lights were up for this one and it was great hearing it again. I hate to forget great things and the repeat of "Vertigo" at the end of the show almost gives me a sense of being able to see something amazing over again, something that wasn't recorded. The came to the edge of the main stage and thanked Dublin and wave and waved. And then... "The End" came on the screen and they were gone. Just like that.
We took a moment to stare at each other in awestruck awesomeness and then the littleg uy came over the PA directing people on how to get out. It was after stop time for trains and buses so 80,000 people were going to have to walk or wait from the NightLink buses. No one seemed to mind. We walked out into black streets and wound our way south. The car was far away at UCD. We'd walk it if we had to. Just by one of North Dublin's decrepit squares, I looked back and saw Croke glowing behind us. Around us was that huge crowd. We didn't really start talking until we'd crossed the Liffey, still among a throng of people. What a night. What a show. I thank everyone who made this possible from the bottom of my heart. Our ears were ringing. People started disappearing into the pubs and clubs of central Dublin to wait for the NightLink, but we decided we wanted to go home and talk. It wasn't until Merrion Square that we got a cab going south. The driver didn't even need to ask us where we'd been. "Good show, was it?" he said right off. I let one of my friends answer. The cabbie was going Monday. It sounded from what we'd heard that Monday's show was really going to be the hometown version of it since Dubliners had had almost exclusive rights to the tickets. Great cabbie. He refused a tip. We poured ourselves into the car and shared snippets of memories on the drive west, like how we'd walked 15 km to go to Slane 2. U2 anchors some of the best memories I have.
We were exhausted and starved so we stopped at a late night chipper closer to the house and ate the chips in the kitchen and looked at my digital pictures via the LCD on my camera. From that moment, I became paranoid with that camera for the rest of my stay. That was the only copy I had of those pictures until I got home and uploaded them to my home hard drive.
We thanked each other and then finally dropped into bed around 2AM. That was the only Croke show I saw and every moment will be treasured and savored for the rest of my existence. I thought of the guys that night before I went to sleep. They must have been pleased with the way the first Croke had gone. I fell asleep under the same sky.
I put them in the U2Literary Picturebook section though I may transfer a few here at some later point. Photo editing is so much work and I've spent the better part of my day doing this.
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Created and maintained by R. Lorenz, 2005