me ‘n’ u2

12 March 2009, 6:03 am

On my way home I pass behind the Somerville Theatre. I see acts loading in pretty often and hear sound checks once in a while. Sometimes I stop to listen for a minute; it’s usually pretty muffled.

Last night U2 played there.

I could hear them sound checking from well over a block away, and my first thought was “it must be loud as fuck in there.”

It made me think of the night when, through some bizarre lightning stroke coincidence, the no-account li’l local band I was in shared a stage with a major label act — one of the first crop of Radiohead-alikes. I had put a show together with a venerable indie band for whom I had (and have) enormous admiration, affection, and respect. The big label act had one slack day after a an opening slot on a stadium tour, and added themselves to the bill on the day of the show. (They played a special “twilight” set, so their legions of fans could skedaddle before the rest of us played.) They dragged their stadium rig into the tiny little club (their truck was literally longer than the bar’s frontage). They were “loud as fuck.” (Also kinda good, truth be told, but still unpleasant. Even with earplugs in, I had to huddle in a corner out of the sight line.)

It would prove to be the venerable indie band’s last tour — it nailed the proverbial coffin lid on their career as a regularly recording/performing act, and I’ve always worried that that show was one of the longest nails in the lid. (I was going to say something snide about how the snotty young Brits didn’t help, but none of us ever actually saw them — their handlers were snotty.)

So mostly I was thinking along the lines of “U2, stadium rig in comparatively tiny theatre, I’d think at their level you’d know better.”

And then it hit me, as I was pedaling home, that it was pretty much an ungodly round number of years ago that U2 was the first band — and only — I ever waited overnight in a ticket line to see. My group was something like 108th and 109th in the line; we were among the very last to get seats.

I thought the show was lost in the murk of my memory, but bits came bubbling back. Bono’s stage patter: introducing “Bad,” “When I wrote this song I thought it was for a friend of mine, but lately it seems I may have written it for myself”; trying to set up the audience play-along for the encore of “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door,” petulantly, “Isn’t there anyone in Washington DC who can play the guitar?” and, of course, “all you need is a red guitar, three chords, and the truth.”

The lighting was fantastic — two rows of spots (just red, I think? Been a long time) lining the bottom of both sides of the stage. Crazy dramatic, throwing weird long shadows, and looked inexpensive and easy-to-wrangle to boot. I always wanted to rip the idea off, except it seemed way too recognizable.

Once upon a time U2 meant so much to me. “Eleven O’Clock Tick Tock” and “I Will Follow” were some of the first guitar riffs I ever stumbled through so you could maybe almost recognize them; “Bad” was one of the first rock songs I could play mostly-right all the way through.

I used to have a bootleg, long since stolen, of U2 in the studio very early — rough versions of tracks from Boy, and, amazingly, a muddled little tune — I think the lyric was about Dublin traffic jams, though I could be wrong — that featured a guitar lick that later evolved into the sonorous central piano figure of “New Year’s Day.” I had a live bootleg on which they played “The Ocean” twice, presumably because they ran out of songs.

When I got home I pulled out some U2 to put on my iTunes tomorrow, and I have a CD I can’t remember anything about at all. It’s not in shrink wrap, so I probably listened to it, but it sure didn’t make a big impression.

One comment on “me ‘n’ u2”

  1. meee

    This is my favorite photo.


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