The more you see the less you know: Thanks, U2

Finally saw something inspiring. Attended the U2 360 tour in Philly last evening.

The concert marked my seventh time seeing the men from Ireland live in concert. I started in 1992 with Zoo TV in the Spectrum in Philly with my dear friend Cathy, then Zoo TV at RFK in DC in the rain with Cathy again and Andrea, followed by Zoo TV at Vet Stadium in Philly with my brother Shawn who eventually eclipsed me in his adoration for the band and my friend Amy, among Cathy and others, who afterward said that she understood why girls held their faces and screamed for the likes of Elvis and the Beatles. (Side note: We slept on the street outside the Vet for fifteen plus hours to get those tickets just days after the riots in LA following the acquittal over the Rodney King beatings.)  Then the Pop tour at Franklin Field in Philly where thirteen of us almost got trampled, and my now sister-in-law Miranda and I witnessed a young woman “worshipping at her boyfriend’s altar” in a very public fashion. Miranda was 16 at most; I was mortified.

After a long hiatus, my brothers scored tickets to the Vertigo tour at the Wachovia Center in Philly watching from a super box directly opposite the stage. We had comfortable seats, bar/food service, etc. Going in, I proclaimed that I would act my age at this concert, as I was well into my 30s. Instead, I left hoarse from screaming like a teenager, eating my words.

Seeing U2 in concert is one of the places where the Salvatore brothers come together and agree. Anyone who knows Shawn, Brian, Kevin, and I would probably say that we are very different, and that has, at moments in our history, caused the typical tension between brothers. But the band has represented a site of neutrality for us, and our shared experience around these concerts creates a special bond that we can always return to, even when a disagreement over politics or family or whatever emerges.

My sixth time seeing U2 marked a very special time with my brothers. Brian and Shawn bought general admission seats on the floor of the Wachovia Center for the second leg of the Vertigo tour. I was reluctant to stand for three hours without a seat in a potential mosh pit, but I eventually succumbed to the peer pressure and signed on to go. The Vertigo tour featured a circular satellite stage that allowed the band members to mix with the general admission audience. U2 introduced this concept on the Zoo TV tour and repeatedly expanded it with subsequent outings. Certain general admission tickets gained access within that satellite oval via lottery. Of course, the Salvatore brothers wanted to be in that oval, but we knew the possibilities were limited. As we arrived at the concert that evening, we got out our tickets and moved through the scan line. I can’t remember which of us went first, but Shawn went last. None of the first three tickets registered anything other than the normal beep for entry. However, when Shawn scanned, an alarm went off, and the venue person asked, “Who are you with?” Shawn said, “These guys,” pointing at the three of us, and they proceeded to hand us pink bracelets that placed us in the center satellite oval on the floor. So I went from the potential of a huge mosh pit to a more intimate, privileged mosh pit, one that I was happy to enter. Bono was basically within reach at one moment, I jumped so much and so hard that I had shin splints the next day, and there are incriminating photos of all of us acting like complete, unadulterated wankers. Suffice it to say, the concert was an incredible experience that I will never forget. The Salvatore brothers still talk about it, and when we do, I get glassy-eyed and a little weak in the knees. It’s an important moment of shared history for us, and I am incredibly grateful for it.

Salvatore Shawn was absent from our party of eight last evening, as he opted for a break, and he was sorely missed. Brian and Kevin brought their wives (Meghan and Miranda–yes, the teenager from the Pop tour), some friends of Brian and Meghan’s, and my cousin, Renee. Renee is like a sister and had never seen U2 live, so the family affair continued. At one point, Bono’s profile came up on the INCREDIBLE live television show that they produced as the concert unfolded, and Renee simply turned to me and said, “I just changed my religion. OK?”.

U2 gave us their typical high-energy live performance, but the technical theatricality that has become a trademark over recent tours has just intensified on the 360 tour. Basically, a circular, ever-morphing projection surface provides a two-hour live, simultaneous broadcast of the concert. Renee, Kevin, Miranda, and I all work in the theatre in some capacity, and we spent the evening in awe of the magic and intimacy that unfolded before us. I should have carpal tunnel syndrome from pointing so much at what was happening. The music and vocals were awesome as usual, but the immersive quality of the experience is what makes the U2 live concert such an institution. As a theatre maker, I’m inspired by what they achieve. The boys know their roles in the performance, and they play them to the letter. And whoever directs this live broadcast is a genius. End of story.

The men of U2 have been inspiring me for almost 20 years now, and I look forward to their next outing. Their music lands in my head and my chest and reminds me about things that I need to consider and care about, their theatricality pushes my own artistic sensibilities, and their political and social messages offer me hope that so called “megastars” can still maintain a worthwhile global consciousness that others can and must aspire to achieve.

Thanks, U2, for personal history and inspiration and for showing your love.