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U2 Elevation Tour - Calgary, Alberta (April 10, 2001)

Introduction

All good things come to those who wait, goes the old proverb. We in Calgary indeed have waited long; 20 long years before a U2 concert. There are many fans in this city, enough to sell out two nights in the 16,000 seat Pengrowth Saddledome. The announcement of a U2 show on April 9th in Calgary was enough to make everyone here drool. On January 20, the tickets when on sale. Me and my homeboy Kenny went to London Drugs at 6 in the morning to line up. We were around 20th in the line that would eventually number 250. We had no idea that the tickets would be sold on a random number draw basis. We were cheated! Thankfully, we raced to my house and bought tickets to the newly announced second show the night after on this very computer. The wait was on.....
The months leading up to the concert were mostly uneventful. Manufactured pop groups came and went, but life went on, and the concerts were still scheduled. I vowed to work in school to make the time pass. I mostly followed up on that, but the time flew anyways, in an instance of foreshadowing. In the weeks preeceding, we both polished up our U2 knowledge, unnecessary in itself. The time was almost upon us.

April 9

Like anytime you're excited or awaiting something, time feels it should slow down. The concert was a day away, and our plans were elaborate: lighters, water bottles, perhaps sneaking a glimpse. We did not get a chance to go U2-Searching as planned, but it was all good. Only one day to go!

April 10

The big day! Oh man! The excitment was great. Unable to concentrate, I left school at 1 to pick Kenny up at Grandin and make final preps. Then, at 4, we departed to the Saddledome! We knew we got there early, and there was already a long line of people hoping to get into the "heart." We decided to sneak into the Saddledome, mostly because it was a little windy, but also for the chance of a glimpse, maybe a high-five. After circling around for 10 minutes, success! An employee exited through a door, and we got in! It was deserted, the sounds of the equipment personel performing a sound check for the massive mixing board near the end of the rink. We were asked to leave when we approached, and we duly accepted, not wanting to be kicked out yet. We circled the 'Dome twice, watching the businesses setting up T-shirt stands with mouse pads, buttons and posters. Unfortunately, our search ended around there. Upon asked to present a pass, we were "escorted" out (thanks a lot, bastards!) back into the bitter cold.
But did we care? NO! When the general doors were open, we were first in line at the ticket-ripper-guys. I was able to buy a poster (proudly hanging in my room right now) without a mob around me. Getting to our seats, we noticed it was in the mezzanine! Last row! Could it get any worse? Actually, no. Later throughout the concert, the last row worked to our advantage. We put down our coats and walked around for a bit. The crowd was scattered.

PJ Harvey's opening act


The crowd was numbering around 1000 or so people when the lights darkened and PJ Harvey took the stage with an electric to sing a solo version of "This Mess We're In", a duet with the brilliant Thom Yorke. For some reason, Thom was not there. It was risky move, and it gathered lukewarm applause from the small crowd. However, she got better as her 45 minute set continued. It was slighty treble-y, but it was a good opening act; strong voice, good instrumental work and energetic. She left with a "thank you very much" and the lights came on again, revealing a growing crowd applauding warmly, Radiohead's The Bends playing on the PA and an extremely hazy arena. Countdown to U2....

THE CONCERT

Setlist: Elevation, Beautiful Day, Until The End of the World, New Year's Day, Stuck In a Moment, Gone, Even Better Than The Real Thing, New York, I Will Follow, Sunday Bloody Sunday, Sweetest Thing, band intros, The Ground Beneath Her Feet, All I Want Is You, Where The Streets Have No Name, Mysterious Ways, The Fly
Encores: Bullet The Blue Sky, With Or Without You, Pride (In The Name Of Love) | One, Walk On

Risky entrance! The only way we could tell U2 entered was a huge roar from the front announcing that Larry had taken his place behind the drums. In came Adam, followed by the Edge, and finally Bono, all the while "Elevation" played on the PA. Then they launched into the real thing. The roar was massive. The sing-a-long even more so. Now, because we had last row seats (excellent view, mind you!), we were able to stand the entire concert without complaint, unlike cheapos who rose for the classics. But I ramble. Launching into "Beautiful Day", we were confirmed of the authenticity, as Larry's drum line from the chorus crashed in four bars too early, leaving Bono to syncopate his vocals, before launching into the chorus full-on, still powerful despite the mix-up. The weird guitar played was played to huge cheers. As explosive as those two songs were, the intensity kept up as they started the brilliant "Until The End of the World." Using the heart-shaped catwalk for the first time, Bono circled like a vulture, always mindful in giving high-fives to the lucky bastards there. Taking a white flag, he carried it Christ-like on his back before a thrilling meeting of the Edge and Bono where the frontman lunged at the Edge's guitar, strumming away and creating mad feedback. It was electric and the roar was deafening.



The Edge laying down another riff

However, it was nothing compared to the screams "New Year's Day" generated. We were able to see the Edge running to his keyboard in the dark to play the famous part. Bono pulled a girl from the audience and slow-danced with her while the band played on. Massive applause and sing-a-long. Finally, Bono spoke, apologizing to the 20-year-olds for making them wait so long for a concert, and addressing that he feels "dizzy." He then made a dedication to late INXS singer Michael Hutchence and the band started "Stuck In a Moment", which sounds even better live than on record. Blue lights glowed as "Gone," one of the over-looked rock songs from Pop was played. The crowd seemed to have forgotten the song because there was no singing. Who cares. It sounded great.

Next followed a surprise: the tour debut of "Even Better Than The Real Thing." It was a huge sound that was welcomed with screams of delight from the faithful, especially during the Edge's fantastically played slide guitar solo. "New York" followed, highlighted by four curtains unto which lights projected the band members into giants and seisure-inducing strobes. It was an unexpected and pleasant surprise, another new song that sounds better live than on record (blah blah). A barely audible guitar part was drowned out in screams: "I Will Follow" indeed! Tremendous sing-a-long and great energy. I believe it was during this song that Bono received a football jersey from a fan, number 5 on the front and "Bono" written on the back. Bono proudly paraded around the catwalk and handed it back to the same guy! It was the classiest move you could see at a concert.

"Sunday Bloody Sunday" followed next, along with another mighty roar. During the middle of the song, Bono wandered into Bob Marley's classic "Get Up Stand Up," prompting more applause. When the cheering was dying down (very slowly at that), Bono walked over to the keyboard and took a seat. Up started "Sweetest Thing", a 1987 B-side given new life on their greatest hits CD. "Ooh oh oh, the sweetest thing!" Done in perfect time, I don't think the Edge sang that part.



The Edge and Bono play matador and bull during the "End Of The World"

U2 are one of the tightest-knit rock bands in the world. This was proven with Bono's humourous, tender and sincere introduction of the band members, introing Larry as the man the band was named after ("As much as it pains me as a lead singer to say this...." when listing previous band names), Adam as the first manager, the "poshest" guy with pickles in his lunchbox, and the Edge as the only man who could take pleasure from data. Enormous applause followed each member, and the Edge and Bono did an acoustic, shortened version of "The Ground Beneath Her Feet", a new song inspired by the Salman Rushdie novel with the same name. The guitar sounds of "All I Want Is You" started and the roof blew off again, not for the last time. This was the tour debut and prompted another huge sing-a-long. As the song died down, the organs started and the place went absolutely nuts. Brilliant white lights flashed, illuminating the crowd clapping in perfect rhythm and sending chills down my spine. It was absolutely electric and perhaps the highlight of the show. Not an easy act to follow, they performed two classics from Achtung, Baby!, "Mysterious Ways" and "The Fly". "MW" featured Bono lying on a rising platform, which featured the silhouette of a dancer and "Fly" didn't feature the dizzying word-rush from the Zoo TV tour, but was still a brilliant (and loud) way to end the main set. Cue tremendous cheering. Extend for 5 minutes. Never drop in volume.



Bono belts out a tune on a night when he sounded better than ever

The encore was one of classics. Starting off with an intense video of Charlton Heston speaking about guns, "Bullet The Blue Sky" was started. During the extended solo, Bono walked around the catwalk with a spotlight, shining it very slowly around the arena into the audience. "With Or Without You" prompted a mass chanting, while Bono's wife supposedly came out and danced with him during the instrumental part. However, I did not see this, perhaps because of the four veils unfolded from the ceiling and the projection of what looked like constellations. Somewhere in the distance, those famous harmonics sounded: the tour debut of "Pride!" It's unlikely a bigger roar was possible, as the crowd chanted for well after the song was done as the band took a slight break.

After returning from a short break for their second encore., they launched into their finest song, the heartbreaking "One" from Achtung, Baby! The audience immediately whipped out the lighters and held them aloof. The rendition was perfect, padded by lines from "Love Is Blindness" near the end, and I could not hold back the tears that the song prompts from me. It was perhaps the most emotional part of the concert. After another quick thank-you, U2 played their current hit single and finale "Walk On." The air was heavy with a feeling of luck (for having seen this) and sadness (as the band was about to leave). After a big sing-a-long, the band stood at the front of the stage soaking up the admiration and left the crowd screaming themselves hoarse and clapping themselves raw. Had the house lights not gone on after 10 minutes or so, the crowd would have continued for hours. It was 10.50 and the best concert Calgary had witnessed was finished.

Conclusion


This is probably a biased review, with me being a huge U2 fan, and this being my very first concert. However, the fact that the band played with fire and unbelieveable precision could not be understated. This tour is a back-to-basics one for U2, no lemons, no stacks of TV's, just two solid hours of musical finesse and professional showmanship. Larry kept a sturdy beat and pace (his slight mishap is forgiven), Adam provided his rock-solid bass interwowen with Larry, the Edge showed his skills as not only a great rhythm guitarist, but with some searing solos as well, and Bono's voice rarely sounded better. Their families were in attendance and it inspired them to play a magnificent show for a city in sore need of one by them. The radio is right, this was more than a mere concert: it was an event, one to tell the grandkids about. It took 20 years, but the four hours over two nights of unfiltered joy made every agonizing second of waiting worth it. U2 have proven themselves over the years, and now all of Calgary will know of their genius. We were all priviliged to have witnessed these concerts. So on behalf of the 40,000 people who saw it, thank you, U2. Thank you for making the wait worth it. We couldn't have asked for more. Except maybe a return visit in the fall . . .

Email: gabeantal@shaw.ca