‘I’ve Loved U2 For 30 Years. This Year, I Finally Got to See Them Live’
From one fan to another, here’s why you shouldn’t miss the conclusion of The Joshua Tree tour in Mumbai tomorrow
Circa 1987. I was 16 years old and just out of school when I heard “With Or Without You” by U2 for the first time on an audio cassette. I fell head over heels in love with the song and although in those days information about this Irish rock band from Dublin was difficult to come by, I did my best to find out more about U2 and their enigmatic frontman Bono. I found and heard album after album, their music became my life blood. Very soon not only did they become my favorite band, but The Joshua Tree, which featured that first song I’d heard, “With Your Without You,” became my favorite album by any artist.
As the years passed my obsession with U2 grew in leaps and bounds. They became my morning alarm and my bed time story on my stereo; my day time companions on my Walkman and my driving music when in the car. In those days, music CDs were priced almost at $25, and everyone who knew me well knew that all they had to do to make me smile was add to U2 to my ever-growing collection. The Joshua Tree, Achtung Baby, War, Rattle and Hum, Pop, Zooropa, Wide Awake In America, How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb and many more… it became my biggest desire to see them live.
Today in 2019, a whole 32 years later, I still have all of these albums but I don’t have a CD player! Even then I cannot get myself to part ways with my collection despite the mold gathering on them. As the years rolled by, I got busy with building my career and raising a family, but U2 remained my most favorite band–fortunately, my husband is a fan too.
In 2017, to celebrate 30 years of their iconic The Joshua Tree album, U2 were holding a concert at Twickenham Stadium, London in July. I decided that this was it, this would finally be when I get to see them live in concert. I started my homework to get the best possible seats, accommodation and air travel, researching months in advance to make sure it finally happens. But in the midst of all that, I was diagnosed with a brain tumor. I was operated on in May 2017, and with God’s kindness and grace the surgery went well. However, I was advised not to travel for a few months. It meant that it wouldn’t be possible for me to attend their show in London and, with a heavy heart, I dropped the idea. I felt terribly sad about missing this milestone show but as always, God had something better planned.
Two years later in my inbox, I had an email from U2’s official website which announced The Joshua Tree Tour for 2019. This time, one of the shows was to be in Singapore on the 30th of November later that year. I was ecstatic! We enrolled for the online pre-sale booking which was to open on 17th June at 10 am, Singapore time (three days before the general public sales) and prepared to tackle the oncoming booking frenzy. There were several calls and messages exchanged between friends across the world who shared my love for U2 and we began to plan the simultaneous booking of the tickets to get seats together. Finally the day to book arrived and at 7.30 am IST, I got all set with the computer and mobile phone, logged in and ready to book. My husband was co-coordinating; a team effort to make sure nothing could go wrong. But lo and behold! The pre-sale code did not work and their system would hang every time we tried to make the payment. Our friends across the globe were facing the same issue, and the time limit for pre-sale was just ticking away. After hours of several attempts, we finally gave up and left for work.
On the way to office, both my husband and I were feeling a terrible sense of disappointment–this time we were missing the show because of a silly little technical snag and it was painful to think about. And then, some hope; our friend from Vietnam called soon after and told us to try on the ticket sales agent’s help line. Clutching on straws, we called Singapore and after almost one hour on the phone we got four tickets to sit right in front of the stage! Fortunately, our entire group of 10 got tickets, albeit not together, but close to each other. With that done, we finalized our air tickets and hotel accommodation–then came the seemingly unending wait from June to November 2019.
During this time, a rumor began circulating that U2 would be performing in Mumbai this year. That rumor was followed by a formal announcement in September 2019 about their show on the 15th of December in Navi Mumbai. It would be the grand conclusion of the two-year long Joshua Tree tour, and it was going to happen in my city! While I was in two minds about whether or not to skip Singapore for Mumbai, we went with Singapore because we had eight other friends coming from various parts of the world to watch the show together. Meanwhile the days from June till our departure on the 28th of November just dragged on and on and on, but the excitement grew by a little every day–just a little each day, but it kept growing.
Finally, it was time to head to Singapore, and from the time I boarded the plane till I got to the stadium to watch the show all I did was listen to U2’s songs and watch videos of their earlier concerts on loop. On the day of the show, we planned our journey to the stadium with military-like accuracy. I was now trembling with excitement and a little fearful of traffic snarls, because the Singapore Night Marathon would take place on the same day and the route went around the venue. So we sat and planned: no cabs or buses to be used–only the MRT; we went over the route five times with the hotel concierge and made sure that we left as per our schedule with time given on the tickets. The MRT to the venue was packed with people across different nationalities. I saw men and women, young boys and girls, elderly people and father-and-son and mother-and-daughter duos. The crowd was dressed in everything from mini- skirts, to jeans, hijabs and gowns–all of which a testament to the band’s appeal across nations, continents, communities and ages.
As we exited the MRT at The Kallang National Stadium of Singapore, I started to feel a lump in my throat and a shiver down my spine. I was overwhelmed that my dream to see U2 live was about to become a reality. The walk to the gate of the stand in which we were seated seemed like a million miles and I remember getting all choked up with emotions. And then before I could say ‘Bono’–we were inside! And oh my God ! There was a sea of, what I was told later, 50,000 people filling the venue and all of them seemed to be in a similar frenzy as me. Despite the numbers there was no pushing or shoving, everyone just seemed to be walking around in a spell of anticipation.
I was in my seat early and soon excitement was replaced with impatience–that desire to see U2, the same feeling as it was from decades ago. But before impatience could turn to irritation, the lights went off and boom! Out comes Bono (59) singing “Sunday Bloody Sunday.” There were hardly any lights on then a piercing spot came on tightly focused on Bono and then expanded it’s diameter to show us the rest of the band–lead guitarist The Edge, bassist Adam Clayton and drummer Larry Mullen Jr–all now in their late fifties and me in my late forties. It felt surreal; there were tears rolling down from my eyes… I could not believe that it was the moment that I had waited over 30 years for–Bono and U2 live!
Moments later an orange light covered the fans in the stadium and then gradually gave way to a blood red. The people in front of me looked like glowing embers of wood or coal. This was followed by “New Year’s Day” which drove the crowd wild; every one jumped out of their seats and started dancing. Till then, the band was only under the one spotlight on the stage. The next track “Bad,” had the entire stadium in darkness but mobiles in the crowd being swayed in a synchronized manner like torches lit. The stadium looked like it was filled with fireflies. Bear in mind–there was still no light on the stage. Soon after, they sang one of my favorites–“Pride (in the Name of Love)” and the lighting on the band remained the same as the audience kept getting swept with flashes of orange, red and blue.
Then came the first song of The Joshua Tree, “Where The Streets Have No Name,” and boy did it come on with a bang; blazing red lights on the stage and darkness of stage screen turned into unbelievable graphics that were both mysterious and mesmerizing, coupled with striking images of The Joshua Tree artwork. The entire backdrop metamorphosed itself into the familiar never ending road with lights gleaming around the screen. When “With Or Without You” came on, the crowd went into euphoria and the visuals become arid, desert landscapes on the jumbo screen. The visuals for “Bullet The Blue Sky” in comparison were stark and for the first time the projected images were of the band members. Blinding lights along the periphery of the projection screen behind the stage added a ‘wow’ factor to the impact. “In God’s Country” had the graphics of the tree on screen change colours from hot pink, to turquoise, to orange, to white, looking like a real tree on the stage being showered with colors. After that, U2 played “Running to Stand Still,” “Red Hill Mining Town,” “In God’s Country,” “Trip Through Your Wires,” “One Tree Hill,” “Mothers of the Disappeared,” “Angel of Harlem,” “Vertigo,” “Beautiful Day,” and “I Still Haven’t Found…” in succession with no breaks!
In between, Bono made it a point to say, “It only took us 42 years to come to Singapore!” The rumor mills say that U2 kept missing Singapore from their tours because the nation still imposes capital punishment. He then continued, “If you’ve been listening [to us] for 30 years, we’d like to thank you. For some of you who’re listening only for tonight, we’d also like to thank you”. He went on to talk about religious tolerance being the need of the hour, after which the screen behind the band lit up with images of ‘Women of the World,’ a video tribute set to “UV (Light My Way),” featuring women who had worked and fought for equality over the past 300 years.
My show of a lifetime ended with “Even Better Than The Real Thing” during which Bono introduced all his bandmates while he rocked the stage. At the end, the screen started showing us the symbol of Singapore–The Merlion and then their flag. Then finally, very, very sadly, what was arguably the most amazing two hours of my entire life came to an end. The Edge gave us exhilarating guitar work and Larry Mullen Jr. pounded the drums as the venue responded to his boyish charisma while Adam Clayton kept the bass up. All in all, after 42 years since inception U2 was crisp, clean and amazing.
Another bucket list item has been struck off my list and God has been kind that my cup runneth over. I have come home with lovely memories, a feeling of gratitude and a lot of videos and pictures of that night. They still make me smile when I see them and I feel 16 again. Yes, somewhere inside the “desire” to see them again is still burning strong–maybe someday, sometime there will be another opportunity
If you love U2 and you’re in Mumbai tomorrow, December 15th 2019, take it from one fan to another–don’t miss it. You’ve still got time.