U2 @ The Staples Center, Los Angeles CA 11/19/01

I can die now. That’s the feeling after seeing U2 live for the very first time. After years of watching them on video, listening to them on record, and losing out on tickets for Pop Mart and leg 1 of the Elevation Tour, FINALLY I was able to experience the greatest band on the planet (arguably), but definitely my favorite band of all-time. I was attending college at the time, my little brother made the 4 hour drive and stayed with me for a couple days. My girlie and our mutual friend, Eileen, also joined us. This show was the third Staples Center gig of a three night stand. U2 had sold out all three shows, it was miraculous that I was able to score tickets this time around. We lost out during leg one of the Elevation Tour in the Spring of ’01.

At this time, U2 were now more important to the music world (and the world at large) than ever before. It was two months since the September 11th terror attacks had occurred and the nation continued to mourn. Sadness and anger were abound, no matter where you turned. Most touring acts pulled out of performing in the United States since the attacks for a variety of reasons, mostly due to safety concerns. U2 strongly considered abandoning their return to The United States in the Fall of 2001, however they changed their minds and said fuck it, let’s tour North America anyway. At this particular gig, Bono would go on to say that the band was very proud to be playing The United States during such tumultuous times. Thus, Leg 3 of The Elevation Tour continued as previously planned, and the climate of the nation and the temperament of the audience made for very unique performances. The shows since 9/11 were therapeutic, cleansing, and celebrations of the human heart and spirit. Themes of this tour as well as the new album at the time, All That You Can’t Leave Behind, echoed those emotions and amplified the positive energy. Just like what had been written in Time and People Magazine, it was as if North America needed U2 more than ever. Their music is anthemic and uplifting, the subject matter of their songs often sobering yet celebratory. The members of U2 wear their hearts on their sleeves, and the members of U2 love North America. While other European groups of the 1980s largely avoided the investment of time and money in building their audience in The States, U2 embraced North America with open arms and toured the continent in exhaustive fashion, leaving their mark and making life-long fans in the process. Like Manager Paul McGuinness had said, U2 built their early reputation on their live performances. The Elevation Tour was ready made to showcase an intimate arena show with scaled down production, without the sensory overload and big money gimmicks of the previous two tours (ZooTV and PopMart). It was as if the Elevation Tour was the most emotional tour of U2’s career, the most human and sincere, and it was undeniably appropriate for post 9/11 North America. To promote that humanness and emotional connection, U2’s set designer created a stage that extended out into the GA floor area, known as the “Heart.” It was in fact a runway that was in the shape of a heart, it extended out into the crowd and allowed the band members to venture further out, shrinking the gap between audience and performer. On that runway, Bono, The Edge and Adam Clayton would venture out and perform stripped down versions of “Desire,” “Please,” “Stay,” and other numbers. The heart shaped stage was a direct extension of the art work of the album and it reflected the themes of the songs. The songs were about life, love, faith, family, and freedom. Such songs included “Beautiful Day,” “Walk On,” “Kite,” “When I Look at the World,” and fittingly enough, “New York.”

And as if the connections weren’t any more appropriate, U2 used The Beatles’ “All You Need is Love” and “Sgt. Pepper/With a Little Help From My Friends” as the pre-show music leading into their first number of the night, “Elevation.” As “With a Little Help From My Friends” faded out, the reworked intro to Elevation began and the house lights remained on…the song continued and woo-hoo’s began. This was in fact the ‘Tomb Raider’ Soundtrack remix of the song. The volume of the crowd became increasingly louder and LOUDER. What the heck was going on? The lights were still on and we weren’t sure if the show was actually beginning. The house lights were still on and then slowly entering from stage left…Larry, Adam, Edge and finally, Bono, waved to the audience and strolled out onto the main stage . The Staples Center crowd went ballistic. The volume of the crowd swelled to an almost painful level. It’s as if I was standing next to a jet engine at full power. Not to sound sycophantic, but it’s as if we were in the presence of heroes. The band took their places, the decibels of the audience noise continued to increase, and U2 crashed into “Elevation” running on all cylinders. The lights remained on and we were in awe. We could see EVERYTHING. And everyone for that matter. 15,000 people grooved to this song and filled in on the woo-hoo-ooo parts. It was deafening. I have never experienced such a loud, spirited reception for a group at a concert, not before or since that show. It was amazing how loud and welcoming the crowd was. After a triumphant ending to the song, suddenly the house lights clicked off, showing the red lit outline of the heart stage and the intro to “Beautiful Day” began, garnering another impressively loud roar from the audience, and now the show was truly about to begin. We soared with the music and we were awestruck by the lighting and visuals. The center piece of the production was that heart stage. Bono traveled the runway out into the audience while he sang the tune. Everyone in the GA floor section was reaching for him. Beautiful Day was a return to ‘classic’ U2: memorable melody, silvery, chiming guitar work, classic groove from the rhythm section, and uplifting, cathartic lyrics and singing from Bono. That’s the U2 formula, that’s the sound that inspires and heals.

The show continued with a rocking rendition of “Until the End of the World” and a funky performance of “Mysterious Ways.” The younger chicks were shaking it and the dudes were bobbing their heads. Then the “no fucking way” section of the show arrived: a four beat on the kick drum began along with Adam’s pulsing bass. I turned to my brother and we both had the same look of astonishment. “No. Way” I said. Then Edge’s guitar part confirmed it, it was “Out of Control” off the Boy album, and my brother and I shouted “YEEAAAHHH!!!” I think we forgot to blink. Bono introduced the song by saying “We’re a band from Dublin Ireland, this is our first single!” and the group tore into one of the coolest post punk anthems in their repertoire. During the middle-8 of the song, Bono briefly talked about how the world famous KROQ Los Angeles radio station broke them: “KROQ…on the radio…our first single….It’s out of control…we’re out of control…” and the song picked up speed and came to a blistering end. Wow…that song alone made our night. Also included were lines from “Into the Heart,” also from the Boy Album. Who would have thought we’d get to hear a classic like that.

Without a moment to catch a breath, the ratatatat-tat intro to “Sunday Bloody Sunday” began and the arena continued to give back with ear splitting cheers and screams. The WAR tune was a fitting follower to “Out of Control,” continuing the martial sounding theme. It was tense in the arena, the hair on my arms stood on end and I began to feel this odd sensation in my core. Edge’s poignant yet commanding guitar intro began and I along with other fans began to feel a shiver. After the terror attacks, a song like “Sunday Bloody Sunday” held closer meaning to the American audience. The song was originally written in response to the Bloody Sunday IRA terror attacks in Northern Ireland. During one infamous performance in England in 1983, a fight broke out in the crowd during a performance of the song. Bono angrily called out the troublesome audience members, challenging them by saying “Do you know what this song is about!? This song is about real violence where I come from, not pretend violence. You walk that way and you walk the other way. Listen to this song!” Ever since it’s release, the song has struck a chord with the Irish and English. But now, It’s as if the song was ours, the lyrics providing a somber mirror to what happened on 9/11 – ‘..I can’t believe the news today…I can’t close my eyes, make it go away. How long, how long must we sing this song, how long? Tonight, we can be as one. Tonight. Broken bottles under children’s feet, bodies strewn across a dead-end street. But I won’t heed the battle call. Puts my back up, my back up against the wall.’  During the cadence, Bono shouted to the crowd “…Turn this song into a prayer!…No More! No More!…wipe your tears away…”

After the powerful and emotionally charged Sunday Bloody Sunday, a string of slower selections followed, including “Stuck in a Moment” and a heart rendering version of “Kite,” originally written about Bono’s children, but now it was sung for his father who had passed away a few months previously. Stripped down acoustic versions of “Wild Honey” and “Please” followed, providing a downer for the set, But the magic quickly resumed when the sequencer intro to “Bad” began. It was great to hear one of my favorites performed live. “Bad” was adorned by a teaser of “Who’s Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses” in place of the usual “All I Want is You” teaser. It worked very well and it sounded like Wild Horses fit in perfectly with Bad’s song structure. Another cool happening, during “Bad,” Bono plucked a fan’s cell phone from the audience and sang the second half of the song into the phone. I wonder what the listener must have thought and felt, having “Bad” sung to him/her via cell phone. Beloved anthems “Where the Streets Have No Name,” “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” and “Pride (In the Name of Love) closed out the main set in grande U2 fashion. During “Streets,” Bono grabbed an American Flag from the audience and ran a lap around the heart stage, flag in hand. These last four selections were a great end-cap to this show, the audience continued to sing the ‘whoa-oh-uh-oh’ section of “Pride” as the band left the stage. Of special note was in regards to the intro of “Where the Streets Have No Name,” where the large video screen projected the names of the victims of Flight 175. It was a stirring tribute to some of the victims of 9/11. The band would reproduce this tribute at subsequent shows, and finally at the Super Bowl XXXVI half-time show performance. At the end of the half-time performance, Bono opened up his jacket, showing the inner lining of the stars and stripes. That was the greatest half-time show ever.

The encore section was odd, consisting of “Bullet the Blue Sky” with NRA video footage, a cover of Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On” which was a duet with Gwen Stefani of No Doubt (who opened the show), “New York,” “One,” and “Peace on Earth/Walk On.” I think the encore was anti-climactic, especially after the strong ending to the main set with four timeless classics. Although the setlist wasn’ perfect, it was still an unforgettable and riveting U2 experience for a first timer like me. I finally got to see my band live. I was 12 years old when Larry Mullen first inspired me to pick up the drums in the first place. Years later I finally got to see my heroes in the flesh. Like I wrote in the beginning of this post, I can die now.

The following photos were taken by Matt McGee, creator of the atU2 web page and forum. Thanks, Matt!

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Posted on October 14, 2012, in Concerts: 1998-2004, U2 and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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