A view from the Red Zone: U2’s first night at Madison Square Garden

blond Bono avec purple shades 2
Bono at Madison Square Garden – July 18, 2015

This will be a fast one, some initial reactions to the July 18 Saturday night show, U2’s first in the series of a total eight nights of the iNNOCENCE and eXPERIENCE tour, and also their first time back to Madison Square Garden in ages.

However many months back it was, I decided to shake every last coin out of the piggy bank and splurge on tickets to the Red Zone (opening night) and one in the 100s section (closing night). It was a lot of money, but I’ve loved U2 since shortly after their Dandelion Market days and I’ve rarely missed seeing them when they come to NY/NJ, and plus, part (I don’t know how much exactly) of the cost of the Red Zone ticket goes to fight AIDS.
It is a bit of a VIP feel to it – you get a special email a few days beforehand from Emma, even giving you a cel number where you can reach her the day of the show, and you get wristbands upon arrival.

Owing to some work I had to finish, I got to MSG shortly before 8pm. It wasn’t a problem. They check you in really quickly and you head up to the section, either RZ1 (Northside – Adam Clayton’s side of the main stage) or RZ2 (Southside – the Edge’s end). I was happy to be on the Northside, given that some of the happiest days of my life have been spent in Clontarf and the rest of my family are largely from Drumcondra and Whitehall.
To get to RZ1 I had to cross through some fancy Delta lounge (jeez, everything has a corporate sponsor nowadays, doesn’t it?) and then they let you through to the large penned in section that is the Red Zone, right next to General Admission. I stopped to pick up a drink (in one of those lovely adult sippy cups that so many theaters use, though, funny enough, anyone having beer just got a regular large – lidless – plastic cup) for $11. Crazy.

I made my way to as close as I could get to the main stage. There was still room at the rail (and every couple of feet the 4-5-foot fence that separates RZ from GA, there was a fold-down seat, except if you sat on it, you’d be facing away from the stage), and so I moved in a got a space basically down below where section 109 is. Great, right? Well, yeah, except I was right next to one of the fold down seats, where this woman in the white t-shirt had chosen to stand. She got a great view of the stage. Those of us next to or behind her, not at all, unless you were really tall (and I’m 5’3” on a good day).

view from the Red Zone before moving 2

You know, sometimes just because you can do something, doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to do. But hey, this is the Red Zone in my home town, and it’s a dog-eat-dog world – as long as you’ve got yours, the hell with everyone else.

view from the Red Zone 2

It’s funny, I read on some of the Zootopia forums about how people were so considerate and polite to each other in the General Admission area at other gigs in other cities; maybe this is what you get for plunking down a lot of money to be in the fancy VIP/Red Zone area in New York, a lot of entitled bums who can’t see beyond where their shadows fall. Or maybe it was just the crowd I happened to be sharing air space with last night.

The show started around 8:20, when Bono entered from the opposite end (the so-called “e-stage”) and launched into The Miracle of Joey Ramone. We all went wild, but it immediately became obvious to me that I couldn’t really see the main stage at all. After they got going on the next number (Vertigo, if I recall correctly), I decided to move back, away from the rail and hopefully get a better view. I ended up at the edge of the Red Zone, and spent the next two hours against the fence separating RZ1 from the buffer zone before the 100-level seats. That fence has an inch or two-high “platform” that it’s set into, so that helped a little, except when you’d get a bunch of tall guys in front of you.

another Red Zone view 2

But I gotta say, it was a pretty big disappointment from the start.  Part of why most of  us bought these tickets was to be closer to the band, but it didn’t feel that way.  Thank God when they move on to the video screen and cat walk, you can see them better (though, at a distance) but when they get to the “e-stage” at the other end, the only way you could see them was watching on the screen.

I’m glad, now, that I hadn’t been able during the pre-sale to buy another Red Zone ticket for the closing night, because I think the views and the whole show will be more enjoyable from the 100 level (God knows those tickets cost almost as much as RZ tix).

But enough about that – YES it was damn brilliant to have the boys back in NYC and to see them looking so well and fit and polished. Bono joked about his new blond locks (I approve!) and at our Northside end, Adam had this kind of goofy, chilled and benevolent smile for most of the show, almost as if he’d enjoyed some sort of therapeutic herbals beforehand. One thing I could not figure out – what is the significance of this date on the t-shirt he was wearing during the first half of the show? (And no, I couldn’t see the two numbers under his guitar strap that come after 19–.)

Adam May 29th tee 2

In no particular order, the songs they included last night were:

  • The Miracle of Joey Ramone
  • Vertigo
  • I Will Follow
  • October
  • Until the End of the World
  • Iris
  • Cedarwood Road
  • Elevation
  • City of Blinding Lights
  • With or Without You
  • One
  • Bullet the Blue Sky
  • Mysterious Ways
  • Hands That Built America (note: just a little of it, not the whole song)
  • Pride
  • Mother and Child Reunion
  • Ordinary Love

At one point, Bono mentioned that Harry Belafonte was in the house. On Twitter later I saw that Salman Rushdie was too (and at the mention of New York City at one point, Bono said we were welcoming enough to take Sir Salman in, and asked everyone to sing along to One for Rushdie). He also spoke about America as not just a place, but an idea, and one that’s not fully formed yet.

And his charm was in full force as he chose a pretty brunette girl from the audience to dance on stage, and she conveniently had a thin shawl that you could use as a veil and these dangly things attached to her jeans that would suggest a belly dancer (topped off by a Dublin jersey). After finding out that she was Chilean, Bono said “I gotta give it to you. Even for New York, you are one cool customer.” The girl whispered in his ear that her brother was there and would love to play guitar with the band (as in what happened in Boston), but Bono sidestepped that offer/request, before handing her the mobile phone to use for the streaming over Meerkat part of the show.

Later in the evening, someone handed Bono a tricolor with a big green shamrock (kinda like from one of the old Aer Lingus liveries) in the middle of the white mid-section, and he took it, played with it, danced with and brought it back to the main stage, laying it across a bunch of equipment. “I used to fear that flag,” he said, but then went on to say how now he didn’t and there was much to be proud of lately, though not nationalistic. As he exited the stage before the encore, he leaned down and kissed the tricolor (awwww, bless.)

Bono did the corporate thank-yous toward the end (Apple, Bank of America) and a plug for (RED) and ending AIDS (this is when he launched into Mother and Child Reunion).

And speaking of blessings, as he thanked and gave credit to each of his bandmates, he said what a blessing it was to be with them and play with them. “Blessings” he repeated, looking out at the GA folks.

When they were done, and lined up in a row for a final bow, turning a few times to face the different sides of the Garden, as the other three moved to exit the stage, Bono held on, looking out at the crowd and clearly not wanting to leave (I think he even said “Wow. New York.”), hung on for a few more seconds, drinking it all in appreciatively.

Lovely.

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