It was Wednesday, November 4, 1987.
The U2 concert I’d waited for in line for hours to get tickets for had finally arrived.
Fact is, I only remember so much of the show; it was chilly out; it was dark when I arrived at the show; the girl I’d asked to come to the show – someone I’d met at a B. Dalton bookstore in Maplewood and had been talking with for a few weeks – had bowed out the day before, so I’d sold my extra ticket to a friend of a friend.
I walked into the old Saint Paul Civic Center, and found my seat; it was the seat on the far right of the first row of bleachers, in the section closest to the walkway between the stage-left side of the stage, probably six feet from the stage itself.
The BoDeans came onstage first; Rolling Stone had been raving about them for months (they were going to be voted “Best New Band of 1987” in a few months), but I’d found their single “She’s a Runaway” dreary and irritating; I expected the worst…
…and was surprised that I actually liked ’em a lot.
After the BoDeans’ set, I hunkered down for the long grind as the stagehands turned the stage around for the headliner. My seat was elevated a few feet above the floor, so I had a pretty decent view of the audience. The thing that struck me about the sell-out crowd was that there were so many people waving signs. Now, this isn’t unusual in and of itself; all sorts of people waved signs around at concerts. Most of them involved trying to get the singer’s attention; I remember all sorts of signs from real and imagined “Jersey Girls” at the Springsteen concert I’d attended in ’84, before Julianne Phillips pretty well gutted that fantasy.
But the signs at the U2 gig were…serious. Air-from-the-room-suckingly serious. I suppose we just accept today that U2, or at least Bono, are as much a social advocacy group as a rock band, but it was still kind of new back then.
So the auditorium was sprinkled with signs condemning apartheid, calling for a freeze on the homeless and food and housing for nuclear weapons (or something), bashing Reagan (some things never change).
The one that I remember? At the front of a block of seats on the floor sat a couple of girls in impeccable punk-chic; perfect hair, impeccably-scrubbed, they looked like Saint Thomas kids. Not victims by any stretch. They carried a banner between them; “I Shall Be Released”.
I tired of watching the crowd, eventually, and turned to the stagehands and the contortions they were going through to get the stage ready for the show. U2’s later tours – especially “Pop” – were famous for the campily excessive staging, so it’s easy to forget that the Joshua Tree tour brought (as I recall) the biggest light rig that had ever been stuffed into the Saint Paul Civic Center; huge trusses of fresnels and leakos hung over the stage, while the mezzanine was ringed with follow spots. As the stage itself came together, a group of guys – six or eight – climbed up chain ladders into the huge truss hanging over the stage, looking not a little like sailors manning the rigging of a man o’ war of the sail age, to work follow spots right above the set.
Eventually – I think it took nearly 90 minutes to clean up the BoDeans gear and set up for the headliner – the lights dropped, and (after another long delay) the long-familiar synth line from “Where The Streets” have no name started over the speakers. I looked up and to my right. Adam Clayton walked out, carrying a maroon Fender P-Bass (or a Jazz. I don’t remember). Then Edge started the tinkly guitar part (with a gorgeous cream-white Les Paul)…
…and they threw a concert.
The rest of the setlist, I had to get online:
- I Will Follow,
- Trip Through Your Wires,
- I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (which had a snippet of “Exodus” in it)
- Gloria (always my favorite U2 song, it didn’t disappoint)
- Spanish Eyes,
- Sunday Bloody Sunday,
- Exit (Bono inserted a bit of “Riders on the Storm”, which spoiled that song for me forever more)
- Silver And Gold,
- In God’s Country,
- People Get Ready,
- Bad (Bono slipped in bits of “Ruby Tuesday” – which he kept in the song for probably a generation – and “Street Fighting Man”)
- New Year’s Day,
- Pride (In The Name Of Love)
And then the encore, with:
- Bullet The Blue Sky,
- Running To Stand Still,
- With Or Without You,
And that, as they say, was all she wrote. The band looked tired. The show looked like it’d been done to death (and indeed the Saint Paul show was toward the end of a very long tour). But it was U2, for crying out loud.
It was freezing as I walked up Cathedral Hill, looking at the green-rusted dome of the Cathedral.