It was twenty years ago today.
My first U2 concert. The first time I heard "Streets" live. The first time I went to church in a stadium. The first time I heard 90,000 people sing together.
My story: It was Gary who introduced me to U2 in 1985. He was a high school student and I was a Young Life leader on his campus. I bought Under a Blood Red Sky because I wanted to know him better and he was nuts about U2. As a recent grad with a B.A. in Bib Studies I was mesmerized by the lyrics:
- Gloria, In te domine / Gloria, Exultate / Oh, Lord, if I had anything, anything at all
I'd give it to you
- If you walk away, walk away / I walk away, walk away / I will follow
- The real battle just begun / To claim the victory Jesus won / On... Sunday, bloody Sunday
But it was "40" that really got Gary and me talking. These lyrics were direct quotes of Psalm 40, Psalm 6 and Psalm 144. This was the stuff of the Hebrew's hymnal!
I waited patiently for the Lord / He inclined and heard my cry
He brought me up out of the pit / Out of the miry clay / I will sing, sing a new song.
You set my feet upon a rock / And made my footsteps firm
Many will see, many will see and hear / I will sing, sing a new song
It was through these and many other conversations that Gary came to Christ on the floor of my apartment about a year later. Gary had begun a journey with God through U2. I had begun a journey with U2 through God.
The Joshua Tree concert: so many memories of that night. While I was completely caught up in that event, I could never have imagined that I would be a U2 pilgrim twenty years later. I remember:
- The Bodines and the Pretenders opening the show at the L.A. Coliseum. But before these bands played there was this strange country family act that nobody paid any attention to. I loved music so I listened in. And then the next day in the newspaper we discovered that U2 had duped us all (Adam even wore a dress). They came out and sang a couple of songs as the Dalton Brothers; this was not the last time they would take on alternate persona. They were masters of irony - virtually no one paid any attention to the greatest band of the 80s!
- My friends Dave and DJ got me the ticket (thanks guys!!). We sat at the very top of the stadium. I walked down to the field and the volume just about doubled. I'd never heard anything like this.
- The air cooled as the sky grew black. Out of the darkness, the stage now re-set for U2, came the sound of an organ. As it grew in intensity, the torch on the Coliseum (used in the 1984 Summer Olympics) burst into flame, then came the unmistakable 6/8 rhythm of Edge's guitar, the pounding of Larry's kick drum and toms, and by the time Bono sang "I want to run" we were higher than the stadium itself. Check this video out - I was there!
- I'll never forget singing "I still haven't found what I'm looking for" with nearly a hundred thousand people. The volume. The intensity. The sincerity. But I was faced with an undeniable contradiction: people singing, no nearly yelling lyrics like "You broke the bonds / And you loosed the chains / Carried the cross of my shame / Oh my shame, you know I believe it" through the marijuana smoke, their cigarette lighters raised to the sky. Could they possibly understand what they were singing? It's still a great question to ask.
- "Bullet the Blue Sky." There really isn't any way to describe the intensity (wow, I keep using that word; I can't find a better synonym in my MS Word thesaurus - it fits) of this moment. It was the first song of the encore. I just remember a lot of lights flashing, Bono's spot light, an abundance of pyrotechnics and a smoky haze that began to fill the stadium: "From the firefly / A red orange glow / See the face of fear / Runnin' scared in the valley below / Bullet the blue sky...." I still haven't been to El Salvador, but I think back to that moment in the concert and wonder if I have experienced it in at least a small way.
I remember twenty years ago talking about U2 as the Simon & Garfunkel of the 80s. I realize now that's a very poor illusion of who they were, but I sensed that theirs was a protest music of sorts. I knew their music would live on but I didn't know at that time what it would do to me. And now, as a university faculty member, I get to watch their music "do it" to the next generation. I wonder what my reflections will be at the 40th anniversary of my first U2 concert. I'm guessing, hoping and praying they have a few more years left in them....
Here's the setlist from that show:
11/18/1987 Memorial Coliseum - Los Angeles, California, USA
Where The Streets Have No Name, I Will Follow, Out Of Control, I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For / Exodus (snippet), MLK, The Unforgettable Fire, Gloria, Sunday Bloody Sunday, Exit / Riders On The Storm (snippet) / Van Morrison's Gloria (snippet), In God's Country, Helter Skelter, Help, Bad / Ruby Tuesday (snippet) / Sympathy For The Devil (snippet) / Walk On The Wild Side (snippet), October, New Year's Day, Pride (In The Name Of Love)
encores: Bullet The Blue Sky, Running To Stand Still, With Or Without You / Shine Like Stars (snippet) / Love Will Tear Us Apart (snippet), Party Girl, Stand By Me, 40
comment: Another pre-show appearence by The Dalton Brothers