Sunday, 3 August 2008

1997 April - PopMart USA, Las Vegas, Fantasy and Disappointment

April 23rd and I sitting on a plane to Las Vegas with Jane and Sharon - this is the start of our PopMart Tour, and the start of U2's too, the first gig of the tour was April 25th. After twelve hours in the air I looked out the window as we descended towards Las Vegas. The views were stunning, below was desert, canyons and jagged mountains, a brown, parched land with a stark beauty. Then suddenly there was an expanse of azure blue, Lake Mead, sparkling like a sapphire with tentacles of blue reaching into the barren land around it.

As we stepped off the plane we were hit by the desert heat, a bit of a shock to the system. We got a taxi to our hotel, the Flamingo Hilton on the Strip, all typical Las Vegas, flashing lights and gambling in the lobby. It had lovely gardens with palms, exotic flowers and flamingos.

We met up with Dianne there and then had an easy going evening and an early night to give us a chance to get over our jeg-lag.

Next day was another restful day, we spent most of it relaxing in the hotel's beautiful gardens or swimming in the pool. That night we decided to explore the Strip. I'd been to Las Vegas before, but it had changed a lot since I was there only three years earlier. We walked into the lion's mouth entrance of the MGM Grand, gawped in amazement at the New York skyline (complete with the statue of Liberty) of New York, New York. We passed the fairytale castle of Excalibur and on to the huge, glistening pyramid of Luxor laser beams shining into the night sky from it's peak.

Las Vegas is like falling into another dimension, a fantasy world. Much of it is tacky, it's noisy and flashy and there's nowhere else like it. I'm not at all interested in gambling and after a few days there was glad to get away from the noise of the machines. But, for me, for a short while it's a fascinating place to visit, you feel like a child again, full of wonder at the over-the-top place Vegas is.

Next day was show day and we were really excited at the thought of seeing U2 play live for the first time in four years. We got a taxi to the Sam Boyd Stadium, it was a long way, stuck in the middle of nowhere surrounded by harsh desert which in turn was fringed by brown jagged, cracked mountains.

We sat out at the back of the stadium as there was really nowhere else to go. It was very hot but luckily there was a gentle wind blowing which cooled things down a little. We sat in the shade of some spindly trees and waited. U2 were doing the soundcheck so we listened to that as we waited.

While we were waiting a guy that Sharon nicknamed The Queen of Las Vegas came up to us and started unzipping his jeans and began putting tubes down them! Noticing our astonished looks he told us they were glow sticks and he'd been told that for some reason the authorities would not let him take them into the stadium and he was determined to take them in. He stuffed quite a few down his jeans then did them up again and asked, "Can you tell?" Surprisingly considering how many he's put down them we couldn't tell there was more than, erm, himself down there. He then tried to pick up something he'd put on the ground, "Oooh, oooh OOOH!" he shouted with dramatic gesticulations. We just fell about laughing hysterically, he was hilarious. To ease his suffering we picked up the things for him and he said goodbye and wandered off glow sticks and all. Later during the concert we saw lots of glow sticks and wondered which were those of The Queen of Las Vegas.

We made the mistake of going in to hear the support act Rage Against the Machine (sorry Rage fans!) Every song sounded the same and were all peppered with frequent four letter swear words, horrendous. We avoided them on the other gigs we saw in the US.

The PopMart Stage was much as I'd expected from the rumours we had heard. A huge yellow arch reminiscent of the MacDonald's symbol. What was a bit like an orange supermarket trolley within the top of the arch. There was a red "stick" with an "olive" on the end (I never did work out the relevance of that!). Behind the arch was a massive screen. To the far right was the large lemon.

The 70's hit Pop Muzik by M blasted out really loud and we knew this was the start, but it went on and on and nothing happened on stage. then we realised by the commotion in the crowd that the band were entering the stadium from the back through the crowd. But it wasn't U2 as we knew them - Edge was all in black with rhinestones and cowboy hat, Adam in an orange boiler suit and gas mask and hard hat, Larry was Larry and Bono the fighter throwing punches in the air, in a white silk boxer's robe with it's hood up. All a bit bizarre and I never saw the point in it all.

They went straight into Mofo which worked well as a starter. Next was I Will Follow which surprised me initially, then I realised they were linked, they were both primarily about the loss of a mother - as seen from different eras of a man's life.

Next was Even Better Than the Real Thing and I did a double take on Bono, at first I thought he was naked on top and had suddenly got a really well toned body! Then I realised it was a flesh coloured tee shirt. Do You Feel Loved was very ropey to say the least, they really struggled with it. Last Night on Earth and Gone were performed fairly well, but the audience didn't seem that interested in them.

On the b stage they did a stilted version of If God Would Send His Angels. Then Staring at the Sun went disastrously wrong, Bono stopped the song and they all had "words" with the others, especially Larry who Bono lunged towards pointing a finger almost in his face. Bono said to the audience that they were having a "Family row". They started the song again and just managed to get through it.

Please was performed really well (one of the few new songs that was) and it gained a new life in the live situation, fabulous. Bono put all he could into it and the symbolic colours of green and orange flashed on the screen. After that the screens turned red and of course it was Streets, which was wonderful and the crowd erupted!

After the short interval smoke started seeping out around the giant mirrorball lemon (it's yellow cover now having been taken off). It moved slowly forwards then stopped with a loud clunk and the top half opened. Inside were the four band members standing in a line arms folded. They did a military-type salute which just looked stupid to be honest - I never saw them do it again thank heavens! They came down from the lemon via steps and then launched into Discotheque. They struggled a bit with this song too but managed to get through it. All the while the lemon was rotating and the lights being shone onto it reflected back into the stadium like hundreds of sparkling diamonds, good effect.

The next song was If You Wear That Velvet Dress. It didn't work live at all, too low-key. At one point a sparkling white dress (couldn't tell if it was velvet!) on a stand was plonked on the stage and as Bono approached it I though, "Oh my God he's going to hug the dress!" And he did, it was truly cringingly embarrassing to say the least. We all just looked at each other with our mouths open, what were U2 doing? This was another thing we never saw again in a live show on this tour, so they must have realised the error of their ways.

A beautiful With or Without You followed and we were whisked into U2 heaven for a while as they performed a few U2 oldies. They finished with One, but, for me, that didn't seem the right song to finish with.

And that was it, the end of the opening show of the PopMart Tour. For a while we were unable to say anything to each other - we'd never been to a U2 concert that was well below par and this certainly was that. We were disappointed. As it was an opening show of the tour we expected them to have some problems, but this was more than that. It was clear that they were under-rehearsed, it was mainly the new songs they struggled with. I actually was quite annoyed with them! What I expect them to give me are good albums and good live shows, that's the deal, anything else is a bonus, but I don't expect more. At this gig in the warm desert night they didn't fulfill the good live show part and that annoyed me - and my friends. Years later they did admit to being not ready for this tour and I think this extremely shaky start was the cause of the poor ticket sales for some US stadiums later in the tour. But I'm pleased to say this is the one and only time I've been disappointed in a U2 concert - they usually exceed my expectations.

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