Sunday, 31 August 2008

1997 August - Popmart Wembley One

Our First Popmart show in the UK was on 22nd August at Wembley Stadium. I met up with Jane and Dianne at our hotel close to the venue. We headed off and walked to the stadium as we went up Wembley Way we could see the top of the Popmart arch peeping above the stadium. We went inside at 5pm and at first got near to the B stage but not at the front, I couldn't see a thing so we moved back at bit and finally ended up in the first row of unreserved seats at the back - it proved to be a good position.

The support was Audioweb and The Longpigs, I quite enjoyed the latter band. U2 came on quite early, 8.30pm, Pop Muzik blasted out of the huge bank of speakers and POP came up in red on the screens. the band came on from the left hand side and walked through the aisle between the enclosure and the main area of the pitch. they were dressed the same except for Bono wearing a blue robe rather than a white one. The first few songs were Mofo, I Will Follow, Gone the difference from the early US shows was astounding, the band was very together. The new songs were well received by the audience.

A lovely extra in this show was All I Want Is You, Staring at the Sun was acoustic done by Bono and Edge on the B-stage, very nice. Please was just fantastic, it's a highlight of this tour for me. Hold Me.... is done very differently form in the US, very theatrical and dramatic. Towards the end Bono took off his glasses, and without make-up, turned into MacPhisto again - his face just totally changed. He looked into the camera, his gorgeous blue eyes looking straight at us on the screens, and then he kissed the camera and put the shades onto it, then a picture of MacPhisto appeared on the screens. Wonderful stuff, and brilliant performing.

The images on the screens are great and really complement the music and never over-powering it or the band. From the back of the stadium where we were we saw the full effect of these images and colours.

After the end of the show we went around to the back of the stadium to see if we could catch the band leaving. We met up with Julie, Linda, Karen, Serena, Jackie and Sharon there. I also met up with online friends Michelle, Rory and Clare there too, that's one of the lovely things about U2 tours you get to bump into old friends!

Adam was the first to leave but he didn't stop, just waved from the car. Next was Edge who did the meet and greet, very politely shaking hands and signing autographs for fans as he worked his way along the row of people. He's such a sweetheart!

Third one to leave was Bono, as he came across an Australian girl shot over the barrier like lightening and grabbed him. He didn't look too pleased and she was gently removed by security.

It just shows how fast things like that can happen, luckily this girl was harmless.

Bono shook people's hands, chatted and signed autographs. He wasn't as organised as Edge, and was going back and forth along the line in a rather chaotic manner. I didn't get too close to him because there were people in front of me but I got some photos. It was still just nice to see him.

Last but certainly not least, was Larry who was an absolute star. He signed autographs for anyone who wanted them. He was happy for people to take photos and was so pleasant! I got my Staring at the Sun CD cover signed by him. I thanked him and he looked me right in the eye and said, "You're welcome" with a dazzling smile, what a charmer! When Larry does decide to meet the fans he really can be so nice, I wish he would do that more often.

So that was the end of a long but very enjoyable day in London. We'd seen a great show and met three of the band, not bad going for the first show of the UK leg of the Popmart Tour!

Saturday, 30 August 2008

1997 May - PopMart Phoenix, The Sun Devil

8th May saw us heading south to Phoenix where we would be seeing our next PopMart show the following day. We heard it was 100 degrees there, things like that remind you that this is the desert with pockets of humanity scattered in it - humanity that wouldn't be there if it was not for air-conditioning!

We passed through gorgeous Sedona and Oak Creek Canyon on the way south. We stopped off at Montezuma's Castle, which is a twenty room, five storey structure built into a natural recess in a white limestone cliff about 70 feet above the ground. There are steps and ladders connecting the various rooms. This was the home of Sinagua Native American tribe who farmed the this land between the twelfth and fourteenth centuries. Some time after this time they moved on from the area. It was boiling hot there, the sun seemed to reflect off the white cliffs and I found it unbearable. I'd been there a few years earlier and I remembered it was mind-numbingly hot then as well.

I was glad when we got back into the comfort of our air-conditioned car and drove the last leg to Phoenix. As we entered the city I loved seeing the banks of the highway full of cacti, very Arizonan! We found our hotel, the Fiesta in Tempe, easily. As we walked in we saw Sam O'Sullivan from U2's crew come out - it turned out that U2's crew were staying in the hotel, small world! Of course U2 themselves weren't there, probably a bit too down-market for them, though I thought it was a lovely hotel.

We ate at the hotel and had a few drinks in the bar. Then we decided to go into the pool and jacuzzi. I remember lying on my sun lounger at 11pm amazed at how warm it still was at that time of night. The stars shone above and the lights around the pool reflected and rippled in the water and onto the trees, it was beautiful.

Next day we set off for the Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe - it was again 100 degrees. We sat in the meagre shade of a straggly tree outside the stadium. The water we had with us was soon warm, then out of nowhere a man appeared selling ice cold water - we could have kissed him! It got too hot to keep sitting there, so we decided to look for somewhere to eat nearby. We bumped into waterman again and he told us where to go. We had pizza and cooled off a little which was a relief for me, I really find it very hard to cope with such heat.

We headed back to the stadium and went in to our seats which were really good, ninth row in the field not far from the B stage. The show was one of peaks and troughs. Edge did a brilliant guitar solo during Until the End of the World. Do You Feel Loved was the best it had been so far on the tour, Adam was watching Bono perform it on the B stage with a big grin on his face.

Bono referred to the Mecham speech he did in this stadium ten years previously and said, "I like it here. Let's go to church but leave out the religion."

With or Without You was performed beautifully and Bono added a little of Love Will Tear Us Apart on the end. By the encore Bono seemed to be getting tired and was feeling the heat, he was literally pouring water over himself. For us in the audience it wasn't too hot now as darkness had fallen and it was just pleasantly warm. Bono was also often holding his ears as if in pain. Something we had also noticed on this tour was that he was quite thin, which is not normal for Bono, he certainly wasn't 100% at this show. So as I wrote earlier, it was a gig that had it's high and low points, but we still enjoyed it very much.

The end of this show saw the end of our US leg of PopMart. It had been a ball! We'd seen four U2 shows and travelled over 2000 miles through amazing landscapes. It had been a fantastic experience and I am so lucky to have been able to do something like this.

Monday, 18 August 2008

1997 May - Canyons and Craters

This post doesn't really have anything to do with U2, except for the fact that if it hadn't been for U2 I wouldn't have even been in the US then and also would not have known the great people I was with. So yes, this post would never have been possible had it not been for U2!

We had a few days for travelling after the Salt Lake City gig, so we decided to explore more of Utah before heading into Arizona. We decided to base ourselves in Parowan again as it was fairly close to the areas we wanted to visit - plus we had all got quite a soft spot for little Parowan!

Four hours later we rolled into Parowan and checked in at the same motel. After settling in for a short while we headed for nearby Cedar City to look for somewhere to eat. We found a place called Sullivan's, which appropriately had an Irish theme to it. The food was good and boy was there lots of it! As we drove back to Parowan the sun was setting making the mountains around the town look a deep red, a beautiful sight.

Next morning we breakfasted on coffee and biscuits in our rooms. We checked out a route to Bryce Canyon and then set off. The weather was pleasantly warm and we headed up into the Wasatch Mountains towards a place called Brian Head and snow was beginning to appear. As we drove there was more and more snow, the road had been cleared and huge piles of snow flanked each side of the road. Then, suddenly we were met by a wall of snow at least ten feet high! We couldn't believe it! It was also very cold and all we had on was summer clothing. Later we found out that Brian Head was Utah's highest ski resort.

We turned back and noticed another road going off to the left that was not marked on our map. My internal direction radar "felt" it was the right way to go and as my radar is usually accurate everyone was happy to go with it. This road soon started going downhill so we knew we would not meet another snow block for a start! The road steadily continued downhill in the direction wanted, and before long we were in heat of the canyonlands. Boy does Utah have varied landscapes, in a few hours we'd gone from temperate Parowan, to alpine, snowbound Brian Head to the heat of Bryce Canyon National Park.

Bryce was absolutely gorgeous! The canyons were striated in many shades of red (caused by the oxidation of the iron in the rock) with lots of solo pinnacles that were known as hoodoos. The formations almost had the appearance of lace at times, they could be incredibly delicate. There were trees growing within some of the canyons that were a contrast to the rocks. To me Bryce Canyon is much more beautiful than the Grand Canyon (as amazing as that is!). Bryce is smaller scale, more delicate, and the colours are astounding, plus it is not as touristy - where we stopped there were no other people. I loved it.

We headed back "home" via Cedar Canyon which itself was very pretty. We passed Navajo Lake which was still partially iced over. I marvelled at the beauty of this southern part of Utah.

Once more we stopped off in Cedar City to eat. This time we found a really nice Italian restaurant with delicious food and amazing curly breadsticks! We drove back to Parowan and sat and relaxed on the balcony looking out over the peaceful, rural scene in front of us. We chatted and drank some more of the Southern Comfort we had with us, the end of a great day.


Next morning we had tea and the remnants of the curly breadsticks for breakfast and took our leave of Parowan. We were quite sad to leave the little town behind! We headed south on Interstate 15 for what was going to be a long day's driving. We left the main road and went east towards Zion Canyon. It was very hot at Zion and dozens of lizards darted through the scrub and around the numerous cacti. This canyon was lovely too, again a lot of the rocks were striated in shades of a rusty red. The part of Zion we saw did not have hoodoos and the delicate almost laciness of Bryce, but it was beautiful too.

We stopped briefly at the Best Friends Animal Sanctuary near Kanab which was a place that offers a home to any animal that needs it. We continued on the long lap of the journey that took us out of Utah and into Arizona, the first stop being the Grand Canyon. Dianne and I had been there before but the others had not. We went to the Bright Angel viewpoint and even at 5.30pm it was unfortunately still very busy. It is a stunning place, you can hardly believe what you are seeing, shame about the crowds. For me Bryce Canyon is the place. While we were there some deer were roaming amongst the people and the biggest rooks I've ever seen were watching from on high.

It was getting dark as we left the Grand Canyon and headed south for Flagstaff where we were staying for the next two nights. Once darkness fell I noticed the sky was incredibly clear because of the lack of light pollution and we could see the Hale-Bopp comet clearly visible just above the horizon.

Our hotel at Flagstaff was nice but right beside a railway line so there was a regular cacophony of train noise and hooting. But we'd had a long day and were exhausted and quickly fell into a deep sleep.

Next morning we set of early once more and headed towards the Little Painted Desert which is 20 miles north of Winslow, Arizona. As we entered Winslow we had Take It Easy by The Eagles blasting from the car stereo, "Well, I’m a standing on a corner in Winslow, Arizona..... " this is what an American road trip is all about! We drove along a straight, deserted desert road and pulled into the empty car park for the Little Painted Desert.

It was absolutely beautiful there, very hot but a cooling wind blew regularly taking the heat off a little. The site consisted of small multi-coloured cliffs and canyons arranged in a horseshoe shape, in the middle were little colourful hills. It did look like someone had taken a paint brush to the landscape, I'd never seen anything like it. We all wandered off in different directions and enjoyed the beauty and complete silence. Little purple, white, orange, yellow and white flowers growing everywhere.I don't follow any religion, but in places of such natural beauty like The Little Painted Desert, I feel a spirituality, a connection.

It is in the middle of the Navajo Indian Reservation, and the mesas of the Hopi Reservation were visible to the north. In the distance to the east I could see the snow-capped San Francisco Mountains that surround Flagstaff. It was an ethereal place and I could have stayed for hours. We eventually tore ourselves away, and as we left the car park another car arrived - good timing!

We went into nearby Winslow for a meal. I noticed a large percentage of the people there were Native American, there were also a lot of stores selling their traditional art and jewellery.

There was so much to see in that area but we couldn't do it all and we had to give The Painted Desert a miss which was a shame. Our next stop was Meteor Crater, somewhere I have always wanted to see ever since my childhood when I wanted to be an astronomer! The crater was created around 50,000 years ago by a meteor 54 yards across made of nickel and iron. It's landing would have created a cataclysm that affected all of the Earth. The crater was bigger than I expected - it is 4000 feet wide and 570 feet deep. It was so weird to see this huge crater suddenly just being there in the middle of the flat desert plain. It was also an incredibly hot place, the sun was unrelenting and I was soon wilting, so we went into the museum to cool off and learn more about the crater.

Our next stop was to be Walnut Canyon, close to Flagstaff, but it was late afternoon now and it was closed. So we headed back into Flagstaff, washed the desert dust off, and went for a delicious meal and cocktails in a Thai restaurant right beside our hotel.

I'd absolutely loved these few days of travelling, discovering the stunning sights of Utah and Arizona. I loved the feeling of freedom, driving along those long, straight roads, stopping off where we wanted along the way, and seeing the most amazing things. So, our tour madness really paid off big time!

Sunday, 17 August 2008

1997 May - PopMart Salt Lake City Part 2, Mudslides and Bomb Threats

May 3rd. We had breakfast in the hotel, I had my favourite American breakfast, hash browns and fried eggs. Later we headed for the stadium which wasn't far away, we parked the car and, as the weather was pleasantly warm, sat on some grass near the stadium.

We listened to the soundcheck, Bono did a wonderful ballad, accompanied by acoustic guitar, which had a very Irish feel to it. They also did another new song, more uptempo, no vocals and they tried various versions of it.

We got talking to Mike who was from Las Vegas who said he was a millionaire. He had a large cigar in his hand that he never lit. He was quite a character and his favourite phrase was, "Eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow you might be in Utah". He said that Salt Lake City "Would be ok if it wasn't for the Mormons". I was hoping none of the local was eavesdropping on the conversation! He was supping Jack Daniels liberally, he was taking a risk because drinking in public is against the law in Salt Lake City and the place was swarming with police!

Mike then got out a bottle of thick brown liquid that he called a Mudslide and insisted that we try it. We tried it while glancing around for the police, it was quite nice really, God knows what it was!

The gates opened and we nervously went in hoping our tickets were genuine - they were, huge sighs of relief! Sharon was stopped by security who asked, "Have you got anything in your fanny bag?" Sharon, Jane and I fell about laughing, it was one of those situations where the Brits and Americans are divided by a common language, "fanny" having very different meanings in those countries!

The stadium was small by US standards, 39000, well organised, lots of women's toilets and polite well-behaved fans - there's something to be said for Mormons, Mudslide Mike!

Eventually the moment came and Pop Muzik blasted out - and went on and on and no U2. Pop Muzik stopped and the screen showed the male belly dancer whilst playing Lemon. The audience got a bit restless and wondered what was going on and so did we. After around ten minutes Pop Muzik came on again and this time the band appeared on cue. Later we found out that a woman had run the stadium to say there was a bomb under the stage. As that area had been secure for a few days it was unlikely to be true but police had insisted on checking the area before the show could go on. Of course it spoiled the effect of the start of the show but they had to be sure everything was safe.

Bono thanks the crowd for their patience and then added, "For fourteen years" which was how long since U2 had played Salt Lake City. The set list again was almost the same as at Las Vegas. The sound was not 100%, it was a little muffled. Edge, Adam and Larry seemed to be really enjoying themselves, smiling a lot and Adam applauded Edge after his rendition of Daydream Believer. Bono however seemed a bit under the weather, lacking energy and often got the lyrics wrong. We found out later that he had been suffering from throat problems.
I still enjoyed the concert, Please was wonderful and this time at the end of the song flags of different countries came up on the screen. Miami to was excellent, for me it works a lot better live than on the album. One was stunning. People closer to the band said Bono was crying as he sang it, I couldn't tell, but from the emotion he put into it I'm not surprised.

I was surprised there were no songs from Zooropa so far in the tour, maybe some of them will come later. In my view some of the songs from Pop such as If God Will Send His Angels and If You Wear That Velvet Dress do not transfer well to the live situation and usually the opposite is true of U2 songs. But that could change as the tour progresses and the songs develop.

We had a bout of tour madness and travelled 750 miles to see this show and it was worth it. On our way we also saw amazing scenery we would never had seen had we kept to our original schedule. Our next show was in Phoenix and our travels there from Utah (which I'll write about in the next blog) saw us passing through some of the most stunning countryside I'd seen in the US - so our madness paid off in more ways than one!

Saturday, 16 August 2008

1997 May - PopMart Salt Lake City Part 1, Road Trip and Tickets

1st May saw us heading north on Interstate 15. Soon we had left San Diego and were in a hilly desert full of Joshua trees. We stopped for lunch at Barstow, approximately 100 miles north east of Los Angeles. It seemed a God-forsaken place in the amidst a stark desert in the middle of nowhere, the kind of place I wouldn't want to live in.

We drove on through the wide open spaces of California's desertland, roads as straight as the Romans would have built, seemingly going on forever. For someone like me from a small, green island this was a totally new experience, with its seemingly endless horizons and unyielding landscape . The sky was pure blue and you could see the shimmer of the heat haze as the sun shone relentlessly, it was not a place you would want to break down in.

You could drive for miles and see no hint of humanity, which I thought was great! Nature still rules in the desert. Well, that is until you drive over into Nevada and see Las Vegas shimmering like a strange, colourful anomaly in the brown desert, but that is only a small blip of human encroachment in this big country, we by-passed the city and continued heading north.

As we drove into the north western corner of Arizona the landscape changed, now there were lots of red hills and mesas. We passed through the impressive Virgin River Gorge (photo to the right) which took us into Utah. The peaks of the Wasatch Mountains rose to our right, they would continue until we reached Salt Lake City. The landscape now was less desert like and south western Utah proved to have a varied countryside.

We pulled off the I15 at Cedar City, we'd driver over 400 miles and decided to have a stopover here. We looked for accommodation but nowhere had enough vacancies to take us in. One hotel though was very helpful and found out there were vacancies at the Swiss cottage best Western in the town of Parowan twenty miles north. So we got back onto the I15 and drove the short distance north - Parowan turned out to be a small, sleepy town. The hotel was expecting us and we soon settled into our rooms.

We were really hungry so Sharon and I set off in the car looking for some food. Parowan was a nice little place but it seemed to be "shut" we could find nowhere to buy something to eat. So we drove to the nearby town of Paragonah, but no luck there either! Back in Parowan we eventually found a garage that sold pizza and snacks that you could heat up in a microwave. So we bought our stuff, heated it and rushed back to the hotel before it got cold. It turned out to be quite nice, especially as we washing it down with southern Comfort!

Next day it was another early start, before we set off I stood for a while on the open corridor looking out over Parowan, horses were grazing in a field close by, it was so quiet, peaceful, I really liked this little town. Also for the first time since being in the US it felt cool, that was nice to feel.

The landscape was more alpine now. It was a pleasant journey, Utah I realised was a very beautiful state. As we passed Provo it looked really lovely surrounded by jagged snow-capped mountains. We closed in on Salt Lake City, which was flanked by huge mountains.

We found our hotel, the Olympus, easily and were soon phoning ticket brokers searching for U2 tickets! One had four good tickets which cost $150 (expensive in those days - how times have changed!). We went for it and walked the short distance to the broker's office. When we got there Sharon started panicking about getting the tickets and if they would be genuine. I couldn't believe it! We'd driven over 750 miles, agreed to buy them after the phone call and now she wasn't wanting to buy the tickets! The rest of us wanted to go ahead and in the end Sharon was happy to as well, sometimes you have to take risks in life. We felt elated to have tickets for the show in our hands.

Salt Lake City was a very clean, neat and organised city. Less frenetic than many other US cities and it felt very safe. Even our hotel was really quiet. We had an early night as after all our driving we were tired and we went to bed excited at the thought of seeing another U2 show the next day.

Monday, 11 August 2008

1997 April - PopMart Tour Madness

We had a couple more days in San Diego after the gig giving us a chance to get to know this lovely city a bit more. We went to the famous Balboa Park and met up with Milton at the Museum of Art where he worked and chatted for a while. We wandered around the park which is full of museums in the decorative Spanish architectural style.

The park was full of lush tropical vegetation, and meandering pathways. There was an artist's community of adobe buildings and cobbled roadways which was lovely to wander around. Balboa is a beautiful park, a very relaxing place to visit.

Later that day we hit the shops, with prices generally cheaper than back home it was hard to resist!

That evening Dianne and Sharon went to bed early and Jane and I went to the hotel's bar and had a good evening drinking margaritas and eating popcorn. We discussed the mad idea of maybe adding a gig at Salt Lake City to our itinerary......

Next day we all headed off for Torrey Pines Beach just north of San Diego. It was a beautiful place, a sweeping bay backed by cliffs and hills topped by Torrey Pines - one of the rarest pine trees in the US.
The beach was very quiet and relaxing, the weather pleasantly warm, the climate in this area really suited me. We sunbathed and chilled out. Later, for the first time, all four of us talked about maybe going up to Salt Lake City for the PopMart gig there on 3rd May. It turned out we'd all been thinking the same thing! We decided to go - even though the gig was sold out and hope we'd get tickets somehow once we were there and we'd find accommodation en-route.
We had planned on going back to Dianne's for a while before heading to the Phoenix gig on 9th May, but now we were going to do something completely different and go on a road trip of 750 miles to Utah. But sometimes it's good to be spontaneous and throw caution to the wind and have a bit of an adventure!

Torrey Pines

Sunday, 10 August 2008

1997 April - PopMart San Diego, Flowers and Hotel California

April 26th saw us at Dianne's home for a short stopover before heading out to San Diego for the next gig. It was the first time I had been to her house, it was lovely, set in a quiet neighbourhood, single story, and very big.

The back garden was beautiful, it had a pool and jacuzzi. There was a towering saguaro cactus that woodpeckers had bored into and made their nests. There were lots of cacti (I'm a big cacti fan and Arizona's the place to see them!) palms, mesquite trees and colourful flowers in the garden. Bird treats hung in the trees attracting a plethora of feathered friends. Hummingbirds came to nectar feeders, tiny, luminescent, swift birds that could disappear in the blink of an eye. I'd never seen hummingbirds before.

There were little hidden areas to sit all over the garden and it was really relaxing to sit there once the heat of the day was over. We met Dianne's husband and her grown son, both very welcoming and friendly. I felt very at home there.

Next morning we were up early ready for our drive to San Diego. We put The Joshua Tree on the car stereo as this was true Joshua Tree country and much of Outside It's America was filmed in this area. As we passed Picacho Peak (an unusual rock formation by the highway between Tucson and Phoenix) In God's Country was playing just as it had in the TV programme, magic U2 moment!

Like U2, we stopped at Gila Bend (founded 1872) - there was nowhere else to stop! It was a very small town in the middle of this amazing barren landscape. I found I loved the desert, stark and unrelenting, jagged mountains, it was nature in charge, and had a awe-inspiring beauty about it.

Gila Bend was a one street town, you could almost think you were back in the old Wild West! It was hot, dusty and run down. We wanted to go into the bar U2 had ten years earlier, of the two bars that we saw, one The Owl, was boarded up, the other, Shelby's was open so there was no choice, Shelby's it was! We walked in and it was full of men who all seemed to turn to look who had arrived, I suppose you don't get a Canadian and three Brits walking into a bar in Gila Bend very often! It wasn't the bar U2 had been in and we drank our Cokes, and left and headed on towards San Diego. (Picacho Peak - Photo © by Jeff Dean)

The landscape became more boring as we approached Yuma which seemed a God forsaken place and we were glad to leave it behind. Eventually, we arrived at San Diego, it was cooler there and I immediately liked the city, not too big, flowers everywhere. We checked in our hotel and then decided to find the Jack Murphy Stadium as we had no idea where it was! We found it quite easily and got talking to two fans Milton and Chelsea. They were really nice and suggested we go to the world famous Hotel Del Coronado (known locally as the Hotel Del) for a drink. As we had nothing planned for the evening we said yes. Chelsea said she would guide us and just to follow her. It was my turn to drive that night and it seemed miles and miles to the hotel, Chelsea drove fast and I spent most of the trip verging on a panic attack as I tried to keep up with her and not cause an accident! I was so relieved to arrive at the hotel!

The Coronado opened in the early 1890's and has been popular ever since with the rich and famous. It has featured in quite a few films over the years. It is a rambling, many turreted hotel with white walls and red rooves situated right beside the Pacific Ocean. As we arrived at night we couldn't see it in all it's grandeur, but our approach was lovely enough, with the old building floodlit giving it a fairytale appearance and the sound of the Pacific's waves crashing on the shore nearby.

It was very grand inside and we found some seats in the lobby and ordered extremely expensive coffee, we couldn't afford anything else though we were hungry! The building's history was well preserved which was good to see.

After a while, Dianne and I went downstairs to where we could hear music playing. An Eagles tribute band was on stage and we really enjoyed listening to them. I never forget when they played Hotel California thinking that yes, I was in the grand old lady of hotels in California, it was so appropriate, it was one of those magic "moments" you get in life that you never forget.

We also went outside on a walkway facing the Pacific from which there would have been a glorious view if it had been daylight. Smelling the salt in the air and hearing the waves break on the shore was still very pleasant though. I vowed then that one day I'd come back to the Hotel Del as a guest. I haven't managed that yet, but maybe during U2 Tour 2009?

After an enjoyable time at the Coronado we headed off for our hotel. Chelsea was going to guide us back there as we had no idea where to go! Luckily Jane was driving on the way back so my nerves were not frazzled and I got the chance to appreciate San Diego at night and it looked wonderful, I really liked this city.

Next day April 28th was show day! We weren't sure what to expect of the second show of the PopMart Tour after the near disaster at Las Vegas. But we needn't have been, right from the start it had the magic! Bono seemed driven, probably smarting from negative reviews from Las Vegas.

Last Night on Earth rocked. Bono dedicated Pride to his daughters "Jojo and Evie" which I thought was sweet. It was a night of dedications as "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" was for all the fans who had stood by them all through the years and through all their "mutations". We all smiled at that, nice to have our dedication recognised by the band.

The set list was much the same as Las Vegas except that "If You Wear That Velvet Dress" wasn't played - phew no hugging a dress on a stand! The new songs were performed much better too, they must have been rehearsing like mad over the last few days.

At the end we all looked at each other and smiled, the U2 we knew was back and I felt that familiar high after a good U2 show. We were relived they'd got it together after the shaky start to the tour. The U2 magic and passion was back in a big way!

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.

Saturday, 2 August 2008

1997 March - Pop Pop Pop Muzik

March 3rd saw the release of U2's next album, Pop. I thought it was ok but it didn't make me go "Wow!" There were some songs I really liked, Please, If God Would Send His Angels, and Gone. But, for me, many of the other songs were below par for U2, it seemed to be an unfinished album. To tell the truth I was a bit disappointed.

That didn't stop us getting tickets for the accompanying tour though, and this time we decided to see the opening few shows in the US as well as UK and Irish shows - quite an adventure to look forward to and a logistics nightmare!