U2 – Madison Square Garden (New York, NY), 7.22.15

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In August of 1992, U2 played a concert at Saratoga Raceway, which was one town over from my hometown. The Raceway didn’t host a ton of concerts and the fact that U2 was playing there was kind of a big deal. It seemed like pretty much everyone I knew went to that concert – except me. I don’t remember why I didn’t go; my hunch is that my family was on vacation, though I also just didn’t go to very many concerts when I was a teenager. What I do remember is the strong feeling of missing out; it seemed when school started in September that everyone had been at this show. I was constantly taunted by people wearing their concert T-shirts during gym class. I coveted those stupid ZooTV shirts and felt like I’d missed out on something truly memorable, a shared experience that I wasn’t a part of. I’ve been salty about this ever since; we all know that FOMO (fear of missing out) runs strong in me and I resolved that I’d eventually remedy this gross injustice by seeing U2 in concert. It’s why seeing U2 landed a spot on my pop culture bucket list.

The irony here is that I’m not even that big of a U2 fan.

I mean, I like U2 just fine and everything, but they’ve never been in contention for my favorite band. My U2 fandom probably peaked in the early 90s and even then it took a back seat to my love of grunge music. If a U2 song comes on the radio, there’s probably a 50/50 chance that I’ll change the station; partly because some of their songs are just really overplayed and partially because their songs aren’t fun for me to sing along with because I don’t really know the words. There are U2 songs that I really like – “Who’s Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses” is my favorite – but even though the album that they were touring to support was automatically added to my iTunes library, I’ve never listened to it. So I was very passionate about seeing a band in concert that I wasn’t even that passionate about.

Given those limitations, I was still pretty excited about the show; I love an excuse to go to NYC and even if I didn’t know all the songs that they played I was fairly confident that U2 would at least put on an interesting show. They were playing 8 sold-out shows at Madison Square Garden, so obviously seeing them perform is still a pretty big deal to people and they have a pretty enthusiastic fandom. A good crowd can get you pumped up regardless and their enthusiasm was contagious as we waited for U2 to take the stage.

The stage set-up was in and of itself interesting; there was what would traditionally be the main stage at the other end of the arena, but then there was a long catwalk that lead to a secondary smaller stage that was right in front of my section. I had managed to score seats on the lower level, so I was fairly close to this secondary stage. If I had been at a Rangers game, these seats would have been amazing.

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I also may or may not have been sitting behind Thor:

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There only downside of our section was that we were sitting perpendicular to the giant video screens that hung over the stage. This was slightly disappointing, but there was a smaller video screen facing us that we hoped would give us a taste of what the people on the sides of the arena were experiencing. But assuming they spent any time at all on this smaller stage, I had a prime location.

Since there was no opening act, the show began fairly promptly around 8:30. There was a slow build in anticipation throughout Madison Square Garden as the seats began to fill in and people anticipated U2 taking the stage. Bono entrance was fairly anticlimactic – he actually walked in front of us to get on the small stage and then slowly walked the length of the catwalk to join the rest of the band on the far end of the arena. I don’t know what exactly I was expecting, but it seemed that someone like Bono would have made a more dramatic arrival. If the crowd was quietly buzzing before, they were practically giddy with anticipation one he appeared; U2 fans seemed a little more rabid than the fans at your run of the mill show. Most people around me had seen the band multiple times; in fact, a lot of them had seen U2 multiple times on this tour. Their energy was slightly intoxicating and I felt a little bit like an imposter.

They kicked things off with “The Miracle (Of Joey Ramone)” which is off their new album so I’d never heard it before. Not the most auspicious way to kick off my U2 experience, but that one is on me, not them. Even though the song was new to me, I still enjoyed it and watching U2 in action. Though they may not be the biggest rock band on the planet – if they even ever were – they still can rock out and put on a very entertaining show. Love or hate Bono, he’s entertaining to watch. That dude rarely stands still, which made my photographic documentation of the concert a little tricky. Just when you think he’s settled down, he suddenly has another burst of energy. I know that he’s still adapting to not being able to play guitar after his injury, but I think that this has actually freed him up a bit and allows him more leeway in his movements and theatrics.

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Visually, the U2 show is pretty cool. Those giant video screens were put to good use as Bono actually climbed up to the narrow catwalk between the two screens so that he was actually interacting with the images. As drawings of their hometown in Ireland whizzed by, it almost gave the appearance of Bono walking down the street. It was like nothing that I’ve ever seen before – and given my location I didn’t really see it all that well this time either. The images on the screen in front of us were much smaller and they kept cutting the feed to show the rest of the band; while I’m always excited to see The Edge, it kind of took away from what they were trying to do visually. But what I did see was very different from anything that I’d seen at any other concert.

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Later in the show, the entire band got on the catwalk and would appear within the graphics:

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The other downside of the giant video screens were that the apparently had been lowered from where they were when the show started – probably to allow Bono easier access to climb up – because my view of the main stage was obstructed. This wasn’t the case when the show started, but now I had two giant video screens in my way. I honestly wasn’t that bummed about it – if anything it gave me a chance to sit down when they were on the far end of the stage – but a lot of the people in my section were pretty annoyed. In all honestly, I felt like they spent a ton of time down on the small stage that was right in front of us, so we really didn’t have anything to complain about. I’d be far angrier if I thought I had front row tickets and then half the show was either on the other end of the arena or taking place inside video screens. I had not anticipated being close to U2 at all, so really the fact that they were close as often as they were was gravy to me.

The band made full use of the catwalk and their wireless instruments to move about the entire stage. Even drummer Larry Mullen, Jr. got to be mobile; in one of my favorite moments he played a snare drum during “Sunday Bloody Sunday” and the collective U2 spanned the stage.

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The band was set up down in front of me on the small stage when Bono pulled a woman up from the audience to dance with him. I had anticipated this – they had done this at earlier shows – and she got to have her moment to shine during “Mysterious Ways.”

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After that song ended, he asked her to stay on stage and act as the videographer, handing her a cell phone that was synched up with the video screens. Bono then said that he wanted to pull someone else up from the audience to help him sing the next song. This seemed somewhat unusual and he picked a guy out of the crowd that had a giant sign (I couldn’t see it, but I would later find out it said “singer with a broken finger “). There was something familiar about the person’s movements as they climbed the stairs to the stage and I noticed that the person wasn’t dropping the sign from in front of his face, which was a clear indication that this was not your average audience member. Once I saw his left hand all bandaged up, I knew – that was Jimmy Fallon!! Once he got on stage he dropped the sign and proved that I was right. If a regular U2 concert was good, a U2 concert with a Jimmy Fallon appearance is even better.

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True to his word, Bono handed the microphone over to Jimmy and let him take the lead vocals on “Desire.” It was fabulous –Jimmy was running all over the stage and even busted out his Bono impression once the real Bono put his sun glasses on him. Jimmy even busted out a harmonica and played a little. It was spectacular and they all looked like they were having a ball. I was SO happy that this was all going down right in front of me; I had a great view of all this awesomeness that was unfolding.

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After the song, Jimmy said that he had some friends that wanted to join in and sure enough – out comes The Roots! This really was the perfect show for me to have picked to attend; who would have expected all of this on a Wednesday night, the third show of U2’s MSG residency? It’s like they went out of their way to make sure that I had a good time. Questlove and company played “Angel of Harlem” with U2 and that was glorious as well. Ha-ha – suck it people in “the front row.” Section 102 is where it was at! Just a truly amazing surprise that I am so grateful I got to see firsthand.

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The rest of the show was great as well, though of course the surprise guests were really the pinnacle for me. I didn’t even care that U2 didn’t play my favorite songs; they put on a solid show that was both visually and musically pleasing. For a band that’s been around for nearly 40 years, they are most certainly not resting on their laurels; they are still trying to innovate and give the audience something different. It’s like they still had something to prove, which I guess maybe they do. Bono sounded great and the band was tight; the 2+ hours that they played really seemed to fly, even with the brief intermission.

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It may have taken me twenty plus years to finally see U2 live in concert, but I’m glad that I finally did it. I don’t know that I’ll necessarily ever see them live again, but it was a highly entertaining show that I would have enjoyed even if The Tonight Show didn’t break out in the middle of it. U2 may not be the biggest band in the world anymore, but they are still relevant to the musical landscape and aren’t looking to relinquish their crown without at least going down swinging. It’s a testament to the show that they put on that I enjoyed it as much as I did, coming right on the heels of my awesome time at the Foo Fighters show. Bono even kept his speechifying to a minimum; if anything, he was less “Bono” than I expected. Perhaps he’s chilled out in his old age.

Fun time, great show and I didn’t even mind going into the work the next day on less than five hours sleep. Mission finally accomplished – I’m no longer the only kid on the block who has never seen U2.

Setlist:

The Miracle (Of Joey Ramone)

Out of Control

Vertigo

I Will Follow

Iris (Hold Me Close)

Cedarwood Road

Song for Someone

Sunday Bloody Sunday (acoustic)

Raised by Wolves

Until the End of the World

Invisible

Even Better Than the Real Thing

Mysterious Ways

Desire (with Jimmy Fallon)

Angel of Harlem (with The Roots)

Every Breaking Wave (acoustic)

With or Without You

City of Blinding Lights

Bullet the Blue Sky

Pride (In the Name of Love)

Encore:

Beautiful Day

Where the Streets Have No Name

One

 

Pop Culture I’m Looking Forward To In 2015

The beginning of a new year is a time when a lot of people are reflective and think back on the last 365 days. Not only do people consider things about their lives that they would like to change, but this is when we see a plethora of “Best of” lists that highlight what the previous year had to offer. But the beginning of a new year is also a nice time to look forward and see what exciting things are on the horizon. For me, sometimes the anticipation is almost as much fun as the actual event; I’m a person who always likes to have something to look forward to. Knowing that there is something that you want to see/read/hear/do makes the not so great days more manageable.

As it stands now, 2015 looks like it will be a quite promising year for pop culture. Of course, there are always things that will pop up later in the year that are exciting, but as of now, these are the things that I am personally looking forward to in 2015:

 

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  • Not giving a crap about Fifty Shades of Grey or Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens – being a contrarian is fun and I can honestly say that I plan to give absolutely zero hoots about either of these movies that a lot of people are looking forward to. As of now, I have no plans to see either one of them. I hated the Fifty Shades of Grey books and the idea of sitting in a movie theater watching this movie with a bunch of revved up housewives does not sound appealing to me at all. I might have made an exception if Charlie Hunnam was still starring, but once he left the cast I lost all interest. I’ve never been into Star Wars and only saw the original trilogy pretty recently (I was unimpressed), so I just don’t have any interest in the new film or any stake in how it turns out. I’m sure both of these films will get a lot of attention when they come out, but I plan to be blissfully unaware.

 

 

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  • Avengers: Age of Ultron – I am, however, very excited for the new Avengers movie. I’m a sucker for just about anything Marvel –related on the big screen and while I have really enjoyed some of the more recent individual movies in this universe – Captain America: Winter Soldier was a particularly strong entry – I always like when they get the gang back together in one film. The cast has great chemistry together and there are many interesting dynamics to play around with. I would be psyched for this movie anyway, but the addition of James Spader to the mix puts my excitement level off the charts.

 

 

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  • The return of Community – I never in a million years that Community would actually make it to six seasons, but this is the little show that could. It may have jumped ship from NBC to Yahoo and the returning cast may be trimmed down, but I actually think that both these developments are good things. A streamlined cast means that they don’t have to make as much effort to service all the characters and this was a show that was built for an internet audience. As someone said, Community was always a web series that was just never on the web. Now that it has freed itself from the shackles of a disinterested network, I’m anxious to see what direction Dan Harmon takes the show in. It may be a disaster, but there is no way that it could be worse than season 4.

 

 

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  • The end of Mad Men – I’m not necessarily happy that one of my favorite shows is ending its run – not seeing Jon Hamm on a regular basis is never a good thing – but it probably is time. This show has been so great for so long that I’m interested to see how they stick the landing. I really have no idea how the story of Don, Peggy, Pete, Joan and company will wrap up or what I would consider emotionally satisfying, but I have complete faith in Matthew Weiner to bring it all home in an interesting and compelling manner. However Mad Men ends its run, I suspect that it will be an enjoyable ride to the finish line.

 

 

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  • U2, Foo Fighters and Jack White – I’m trying to cut down on the number of concerts that I go to this year – as a nod to both fiscal responsibility and my general exhaustion – but there are three high profile shows in 2015 that I am very excited to be attending. U2, Foo Fighters and Jack White are all on my bucket list of people that I’ve been wanting to see play live and it certainly looks like I’ll be doing all three this year. If I can squeeze in a Garth Brooks show, I’ll be close to finishing my list.

 

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  • New Music from Adele – I don’t know for certain that we’re getting a new album from Adele, but there sure are a lot of hints indicating that we will. Hopefully the rumors are true and we’ll get what I presume will be 25, if she follows the themes of her previous albums. I have no idea how you top the perfection that was 21, but if anyone could do it I think Adele can.

So how about you – what are you mist looking forward to in 2105? Let us know what pop culture that you are eagerly anticipating in the comments.

Pop Culture Odds and Ends – Florida Escape Edition

Last Friday morning, it snowed here in Upstate New York. By Friday evening, I was in Florida. I’d love to tell you that I have the kind of life of leisure and the wealth to just jet off to a warmer climate at the first sign of winter, but this trip had been planned long before this latest arctic blast descended upon most of the country. My timing just happened to be fortuitous, so while pretty much everyone I know was complaining about how freezing cold it was I was in flip flops and shorts, soaking up an 80+ degree weekend. It was glorious and a much needed getaway. But it wasn’t all sunshine and roses; I also had the worst Cuban sandwich of my life, which was unfortunate since I’ve been looking forward to having one since I saw Chef.

Of course, now that I’m back I’ve resumed being miserable; it’s still pretty cold, now I have the whole winter stretched out before me and all my stress from work was waiting for me when I returned. But for a little over 48 warm hours, I had the luxury of briefly running away from everything. I highly recommend it; it was nice while it lasted.

But enough slacking off; I took a few days off from the blog and pop culture, but now I’m back at it with today’s pop culture roundup. So keep yourself warm with some of the stories that you might have missed in the last week.

 

  • Game of Thrones Natalie Dormer did a Reddit AMA. She says that Ser Pounce was difficult to work with, which is goddamn heresy.

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  • Jimmy and the Roots pinched hit for U2 on Monday:

 

  • Pacey and Dawson…..reunited:

 

  • A LEGO recreation of the 11th Doctor regeneration into the 12th Doctor:

 

  • David Spade and his Joe Dirt mullet are back:

 

  • The Rock is doing stand-up now???

 

  • Nightcrawling, as depicted in the Jake Gyllenhaal movie, is a real thing.

Trailers

  • Another promo for Peter Pan Live!:

 

  • Netflix’s Marco Polo:

 

  • A new Avengers 2 trailer:

 

  • A look at Rainn Wilson’s new series for Fox, Backstorm:

 

  • A new trailer for Fifty Shades of Grey:

 

  • A trailer for the new Peanuts Movie:

 

  • Adam Sandler in The Cobbler:

 

  • A new promo for It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia:

 

  • Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2:

 

  • The DUFF, which is a complete waste of the great Mae Whitman:

 

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  • One Direction was on Sesame Street:

 

  • It’s Wayback Wednesday (not a thing), so here’s Jon Stewart and Conan O’Brien from 1994:

 

  • Metallica kicked off their The Late Late Show residency by playing the first song they ever recorded:

 

  • Kristin Bell and Straight No Chaser team up for an instant holiday classic:

 

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  • Sesame Street turns 45, so Ernie got a colonoscopy on Conan:

 

  • R.A. Montgomery, the writer and publisher of Choose Your Own Adventure books, has died

 

As always, we end with the mashups and supercuts

  • Sam Smith meets vintage New Orleans jazz:

 

  • A Battlestar Galactica/Top Gun mashup:

 

  • Parodying the Matthew McConaughey Lincoln commercial never gets old:

 

  • This impressionist does a parody of Meghan Trainor’s “All About That Bass” as various cartoon characters:

 

  • Watch Benedict Cumberbatch do 11 celebrity impressions in under a minute:

 

 

  • A mashup of space movies:

 

  • Seth Meyers does a pretty solid Sorkin parody:

 

  • Foxcatcher + The Fantastic Mr. Fox = one creepy trailer:

 

 

  • A supercut of He-Man’s best one liners:

 

  • Not to be outdone, best cops one liners:

 

  • And finally, Breaking Bad meets……Frozen?