Saturday, July 09, 2011

My evening at the U2 concert: Assholes, rain and spilled fries

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U2 360°: The Tour

I really hate Murphy’s Law. Which makes it all the more infuriating how it seems to love me. If you’ll allow me a few moments to engage in what can probably be classified as White Whine material, I’ve got some venting to do.

I had so very much been looking forward to this day. Which is probably why I ended up so unbelievably pissed off. Serves me right for daring to get my hopes up about something for once, I suppose.

The day started off well enough. Got up at noon with just enough time to pack and head into downtown Montreal. My mother parked us in an old parking for her workplace, and the half-an-hour-or-so walk to the actual stadium was initially more than paid for when we saw how nearly every other parking space in the vicinity had been “reserved” for the U2 concert … at prices ranging from $20 to $40. Even airport parking isn’t that much of a rip-off.

We waited a few hours in the car, though, rather than roast in the sun at the tailgate party surrounding the stadium. Mom thought it would also be a good idea to take me on a little guided tour of the Kraft Foods plant where she works, and so we went. I don’t have much to say about it, honestly; it’s big, noisy, complicated and busy, and I came out smelling of cheese (among other things). We then returned to the car for some R&R (ie. reading & resting) until 5:30 PM or so, at which point we decided to start heading up to the Hippodrome where the stadium had been erected.

We eventually made our way through the lines, and before too long, we caught our first sight of the concert area:

The “Claw”
“The Claw”. Looks a whole lot bigger in person.
[full size (1200×900)]

And here’s where the first thing went wrong (sorta), as my mother wandered off while I was looking at the stadium, thus giving me the closest thing I’d yet had to a panic attack. I had no idea where I was, lost in a crowd packed into a foreign area in the middle of an unfamiliar city, with no means of contacting her (she’d chosen to leave her cellphone behind) or finding my way back to the car. One couple of anguished moments later, we finally found each other again and soon decided to head to our seats. I’d like to thank my hat for making me extra-noticeable in the crowd.

Black fedora
Pictured: Tracking device

Our tickets were pretty much the best that could possibly be scored (except for anyone for whom standing around at the center of the stadium is their thing), as evidenced in this shot:

Me in the stadium
Me in the stadium (lower-left corner)
[full size (1200×900)]

Pictured above: What an 18th birthday present – obtained through a mother’s well-connected boyfriend and a spare $550 (CAD) – will get you. (I also learned not to let my mom try to take a photograph, unless I have several snacks and possibly a sleeping bag to help me last the wait. And I thought I was a hopeless perfectionist.)

… I’m still edgy at having had to wait a year-and-a-half to see the show at last. Dang Bono, inconsiderately breaking his back like that and postponing my birthday present concert. So selfish.

Anyways. We settled in at some point before half past seven, which was when the show was slated to kick off with the opening act. It quickly (or, rather, slowly) became apparent that this was just a ruse to try and get everyone seated on time, seeing as it was then past 8:30 PM and the stadium was still slowly filling up, with no music to behold. I had the time to get me a new water bottle, as I had apparently completely sweated the last one out walking in the sun.

At last, nearly everybody was there when the opening act, Interpol, finally got onstage and started playing some generic and utterly unmemorable material.

Interpol playing
Pictured: Lame music
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They were only meant to play for half an hour (at least, according to the original schedule, which had them slated for 7:00 to 7:30 PM), yet it had then past 45 minutes and they were still droning on. They weren’t especially terrible or anything, but let’s just say the crowd wasn’t exactly there to see them.

Interpol still playing
Seriously, go away now.
[full size (1200×900)]

Eventually, they mercifully abandoned their instruments and cleared the stage, though we then had to wait another half-hour at least before anything else happened. Well, music-wise, that is. For, that’s when the first true calamity presented itself.

You see, all around us in the stands, there were all sorts of people doing all sorts of things, but one common attribute they shared was their calmness and politeness (or, at least, adequacy). So, naturally, we had to get stuck with the only four insufferable assholes in the entire area. And they had to sit (when they weren’t stumbling around) right behind us. But, more on that later. (Oh, much more.)

By now, the sky was starting to get dark, and then, David Bowie's Space Oddity began playing, which I knew from having watched a previous U2 360° concert live on YouTube indicated the imminent start of the real show. And indeed, the song soon died out and the crowd rose … and the stadium came alive.

U2 kicked things off with ‘Even Better Than The Real Thing’, which was followed (amusingly enough, given how I had just told my mom how I hoped they would play the song at all) by ‘The Fly’. But that is where my recollection of large parts of the concert end, by fault of being rather distracted during the remainder.

Look, I’ll make this simple. The only way I can accurately and appropriately refer to the foursome seated/standing right behind us is ANNOYING MOTHERFUCKERS. (In those exact words, in that exact capitalization.) If one were to write a reference pamphlet on proper concert behavior, one would note everything these assholes did and promptly file them under the “DO NOT:” section of said hypothetical guide. Which, for your information, includes: Screaming and whistling loud enough to make me jump every goddamned time (which is to say, roughly every fifteen bloody seconds) and actually make my ears hurt, annoying nearby concert-goers so badly as to force them to leave (all the more poignant given the fact that, again, these tickets were worth roughly $225 each), and best of all, responding to my mother’s forcibly polite request for them to lower the volume a little by sardonically telling her to “smile” and then proceeding to increase their racket, very much intentionally.

Oh, and they (specifically, the whistling asshole) also asked me if I had weed. I only said ‘no’ so politely because I was caught off-guard and trying to pay attention to the actual concert, an increasingly difficult feat. And he later spilled a full glass of beer all over my mother, drenching her and her seat and thus forcing her to stay on her feet for most of the concert until it dried into a sticky mess. This was also most likely at least somewhat intentional, given his and co.’s previously noted passive-aggressiveness. The four also spent their time falling about drunkenly, because apparently, rupturing my eardrums more efficiently than U2’s own ground-rumbling audio prowess could achieve wasn’t enough on their quest to make me scrounge around for anything I could get all stabby with. (Where’s a good pen when you need one …?)

But they weren’t the only problem going on at the time (although they were the only anthropogenic* one). I think I have some sort of problem with my hearing that I can only describe as “shit-in-ears syndrome”. Basically, whenever I’m exposed to unusually loud noise (a category that certainly includes 115-decibel rock concerts), even if there are several different sounds at play, they all blend in together to form one big noisy mess in my head that makes it almost impossible to decipher anything meaningful, be it guitar, vocals, what have you. In addition (though I’m questioning whether this was just some quirk of spatial physics or some such), lots of the audio seemed badly out-of-tune (specifically, about one or two steps/notes too high in pitch), which rather ruined the entire experience in itself when it sounded like The Edge was doing his otherwise brilliant riffs and solos in a whole other tonality than the one that was playing.

The weird thing, though (and the reason why I’m actually noting this), is that both my mother and others around us noted that the audio actually sounded perfectly fine to them (if not, in fact, “fantastic”; one thing U2 knows how to do well is work with good exterior sound equipment). I’m pretty sure I didn’t just imagine the entire concert being out-of-tune, and music played on my computer or the television sound perfectly fine to me, so this is really rather disconcerting. My mother noted how she’d heard that some Aspies did have some sort of hearing troubles, but the only thing I found through some cursory Googling was about auditory dysphasia or some such (ie. not being able to tell different sounds from each other, but at any volume level, not just exceedingly loud ones). So, I’m rather stumped on this. If anyone has any ideas, please do sound off. (Note: I underwent minor ear canal surgery as a younger kid to put an end to my recurring earaches, and my dad did inform me that I had apparently suffered some minor hearing loss as a result, but I’ve never experienced this “loud sounds turn to shit” phenomenon until now.)

So, to recap: Bunch of annoying fuckwads making us miserable, and even in the rare moments when they weren’t, I could barely hear what was actually playing on the stage. So … yeah. Fun.

Eventually, the group did an encore, as expected, and then seemingly ended the show. At that point, I only too hurriedly suggested to my mother that we get the fuck out of there right then and there, and we quickly left the stands and started walking back across the stadium grounds towards the exit.

And then, of course, U2 started playing again in the then-distant background. A second encore, apparently. (Or maybe mom had simply been wrong about the first. Either way, they were playing, and we weren’t there.)

By that point, we were already at the exit half-a-mile away, which rendered to folly the idea of returning back to our seats in time, especially with the slow but steady exodus of audience members going in the opposite direction down the stairs. I even heard ‘With or Without You’, one of my favorites, begin playing at some point. Oh, joy.

Now, one more thing. I live in Québec. Québec has weather that, at best, can be compared to Seattle’s: either it’s raining, or it’s storming. (Or unbearably hot or freezing, depending on the season. Temperate climate, my arse.) One of our big fears was that it was going to rain on the 8th (and the show was explicitly stated as being “good or bad weather”, so there wouldn’t be any rescheduling for anyone who didn’t wish to get caught out in the rain). As one can notice from the previously posted photos, the sky had been beautiful and clear the whole day and during the start of the show.

So, guess when it started raining? That’s right: Right when we were walking (the long, long distance) to the car. And, of course, it only “rained” for a few minutes. For the latter part, it freaking stormed. And mind you, we had come prepared for summer heat, not a fucking thunderstorm. No umbrellas and minimal clothing at best. You can guess the results.

So, after being bitchslapped by sideways-falling rain for another half-hour, we both end up sopping wet in the car with the heating on max. At that point, all the evening’s (mis)adventures had left me with a little hole to fill, so we pull up to the McDonald’s, and it wasn’t five minutes later on the way home that I spill the order onto the car floor. Oh, and mom accidentally hit a curb. Because what the fuck else was left to go wrong at that point?

Oh, right: Arriving home (more rain!), I find my computer station mysteriously shut down as my backup battery/surge protector, in which everything is plugged as a precaution, has apparently shut down. On its own. For the very first time ever. Inexplicably.

I swear, I’m now waiting for God himself to reach through my bedroom window and give me a fucking wedgie. Seems like the only other thing that could possibly go wrong today. Or I could get hit by a misfired missile from al-Qaeda. Or have a fucking shark land on me. (Actually, I’d be cool with that. Talk about badass.)

Seriously, though, I know most (if not all) of this sounds like mere kvetching, but really – I had been looking forward to this day for almost two fucking years. I, the ginormous U2 fan, was finally going to see them live! As my 18th birthday present! At a price of $550! (Our Canadian money may now be kicking the USD’s ass, but that’s still a whole fucking lot of cash.) This was supposed to be the big day, the one my mom said I would remember fondly for the rest of my life.

Well, she was partially right, anyway. Just not for the right reasons.

* Gratuitous use of sciencey words FTW.