The Pinnacle of Power: What I saw at the U2 concert
Sometime in high school, I acquired the idea that attending a rock concert, for a middle-class kid anyway, was a transgressive act. It was a step out of the sedate norms of suburban life into an exhilarating, dangerous netherworld, an intoxicating haze of smoke, primal rhythms, and throbbing sensuality—throwing off the shackles of predictable conformity and throwing down the gauntlet of rebellion.
Well, earlier this week I joined 60,000 Midwesterners at U2’s 360 Tour concert at Chicago’s Soldier Field, and can report, with faint disappointment, that the most transgressive act I managed to commit, or indeed witnessed all evening, was talking with some friends in the narrow stairway of section 443 before the concert began, thus impeding the path and incurring the wrath of the vendors of Miller Lite. (“ONE CAN LIMIT,” their coolers proclaimed.)
The concertgoers streamed into the Chicago Bears’ home stadium in attire that can best be described as Apple Store Clientele—casual cool with an extra helping of organic sustainability. Befitting U2’s long and protean career, they were strikingly intergenerational. Four teenage boys wearing school T-shirts from the Near North Side, clean-cut and fresh-faced, stood right in front of me, singing every word through the whole show. A couple rows down, two late-40s parents escorted their teenage daughter and preteen son. Or was it the other way around? I saw lots of parents accompanying pre-driving-age teenagers, making me wonder whether the parents or the children had been the ones to make the case for going to see U2. Perhaps the predominant demographic, at least in the nosebleed seats, was twenty-something couples, few of whom betrayed the nervous electricity of first dates: my bet is they were either married or contentedly cohabitating. All in all, it was a perfectly domestic evening.
The show was spectacular, of course—conducted in the round under a superstructure that was part circus tent, part spacecraft, part church spire, with a pantographic video wall whose versatility was probably the best surprise of the evening. (It’s hard to remember or believe that rock acts used to fill stadiums without using video, so essential is the medium for bringing the tiny figures on stage to life.) Perhaps my experience was affected by the third-rate sound at our level (one friend said that given the multiple echoes, it was like we were attending three concerts each two seconds apart), but what captured my attention most of all was the visual drama of the night, not the music. And what really began to captivate me was what was happening in the seats, not on stage…
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