Over the years, I’ve been lucky enough to see a wide variety of amazing live musical performances from A (Aerosmith) to Z (ZZ Top) at dozens of the great venues of all shapes and sizes. Concerts (and music in general) were not always my thing, however.  Sure, I’ll always remember rocking out to my beloved Beatles cassette tape during my first summer at sleepaway camp, but my early musical collection consisted of only The Fab Four and a few Sugar Ray (yeah, I said it) hits from the late nineties.

I think I got hooked on rock concerts on May 21, 2005. My friend Bryan and I went to see U2 during a Vertigo Tour stop at Madison Square Garden. I’d never seen anything like these Irish legends, and that evening introduced me to the musicians I proudly call (without any reservations) the greatest live band on the planet.

After seeing U2 for the first time, I spent months accumulating and learning as much of their music as possible.  Additionally, I tried to broaden my musical horizons by learning about other similar rock bands. By the time my second and third U2 shows came around in October and November of 2005, I was not only a serious U2 fan, but a better-versed fan of rock.

U2 always manages to thrill and surprise their audiences with anthemic music created to fill arenas and football stadiums. While hits like The Joshua Tree‘s “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For,” and Achtung Baby’s “Oneare staples in their concerts, the band always manages to keep things fresh with improvised snippets from classic rock hits. The band also performs live re-mixes of some of their songs, including a new techno-take of their current single “I’ll Go Crazy if I Don’t go Crazy Tonight” on the ongoing U2360 Tour (you may know the studio version from the Blackberry commercial) . This tour, and past U2 campaigns have featured incredible screen displays and second-to-none lightshows complementing the group’s timeless sound.

The worst thing about loving U2 is that they take their sweet time recording new material and making local concert stops. Because they spend so much touring all over the world,  new albums and North American concert visits are usually separated by painful four year waiting periods. Fortunately, the boys returned to the U.S. this month, and I’ve just completed much-needed stretch of groupieness.

On September 12, I flew to Chicago to see the band’s tour opener  (under the guise of visiting my aunt and uncle who recently moved to a nearby suburb). It was my first trip to The Windy City, and I can’t imagine a better way to spend it than with an epic rock concert in the legendary Soldier Field.  It was amazing to see the band in action again, and even more so under their new, awesomely excessive (and tree-hugger hating) 360 degree spaceship-like superstage. The show was amazing, but it was simply a warmup for another trip to see two more shows in New Jersey’s Giants Stadium and a set at the season premiere of Saturday Night Live (I think Megan Fox may have been on the show as well).

A unique feature of live U2 shows has to do with their seating arrangements. It’s impossible to purchase a front-row ticket for the band, as their floor setup involves two pits with prime standing position available on a first-come basis. Because of this, thousands line up for hours (and for some extremists…days) before scheduled concerts, in hopes of securing spots nearest to the stage. My friend Bryan and I had floor tickets for the Giants Stadium shows, and decided to try our luck by arriving in the early afternoon on the day of the first show.

While the prospect of spending a long and uncomfortable day in the heat with hundreds of strangers wasn’t very appealing, we met lots of interesting people, and some who really need to get lives (I know what you’re thinking, maybe I need one too? I assure you, however, I am a U2 fan…not a fanatic).  Sitting in a packed, taped off waiting area with us were some true U2 groupies who had seen the band over fifty times! Most of these people were 2-3 times my age (for the mathematically- impaired, we’re talking 40-60 year olds), and one actually  had the all four band members’ autographs tattooed on his back. Others spent hours crafting cardboard signs for the band to read during the show. Amazingly, many of the people in my little U2 community came to New Jersey from distant nations like Germany, Nicaragua, Chile, and Columbia (and I thought driving five hours from Syracuse showed some true dedication)!

With a throng of die-hards camped outside Giants Stadium for good spots on the floor, I wondered how some sense of order would be maintained. I soon discovered that it was the self-assumed duty of the first fanatics on line to distribute arrival numbers and pass along event instructions to all of those behind them. No U2 tour representatives were present, and the security teams even passed off important organizational responsibilities (and their megaphones) to head nerds in the herd.

After passing the time with some cardgames and random conversations with my new European and Latin American friends, our line eventually moved towards the stadium’s entry gates for “The Running of the Geeks.” Once the gates opened and security checks were completed, everyone on the line began a mad dash through the venue towards the stage (keep in mind, I’m talking about running on the hallowed field of the New York Giants and Jets, a fact that escaped my thoughts at the time). Fortunately, my friend and I benefited from our young legs, as we sprinted past many of those in front of us to secure two perfect spots in the front row.

I’m never really picky about where I sit at concerts, but being in the front row for your favorite live band provides an unmatchable rush. Seeing such a grand musical production from up close truly helps you appreciate the energy and talent that goes into an amazing concert experience. Both Giants Stadium performances were outstanding and seeing the band perform in an intimate setting at SNL put a great cap on what was an incredible musical ride. Seeing U2 again after a four year hiatus allowed me to meet a diverse community of people sharing a common bond.  But most of all it helped me realize just how special the band and their music are to me.

While Bono & Co. have taken my love of watching live music to a new level, I’ve recently discovered the thrill of actually performing music for others. I’m slowly learning how to handle the acoustic guitar, and a few months ago I played (with Bryan’s band) in two local bars. While I’m not exactly Eric Clapton, playing for a crowd of friends was a highlight of my summer. I enjoyed my live music collaborations so much that I’ve even come full “Fab Four” circle and ordered the new “Beatles: Rock Band.”  Can U2: Rock Band be far behind?

(All photos by A.Bank)

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