10 June 2005
Brussels Roi Baudoin Stadion.
Woke up in free fall to the sound of the phone ringing. Bonjour Monsieur, jus to let you know zat zer normal check out time is twelf noon. Thank you, I grunt, As soon as I re-enter normality Ill be sure to check out at twelve. I had to get up anyway, as the band were due in for soundcheck and further rehearsal at 2pm, so wed arranged a 1.30 runner van to pick us up. This wouldnt get us in till gone two, but I felt reasonably confident that it would be a soft two as we say in the trade. Besides, the first half hour or so it always sound noodling, so I dont often hear my name called for an hour after the arrival of the posse.
Smasher, Bruce and I were a pretty sorry sight, but it felt good to have got through so much last night. Maybe this two day production rehearsal concept has something going for it. This past week has been absolutely brutal but in the usual run of things this pain would go on for another three weeks, whereas now were through it and back on tour.
The band was in great form and the mood was well up, which was very encouraging. Soundcheck segued into rehearsal and we took a run at Zoo Station, Love and Peace or Else and Vertigo, to make sure that all the alterations we made last night are going to work. Its tough for U2 to play with no audience, but it was time well spent and Im pretty happy with how the changes have turned out.
Finally, the gates were opened and in came the great, unwashed public. I love this moment, despite it feeling like an invasion. The first 10% of the crowd into the building are always so fired up, staking their claims at points along the barricade and especially at a first show trying to figure out where the best vantage points might be. The huge steel back wall was glistening in the afternoon sunshine and the whole production really did look pretty magnificent, even if I do say so myself.
I got a radio call that Bono wanted a chat in catering at 5pm so wandered up there. Bruce joined me, then subsequently Bono. We sat there at one of the large communal tables in the catering tent with the buzz of activity going on around. We took a little while to go through the set list and make sure we all knew what we were doing, then from there conversation took a couple of tangents, meandering on to talking about life in general. Bono was incredibly relaxed for an opening night and it was really very pleasant to sit and chat as if we were down the pub, whilst the place filled up with crew having dinner.
The Thrills opened the show then Snow Patrol followed, rounding out the all-Irish bill. I was tucked away at the mix position adding in last minute alterations and updates and generally getting myself focused on the task ahead. The first run at a new show always requires enormous concentration, but this time we had the new and interesting complication of having to un-learn the associations these songs have with the Vertigo indoor staging.
Zero hour finally arrived and out they came. The plan was to open with a no frills rock assault whilst it was still light out and the crowd responded most enthusiastically. Theres nothing like the power of a stadium-full of people just going off. The response for Elevation particularly was fantastic. I had a pretty good show, with Smasher and I flying by the seat of our pants to run all the new video elements. Bruce had a bit of a rough ride, as the follow spots and lighting on the towers out in the field were running on a local generator which didnt make the grade. Given that this constitutes the sum total of front light for the entire show to have them fail is a not insignificant issue and they managed to lose power three times during the gig. Fortunately two of these were before it was properly dark but even so it was not a happy moment in rock.
Ash, our programmer, had done a couple of software updates to the control system (which he single-handedly designed and wrote the computer code for) and some glitches had appeared as a result, which we didnt spot till odd things happened with the playback. The Julian Opie Walking Man image made an odd jump-cut and walked off the screen early, and I realised that similar things would happen during the new Zoo Station visuals with more disastrous results. I got Ash on the case who figured out a new software update to solve the glitch which he wrote during the show and installed into the system computers during the first encore break. Im pretty good at staying calm during show crises, but such full on mid-show brain surgery got a raised eyebrow even from me. Cutting edge? We are just making it up as we go along out here.
It was a great show. Extraordinarily so. I dont mean to sound surprised, but out of nowhere we seem to have spawned a monster. To be honest Ive so loved the indoor show that, on a visual level, I couldnt help but feel that the stadium version would end up being the poor relation. Now its clear that this is absolutely not going to be the case. This actually looks like it stands a chance of becoming the greater of the two, which would be a great and glorious result. Its so clean, cool I dont know. Ill think of the words eventually.
After the show the band had some TV interviews to do (are they mad?) so everyone stuck around, giving the rest of us non-load-out types the chance to drink ourselves into a stupor. Eventually made it back to the hotel, where Martin Wroe (famed U2.com correspondent) and I went out for a walk looking for frites and mayonnaise. Weve moved to the band hotel now, which is in the newer part of town, is more up-market and not a place were frites vendors stalk the streets at 2am, apparently. We walked and walked and it was very nice to take the air and have a bit of quiet, but eventually I got a little turned around. This I knew was perhaps more of a crisis than usual as Martin is one of the few members of our species blessed with a worse sense of direction than my own. There we were, in Brussels, in the middle of the night, fresh from our gig triumph and totally lost. Hey ho. Mercifully, before long the word CONRAD appeared in the night sky so we headed towards it only to find that everyone else was now in the bar, happily drinking and stuffing their faces with fries and mayo.
All were clearly delighted with the nights show. Edge and I just giggled at each other to have pulled off something we perhaps didnt entirely deserve. It was great, I enjoyed the moment, this afterglow. So tired, but its easy to keep coasting now. The room began to thin out at 4 or so, but I didnt get out of there till the hotel staff kicked us out and locked the door at 5.30am. I, of course, being the only person present for whom this would be a comparatively early night.