Mexico City. Show 3.
There are several factors that have to come together to produce truly great shows and it seems that Mexico City had the base elements needed to spark the fusion. As we well know, if you’ve got a Latin audience you’re well on the way to a great night out, but the sheer quantity of people in the building along with its architecture put this into another place altogether.
Azteca isn’t the smartest stadium on our planet and, as mentioned previously, has a single, narrow, serpentine load-in route of length and incline that would make the most hardened roadie want to go for a little lie down. However, the steep sides of the building are of such a height that they envelope our stage structure entirely, providing complete wrap-a-round seating in very close proximity to the field. I didn’t get a figure for Wednesday but on Saturday night U2 played to an audience of 108,800 people and tonight to 106,588. This isn’t the biggest single-show U2 audience of all time, that honour going to Regio Emilia in Italy on the PopMart tour which scored around 150,000. However, Regio was a flat-field site rather than being inside this cauldron of energy – not to mention that Mexico City gave us this experience three times over.
Everybody was aware, band, crew and audience alike, that something remarkable was happening here, especially on Saturday night, which was the first show that went on sale. It’s too hard to describe these things in words without falling into clichés, but suffice it so say that I was very glad to witness these shows. From the raging opening of Real Thing to the dazzling cell-phone star field of Moment of Surrender this was as close to a perfect ten as I think I’m likely to live to see.
Before the show last night I took a walk outside the stadium. In truth, I was looking for the bootleg merchandise village that inevitably accompanies a show in Mexico. Some of the stuff for sale is a trip (in 1992 I’ll never forget someone coming back with a ZooTV coffee table). However, I went out of the wrong exit and ended up wandering into a residential neighbourhood. It was swarming with people en route to the gig of course, and every other house had some kind of stall set up offering refreshments, cigarettes and the like, but it’s the closest I was likely to come on this trip to seeing how people live. The sun was sinking and I could hear the sound of Snow Patrol playing, away in the distance. The neighbourhood around Azteca is a little run down but I felt oddly comfortable as the feel of the place has something of San Francisco’s Mission district about it. I took a seat under a tree, on a bench made of a plank set on beer crates, and just soaked it all in for a while. People hanging out on their porches, guys sitting in cars, just life going on - all these people whose lives we brush past as our great touring machine rolls on. Eventually it got dark and Snow Patrol’s set came to an end, signalling that it was time to go and make the doughnuts. I strolled back to work, feeling like I’d been on day-release from the institution, but very glad for the brief look at the world outside.