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A Year Later: One Tree Hill, ''Thank you, Sydney!'', and other Vertigo memories

U2's second of two Vertigo Tour concerts in New Zealand took place a year ago today. Although the tour still had four shows to go, three in Japan and one in Hawaii, it was my tenth and last concert of the tour; eleventh if you count the Brisbane rehearsal. As the quiet in the U2 world this year has been only briefly punctuated, such as by the band's studio sessions in Morocco and the surprise mini-concert two days ago, this has been a year to reflect on the past. For many fans, especially those in the Northern Hemisphere, it has been two years since U2 toured near them. For those of us in the Southern Hemisphere, it is hard to believe that it is already a year since U2 visited this part of the world for the first time in 8 years (Australia and South America) or 13 years (New Zealand). There were many memorable events, and the passage of time has revealed which stand out and stick with us the most. In this article, I'd like to mark my own aforementioned anniversary by remembering some of the best and most enjoyable moments of the Vertigo Tour. Naturally, they cover only the shows I attended, and in many cases, the events are chosen simply on a whim or are those about which I could most easily write.

My first Vertigo Tour concerts were actually over two years ago. Whether or not U2 would actually visit Australia and New Zealand was completely unknown. I had plans to visit friends in the USA anyway, and the three Boston concerts in late May fit in nicely with my plans. These three concerts concluded the first leg of the Vertigo Tour, so the band had struck a good rhythm and were in a relaxed and positive mood before their short break. The first show, on the 24th of May, was a very strong and well-performed show, and the last show, on the 28th of May, was even better, featuring a moody An Cat Dubh/Into The Heart, exhilarating The Electric Co., and the first performance of Who's Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses in 12.5 years. However, my most powerful memories come from the middle show.

On the 26th of May, the second Boston concert took place, and despite lining up only about an hour before doors opened, a friend and I miraculously found ourselves on the rail in front of The Edge. Wishing to take advantage of our position, my friend and I improvised a couple of signs - I had a couple of pieces of paper on me and my friend bizarrely was carrying around a thick permanent marker, so we made one sign saying "PLAY ONE TREE HILL", and another for 11 O'clock Tick Tock with a simple "TICK TOCK" on it. The Edge saw our signs, but despite our best hopes, all he did was laugh at us. We did, however, receive a huge surprise during the encore. The crowd had given U2 an emphatic response all night, so as Until The End Of The World drew to a close and Adam began playing With Or Without You's bassline, Bono spontaneously called for Out Of Control. The song had not been played at all on the tour at that point, and was a complete shambles. The band so completely flubbed it that the solo ended up being omitted. But for all its technical failings, the excitement it represented meant it was actually one of the best songs, raw and powerful in its energy. A few songs later, the band closed the concert with Bad, demonstrating the ability of live music to become transcendent. Many will disagree and say "what about Where The Streets Have No Name?", but if you ask me, Bad is the definitive live U2 song. It may only be a few simple notes on the guitar, but it is masterfully crafted and takes the concertgoer to another place entirely. I never would have believed there were a better U2 concert closer than 40 until I heard Bad - though this performance happened to feature a snippet of 40 to cement its status as awe-inspiring.

When I visited Boston, it was experiencing one of its coldest Mays on record. As someone used to the sweltering and humid heat of the Australian state of Queensland, which can climb into the 40s Celsius (a climate I have now left and do not miss in the slightest), I had been amused to listen to Americans talk about temperatures in the 40s as record lows, of course due to the fact the USA is one of the few countries to use Fahrenheit. Fast forward a year and a half, to November 2006. I was no longer in Massachusetts' coldest May; I was well and truly back in the warmth of Queensland. And on 6 November 2006, a friend and I (as well as approximately 50 other fans) stood on a hill overlooking Brisbane's ANZ Stadium watching U2 rehearse while a tropical storm broke above us. My friend sheltered under my umbrella; I kept my notepad under the umbrella too so that I could record the setlist, but there was no room for most of me and I got thoroughly drenched. It was worth it, though. There's something special about being one of less than 100 people watching U2 perform while lightning provides natural effects to accompany the songs and thunder adds an extra dimension to the music. With Or Without You was particularly haunting, as its lights, the lightning, the pouring rain, and the song's inherent atmosphere combined to create something stunningly and eerily beautiful. The full set for the rehearsal can be found under "Monday 06/11" in the soundcheck section on the Brisbane concert's page.

I'm convinced that some of U2's best live moments are those that are technically worst. The performance of Out Of Control mentioned above is not the only time I have witnessed a U2 song fall to pieces. At the second Sydney concert on the 11th of November, U2 performed an electric version of Desire for the first time on the tour (an acoustic version had previously been played at the Sao Paulo concert of 21 February 2006). Its rawness revealed the song's inherent rough, visceral energy in a way that a polished version could not. Two nights later at the third Sydney concert, U2 celebrated playing to over 200,000 people over three concerts in Sydney with a version of Party Girl that can technically only be described as an absolute trainwreck. It is questionable whether the band had even rehearsed it. But it was an absolute party; it was sheer fun. It made the huge stadium feel small, like you were just with a bunch of mates celebrating a job well done with some music. Who cares if you get every single note right? The point is having a good time. I can't speak for the rest of the audience, but I certainly had a great time, and the band looked like they were too.

On the 19th of November, U2 performed their last Aussie concert of the Vertigo Tour in Melbourne. It was the second show in the city, and it proved to be a very special and memorable one. The First Time was performed for the first time outside of the Americas; Bono claimed the Party Girl trainwreck occurred in Adelaide rather than Sydney; and after Kite, those of us following the setlists got a big shock. We all "knew" Kite was the closer - it had, after all, closed the six Australian shows to date. But before we even knew it, The Edge had his black Stratocaster and the opening notes of Bad rung out. If the 26 May 2006, Boston concert had not convinced me of the power of Bad, this did. It was the perfect way for U2 to end their jaunt through Australia. Though let us not forget that after Bad ended, The Edge approached the microphone and - with tongue firmly in cheek, one would hope - exclaimed loudly "thank you, Sydney!" to a mixture of laughs and boos from the audience. This was quickly saved with a "thank you Brisbane, Sydney, and especially MELBOURNE!" Poor Adelaide, already blamed for the bad Party Girl, got excluded from the thank yous.

Five days later, and both the band and myself were on the other side of the Tasman Sea in New Zealand.Although I believe that Bad is U2's definitive live song, it is not the best. I finally heard the best live song at the Auckland concerts of 24 November and 25 November. Its name is One Tree Hill. It had not been played in nearly 17 years. The two concerts took place within sight of the real One Tree Hill that inspired the song and it was an experience that cannot be described in words. Its use as the closing song of the second concert (and, as I said above, my last U2 concert to date) was the most memorable moment of the Vertigo Tour for me. I suppose that as someone originally from New Zealand, this song has a special resonance, but its broader emotional impact is undeniable. Listening to Bono belt out "and when it's raining, raining hard, that's when the rain will break my heart", followed by Edge's sorrowful solo is a moment more moving than any other I have witnessed. The roughly 35,000 of us in attendance were truly privileged and let's hope that U2 choose to keep this incredible song in their setlists next tour.

Those were my most memorable tour moments; I'm sure many of you reading this have your own to savour. The Vertigo Tour was an absolutely fantastic tour; strong performances, diverse song selection, and its fair share of occurrences ranging from the humorous to the emotional. If the next tour is half as good as the Vertigo Tour and provides just a fraction of the great experiences, it too will be a wonderfully memorable experience.

Posted on by Axver

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