U2, Berlin, 2017

(skip to the part about the concert, if I’m too long winded for your taste)

It was 1:00am when Odin and I finally got to some dinner, samosas in a little Moroccan restaurant next door to our hostel. The conversation was getting silly so I finished with “tak for mad”, intending to get up and go to bed, but I didn’t quite get up.

“You know, all those times you make dinner, I never say tak for mad, do I?” It’s been five months of dinners now, and this is maybe the second time I’ve thought of it. “Do you notice?”

He didn’t answer for long enough to let me know he noticed. “I got used to it.”

Danes always say “Tak for mad” after they eat. It means “thanks for the food”, and everyone old enough to know their own name is expected to say it after every meal. It’s ground into them from a very early age and they never forget and always notice. Except, “But you never say it when I make dinner?”

Odin squinted at me and took another long pause. “Yes, I do. Every single time.”

Crap. So not only have I had lousy manners, I’ve failed to notice his good ones.

The people at the table next to us get up to go, wishing us good night as they leave. They shared their appetizers with us earlier, and the woman has on a U2 concert tshirt. They were at the same show we went to. U2 at the Olympiastadion in Berlin, along with the fifth person in the restaurant, a guy falling asleep in his curry behind the other two. The shop normally closed at midnight, and it seems like the owner kept it open tonight just for us.

The concert started, for us, on the 11th, driving down from Denmark in a cheap car we bought the day before because our usual ride, a diesel Hyundai hatchback, developed an expensive brake problem. It’s a Suzuki Liana, well known for being a Reasonably Priced Car.

Once we found the hostel, the next step was to find a parking spot. I’m from Victoria, where parking is mostly never a problem. Usually I travel on foot or by motorbike, and then it’s even less of a problem. The idea of planning a parking spot in Berlin didn’t occur to me. I asked inside the hostel for suggestions, but the manager started with, “Yeah, parking in Berlin. It’s bad. Here, let me show you the map…”

Bo’s good attitude did not crack during the 15 minute walk, carrying duffel bags, back to the hostel. I took his cue and kept smiling.

At the hostel, I found that my planning had let me down a second time. The room I thought I had booked for two people, was actually a single room.

“Yeah, one room, but two people can fit in it, right?”

“It’s a single bed.”

“Yeah, but…”

“There’s nothing I can do.”

“But I booked it on the website, I swear I entered ‘2 people’ in the form?”

“It says here that there was only one.”

“Look… can I talk to the manager? I’m sure this isn’t right.”

“He’s in Portugal.”

Odin stepped in. “Let’s go outside for a minute.”

We went outside and sat on a low concrete wall, a few feet away from the manager (you know, the one who’s in Portugal. The one who helped me with the parking. That one.), who’s on his smoke break.

“I don’t understand it,” I said, loudly enough for him to overhear. “I swear I entered two people on the form. I’m so sorry, I don’t know how I screwed it up.”

“It’s okay,” Odin said. “You have a hotel room for the night. And I have my towel.”

I glanced at him.

“It’s hot. There are parks.”

We burst out laughing, and I said “No, I don’t want to stay here with these obnoxious Germans and without you. I’ll get whatever money I can get back from him, and Visa will give me back the rest.”

We sat in silence for a few more minutes, while I tried to come up with a solution for this hard math problem. Odin went back inside, and talked to the desk guy again.

Eventually he came out and fished his credit card and passport out of his wallet.

“The guy sitting there overheard us, and he told his man Benji to figure something out. Someone else booked a double room, but he’s only one person and he hasn’t checked in yet. So we pay a little more, he gets his money back, everything is fine.”

I laughed some more.

“See what you can get with a little smile?” Odin lectured me. “The guy said, since we weren’t losing our cool or yelling or anything, he wanted to help us. If we got mad, he would have done nothing.”

“Yeah, sure,” I grinned. “Let’s go up.”

A couple raindrops fell that evening as we set out to find the stadium, but I was still uncomfortably warm in my sweater. “Thinking about if I should bring this,” said Bo, indicating an extra hoodie. “I think it’ll be okay,” I said. “I don’t think we’ll need it, these things are always hot, and I wouldn’t want to carry it.”

He left it at the hostel. I had a raincoat too, but I left in the car, 2km away. It really was hot when we got to Berlin.

When we came out at the Olympic stadium though, with about 4000 other people (in that car alone), I started questioning my choice. Everyone else had raincoats on, and many had ponchos as well. A few more raindrops fell.

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As we followed the crowd down a broad footpath lined with sausage stands and beer gardens, the clouds got darker and more rain fell, and I remembered the part where “stadium” means “outdoor venue”. Odin was still looking cheerful though. “Want a drink, before we go in?” I suggested. “Do you have any cash?” “No.” “Alright”, We got beers, and I questioned that choice as well. Lunch was at noon, we never got dinner, it’s 6:30 now and the band won’t even be onstage til 9… should have gotten the sausages. And I think I just spent the last of Bo’s cash.

As we lined up at the gate, a guard pointed at a different impossibly long line stretching across the plaza. “Bag check over there”, he shouted. “Okay,” I shouted back.

Odin scouted the front of the line while I waited. A pedicab pulled up near the line, and a cheerful gentlemen got out with half a bottle of rosé and started taking selfies. When Odin came back, he said, “This is the right line, and they charge 2 euro per bag. What are you going to do?”

I checked my pockets – I had 40 cents.

“Well, I guess I could rob someone… or I could use whatever you have in your hand there.”

“Last one!” he grinned and passed me a euro toonie.

(#)

We fought our way through 70,000 stoked people to our seats in section 34, and I learned, to my deep and profound relief, that we were under cover. The rain wasn’t stopping.

In the row ahead of us, a woman couldn’t contain herself. As Noel Gallagher and the High Flying Birds chugged resentfully through Wonderwall, she was rocking out. She lost herself to dance. Her whole body had a song in it and that song needed the two seats adacent to her as well. Her boyfriend grooved a little more sedately and protected their beers.

Noel Gallagher's band playing Wonderwall

Noel’s band were huddled under tents, and though they were soggy, they got through Champagne Supernova and Don’t Look Back In Anger, as well as a couple of their new songs, before packing it in. Once they left, crewmembers came out and swept an alarming amount of water off the stage, and seemed to have a disagreement about whether the tents were coming down or not. In the end they came down.

Edge showed his face on the catwalk a couple times, to riotous cheers, but he was just chatting with a security guard. We did a couple rounds of The Wave, and people kept on flooding down the stairs and packing tighter on the floor.

Finally around 9:30, Larry Mullen Jr, the drummer, came down the ramp and started up the drums. “Sunday Bloody Sunday” was the opening song, and with the first note the whole stadium came to their feet as one.

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The next couple hours were blurry for me. As the light faded, Bono ordered phones up, and everyone turned on their phone flashes and held them up. The stadium bowl turned into a galaxy. There’s a 40-foot high video screen, but the band weren’t on it for the first 4 songs or so. The people on the floor had the cheapest tickets, but to get a chance to buy those tickets, you have to be a paying member of the fan club for over six months. They take great pains to prevent floor tickets from going to scalpers, and the people who get into the front rows have to line up for hours before the gates even open.

They’re the true believers. U2 played Sunday, New Year’s Day, Bad, and Pride (in the name of love) just for them, on a catwalk extending out onto the floor. There was a Singin’ In The Rain singalong before they returned to the stage.

Next they started into the Joshua Tree, Streets playing while the video screens took us on a high speed trip through the desert. The show was a little light on politics, for a U2 show. The focus was on refugees and human rights, and Bono seemed to understand as few other people do, that railing about a narcissistic orange oompa loompa isn’t a good use of time.

They rolled out a massive flag with Malala Yousafzai’s face. She’s 20 and she won the Nobel Peace prize for her work in advocating for education for women and girls in developing countries. It was her birthday. The flag made a lap around the stadium, passed from hand to hand.

I thought the best song that night was Red Hill Mining town, a version totally reworked from the album version, with a Salvation Army brass band joining in on the video screen.

They took a break after the Joshua Tree, ripping wet clothes off as they left the stage, and came back for a solid 6 more songs encore. A girl came up on stage to dance in Mysterious Ways, standard practice. Bono grabbed the video camera that they keep specially for him, and took selfies with everyone. Whoever thinks that selfies are an annoying new trend started by 14 year olds is straight wrong. Bono has been doing it since film was invented.

A fortuitous sign in the parking lot outside the stadium

During Ultraviolet, they did a cool thing showing a video from the HERstory project, founded by Alice Wroe, whose goal is to tell the stories of women who have made history. Someone is keeping a list of the people who were featured – http://www.u2songs.com/news/the_luminous_icons_of_ultra_violet_leg_two

For an egomaniac, Bono sure didn’t spend a lot of time on the video screen.

My first U2 album was Rattle and Hum when I was 10 or so, and I think I stole my brother’s copy. Next was All That You Can’t Leave Behind, followed by Achtung Baby and every other album after that. I’ve been memorizing lyrics and following their story since then, and it’s been my dream to see U2 in person. It took moving to Europe to finally succeed in getting tickets – they always sell out in seconds when they play Vancouver. Safe to say I was just as stoked as the guy in the seat right next to mine, who looked over his shoulder to flash a huge grin and a thumbs up every time a new song started, and having Odin the Norse god behind me with a solid good attitude made the show the best it could possibly have been. I recommend bringing your own viking if you ever have the chance.

Here’s a decent cam version of the show for anyone who wants to share it, for however long it stays up.

Here’s a (partial, I did my best) list of poems scrolling on the screen before the show started.

Learning to Love America
BY SHIRLEY GEOK-LIN LIM

Preface to Leaves of Grass
Walt Whitman

Praise Song for the Day
Elizabeth Alexander

The Powwow at the End of the World
BY SHERMAN ALEXIE

Puerto Rican Obituary
BY PEDRO PIETRI

Carl Sandburg
Prairie

Kindness
Naomi Shihab Nye

I Hear America Singing
BY WALT WHITMAN

Ghazal for White Hen Pantry
BY JAMILA WOODS

Wingfoot Lake
BY RITA DOVE

Rock and roll

A few years ago I went through a phase of putting on shows. I might still be in that phase, actually, we’ll see what happens this year. But anyway, I did some events. One was a bike polo tournament with a party after. Two were alleycat races, both with a show after. The last was a small polo tournament, on a weeknight and no party.

Understand that when I say “I” put these events on, all I mean is that I took part the financial risk and the blame, and did a little organizing. In every case, stuff like this happens with an army of volunteers, many of whom have very small jobs (bring the coffee urn, unlock the doors for us, something like that), but without whom the event could not occur. Every time I run an event and it works, it’s because a few people decided they wanted it to happen, and I got volunteered to coordinate. I love it, but I can take very little credit.

By far my favorite job is handling the bands. I get to choose an act, book them, negotiate a fee, transport their equipment and possibly their bodies, make a speech about how awesome they are, pass the hat, give them drinks. For a few moments there, I let my imagination run away with me.

I know everyone daydreams, it’s a part of being human. I think I’m the only one, though, who writes down my juvenile fantasies and publishes them where everyone I know can see and feel awkward about my oversharing, and tries to get more people to read it.

In this fantasy I’m a rock and roll promoter. I never got good enough at music to be the star of a band, but I get to have a little bit of reflected glory this way. I put on events every week, I have an entourage that I roll with. When I’m looking for a band, I get put on the list at clubs, get sent to the VIP room to watch the show, and listen to the band kiss my ass after they play. “Sure, you’ll do,” I say, and turn them over to my assistant to work out schedules and details, after offering them a fee that makes them stop talking for several moments.

This is a job I could do. It’s one that really appeals, because it doesn’t rely on asking some boss if I can make a living, please. One guy with the power to grant or revoke an entire salary with a single decision. My boss in real life is rad, but even so, I don’t like it. Instead I put on a dope party and everyone who shows up gets one seven-dollar vote as to whether the band and I get to eat this week. Democracy.

But reality is very different from my daydream. Not so much with the VIP room, more like texting a drummer 4 times to ask whether they can do Saturday night, and calling 5 different bands before I find one that can play. Never mind if they’re good or not. If they show up on time and sober, they’re hired. This operation can’t afford “good” yet.

Instead of hundreds of party animals lined up out the door, it’s more likely to be like alleycat #2 – the venue didn’t bother to promote it, we picked the wrong time of day, and only seven racers showed up. The band nearly outnumbered the audience, and although their professionalism was outstanding, they didn’t get paid well at all.

Sometimes you don’t win. Oh well. The lesson I got was that any time you have a little power, it’s not because you wrest it from the ground and compel legions with the force of your personality. Rather, it’s because the community has seen that you’re competent and willing, so they give you some resources which you’re expected to use in their service.

I’m still trying to figure out how I can live that life of service, and get the little bit of power I crave. Working at a job is not too bad, but 8 hours in the office slip away unnoticed, and then I have the whole evening and weekend to do real living. I am not interested in Game of Thrones. I don’t care for video games. I want to build stuff. Still looking. I’ll let you know how it goes, especially the flaming disasters.