I have attended 2 concerts this summer. First was U2 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh and the second was Mötley Crüe and Poison at the Idaho Center.
Needless to say, these were quite different experiences. Funny bit of trivia, 2011 marks the 35th year for U2, 30th year for Mötley Crüe and 25th for Poison. That is some symmetry for ya…
U2 – July 26th, Heinz Field, Pittsburgh PA.
Basically the impetus for our taking the twins to Pittsburgh in the first place was that Jess bought U2 tickets on a whim last year while she was still pregnant. Of course, we couldn’t know just how much our lives would change with the arrival of the girls. Nevertheless, we loaded up the family and journeyed across country for 2 reasons… to see family (and show off Alex and Meri) and to go to see U2. Jess and I had had U2 tickets for the previous summer in Seattle, while she was still pregnant. However, Bono threw is back out or something and that leg of the tour was postponed. Thus, this summer rolled around and we had to adjust our plans.
This was by far the biggest concert I’d ever been to. I’d never seen an outdoor arena show (local amphitheaters excepted). Especially not an outdoor show with 70,000 other people. Jess, on the other hand is a bit of a U2 freak. This show would mark her 10th time seeing them. Double digits. Pretty impressive. Even more when you realize they’ve never been to Boise, so she’s had to travel for each and every one of those shows.
We had general admission floor tickets and had planned to eat before the show. Unfortunately for us there was exactly ONE food option for the entire floor population. We ended up standing in line some 45 minutes in order to get a cheesesteak served on a hotdog bun by some young women from an former Eastern Bloc country. Rachel, Jess’s cousin who was with us speculated they might be slave laborers. One unfortunate side effect from our food necessity was we missed being in the Gigapixel Fancam. What a bummer. The other, less unfortunate effect was we missed all but about 4 minutes of the opening act Interpol. None of us could name a song of theirs. I’m sure they must be good if you’re going to open for U2 and all, but we weren’t losing any sleep over missing them.
Eventually, we ate our food, got beers and headed into find our spot on the floor. Despite what that gigapic looks like there was actually a nice bit of space on the floor where we were. Nobody was packed together to tightly, which was nice. I hate being stuck somewhere unable to move. We settled probably 30 yards from the stage.
Bono and the boys just walk out on stage. All shown by their gigantic 360° screen above the stage. I found it interesting that they didn’t even dim the lights before. To be perfectly honest, they strode to the stage like it was out of a movie. I wouldn’t be surprised if they choreographed that. Maybe just because they are so practiced at it, it just looked like a music video.
Speaking of music videos, this entire concert was so smooth and polished everything felt like it was a movie or video shoot. The camera work that they displayed on their screen felt like it was pieced together over a couple of weeks by an experienced editor, not produced on the fly. Amazing work.
This massive video screen at one point in the show expanded down to almost reach the stage. When it was in this mode, they did more designs and motion tests than pure video. Broke up the show nicely.
All told, I probably recognized a good 60% of the set list, which made things fun for me. I’m one of those fans that really enjoys familiar songs. Sue me. They played the 3 songs that I really wanted to hear, Beautiful Day (with the help from the International Space Station), Sunday Bloody Sunday (with accompanying imagery from the “Arab Spring”) and Where The Streets Have No Name in an encore. I have to say, there is something about being 30 yards from one of the most famous people in the world in Bono. If there was someone who was crafted in a lab to front one of the biggest music groups in history it is this guy. He is at turns ultimate showman, singer, humanitarian, and switches between them effortlessly. I do find it mildly amusing that I don’t believe any of the other 3 guys ever said one word during the show… happy to let Bono do it. Also, I’d like to mention guitarist The Edge. He has crafted a sound which you immediately recognize. It was really something to hear him tear into Mysterious Ways or City of Blinding Lights. Even for a non-die hard fan it can give you chills.
However, by FAR the most fun thing for me was watching Jess absolutely light up during this show. After the tough past 8 month daily grind of having and raising twins, it was worth every single bit of stress it took to get us to that show to see her love it so much. I couldn’t have wiped the smile of her face with a belt sander. She was engrossed in it. I doubt she had a care in the world for those 2 and a half hours. That alone was worth every last penny to me. I now know why she’s made it to 10 of those things. I’ll say it right now, next time they’re on tour, I’m in for another go-round. Let’s do it! You can see my iPhone’s feeble attempt to capture her during the show in that image.
Bono and the boys did play for 2 and a half solid hours. As you can see from the set list, 25 songs. Many of those contained snippets of other songs in them which stretched them out. You certainly can’t claim we didn’t get our money’s worth. If my aching feet were any indication, we most definitely did.
Seeing U2 at this point is almost a cultural touchstone. Even if you’re not a fan you probably should take in a show of theirs just to say that you’ve done it. Well worth every bit of effort it took to get there.
Mötley Crüe & Poison – August 13th – Idaho Center, Nampa ID
On the other end of the spectrum from U2 would be Motley Crue. When I was 13 I was a GIGANTIC Motley Crue fan. I have never seen them in concert for whatever reason, but this was my chance to relive my childhood. And, as much as I hate to admit it, I was probably an even bigger Poison fan when I was 14. I was young and dumb… what can I tell ya?
Ma and Pa Haberman came to watch the Habertwins for the night, so Jess and I packed up a few beers to drink in the parking lot and headed out to the Idaho Center. As we sat there drinking our beers, we watched other fans arrive. I gotta say, the people watching was OUTSTANDING at this show. You had all types. The dudes who look exactly the same as they did in 1988. The chicks all sexed-up in their miniskirts and heavy makeup. Metalheads in their denim jackets over old tour t-shirts. Bikers. People obviously in costume. Rednecks. Even boring old normal people like me. Great stuff.
We got into the arena and got us a couple more beers. After walking around a bit, we hit the merch counter to take a peek. Jess talked me into getting a Motley Crue t-shirt just for the comedy of the whole thing. It is the first bit of anything I have ever purchased at a concert. Probably worth the $25 it cost.
It wasn’t long before Poison started their opening act. I told Jess that after watching a few seasons of Rock of Love, I was pretty tired of Bret Michaels’ shtick. And he was in full “Bret Michaels” mode in this show as well. But, since they only had limited time to play, he didn’t have a lot of time to talk to the audience. Instead, they busted through all of their biggest hits. Only mixing in “We’re An American Band” originally by Grand Funk Railroad to change it up. 45 minutes of music later they were done. I have to say, I think I enjoyed Poison even more than I thought I would. Of course, I knew every word to every song they sang. It almost took me back to the days when I would put their tape into our big stereo at home, grab my headphones to listen and read the latest issue of BMX Plus magazine. Good times. They ultimately finished up with Talk Dirty To Me and Nothin’ But A Good Time. It certainly was.
Between shows, the crowd thinned considerably. Ostensibly to empty their bladders and to get more beers. Jess and I among them.
Our seats for this show were in the front row of the arena seats, just one step off the floor. Basically we had floor tickets, but saved $20 a piece. The most amusing part of our seats was that we were right next to the stairs heading up the aisle of the stands. Being that they were steps and many tipsy people walking by, we got to see a number of good stumbles from people. I love the ones who played it off like they meant to trip. Too funny.
On stage, the crew was busy swapping the stage around for Motley’s main act. From our distance, we couldn’t really see what was going on, but they were really working up there.
The way the Crue started was sorta like the way U2 started, in a bizzaro universe. House lights were still up, and people were still milling around… then BOOM BOOM BOOM BOOM BOOM BOOM! Six or eight very loud pyrotechnics went off, the curtain drops, lights go out and they immediately tear into Wild Side. The crowd went nuts and hundreds of people tried rushing back to their seats in the dark without spilling their beers.
Seeing a metal show is really unlike seeing some other type of music live. You certainly don’t go to a metal show looking for quality audio. Going in, you know it’s going to be loud. I mean like really loud. Like pushed way past distortion loud. And the Crue was definitely that. Throw in the, let’s say “sub-optimal” acoustics of the Idaho Center and you get otherwise awesome songs sounding like they are being played through crappy speakers at full volume with your head in a beat up aluminum garbage can. But, you don’t care.
The set list for Motley Crue contained exactly 1 song released after 1989, and that was their Grammy nominated song from 2008 Saints of Los Angeles. That is exactly the way I wanted this show to go. None of that “now here is a few songs from our new album!” Nobody cares. We’re there to hear the songs we know and love, and Motley Crue delivered the goods.
Also, a staple during a metal show is a few “solos” by the guitarist and drummer. Of course, the Crue obliged. Mick Mars did a wailing guitar riff that lasted a good 5 minutes… fingers flying around the strings.
The big spectacle of this show however was the apparatus that was Tommy Lee’s drum kit. “Roller Coaster” we were told. Always the innovator and a hell of a drummer, Tommy Lee really pushes the envelope with his live shows. In 1987 he broke out a spinning drum kit. At this show, his entire kit rides a giant circular rail system while he pounds out a massive drum solo. At one point, he brought a woman up on stage to go for a ride with him. He really comes across as a giant kid who is just having the time of his life.
Even lead singer Vince Neil still had his pipes available and hit all of the requisite screams when need be. Very impressive. Thinking about it, it really is incredible that all 4 original members of this band are still alive… still coherent enough to play a killer concert night after night. I read their book The Dirt and the amount of partying and drugs they did is astronomical. I would wager that if normal humans had tried to live that way, a good 50% wouldn’t survive 2 years, let alone 30. The only thing we can surmise is that they aren’t human. They are super-human metal gods put on this earth to bang the heads of the masses.
After blasting out all of my favorite Crue songs (Home Sweet Home, Same Ol’ Situation, Looks That Kill) they finish off with Kickstart My Heart, replete with huge pyrotechnics and boom, they’re done. No encore. They played fast and loud for an hour and a half and that was it. You kinda have to admire their not playing the phony leave-the-stage-but-come-back-for-the-encore-that-was-always-planned-anyway routine. They just quit, took their bows and walked off. That’s metal.
Ok, on to the comparison. I think we should break this down tale of the tape style… here goes.
|Heinz Field, Pittsburgh PA||Venue||Idaho Center, Nampa ID|
|Lots of beer stands… one single food option with a 45min line for 3000 GA patrons||Concessions||Plenty. Easy to access, and not outrageously expensive.|
|Advantage: Motley Crue|
|70,000. Loud, but generally normal people (various continuous pot smokers excepted). Aged young to old||Crowd||Maybe 7,000 made a lot of noise for the size and completely packed with a plethora of kooks. Epic people watching|
|Advantage: Motley Crue|
|Crystal clear. Beautifully mixed and very smooth. Very loud (possibly louder than the Crue, but was also outside), but so well balanced you caught no distortion||Audio Quality||Still very loud. Every dial pushed to 11, damn the torpedoes. Sometimes devolved into a cacophony of unrelated noises and distortion. If you didn’t know the songs, you weren’t learning them there.|
|Entire concert played like a movie. Flawless. Something to behold. 360 screen put to awesome use.||Production Quality||Rough… but with pyrotechnics. No constant video of the band in background. Did have a drum kit roller coaster.|
|60% – 15 of 25 songs I was pretty familiar with. Not bad for a band that I’ve never really listened to.||Song Recognition||100% – granted, I’m not totally hip to Saints of Los Angeles. But knowing every lyric of every other song makes up for that, I believe.|
|Advantage: Motley Crue|
|Lugged two 8-month olds 2000 miles across the country.||Ease of Attendance||Mom and dad babysit|
|Advantage: Motley Crue|
|30||Years as a band||25|
|Current tour grossed over $700 million. Dozens of stadiums sold out around the world. One of the biggest bands in the world.||Cultural Relevance||Aging hair-metal band. Once huge, now playing in glorified rodeo barns. Still rock though.|
|Bono wore leather pants and at one point a leather jacket with red lasers sewn into it.||Leather||Everywhere… Band… Opening band… backup dancers/singers… audience|
|Advantage: Motley Crue|
|Wore earplugs. At one point I thought the crowd sounded pretty quiet compared to the band… then I took my plugs out and realized they were NOT quiet. Quickly put them back in.||Post Show Ear Damage Level||Also wore earplugs… Damn I’m getting old.|
|Strong. Would travel to make it happen.||Desire to see again||Maybe… probably wouldn’t go out of my way to.|
|Made Jess inordinately happy. She knew every word to every song. Danced the whole time. Attention rapt with the band.||Intangibles||Made me grin like a fool most of the show (especially with the spinning pentagram). Felt like 6th grade again. Knew all the lyrics.|
|7||— Totals —||5|
There you have it. With a total of 7 to 5 (with 2 pushes) the U2 concert takes home the title of best concert I saw this summer. Motley Crue put up a good fight, but the enormity of U2 was too much to over come.
Thank you Jess for getting us there. If it was up to me, we would have DEFINITELY skipped it and would have been far worse off for it. Having toted them girls across country now makes every day seem easier by comparison. There isn’t anything we can’t do. I mean what I said about next time U2 tours… we’re going someplace fun to watch ‘em. Maybe even visit some friends in Chicago.