“I know this song, I think. Is it from a movie?” Jessica, one of my mom’s nursing students, asked. On the other side of her, Carmen, also a nursing student, nodded in agreement. “Moulin Rouge?”
The song was “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For,” and I had no idea if it’s from Moulin Rouge! or any other movie. My mom didn’t know either, but she didn’t need to. She had been in college when U2 was popular. She still knew all the words.
All four of us stood side-by-side, looking down at the sliver of the stage we were able to see. High above and behind the stage though we were, we could make out some words of the song. My mom and I knew all the words to fill in the echoes, while Jessica and Carmen struggled for recognition. It had been two years since U2 had been on tour, 30 since the release of their landmark 1987 album The Joshua Tree. Mom claimed she had never been a die hard U2 fan, and I was only familiar with the major hits — “Where the Streets Have No Name,” “Beautiful Day,” and “I Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” — and Jessica and Carmen weren’t even sure if they new U2 from movies or not. But yet here we were, straining our ears to hear Bono from our spot at Sprint Gate at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City.
We were there as volunteers. Our usual gig were Chiefs games, but concerts fell under our preview as well. The job — wheel chair assistants. To stand at the gates while people flood in, offering a ride to guests who couldn’t make it all the way to their seats. It’s pretty straight forward, until it isn’t. Arrowhead Stadium is difficult to navigate. There are four or five sets of elevators, but not all of them go to every single level. And once you get to the 300 section, good luck. Those are located on multiple floors. I’ve worked plenty of Chiefs games, and I still get lost. But getting lost, particularly at this U2 concert, gave me a chance to get a sense of the crowd.
Before, I had always thought U2 wasn’t well liked, kind of the in the same way people turn their noses up at Coldplay. (To be clear, I love Coldplay). I didn’t know anyone who loved U2 though, so the crowd interested me. There were the people I expected — the Gen Xers and the Gen Yers, there for the nostalgia trip. But Millennials were there too, either for Beck or because their parents had a hand in their musical upbringing. (Speaking of Beck, from what I saw and heard of him, he sounded good. Decent reaction from a crowd that was still taking their seats. As it were, I only managed to see him perform “Wow” as were we in peak operating hours before U2 came on. I heard echoes of “Loser” and “Where It’s At,” though.) People were happy (“People will be happy, it’s a concert, not a football game, where they’re mostly just angry!” our Chiefs representative had assured us before the gates opened earlier that evening.) Of course, we had our occasional run ins with the not so happy, drunk people and rude people and lost people (Arrowhead, redesign yourself!), but this was just me navigating the concourse level and the elevators. The crowd crowd, the ones in their seats and on the field, went nuts for U2.
“He sounds exactly the same,” Mom said during “Where the Streets Have No Name.” On this one, Bono let the audience take over the song for a significant amount of time. Audience participation never fails to give me chills, and the duration of this one was telling — it was a well-known song, but this crowd was in tune with Bono. They were on their feet, clapping and roaring as the song’s long introduction went on. It was then I realized how much of an outsider I was, not just because I had a pretty low-key job that night, but also because U2 wasn’t my band. It was theirs. The people on the field, in the stands, the ones I pushed in the wheelchair, and the drunk ones who shouted questions at me. U2 was their band in the same way Coldplay or The Killers is mine. But U2 is different, in a way. They’re a big deal. And I felt weird to be able to be at this concert in any capacity. This feeling was made even more surreal by the people I was with. Two nursing students of my mom’s, one of which I graduated high school with, but had never had a decent conversation until that night, and then my mom, their professor. It was one of the most on-the-nose examples of being on the outside looking in I had ever experienced.
Then, the outside became the inside, and our view got a whole lot better. We were down on the field for the encore. “Ultraviolet (Light My Own Way)” paid tribute to women of the world, from artists, activists, leaders, and historical figures. Portraits of these women flashed on the 200×40 foot screen behind U2. U2 closed the show out with “One,” their anthem for peace, unity, and love, while Texas and Florida state flags appeared on the screen next to the Red Cross donation line. It was one thing to see from afar how much the crowd was into it, but another thing to be completely immersed with them, feeding off their energy and delight at seeing U2 live again.
When all was said and done, our wheelchairs and radios put away, it was midnight. As we walked out to L lot, the furthest from the stadium, we passed by people who couldn’t stop talking about the show. Two people who didn’t know each other high fived each other “How about that concert, yeah?” one of them asked. “It was amazing,” the other said.