Hard to believe, but Friday night's rock and roll lollapalooza at Toyota Center will mark the 12th time U2 has tripped through Houston's wires since 1981. Can you name all the venues the righteous Irishmen have played here, "In God's Country" so far? Still haven't found what you're looking for? "Wake Up, Dead Man" -- here's the list:
If you answered the Astrodome (twice), the Summit/Compaq Center (five times) and the Music Hall, consider yourself pretty damn "Out of Control." But if you added in Cardi's, where they played twice at the club's old location in deepest Sharpstown, and some place called LA Club -- where they dropped in and played "I Walk the Line," "Lost Highway" and Bono's "Lucille" after the second night of their Joshua Tree shows in 1987 -- Achtung Baby, The Unforgettable Fire truly burns within you. (And now we'll knock it off with the cheesy reference crap.)
Anyway, U2 is one of those rare musical acts that more or less defined a generation or two -- if you came of age at any time between 1980 and 1990, this band was your conscience, your reason to believe there was more to the world than Ronald Reagan's constipated cowboyisms, yearnings loftier than getting your MBA, BMW and 401(k). What's more, they offered a transcendent rock and roll alternative to the "Party on, Garth!" likes of Ratt, Warrant and Whitesnake.
Sure, Bono helped popularize the mullet and was (and is) to self-righteousness what Old Dirty Bastard was to wretched excess. And for legions of their former hard-core fans, it all went to shit upon the release of Rattle and Hum (both the film and the album). Still, with the exception of the Beatles, no band ever mattered more than U2 did from about 1984 to 1989 -- "Pride (In the Name of Love)," "Sunday Bloody Sunday" and "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" were the international anthems of young Generation X.
Anyway, cue the newsreel...
Former Numbers and Record Rack honcho Bruce Godwin saw them at their Texas debut at Cardi's in 1981: "I remember going to the show and there only being a handful of people, maybe 200 or so to see U2 in their Texas debut!
"It was of course a classic U2 show. I just remember the energy and youth of everyone (including me), and that they played virtually all of Boy ending with 'I Will Follow.' The Edge strummed that Gibson Explorer like a madman.
"We pogoed like crazy and had lots of laughs making fun of people's mullets who were no doubt Cardi's regulars wondering why this band from Ireland wasn't playing heavy metal. Doubtless these same clueless losers went on to populate the trailers of South Texas with tattooed white trash children shortly thereafter.
"My much diminished memories don't recall all the sordid drugs I must have ingested or smoked. Needless to say, I was under the influence of something.
"I do remember Bono came over to the rapidly emptying bar after the set while they were tearing down equipment. He hung out and asked me if I would buy him a beer as he had no money! I did and we chatted a bit. I told him my little store Record Rack sold lots of his albums. He seemed pleased and off he went. At that point I don't recall any groupies. Eventually one of the richest and most iconic rock stars of all time with no money and no girls chasing him, go figure.
"I remember Adam being unbelievably ugly and Larry being unbelievably cute. Seems like the Edge didn't say a word.
"They played Cardi's again the next year. That wasn't as memorable but it seems like it was sold out that time.
"I have seen them at least ten times since, and they always impress. The Joshua Tree show at the Summit was probably the best ever. How can you top that? A perfect album with a perfect show. I won't bother to see them this time; how can they have improved?"
Press contributor Greg Ellis also saw them on the Boy tour, albeit in New Orleans. "There was a guy there I knew from Baton Rouge named 'Chuck Steak.' Chuck had moved to Baton Rouge from L.A. and had a definite 'L.A. punk' attitude. He was a most obnoxious person but actually a really nice, smart feller once you got to know him and he let down his public persona.
"Chuck's thing was spitting. He did it to everyone. Sure enough there he was right in front of Bono, spitting. Bono stopped the show and went on a (not unjustified) tirade about the spitting. It was real personal though, and he really turned the crowd against Chuck. There was a lot of booing, a couple of things were thrown and Chuck basically slunk to the back of the club where he remained for the rest of the show, probably because he had to wait for his ride -- I can't think of why he would have stayed otherwise.
"I felt bad for him. The show was just great though, and my attention was soon diverted back to the stage. The band finished up, encoring with some of the songs they had played at the beginning of the set because they had no other material. It was and still is one of the best rock shows I ever saw.
"Immediately after finishing, Adam Clayton jumped off the stage and headed to the back. I found him talking to Chuck and it wasn't an in-your-face type of conversation. It ended with a hug and a handshake and Adam headed backstage. Chuck told me Adam had sought him out and apologized for Bono's behavior. He told Chuck that he wasn't much on spitting either but that he liked public humiliation less. He said Bono sometimes got carried away on stage and he hoped Chuck wouldn't hold it against Bono or the rest of the band.
"It always impressed me as one of the classiest acts ever by a rock star, and as I've watched the U2 dynamic play out on a very public stage for the last 25 years I have thought of it often."
While a student at UT, Jeff Balke of local pop-rock band Orange Is In caught them on the Joshua Tree tour at the Erwin Center in Austin. "The show was great even if we did sit on the top row of the place behind the stage. It was really crazy to hear thousands of students walking back to campus still singing 'How long must we sing this song' over and over.
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"The best part came after the show when we tried to figure out where [the band] might go. We decided on Antone's and made our way over to the club. There was the Edge sitting out front reading a book -- seriously. We got inside and it was like a who's who of local musicians -- both Vaughan brothers and both Sexton brothers were there. Double Trouble was the rhythm section for the band that included the Vaughans and a number of well-known and well-respected local musicians.
"A few minutes after arriving, Bono and the Edge were on stage with the band. They did probably a 30-minute set with Bono singing the blues and talking to the crowd like a Southern revival preacher, asking, 'Can I get an "Amen"?' with the crowd happily obliging. Adam and Larry were in the crowd and Adam was dancing to the up-tempo stuff. They were all clearly having a good time.
"I managed to bring a guitar magazine with me that had the Edge on the cover and got him to sign it on the way in. When we left, a van with the band in it was passing and Bono was leaning out signing autographs, so I got his as well. He made some joke about signing his name over the Edge's face and laughed to himself. I found it really endearing that he seemed very concerned about not driving off with someone's pen. He had a Sharpie he had been using and said, 'Where is the girl who gave me this pen? I don't want to take her pen.' The girl popped up in the crowd and said, 'You can keep it.' He just smiled and said, 'Thanks!' and they drove off."
We'll leave on a note of dissent from Linus Pauling Quartet singer-guitarist Ramon Medina. "While I did get a kick out of seeing U2 during the Unforgettable Fire tour, my big U2 experience was watching Rattle and Hum on LSD. Me and some friends had taken some acid and were off to see some Norwegian film called The Navigator at Greenway 3. We mistakenly walked into Rattle and Hum but we were too paralyzed by our fear of the big stinky guy at the end of the row to escape, much less say anything when the film started. Instead, we sat through what seemed an eternity as Bono and crew begged the audience to worship them. Mind you I liked, nay loved, U2 at the time but watching what was basically a filmmaker do nothing more than a 90-minute PR film and sell it as a documentary at the behest of the band was utterly contemptible. Here on celluloid was everything that we had hated about '70s-era arena rock: self-important rockers suckering fans into buying their bloated product and worshiping them as being above the audience. Fuck that! We grew up on playing at the Pick-n-Pack and the Axiom. The whole message of punk rock, post-punk and alternative was that anyone and everyone should do it -- bands were not above their fans but part of a community. U2, in one fell swoop, had become what we had rebelled against; they became a symbol for me of everything wrong with rock music and everything wrong with the corporate music industry. We had a word for self-important bands with illusions of grandeur: Styx!"