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Our new standard for how badly a U2 concert can be organized

Posted: September 05, 2010 in Music & Travel

Jessica and I just got back from seeing U2 in Athens, Greece, in a concert that could have easily ended up with us both in a hospital, or worse.


But more on that later.

We booked this trip back in November of 2009, in what was supposed to be a trip back to Greece with my mom so that she could visit our relatives there. We conveniently planned the trip to coincide with U2, and far enough in advance to let our air miles pay for the trip. We'd leave my mom with family, catch the concert, and everything would go like clockwork.

Unfortunately, things rarely go like clockwork. In a nutshell, my mom canceled, but not before several months of indecision that would render our air miles mostly worthless. After some heavy thinking, we decided to go anyway. After all, it would be like the honeymoon that Jess and I never had. I mean come on! U2 in Greece? What's not to like? Well, as it turned out, PLENTY!

The first part of the trip was fine. We booked it through a travel agent, and gave us the week before the show to enjoy the sights. Jess booked us a 2-day bus tour, as well as a 13-hr cruise of the Islands Hydra, Poros, and Aegina. We had a few days to ourselves, sprinkled around the aforementioned tours, and figured we'd play those by ear.

Well, the antics started right after we landed. After deciding that 3 Euros and 20 cents for a bus was a better deal than $35 for a taxi, we promptly got on the wrong bus (my fault) and had an impromptu tour of the seedier parts of Athens. This turned a 30 minute bus ride into a multi-hour affair, with Jess looking none too happy by the time we hit bus #3. But in the end, we made it, albeit a few hours late.

The first day we decided to check out the acropolis. Who knew it would be 99 degrees and 99% humidity? We baked until we were well done, then headed back to the hotel for a shower. Then we dined on one of our many meat and starch dishes. I honestly have never gone so long without a single vegetable since I was a bachelor. I have no idea how these people can remain alive eating nothing but meat, bread, cheese, and the occasional potato product. After a few days, I was starting to feel the onset of scurvy.

By the third day (I think) it was time for the bus tour. It was a really nice tour, and really worth the money. We got to wind our way up into central Greece, where we saw the villages of Delphi and Meteora. The latter was breathtaking, with ancient monasteries perched atop high plateaus (pics coming soon), and great views from the mountains of Greece. They even booked us into a really nice hotel for the overnight portion.

While on the bus tour, I learned that the rules of the road in Greece are TOTALLY different than in the US (or anywhere else I've been). They basically go like this:

Dotted line on the road = pass freely
Solid line on your side = only pass when the people coming the other way are not in the process of passing.
Double solid line = pass freely. Oncoming traffic will take to the shoulder
Green light = go no matter what
Yellow light = floor it
Red light = Go only if you are certain that the other guy will swerve first.

That's about it.

Needless to say, doing all this in a huge tour bus full of 100 people was... harrowing, to say the least. It's a wonder more people aren't killed on the roads there. Although maybe they are.

The 13-hr cruise was a lot more restful. Especially after we found the one spot on the boat that wasn't rife with the stench of diesel fumes. Not to mention all the cigarette smoke. I was totally floored by how many people in Greece still smoke. It must be close to half. I guess when you spend your life nearly being killed in your car every day, you figure smoking is the least of your worries.

Out of the three islands, Hydra was the most lovely. Cars are not allowed, so you have to either walk or take a donkey/mule. The donkeys and mules actually have license plates. It was very cool. There were also about 32,768 cats per acre of land on Hydra, and they knew that the arrival of the cruise ship meant free petting and possible hand-outs, so they greeted us in force (pics of that coming soon too). We got almost two hours to stroll around before heading off to the next port, but we wished we could have stayed longer. Maybe that'll be another trip (once my wits recover from this one).

After the cruise, we had a day off before the concert. We checked out our second hotel, checked out the venue, and got our game plan together.

On the day of the concert, we were up early. We asked for a wake-up call, but apparently those are more of a suggestion, regardless of how bad you really need one. Fortunately, we didn't sleep too long past our planned time, so we had breakfast and made it to the venue at around 7:45am. This was good enough to net us numbers 60 and 61. Great numbers, eh? Should have given us pretty much our pick of where to stand, right? Heh...

So, we get our numbers and break out the bubble wrap. It didn't take long for the Athens staff to show us that this was their first U2 gig since 83. They were totally unprepared for an event of this scope. The line-up was totally disorganized, and we were stuck in a pen that was about 50 feet wide by a few hundred feet long. Everyone sort of jammed into the space in an approximate numerical order, but it didn't take long for people to start "migrating". Soon there were people in front us with 3-digits. And after a few "false starts" that were inadvertently triggered by staff members, everyone was mashed together, hot, and irate.

Finally, a few of the more robust fans took matters into their own hands and re-arranged everyone in groups of 10, in order of their numbers, while the event staff looked on rather apathetically. I'm still amazed that so many of these venues fail to realize that it is in their OWN BEST INTEREST to respect the numbering system. Respect the numbers, and you have order. Ignore the numbers, and you are pretty much guaranteed chaos.

The re-arranging lasted until the staff triggered another false start. But this time, they decided to go with it. They let us all advance to the next barrier in groups of ~100 people. The problem was, whereas the initial standing area was just a huge rectangle, the area we advanced into was a set of back-and-forth snaking barriers. As soon as they let us go, everyone charged for the next checkpoint. People on the inside of the turn got crushed, while other people ran around the outside and gained places. Some people even jumped the barriers. Once you got to the next checkpoint, you were held back by a single red piece of tape. I wish I was making this up.

They did this to us at least five times, and each time, the order got more and more screwed. At one point it was so bad that I was actually being dragged sideways by the collective force of the crowd. It's times like this when you read about people being trampled to death at some sporting event or fire. It really was that bad. And it wasn't just people getting innocently pushed. There were a lot of people who were deliberately being jackasses. For the first two rushes, I had a girl next to me who deliberately slammed her elbow into me while trying to get past me. I yelled "hey!" and she just shot me a dirty look and elbowed me again (while looking right at me). On my next step forward, I brought my leg up high, then drove my heel straight down onto her ankle. She shrieked, and glared at me, and I just smirked and shrugged. That was the end of the elbows.

When we finally got up to the ticket check, everything froze. After all that, the band wasn't even ready. We had to bake for another half hour plus, standing, before we could even go past the ticket check. The staff kept telling us to back up. HAH! It only takes ONE U2 gig to learn that you can move people forward, but moving them backwards is pretty much impossible. Especially people who waited around all day, only to find themselves standing next to someone who got there an hour ago.

Finally, after we were baked, crushed, dehydrated tired, and generally pissed off, we got to go in. By "in" I mean past the ticket check. We had another quarter mile of winding driveway before we got to the entrance. Of course, almost everyone ran - at first. Being in halfway decent shape, I can run at a pretty good clip for a decent distance. There were more than a few people who dashed past me, only to fizzle a few yards later as their crap diet and hundreds of cigarettes said, "Oooooh no you don't!!". As a result, I blew past a lot of wheezing fans, and picked up a bunch of places.

Jess and I had agreed to try to grab an outside rail spot near Edge, and that was something I figured would be no problem, given our numbers. But when I finally got inside the arena, I saw dozens of people who were already there, many of whom didn't even have a number. I'm pretty sure they had a second GA area, but never told anyone. Either that, or they let the people who showed up with GA tickets at the front door straight in without making them line up. Either way, I was a bit miffed. We did manage to get a rail spot on Edge's side, but it was way off to the left, near the foot of the claw.

The show itself was pretty good. I won't give away too many spoilers in case there are people deliberately avoiding setlists for this leg (like Jess was), but I will say that they did a good job with what they had. There was a bridge malfunction at the worst time during a song where the bridge is a key prop, and they boogered up the beginning of Vertigo THREE times in a row. Granted, they were in a bit of a hurry after not going on until 9:30 (!!!) and playing til close to midnight, but I don't think too many people were upset about that. Most of them were just glad to see U2 after so many years without. Some of them were maybe a bit too glad.

Before the show started, there was a bit of drama with this poor girl who passed out (likely from heat stroke or dehydration from the shittily organized line-up) and got dragged out of the pitch in front of everyone - her bra riding up, her boobs hanging out, all while peeing herself - before getting escorted to the first-aid area. Poor girl.

By the time the show started, the security staff was on a hair trigger, and considering those crazy Greek fans (of which I am sort of one), you can sort of see why. There was one brawny, military-looking guard who spent most of the concert pacing along the fence, fists clenched, staring at the floor. In fact he was so absorbed with looking tough that he was totally oblivious to one of the fans who lit a ROAD FLARE (with embers-a-spitting) during Streets and started waving it around inside the pit, much to the horror of the people trapped all around him. One of the other guards saw it, and ran past the brawny guy, gesticulating madly, with this look on his face like, "DUDE! PAY ATTENTION!".

When the brawny guy saw what was happening, he went into this frenzy, trying to figure out how to get to the other side of the catwalk, while the flare raged on. Eventually, he did get to the other side, but not before nearly knocking his brick-shaped head off on the edge of the catwalk, and not before the other guards had already gotten to the guy, causing the flare to be dropped on the floor, where it erupted into a small inferno (those crazy Greeks! Hah!). By this time, Bono noticed what was going on, and you could tell he was wondering whether coming back to Athens really was a good idea after all.

Oh well, this entry has gotten long, so I'll be back once I have pics. Sorry if it was a bit rambling but we just got off a 9-hr flight from Munich, after a 5-hr layover, after a 2-1/3 hr flight from Athens. Total travel time = around 18 hrs, once you count the waiting before the Athens flight left. Not to mention my body still being on Athens time.

Hopefully the pics will turn out OK!

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