We were on our way back from a High School mission trip to Montana when I bought my first U2 album. The year was 1992 and I was 15 years old. The record was Achtung Baby (actually it was a cassette tape). Our youth group had stopped in Colorado Springs for the night, and to kill a little time before bed, our sponsors dropped us off at one of the local malls. Most shops in malls don't interest me much, but record stores always have grabbed my attention. I remember looking in the rock section and narrowing down my focus to one band, U2. Having never listened to much of their music, I had become intrigued by this foreign group when some of my friends at Camp Blue Haven had played some of their songs that summer. When I was younger, I remember seeing older teens wearing Rattle & Hum t-shirts at camp. I had also heard people say that U2 was a Christian band.
All of that combined to make me curious. I really liked the sound of a couple of the songs I had heard earlier in the summer from Achtung Baby, namely The Fly and Mysterious Ways. But having also seen the Rattle & Hum t-shirts a few years back, I was torn. Should it be Rattle & Hum or Achtung Baby? Going for the more recent release, I grabbed the Achtung Baby cassette and bought the first of many U2 albums.
The rest of that summer and into the autumn, Achtung Baby was on heavy rotation in my Walkman. And over the next couple of years, I began to expand my U2 collection. I worked my way backwards, skipping Rattle & Hum and going straight to The Joshua Tree (I bought Rattle & Hum a few months later). As much as I loved Achtung Baby, the songs on The Joshua Tree were what I would describe as epic and cinematic. They were the kinds of songs that could transport you to another time and place. One of the first few times I listened to The Joshua Tree, I was riding in a car amongst the mountainous landscapes of northern New Mexico. Later on, I remember how well the songs fit with the desert topography of my grandparents' place out in Far West Texas. Achtung Baby introduced me to U2, but The Joshua Tree sold me on them. It wasn't long until I had a copy of every U2 record and a couple VHS concert tapes to go with them.
I'm not exactly sure why I grew to love U2 so much. I've had various musical phases that have come and gone, but I've always stuck with U2. I think it's partly down to the fact that they've always been about so much more than simply making music. They're activists as well as artists. And they are a Christian band, though they can't be put in a box like much contemporary Christian music. In other words, they are a rock 'n roll band who happen to have a committed Christian faith, but they aren't what most people would call a "Christian band". They're comfortable exploring some of the darker subjects, as well as the loftier and more uplifting motifs. Faith must always be lived out in the real world and the vibe I get from Bono is that his faith is genuine and real. So, I connect to U2 on multiple levels and I just really love the music they play and the songs they write. So once I became a fan, I became a fan for life.
But it wasn't until the spring of 1997, after the release of the Pop album that I finally had the chance to see U2 live. A friend and I travelled to Dallas, TX and caught the Popmart show at the Cotton Bowl. I saw another show (with 3 of my cousins) on that tour in San Antonio later that year. And then, in 2001, my cousin Brent and I drove down to Houston and saw Bono and the boys play on the Elevation tour in what used to be called the Compaq Center (this is now the home of Joel Osteen and his megachurch - Bono broke it in for Joel!). A few months later, I introduced Juli to the U2 live experience at the Frank Erwin Center in Austin. She was impressed.
We had tickets to the Houston show in 2005, but I sold them and made a handsome profit in the process. I still kind of regret doing that, but it was probably the smart thing to do at the time. I was already in trouble for buying Longhorn season tickets that year! Then on October 12, 2009, my cousin Brent and I got right up close to the stage for the 360 show in what is now called AT & T Stadium in Arlington. Juli would have joined us that evening, but she was only 8 days away from giving birth to Ashlyn!
So I've had the privilege of attending 5 U2 concerts on 3 different tours over the past 20 years. This Friday, Lord willing, I'll attend my 6th. And with this being the 30 year anniversary tour of The Joshua Tree, I'm especially excited to see and hear the sights and sounds as U2 play their most ambitious record live in its entirety. The show will be in Louisville, KY, so it will also afford me the chance to go on a road trip, or one might say, a pilgrimage of sorts. As Larry Mullen Jr. remarked in the film, Rattle & Hum, "It's a musical journey." So it is! - Shay