This is a question I’ve asked myself often over the years, and I’m guessing you have too – especially these last few chapters of their career. This may only be the case on the West Coast (at least I hope it is, since I’m going to finally experience my first East Coast U2 show this year!) but it almost seems like the crowds get more generic, and filled with fewer and fewer real U2 fans, with every tour. My observation is that half the crowd is there because they think of U2 the way baby boomers think of the Rolling Stones: a cool band from their time who just keeps chugging on as a nostalgia act. They want them to churn out “With Or Without You” (U2’s “Under My Thumb”), “Beautiful Day” (U2’s “Start Me Up”) and “Vertigo” (U2’s “Jumpin Jack Flash,” which these people only know thanks to 2005 Apple commercials).
But for some reason, these individuals with dubious credibility as real U2 fans seem to show up on every tour. Here’s how you can spot them: When you’re in the elipse/catwalk/heart/whatever it’s going to be called on this tour, and you paid good money for your general admission ticket and you lined up early to get as close as possible and you did everything right, because you love U2 and they’re worth it – and you’re singing every single lyric to every song – this is the person who gives you the look. You know the look I’m talking about.
It’s that look that says, “Is he/she mentally unstable? How does he/she know all the words to this song, and in an arrangement that’s totally different than the way Bono sings it on that album I haven’t listened to in 20+ years? What a weirdo.” When that happens to me, as it does every time and inevitably will on this tour as well, my gut reaction is to shoot them a look right back: one that says, “No, YOU’RE weird! Who pays $200 to stand in Bono’s direct field of vision if they aren’t a real fan? A total douche, that’s who.” And then I go back to singing the “Hallelujah” coda of “Running to Stand Still,” which is what caused him/her to look at me that way in the first place. Unless they give me that look during “One,” which is when I go back to singing the “Hear me calling” coda, or “With or Without You,” which is when I go back to singing the “Shine like stars” coda, none of which this person knows, and they continue to stare at me as if I belong in some rare class of deranged fandom – totally unaware that this is just genuine fandom, and there’s nothing weird about it.
These are the same people U2 wanted to reach by releasing SOI for free on iTunes, and hopefully the band has finally realized that there’s no hope for fakers like them. But it’s no monetary loss to the band, because these people will still drop their cash to give U2 that great life Bono always thanks the crowd for – and if for no other reason than that, I’m glad they do.