The Joshua Tree is one of the best albums of the last 50 years, IMHO, and the pinnacle of U2’s creativity and popularity. It wasn’t known at the time, but the tour also eventually produced Rattle and Hum, the two-disc live album with a collection of best moments from that epic 1987 American tour. Rattle and Hum was also released in theaters (later on video) as a concert movie. I was present for one of the recordings and stood right next to the stage, in what was an accidental moment of serendipity–and an obvious lapse of security. Here’s the details:
Arguably the most famous rock band in the world at the time, Irish rockers U2 were political messengers as much as musicians. U2 steadfastly refused to play any city on its US tour that was vested financially in South Africa due to its repressive Apartheid government. So, Dallas (and many other major American cities) were off the list of stops. That left U2’s advance team and management scrambling for suitable arenas. U2 could fill 60,000 seat stadiums back then. But playing NBA arenas nightly was the steady money, grinding out 110 shows in 8 months. It was a brutal stretch, but there was clearly a market for U2 everywhere.
U2 announced they’d play lots of second-rate venues which included something of an oval shaped shoebox known as the Tarrant County Convention Center in Downtown Fort Worth. Fucking hell. Now, you have to understand that if you were from Dallas, the city of Fort Worth and anything west of Arlington (home of the Texas Rangers, and now the Cowboys) was considered a second-rate cow town. NOBODY from Dallas went to Fort Worth. EVER. If Fort Worth was “where the West began,” then Dallas was “where the East began.” and Dallas people just didn’t *do* Forth Worth. Goat ropers. The only reason someone from Dallas would end up in Fort Worth was if they got lost or kidnapped. So out of nowhere, U2 announces they’re playing Downtown Fort Worth! This was enough to set off everybody in the civilized world, who wondered how in the hell we’d get tickets to some dump with 6.500 seats that might as well have been in an Oklahoma cornfield. Fuck this.
Well, my girlfriend at the time (Sally Nicholson) bought us some tickets. and we knew other people who were going to the show. So, we all met at my apartment on Fair Oaks and drove to the dreaded boondocks of shitsville, Fort Worth, to see U2.
The show was terrific (first time I’d seen them). The demand had been so strong and the arena was so small that U2 announced they’d do a last-minute second show in Forth Worth, the following night. As we were driving home, Sally tells me — we’re going TOMORROW NIGHT. “I bought us two more tickets.”
So, the following night, we drive to Forth Worth again (it’s 35 miles, 90 minutes drive, but 50 years from Dallas). We get there and discover our horrible seats are rear upper balcony….top row. Next to the cement columns. Like nosebleed plus no oxygen mask. WORST seats in the house. Back then, there were no giant screens to see the performer. Might as well watch the show from Dallas. But hey, we’re inside Tarrant County Convention Center seeing the biggest band in the world for a second consecutive night! Can’t complain.
I forgot how long we waited. We got impatient. Maybe 2-3 songs into the act, we decide to scatter down to near the stage and notice there an a spot right next to the Edge (lead guitarist David Howell Evans) off to the side that’s begging for ballsy invaders NOLAN and SALLY to stand there. So, we get down to the stage area and to our shock, nobody messed with us. We stood there, waiting to be hustled away by security, right next to a riser off on the stage where The Edge is maybe 15 feet away playing his riffs and the arena is so poorly staffed that no one comes over and tell us to move or arrests us from trespassing. We should never have been allowed to stand there.
Then, a glorious moment in rock history happens.
Bono and is vocals are on fire that night, and he’s decked in a ridiculous cowboy hat, and out of nowhere he brings blues legend B.B. King onto the stage. He announces that they wrote a song especially for B.B. King when they were touring in Memphis a few weeks earlier and now THIS NIGHT would be the first time they’d perform it live, I get really excited by risky, unscripted moments, especially from great artists. And this one, destined to appear in the concert movie and live album, Rattle and Hum, was the pinnacle of musical poignancy. I’m here. B.B. and Bono. 40 feet away. Recording live. If I could whistle, I would have done that Peter Frampton thing from his live album where the annoying asshole guy whistles his way into legendary bliss over the opening stanza of the Frampton vocals and might as well have been credited on the accompaniment. B.B. King plays his pet guitar named Lucille, and Bono and the band are obviously in awe of this collaboration (you can tell when a performance becomes something extraordinary). Sally and I are taking it all in, watching, in a spot we had no business standing, at a concert I had no plan to attend. Musically speaking, this was *IT.” A magic moment.
Oh and so, while beloved Sally and I are standing so close by on the other side of this curtain, here is U2 discussing how they will perform their song with B.B. King for the first time (click video link below).
Interestingly, 25 years later, B.B. King played at Buffalo Bills in Primm (on the Nevada-California border). Marieta and I went to that show and sat ringside and B.B. King delivered a masterful performance, in his 80s, that was every bit as memorable.
But NOTHING beats the surprise of that November night in Fort Worth in 1987.
Read more in this series by clicking HERE.