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The Scene at the Coliseum: The Fans, the Media and the Music

November 19, 1987|STEVE HOCHMAN

"We're going to be on TV again ?" sighed a weary U2 fan as a Channel 4 news crew set up to do interviews outside the Coliseum late Tuesday afternoon before U2's concert.

For fans of the Irish rock group, this media attention has gotten to be old hat, especially for the 70 or so faithful at this particular gathering--a picnic hosted by a local U2 fan club known as A Celebration.

The social club, which grew out of a spontaneous 1985 picnic before a U2 concert at the adjacent Sports Arena, has been spotlighted in national rock magazines and on MTV.

Now, KNBC-TV correspondent Bill Lagattuta was taking advantage of the club's four-hour, pre-concert party outside the Coliseum in the hope of gaining insights into just why this band--which reflects none of the standard rock 'n' roll rebellion that gives the media such an easy angle--has become so massively popular.

The answers didn't come easy.

The responses to Lagattuta's questions referred again and again to broad, somewhat elusive terms like the sense of community and spirituality surrounding the band.

Exasperated, he turned to a cluster of fans and, apparently hoping for a simpler and flashier answer, asked, "Anybody here just like the music ?"

Not everyone who was at the Coliseum is thrilled with the success that U2 is having these days. While many of the group's newer fans used words like awesome and rad to describe Tuesday's concert--which grossed an estimated $1.4 million--another word best describes the attitude of several longtime loyalists: cynical .

Jay Senese, who first saw U2 at the tiny Woodstock Club in Anaheim in 1981, used the word cynical several times as he stood outside the Coliseum before the concert.

"I almost didn't come tonight," the 29-year-old Los Angeles stockbroker confessed. "I'm getting burned out on this a little bit. I just bought my ticket this morning."

Senese's feelings were not the exception among the members of A Celebration, which meets the first Sunday of each month at Hollywood's Lhasa Club and raises money for the Amnesty International and World Vision charities. Even on Tuesday, the group collected canned food for the Union Rescue Mission.

"I just don't know what to think about this," said Ellen McCurdy, one of A Celebration's founders, tipping her head toward the imposing stadium and speculating on ways the band might be able to transcend the usual hype that accompanies shows at such large venues.

Still, when the first chords of "Pride (in the Name of Love)" wafted out of the Coliseum during U2's sound check shortly before 4 p.m., the electricity that shot through the faithful was tangible.

Said Senese: "The only band I've ever hyped is this band. I'm one for one."

But, he said, he was more excited about going to see the young English band Hurrah! at the Palace on Wednesday than seeing U2 one more time.

"I'm leaving when '40' (U2's traditional concert closing song) starts," he said. "I'm going to beat the traffic. I have to be at work at 6 a.m. to lose another 40 points in the market."

Not everyone even waited for "40"--which the band played around 11:30 p.m.--to make an exit.

Marsha and Rob Delvecchio were on their way home only an hour into U2's 90-minute set, despite the fact that Marsha, 26, had waited seven years to see the band (she'd been out of town during every prior performance, she said) and their field location tickets had cost $150 each.

"I don't want to leave, but we have to," she said, complaining that too many boisterous "kids" have been drawn to the group.

"It was pretty crazy on the floor," she said. "There was a lot of pushing and shoving and yelling."

But just how rowdy it was Tuesday depended on who you talked to. Field guard Ralph Soule, 50, felt the crowd was a bit more unruly than he'd expected. He particularly pointed to the 20 or so people who leaped over barriers from the inclined seats to the field as the second-billed Pretenders began its set. He did admit, however, that it was nothing approaching the level of misbehavior at a Raiders football game.

It seems that the more there are fans of U2, the more it costs to be a fan of U2. Typical were four college-age friends who paid a brokerage $110 each for field seats. On top of that, they paid for nine souvenir T-shirts at $17 a pop-not to mention the parking around the Coliseum, which ran as high as $20 . One of th em, 18-year-old UCLA student Danny Gonzales bought four of the shirts and was wearing another one form a previous U2 tour.

Why would they be willing to shell out so much ? Said Gonzales' friend Mark O'Neal, 18,"It's a memory, man."

Another indication of how things have changed: Lead singer Bono Hewson's standard attempt at establishing a communal bond with the audience by pulling a fan on stage to play guitar during the gospel song "People Get Ready" turned suddenly into a lesson on Hollywood networking. The volunteer, a young man named Ian, looked quite comfortable playing before the large crowd. When the song was over, he coolly took a demo tape of his own band from his pocket and handed it to the U2 singer.

Said the startled Hewson, "I knew I'd find someone like that in Los Angeles."

Then, reading the band's name (it sounded like "Syllable Chase"), Hewson added, "With a weird name like that you're going to need all the luck you can get."

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