It was akin to a bucket list trip. Never having spent much time in Australia as a tourist, it was fun doing the travel writer kind of journey. A long a flight from Melbourne into Singapore is routine for those returning from Down Under but going direct to a U2 concert was a different kind of experience.
There are all kinds of checks to the theoretical speed of air transport. Singapore immigration is designed to assist people across frontiers and it delivers with superlative efficiency. It is in the management of the baggage carousel that even the world’s best airport trips up.
Less than an hour and a half after arrival at Changi to get to the National Stadium in Kallang for the U2 opener was a huge challenge, made worse by the slightly delayed “wheels on ground”. The start-stop Belt consumed more than its fair bit to add to the challenge.
The next sight was the impossibly long queue for taxis. An instant call to Grab (no Uber in Singapore) was the alternative but then the pickup is at another level altogether. But local knowledge is easily obtained by a query to a Singaporean lady and the car was there to ‘grab’.
The one problem the concert brought to the island was the traffic jam around the venue. It took so long to crawl on Rochor Road that my host Nihar felt a quick walk to the Nicoll Highway MRT was the best bet. In normal circumstances yes, but with a suitcase and a carry-on plus a bottle of the finest in scotch were impediments to meeting the time challenge.
Technology has its drawbacks too. The ticket machines would work only with cash at the MRT, which meant running to an ATM for currency. And then the machine would not accept a S$10 note because the most change it can tender is S$4. Run to the ticketing office for a request to change the $10 into two $5s later, we were aboard the short ride to the National Stadium, but considerably wetted in sweat thanks to Singapore humidity, never far from Chennai's.
All your troubles seem far away as the notes of music emerge from the stadium as the concert has just begun, not in Singapore fashion of frightful efficiency but a bit behind schedule for Bono & co. The security would not, of course, allow anyone with a suitcase and my host had to rush home with it while I walked on in a seemingly endless semi circle to get to Gate 15.
Troubles are over, but wait, there is more in store as the ticketing machine at the gate would not scan the ticket on the phone as the image was too small and it wasn’t expanding for the scanning diode light to decode the bar code. Frantic calls to friends inside to come up to the gate with a scannable copy of the ticket helped clear the final hurdle and we hurried on to the centre of the venue in front of the stage, which was the fun place to be in.
The genuine rock concert fan can only be in the ‘zone’, hands the air, fingers stabbing space in automatic response to the rhythm. The sheer energy of it all was astounding and Bono was having them eat out of his hands. He was the consummate master in geeing up around 50,000 Singaporeans with an amazing repertoire, even if only out of a 1987 Joshua Tree album. All great entertainers have this ability, only Bono seemed to take it to greater heights with his impromptu ‘conversations’ with the concert crowd.
The highlights were towards the end after a couple of house of belting out favourite songs. You can't have a U2 concert without being intensely political. The messages he conveyed were so touching, so realistic and yet a slap in the face of the world. “Brother can love brother, sister can love sister,” he said pointedly, even if the Singapore authorities could take offence at it as they are not yet out of a distinct homophobia phase.
And he spoke loudly of democracy and human rights, concepts that are fast disappearing from a world obsessed with its “strong” rulers. The appeal to women of the world to unite was an emotive one from the bottom of his heart, the visuals behind Bono of inspirational women who have done their bit to tell the world off receiving thundering applause, with Greta Thunberg being greeted the loudest. It was part of a stirring finale of messages, couched in the power of music and the charisma of a musician. The visuals, handled by a filmmaker, enhanced the aura of the evening.
The experience was as emotional as it was humbling as we think of how much better the world could have been if only…...