There's a 1 in 50 chance you'll get inside the most exclusive area of the most coveted seats in the most anticipated tour of 2005.
When U2 comes to Chicago Saturday for the first of four sold-out shows at the United Center (they return in September for two more, also sold out), thousands of fans will pray for a spot inside the band's oval stage (called the Ellipse, but referred to as the "bomb shelter"--a nod to the latest record "How To Dismantle an Atomic Bomb.")
Here's the secret of getting in: dumb luck and faith that Irish eyes will be smiling. Beyond that, it's all logistics.
Four hundred fans at each concert will succeed--landing them close enough to almost touch Bono as he circles the catwalk.
Two weeks ago, I headed to Seattle to scout out the system in advance of the Chicago shows. The goal was to get inside the bomb shelter, but as it turned out, about 2,000 other fans with floor tickets had the same idea.
When I first arrived at 3 p.m. on the day of show, there were only 100 or so people waiting in the two general admission lines. One was for the general public, the other for U2.com fan club members, which was about a third the size of the general line. Bottled water and U2 iPod in tow, I headed for the members' line. These were the hardcore fans--the kind who can recite the lyrics to every B-side released and tell you the name of the band's guitar tech. (It's Dallas.) At 6 p.m., a rumble roared through the length of the lines. The gates to Key Arena at Seattle Center swung open and the fans were unleashed into the venue in a mostly 30-and-over torrent of humanity.
The two lines became one inside, with members a little farther ahead in the queue. We picked up our floor access wristbands and were led to a laptop computer that determined if we got inside the bomb shelter or not. The nice man scanned my ticket and I awaited my fate.
"Please Proceed to Floor," the screen flashed in sad block lettering, which meant standard admission to the floor. Those who were picked for a spot in the bomb shelter saw U2's red-and-black logo on the monitor and screamed.
A band spokeswoman confirmed my impression: Getting picked in line for entry into the bomb shelter is by random selection. Further queries about the workings of the system were referred to the band's web site, which states: "A computer scanner ... will, using a random numerical process, select tickets for entry to the Ellipse."
Inside or out, it really didn't matter in the end. From my staked-out spot on the floor, I was seven feet from the catwalk, stage center, three rows of people deep from the barrier. We saw the visual effects in all their grandeur, while those in the bomb shelter were too close to the main stage to take it all in.
From our position, we saw the giant monitors above in full view. And come showtime, Bono, that lovable Irish scamp, paraded in front of us during "Zoo Station" like John Cleese in the Ministry of Silly Walks. Bass player Adam Clayton and guitarist The Edge circled the catwalk, and drummer Larry Mullen pounded away on the floor tom during "Love and Peace or Else."
There's something intimate about getting inside the bomb shelter, and I'm certain it would have been an exhilarating experience. But with general admission tickets, even if I had arrived at the venue during the opening act, I would have been close enough to the stage--perhaps eight to 10 rows of people deep at most--to lose myself once the band hit those opening notes.
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U2 plays the United Center on Saturday, Monday, Tuesday and Thursday. Doors open at 6 p.m.
GET THERE by 4 p.m., and you'll likely stand no more than five rows from the stage. No lines before noon on the day of show.
GO to Gate 5 and stand in one of two lines for floor ticket holders: one for the general public, the other for U2.com fan club members. The chance of bomb shelter access is the same in either line.
WAIT for the ticket scanner to tell you if your ticket gets you into the bomb shelter.
GRAB one guest if you are selected.
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Don't get stuck with a fake
Many unlucky concertgoers were turned away at the door of the Chicago U2 show in 2001 when the tickets they bought from scalpers turned out to be invalid. Since then, the counterfeiters have only gotten more sophisticated. Jim Bare, director of ticket operations for the United Center, has some suggestions to avoid getting burned.
- Inspect hard-to-copy elements, such as background images and security seals. Make sure type fonts are consistent around the date and seat numbers.
- Without mangling your ticket too much, give it the wet test--the ink won't run on Ticketmaster tickets. And tear your ticket slightly--a real one should have fibers of blue thread in the paper stock.
-- Doug George