MANILA -- At around 7:30 p.m. last Wednesday at the Philippine Arena, a bespectacled middle-aged angry man was telling people to merge the lines. An hour before U2's "The Joshua Tree" concert, people were still in limbo which one to follow.
"Go ahead, because no one is telling us where to go. Merge," he shouted as the line stretched all the way back to the car park at the right side of 55,000-seat venue. There was an even longer queue coming from the same end but it had looped all the way to the front of the arena. The merging made the wait longer to get to the entrace gates.
Standing firm outside the lines as if commanding traffic, the angry fan received no resistance. People had expected the two- to-three-hour heavy traffic from Metro Manila to Bocaue, Bulacan, as per advisories, partly due to the Southeast Asian Games 2019 closing ceremonies in Clark Field Pampanga.
What was not expected was not knowing which line to join after arriving at the Arena. There were three lines -- two long ones for the entrance and one for the online ticket buyers.
Police personnel and bouncer-looking staff members with "Philippine Arena" IDs pointed to different directions. A cop told us he had no idea why they didn't let people in earlier.
There were also lines for the three comfort rooms, two for women and one for men. If you're among those coming from a two-hour "road trip," your bloated bladder had to endure another line.
When we attended the Guns 'N Roses concert for their "Not In This Lifetime" tour on November 11 last year, we didn't experience the same pre-concert headaches. Considering it was the first time a major international rock group performed at the Arena. There were also more food stalls and tables and chairs to sit on. We can't help but ask the heavens what happened.
Under the trees, we were approached by a Malaysian guy in his mid-20s from Kuala Lumpur asking if there were a particular queue for his upper box ticket. He said he came all the way from Sucat, Paranaque, where he stayed with a Filipino friend the night before. He and his Malaysian girlfriend had to take tricycles, a jeepney, a bus, the MRT and a van that passed by the Arena.
"It's our first time here in the Philippines only for U2. We failed to get tickets in Singapore and Kuala Lumpur wasn't included in the Joshua Tree tour," he said.
It's a good thing some early birds appeased him by telling him he had to endure the same queue as theirs.
Acoording to an earlier report, an estimated 45,319 people and 16,479 vehicles filled the venue last Wednesday.
We were told the early birds who formed the first line were those who came at 3 p.m. and they've been standing there for four hours. Some brought books to while away the long wait and there were some smart ones who drank beer, smoked and took a nap under the shade of palm trees.
It was a picnic for them but then again, try to enjoy beer and pizza when the loud speakers kept on playing "Where the Streets Have No Name" non-stop for four hours. Even inside the Arena, where you lined up for a hotdog sandwich for another hour and tortured by the idea that the concert had already started, there's still the same tune playing over and over again.
It was the sixth song U2 played that night, after the opening "Sunday Bloody Sunday," the lead single from their 1983 album "War," "Gloria" from the 1981 "October" album, "New Year's Day," from "War, and "Bad" and "Pride (In the Name of Love)," from the 1984 album, "Unforgettable Fire."
Why they played it after five songs was explained by The Edge in an earlier interview with entertainment journalist Rohit Khilnani on NDTV in New York this September.
"The show is in three parts. There's the opening and that album ('The Joshua Tree') from beginning to end and the third act to close the show. We decided a little while ago to play 'The Joshua Tree' because it felt like those songs suddenly had a new point... where all world affairs had come around 360 and we were back to what we felt like similar era to the mid '80s when that album was written and recorded."
For the Philippine audience, the third act was "Elevation," "Vertigo," "Even Better Than the Real Thing," "Beautiful Day," "Ultraviolet (Light My Way)," "Love Is Bigger Than Anything in Its Way," and finally, "One."
And for us, the magic of U2 was made evident in experiencing "Where The Streets Have No Name" performed live after five hours of hearing its piped-in version and wondering whether a steamed hotdog sandwich and a bottle of mineral water is worth missing the opening number.
As the opening track of "The Joshua Tree" album, the song was written by The Edge and Bono about a street in Belfast where residents are known based on their religion and wealth. In contrast, Bono was said to have written the lyrics after a humanitarian trip in Ethiopia, where such divisions didn't exist.
At the Arena, the ever-sensitive Bono may have heard of the fans' struggles.
"Thank you Manila for your patience. I know it’s taken a while getting EVERYBODY in the Arena tonight. It took us four decades," he said, punctuated by a short laugh.
"But we feel very welcome. And this is for sure going to be the best show we ever play in Manila," he said, before playing "Bad."
And in the two-hour concert that started a little past 9 p.m., almost everyone among the 45,319 audience members had what Bono described "rock 'n roll transcendence."
We were waiting for our personal favorites like "All I Want Is You," from "Rattle And Hum" album and as with Gen-Xers like me, from the iconic film "Reality Bites."
We were expecting the Joey Ramone-tribute song, "In A Little While" and "Stuck In A Moment You Can't Get Out Of" "from "All That You Can Leave Behind" album that would be perfect for us, Filipinos forever doomed to heavy Metro Manila traffic.
And so is "Stay (Faraway, So Close)" from "Zooropa," whose only memories we have are You Tube videos of Bono and The Edge doing a duet using one microphone.
Then again, if you're among those who are used to experiencing U2 on YouTube or through local live bands covering their songs for the past decades, making it to the December 11 concert has been an achievement of a lifetime. Not all have resources to go to Singapore, Tokyo and other neighboring countries, which obviously have efficient trains leading to the venues and have better, far, far more organized queueing system for ticket holders.
Unless Bono fulfills his promise of performing in the Philippines every year in the immediate future, Wednesday night will be among those old tales we'd tell our children and grandchildren: "I was there and here's how it happened."
The perpetual crowd charmer, Bono flattered the Filipino audience by telling them the Manila stop is very special for the band because it marked their 2,050th concert.
After the show ended at around 11:30 p.m., the expected "carmaggedon" for those going back to Metro Manila started at the parking lot. People were thirsty and hungry but now the stalls were all closed. We bumped into few acquiantances who had the same question: "May tubig ka pa?' Where can we buy here?"
Due to heavy volume of vehicles coming from Clark merging with those from the concert, some needed to wait for nearly two hours to get out of the Arena.
Like in our Guns 'N Roses concert experience, the smart ones had armed themselves with coolers full of beers and bottled water. Once out of the Arena, there was the heavy traffic at the NLEX, causing thousands to reach their homes even in what's usually a 30-minute drive to Quezon City and nearby cities past 5 a.m. Thursday.
Despite all the troubles, Bono prayed for an epic night of rock’n'roll transcendence and thankfully the Filipinos and other fans from neighboring countries experienced that.
The following day on the U2.com website, the band posted this message about the December 11 concert:
"And what a reception from a huge audience in the world’s largest indoor venue... We all needed it on the penultimate night of a tour that opened in Vancouver in May 2017 and closes this Sunday in Mumbai."
"The Joshua Tree" tour will have its final leg in D.Y. Patil sports stadium in Mumbai on December 15. The open-air sports stadium has the same 55,000 audience capacity and is expected to be filled to the rafters.
The Manila leg may have highlighted worldwide problems centered on climate change, human rights, freedom of the press, Donald Trump, global health issues like HIV/AIDs but in the end, the tired concert-goers' most immediate concern that night was probably an efficient road transportation system, a republic where the streets have no heavy traffic.