Even Better Than The Real Thing

For our latest mission, we staged a fake U2 concert on a Manhattan rooftop, moments before a real U2 show across the street at Madison Square Garden.

Featuring: Kula, Goodman, Jinn, Slocum, Todd, Shafer, Gerdts, Walker, Kentron, Ace$Thugg, Wright, Lang, Monachus, Arauz, Nicholson, Chunk, Lodwick, Warren, Riley, Marino, HordeFest, Barrison, Shelktone, Taylor, Robertson, Hammy, Ross, Law, Hunter, Harris, MacNeil, Cassis, Moore, Bowman, Mikes, Condon, Barth, Fite, Wood, Simmons, Anderson, KnightSwan, Bruise, Diva, Knowles, Castiglione, + many more



Digital Photography: Agents Arauz, Chunk, Knowles, Marino, Nicholson, Todd, Warren
DV Cameras: Agents Lodwick, Marino, Monachus, Riley, Shafer, Walker, Winckler
Sound Design: Agents Gerdts, Kentron
IE Agent Coordinators: Agents Ace$Thugg, Wright
Security: Agents Lang, Monachus
Graphics: Agent Nicholson

Back in January, U2 announced the dates of their “Vertigo” world tour. I contemplated trying to purchase tickets for the May 21 gig at Madison Square Garden. I was a big U2 fan growing up, and MSG is right across the street from my apartment. I ultimately decided it wasn’t worth the steep ticket price. The tickets to the event sold out literally in seconds. As I was thinking about the show, a few things occurred to me:

– U2 is playing right across the street from where I live.
– I have rooftop access at my four-story apartment building.
– U2 is famous for playing on rooftops.

It seemed obvious that “U2″ would have to play an unannounced gig on my rooftop an hour before the doors opened at the Garden.

U2 is known for playing impromptu concerts in public places. This past November, they performed an unannounced concert from the back of a flatbed truck driving through Manhattan.

Most famously, in 1987 U2 performed on the roof of a liquor store in downtown Los Angles. The band filmed the rooftop concert for their “Where the Streets Have No Name” video, which featured footage of the entire event, including the cops shutting the surprise concert down.


U2, Los Angeles, March 27, 1987

The stunt was viewed as an homage to the Beatles, who of course played their own rooftop gig on the top of Apple records.

In 2000, U2 played another rooftop show in Dublin to promote the release of their “All That You Can’t Leave Behind” album.


U2, Dublin, September 27, 2000

My roommate, Agent Kula, is an excellent drummer and plays in one of New York’s finest cover bands, Enormous Television, with Agent Jinn on guitar, and Agent Goodman on bass. I contacted the band, and they instantly agreed to take on the mission. We just had to find a “Bono”, which would not be easy. We ultimately decided on Agent Slocum, not because of a resemblance to Bono (he looks nothing like Bono), nor because of his singing skills (he is no professional singer), but because of his charisma, confidence, and commitment. We needed someone that could project the “attitude” of Bono more than anything else.

This was all decided in February, and we had three long months of waiting for May 21.


Agent Jinn at the sound check, MSG in the background

Our first meeting was on May 15. We had a sound check on the roof to see how loud the guitar and bass amps would sound from the street. I was completely paranoid that they wouldn’t be powerful enough for people to notice on noisy 8th Avenue. At the sound check we were pleasantly surprised to hear them loud and clear from the street. Agent Kentron joined the project as the pre-event sound designer. He helped us place the amps in the best possible place on the roof. I had rented a PA from Sound Instrument Rentals, but at $120 a day, we couldn’t afford to sound check it. We would have to find out how loud it was the day of the event.


Agent Jinn sound checks his guitar on the roof

Since the band already worked together and had covered several U2 songs in the past, they didn’t need too much time to rehearse. In fact, they only had one rehearsal, the day of the mission from 12:30 to 4:00. Most of the focus was on Agent Slocum, perfecting his voice and finding the appropriate moments for him to deliver Bono’s trademark sermons.


Rehearsal

We decided on a four-song set list:

Vertigo – the first single off the new album; appropriate for a roof
Where The Streets Have No Name – a nod to its legendary video
Even Better Than The Real Thing – for obvious reasons
Pride (In the Name of Love) – for it’s audience response vocal chant


Agent Kentron

After the rehearsal, we headed over to our apartment to set up the equipment. It was a beautiful New York spring day, but the forecast called for showers in the evening. We kept our eyes on the sky, knowing the rain could ruin the entire mission. Agent Kentron helped us set up the PA and then had to split to another job. Agent Gerdts arrived and took over as the on-site sound designer. The musicians brought their own equipment, and we borrowed a few mics and mic stands from the UCB Theatre.


Agents Kentron and Gerdts

At 5:30, we had an organizational meeting on the roof for everyone involved “behind the scenes” with the mission. One of the photographers, Agent Nicholson, made up very official looking press and security passes for the event. He had them laminated and brought one for everyone involved.


Agent Winckler wears his press pass

Agent Monachus had complied a list of all of the “tip line” numbers for local NYC television stations. He distributed a copy to everyone involved, and the plan was to try to tip the news that U2 was setting up on a rooftop about 30 minutes before our concert.

We had two cameramen on the roof, three on the street, and one on the roof of a much taller building nearby. Agent Marino works for the Magnet Theatre, which is located just down the street from our apartment. He was able to get access to the building’s roof to film and photograph the event from above.


Agent Marino filming from across the street

Agent Lang played the role of the bouncer. He wore a security pass and a security hat, and was assigned to stand in front of one of our neighbor’s doors during the event. The idea was to make it seem that the way to the roof was through my neighbor’s building rather than ours.


Agent Lang

Japanese television station NHK was on hand to film the mission with two HD cameras. They contacted me about doing a story on Improv Everywhere, and I figured it would lend legitimacy to the hoax if a professional film crew was on site.

Agents Ace$Thugg and Wright were in charge of the IE agents. Around 75 agents met on the steps of the post office a few blocks away at 6:30. Ace$Thugg and Wright were assigned to tell them what was happening and how they would be a part of it. The idea was to have these undercover agents start on the 7th Avenue side of the Garden a few minutes before the concert. When the signal was given, they would begin running towards our location, screaming “U2 is down the street!” They would then pose as U2 fans on the street and enjoy the concert.


Agents Ace$Thugg and Wright


IE Agents at the meeting point

I stayed on the roof to take photographs. I bought an “Apple” T-Shirt for the event to further confuse the crowd into thinking that maybe the concert was a shoot for another iPod commercial.

Although the band would not be visible for most of their concert, we tried to make them look as much like U2 as possible. There were several obstacles to over come. Firstly, our “The Edge” was a Korean-American.


Agents Goodman and Jinn

Agent Jinn dressed as closely to the Edge as possible, wearing all black, a knit cap, and a fake goatee.

Agent Goodman cut his hair in the style of Adam Clayton, and sprayed it silver to match the bassist’s current look. He also wore a pair of white-framed sunglasses similar to the ones Clayton wears in the Vertigo tour promo poster.


Agents Becket sprays Agent Goodman’s hair

Agent Slocum bought a wig that somewhat approximated Bono’s hair. Bono slicks his hair back, and it’s hard to get a wig to do that. We ended up tucking in the wig’s bangs and hoping that from four stories up it wouldn’t look too bad. We figured Bono’s “The Fly” look, which he still uses during the “Achtung Baby” songs on the current tour, would be the most recognizable. I found a pair of “fly” glasses, and Agent Slocum dressed in a black leather jacket.


Bono, sans wig and jacket

Agent Kula didn’t have to worry too much about his look, as he’d be hiding behind his drum kit. He slicked his hair back, and wore sunglasses and all black.

Our goal was to start the concert at 7 PM. By 6:45 PM black clouds were quickly forming in the western sky. I called Agent Ace$Thugg and told him to send over the agents; we were going to start fifteen minutes ahead of schedule.


Agent Lodwick films the empty street moments before

Our entire team was in place and the band was ready to go. Tons of IE Agents began running down the street from the Garden. They arrived in two giant waves, picking up strangers along the way for the ride.


IE Agents begin to arrive

Once a decent crowd had assembled, I grabbed the megaphone and stepped to the edge of the roof. “Hello New York! Please welcome the number one band in the world, playing a free concert for all of New York City, U2!!!!”


Agent Todd starts the show

I quickly passed the megaphone to Bono in time for him to shout “Uno, Dos, Tres, Catorce” while the band kicked into the opening riff of “Vertigo”. The show was off with a blast of energy. The PA sounded good; it was distorted just enough to help mask the fact that Agent Slocum wasn’t Bono.

The crowd began to grow on the street. People were franticly jaywalking across 8th Avenue for a better look. Cars were slowing down to rubberneck.

Cabs began making sudden stops as their passengers quickly paid and ran to the street.

Folks in neighboring buildings came to their windows to see what was happening. The cheers got louder and louder. Chants of “Bono! Bono!” broke out after the first song.

By midway through the set, there were around 300 people crammed on the sidewalk across the street. There were many more on the rooftops and balconies around us.


Rock and Roll stops the traffic

Some folks were completely fooled and exhilarated to be seeing U2. Others were savvy enough to know it wasn’t real, but still stayed for the entire concert and cheered along. From the street, Bono was the only member of the band consistently visible, though usually only his head could be seen.

The Edge and Adam Clayton stepped closer to the edge in quick spurts to tease the crowd. Larry Mullen remained behind his drum kit, visible only to neighbors looking from above.


The view from across the street

Storm clouds loomed as the band finished the final notes of “Pride”. “One more song!” the crowd began to chant from the street. They weren’t going home without an encore. U2 launched into a reprise of Vertigo (just as the real U2 handled their encore in their free Brooklyn show last fall) and the crowd went wild.


The storm gathers

On the streets a hoard of cops were trying to figure out how to get on the roof. The crowd watched as they would rush into one building, only to come out a few minutes later unsuccessful. With a mere thirty seconds to go in the encore, a police captain dressed in white emerged from a ladder at the back of the building. He was followed by four more officers in blue.

“Shut this down,” the captain yelled! “There are just twenty seconds left in this last song,” I said attempting to reason. “Shut it down!” he insisted. Agent Gerdts quickly began pulling the plugs to all of the amps. Bono remained in character and shouted out to the crowd with his megaphone, “It looks like they’re shutting us down.” The crowd began to boo and chant “one more song!”


A neighbor cheers for U2

The cops were very aggressive at first. They demanded to see the IDs of everyone involved. They went after Bono first, and Agent Slocum provided his license. “He’s got an out of state ID,” the cop barked, “Cuff him!”

There was no way I was going to let Agent Slocum take the fall alone, so I walked up to the captain and declared “I also have an out of state ID.” He looked at me like I was an idiot and shouted, “You got an out of state ID too? Then you’re also getting cuffed!”

Everyone in the band gave over their IDs as well. A few members of the crew were forced to do the same, while others laid low and escaped attention. More distressing than the cops was the impending storm. The sky had turned completely black and rain was imminent. Those not in handcuffs worked feverishly to get our expensive equipment off of the roof. All but the drums were saved from the rain, and they dried off just fine.


Agent Gerdts taking down the PA speakers

Agent Slocum and I were taken downstairs to the front hallway. The cops were too smart to take us outside where a large crowd waited in the rain to see the celebrities. It would have been perfect if they had taken a cuffed fake Bono out the front door, but they knew not to do that.

Eventually 6 other agents were brought to our holding area: the rest of the band (Agents Goodman, Kula, Jinn), two cameramen (Agents Shafer and Walker), and the sound designer (Agent Gerdts). We were detained for about an hour in the sweaty hallway as the three remaining police officers ran checks on our IDs to make sure we had no outstanding warrants for our arrest.

The mood remained tense until the head cop (the captain had long since departed) finally asked us, “How do you guys all know each other?” We explained to him that we were all comedians. This broke the ice a bit, and the cops began to see the humor in the situation. The lead cop started making fun of us in a playful way. Agent Slocum’s ID was a source of confusion, as he was still in full Bono costume and looked nothing like his photo. “He’s wearing a wig,” I explained to the cop. The cops hadn’t realized he was in a wig at any point over the previous half hour. The funniest moment came when the lead cop turned to Agent Jinn and asked, “Who are you supposed to be?” “The Edge…” Agent Jinn sheepishly confessed. This actually caused all three cops to break with laughter.

The cops ended up giving us the lightest punishment possible, a charge of “unreasonable noise” and a summons to appear in court. They explained that the judge would probably give us a $10 fine. “Take their cuffs off, these men are gentlemen,” the head cop ordered after our summons were written. As I was heading back upstairs, I apologized to the head cop, “I’m really sorry we wasted your time today.” He replied, “You were trying to do a funny thing. I understand, but we had to do something.”

BAND / CREW REPORTS

Agent Kula (Larry Mullen, Jr.)

I kind of held the position that I wouldn’t need to wear a costume because 1) my drums would be positioned out of view of the street and 2) no random passerby would ever say, “Hey, on drums, isn’t that … LARRY MULLEN?” – even if the drummer WAS Larry Mullen.

The rest of the band looked great, though, so I knew at least the photos would turn out well. The sound, however, might be another story.

We didn’t exactly have a wealth of rooftop playing experience between us, so there was certainly the possibility that upon the first note of “Vertigo,” I wouldn’t be able to hear Agent Goodman, Goodman wouldn’t be able to hear Agent Jinn, and Jinn might hear *too much* of Agent Slocum. We would find out.

After we bumped up the start time and were just about ready to play, a very exciting moment came when Agent Todd, megaphone in hand, looked over the edge of the roof and was like, “Okay, they’re coming. (slight pause) WOW. Okay, let’s go.” I couldn’t see the street scene from my drums, but just from the sound of his voice – kind of a giddy awe – I could tell it was something big.

That was confirmed when Agent Todd introduced “U2″ to a huge roar. I couldn’t see the street crowd from my drums, but man, I could certainly hear them – especially their hilarious “recognition applause” at the beginnings of “Where the Streets” and “Pride.” They loved the hits!

The only instance of the band getting thrown by the open-air sound was in the third song when all of us were, on average, 2.5 bars off. “Even Better than the Real Thing” it definitely was NOT.

My favorite tune was “Pride (In the Name of Love),” chiefly for the quiet breakdown section. Agent Slocum’s inspirational rants were spot on Bono. Oh, if only that message of freedom and equality had gotten through to the cops…

For some reason, even as I saw the police descending on the sound guy, giving him the throat-slit “Kill it” gesture, in my head I (ir)rationalized, “Well, this IS the encore and we only have half a chorus left – surely they’ll, you know, recognize this and let us finish.” Not so – the NYPD has little regard for theatrical closure.

I didn’t have any ID on my – nay, on Larry’s – person, so I went back down to our apartment to retrieve it while the cops were closing down the roof. While I was down there, all alone, I had a fleeting moment of pure cowardice where I contemplated changing clothes and sneaking out of the building.

“The cops don’t have my name or my ID,” I thought. “I could put on a wig, or a hat and totally just … flee the scene of a crime? (beat) Yeah, let’s not do that. I don’t need to spend my Saturday night ON THE LAM.”

But nor did I plan to spend it in jail, which I thought was gonna be the case when I came downstairs to receive my summons and found Agents Todd and Slocum in handcuffs. But once our warrant checks came up clean (and we were really sweating it, this group of young comedian types) and it came out that this was all just a fun prank and not some, like, rogue political action, the cops loosened up and, it seems, let us off easy.

Of course, everyone’s favorite interaction with the cops:

Cop: So you were supposed to be Bono?
Slocum: Yes.
Cop: (looking up and down at 1st generation Korean-American Agent Jinn): And who were you supposed to be?
Jinn: The Edge.

About an hour later, long after the street crowd had scattered and the cops had left, I went outside to get a drink from the corner bodega, and I overheard two young foreign guys (Swedish? Finnish? They were impossibly blonde) talking about the show right in front of our building. I pretended to check my voicemail while I listened in:

Sven: Yah, it was right here. U2 played a concert on this roof!
Klaus: It was really U2?
Sven: Yes! I saw this huge crowd of people on the other side of the street so I asked someone “Whatever is going on?” and they pointed up and said “It is Bono!” And it was! They were performing a concert right there on the roof! I am a photographer so of course I ran down the street to my apartment to get my camera and now I have pictures of Bono on the rooftop!
Klaus: I must see these!
Sven: You must! Then, the police arrived and they ran onto the roof and arrested Bono but he kept singing even as they dragged him off in handcuffs!
Klaus: Amazing!
Sven: This is why I love New York, why I love America, because you see things like this all the time.


“Sven”, with his camera

Agent Goodman (Adam Clayton)

It wasn’t the idea of performing in front of people. It wasn’t because this was my first IE mission ever. It was the thought of being hauled off to jail like Jim Morrisson back in the days of “indecent” rock `n’ roll that kept my nerves on edge during the week leading up to Project Vertigo. But mostly, I didn’t think anyone would buy it.

I’ll admit it; I have never been a huge U2 fan. In fact, there have been many times where I probably said, “I hate U2″. They’re kinda hit or miss with me, but I respect what they’ve done and appreciate most of their musical ability. Fortunately I liked all the songs we were going to play. Anything from Pop, Zooropa or that shitty song from the Batman Forever soundtrack would have immediately compromised my involvement.

First thing I did once I left my house Saturday morning was cut all of my hair off. Late May is a little early in the year for me to do such a thing (I normally wait until July or August), but I figured it would help me get into character (U2 bassist Adam Clayton–an older, thinner, shorter man with closely cropped grey/white hair). I was content on just having the hair cut short, but on the way to the rehearsal studio, I happened by a beauty supply shop where I procured a small can of Jerome Russell’s Temp’ry (yes, “Temp’ry”) silver hair coloring spray. I’m 31, 6′ tall and 220 pounds, but I was going to do the best I could to look like A-Clay from the neck up.

We rehearsed for about 3 hours at the studio. We (Agents Kula, Jinn and I) already knew Vertigo as we performed it at the most recent “Enormous Television” covers concert. I learned my parts for the other three songs, Pride, Where the Streets Have No Name, Even Better than the Real Thing the Thursday night before. Fortunately for me, Adam Clayton, a more than capable bassist, is not incredibly dynamic or complex with his bass lines. So, it was kind of a breeze learning these tunes. In fact, the bass line for Where the Streets Have No Name can be played entirely on one string. Once we were able to put all the pieces together, work out some of the kinks, even contemplate a key change or two, we made our way to the Agent Todd and Kula’s apartment.

Oh yeah, did I mention that this whole time we were being filmed in High-Definition Wide Screen for Japanese television? Yeah, that was pretty cool, although we’ll probably never see it.

So, we get there, relax, have some pizza and coca-cola (which I’m sure was EXACTLY what the real U2 was eating backstage at the Garden), and later start hauling our gear up to the roof. Once I got my stuff set up, I called upon Agent Becket to act as my hair stylist. With the precision of a beauty school valedictorian, she proceeded to “spray-gray” my hair. I couldn’t have been happier with the result, “temp’ry” as it was. With the white-framed sunglasses Agent Todd lent me the look was complete.

People in the neighboring buildings had begun to suspect something was about to happen. They were on their balconies, sticking their heads out their windows, calling their friends to tell them something really awesome was about to happen and they could see it without even having to leave their homes. They were about to witness something, what it was they didn’t know, but dammit if they weren’t gonna stick around and find out.


Neighbors look on

The next 90 minutes or so were nerve-wracking to say the least. I had all my gear set up so there wasn’t much else for me to do but wait. Tom Petty was right, the waiting is definitely the hardest part–it gives you time to think about all the shit that can go wrong. Not to mention the storm clouds that were gathering in the distance and we were not really all that close to showtime. I was having visions of throngs of cops pouring out of the surrounding roof-hatches like all those Agent Smiths in The Matrix: Reloaded, or some psycho-obsessed U2 fan coming up and blowing us all away before realizing we really weren’t U2 (boy wouldn’t THAT guy have felt stupid), or Agent Slocum or any of us falling off the roof, getting electrocuted, and so on. And again, I was really worried people wouldn’t buy it and leave immediately, calling us names and throwing sticks.

The storm clouds that were gathering in the distance eventually became storm clouds gathering really close to where we were. We decided to start the show about 15 minutes early to avoid potential disaster. Agent Todd made an energetic announcement on his bullhorn and it was off to the races. Vertigo was our first number, and one we knew really well. It rocked. Sounded as good as ever. We got a great response from the crowd, which I gathered was largely IE agents. Didn’t matter, people were cheering and screaming. Even if it’s fake, that’s all you need. I was pumped.

Where the Streets Have No Name was next. I could tell more people were gathering on the street in front of the building even though I really couldn’t see anyone. Looking around the roof I saw that people living in the neighboring apartment buildings on the same block had gotten curious and made their way to the roof. One guy even brought his dog.

Even Better than the Real Thing was ironically not better than the real thing at all. It suddenly became really hard to hear each other and Agent Kula and I had trouble connecting at first. But it eventually came together and from then on it sounded pretty good.

Pride was up next. I was planning to sing harmony on this one, but during the song I forgot to. I tried to sing it once or twice, but the lack of monitors or one of those fancy earpieces that rock stars wear to hear each other theses days damaged my confidence in my harmonizing abilities. I was also supposed to sing some “Oh”s toward the end of the song. I had not only forgotten to sing them, I forgot what they sounded like altogether. It wasn’t until Agent Todd came up to me and said, “Hey, you should do the Oh oh’s now,” and I had to ask him how they went. It was all good from then on.

Agent Todd then suggested that I move up a little so the crowd could see me. I was a little apprehensive about it, probably because I was afraid that people would know I wasn’t Adam Clayton. In retrospect, not only was that a totally stupid thing to think–I mean, how many people could recognize Adam Clayton if he were standing in front of them, much less 4 floors up?–but it made it all real for me, seeing all those people on the street cheering, clapping, chanting, even just for the 5 seconds that I could see them.

I started laughing. I was laughing because I was playing rock `n’ roll, I was laughing because I was doing so in front the largest crowd I’ve ever played in front of, and I was laughing at myself for not thinking they would buy it.

“One more song,” the crowd began to chant. Well, we only really rehearsed 4 songs, so we ended up playing Vertigo again for the encore (Not sure if it was coincidence or not, but the real U2 also played Vertigo twice during their show that night, once toward the beginning, and again to close the show). 4 bars before the end of the song, I saw blue. We all saw blue. The cops had arrived, and it was right on time. I immediately packed up my bass, put the covers on my amp, gathered up my cables and helped get everything off the roof. I was moving at super-roadie-speed, and it wasn’t because the cops were there, no no no. It was about to start pouring fucking rain.

Cops were telling everyone to get off the roof. “Shut it down! Shut it down,” they shouted. People down below on the street were shouting, “Let them play! Let them play!” IDs were being taken. Bono was being handcuffed. Some of the neighbors behind us who witnessed the event were yelling “Attica! Attica!” Yeah, thanks for the help, guys.


Attica! Attica!

At one point I was lying on my stomach on the roof handing amps and other stuff down to the people inside while the rain pelted my back. Once I got down inside, the floor was so wet from the rain dropping down into the building that I slipped and fell on my ass.

Everything was inside. Whew. Now time to face the law.

After being told to wait in Agent Todd and Kula’s apartment, then being told to wait downstairs, then being told to wait in the apartment again, and then being told to wait downstairs again, it was time for the final act. There were 5 cops including their sergeant in the main hallway of the building and 7 of us: the band, Agent Todd, two photographers and our sound engineer. All but 2 of us actually had New York IDs. To my knowledge having an out of state ID is not illegal, but they sure made it seem like it was. Hell, they fucking handcuffed Agent Slocum and Todd for having them. Almost everyone I know in New York isn’t from here so I didn’t get the attitude toward out-of-staters. But I wasn’t about to argue with Johnny Law.

So, this cop had to call every one of these IDs into the precinct or wherever it was he was calling so they could do a warrant check on each of us. During the wait (which took fucking forever, it seemed) we had a little Q&A time where the cops asked us just what the hell we were doing and why, how we knew each other, who we were supposed to be (as if we were trick-or-treaters on his front porch on Halloween).

Once they realized that we posed no immediate threat to them or the community at large, they decided to let each of us go on a disorderly conduct charge. Such a charge, I was told by the officer who filled out my summons, more than likely would carry a $20 fine.

OK, great. So, for $20 I can pretend I’m a rockstar on the roof of an apartment building in New York City, entertain hundreds of passers-by and have a blast all the while, but a right turn onto 7th Ave. from 34th Street between 6-8 PM costs me $75. Another reason why I don’t have a car.

Back up to the apartment for a few giggles and for me to wash that gray right outta my hair.

So that was it. The stunt was over. By all accounts it worked. A number of people, even the people who were standing on the roof not 10 yards from us, thought we were really U2. People jumped out of cabs to get a glimpse of one of probably the most popular bands of our generation. There was even a Bono-stalker downstairs who waited in the rain to find out if it was really whom he thought it was…and kill him!

Mission fucking accomplished.

Agent Jinn (The Edge)

I was kind of nervous about the mission. I thought of the possibility of getting arrested. However, the opportunity to play music live on a rooftop in NYC was too hard to pass up.

We got into rehearsal around 12:30pm on Saturday, and I was surprised to find the Japanese TV crew there with us. I did my best to ignore them, as we had work to do. We hadn’t had a chance to actually play any of the songs together until that day. For the guitar geeks on a budget, I recommend a Vox Valvetronix amplifier for emulating The Edge’s guitar sound on the cheap, which happens to be a (pricey) Vox AC30 Top Boost with lots of delay. After the 4-hour rehearsal, we felt pretty confident about the songs.

After finally getting on the roof, on a gorgeous day, getting the equipment set up, getting into costume… I was excited. There was a bit of nervousness, but considering that anybody listening was 4 stories below, it wasn’t too bad.

It was a hell of a lot of fun, playing a live concert for a few blocks of NYC. An amazing experience. If you get the chance to do it, I recommend it. Looking over the roof at the people down there, going nuts… it’s a rush. We were able to get through 5 songs (Vertigo twice… much like U2 did for their free Brooklyn concert.)

Once the cops showed up, I was once again, understandably, nervous. They seemed a little pissed off. Some of the crowd chanted “Let them play!” and “Attica!” Then it started raining… well, pouring… down on us as we tried to get the last of the drums and PA downstairs. And then I went down the stairs to see Agents Slocum and Todd in handcuffs.

The police sergeant asked me “Who are YOU supposed to be?” I sheepishly shrugged and answered… “the edge?” He broke a small smile.

He also looked at my ID and then looked back at me and said “aren’t you too old to be doing this kind of thing?” When I told my friend Curtis this, his response was “That’s worse than getting hit with a nightstick!” Are we ever too old to rock? Hmm… maybe…

Ultimately, we got off with what is on par with a moving violation, which requires us to go in, plead guilty, and pay a fine. Not bad at all…

What an amazing, fun, bizarre, insane experience…

Agent Slocum (Bono)

i think it was the moment i stabbed the japanese television camera with my broken-off half of the mic stand that i realized… this thing was now officially crazier then i was going to be able to keep up with. my eyes were completely shut at that point – trying to hear terry or hear myself – and i didn’t see this guy move around under me. it was like singing underwater. see this was the biggest fear going in: “i HAVE to be able to hear myself up there.” and lord knows we sort of tried. but we couldn’t, obviously, find out what it sounded like before it happened. so it happened. and right when it started i knew… and we were up there playing underwater.

also of note is that some microphone stands, i guess, separate at the halfway point? and were i to design a microphone stand – i feel like i would address this issue – but everything was happening already – so just deal with your half of the microphone stand.

also remember not to care about anything. my guess was that bono wouldn’t care about this stuff. i can only assume that bono has seen worse right? not that i’ve ever met him… but this guy is doing a MUCH bigger show in a little while. and in that world everyone can hear themselves play.

so all the sudden i come swooping down in some blind passionate arc – and stab into the poor camera man who’s just trying to get a few extreme low angle shots for the good people of japan. i was def and blind and damaging – for all i knew no one could even hear me out there – i had half a stand and a very loose idea of where we were in the song – and it was at this point i decided to just divert all energy into not caring. i mean what else can you do? hey lets go look over the edge a little bit… wow

so it went on like this. i kept trying to sing. and i’d point at somebody, and they would shimmy. and all these things appeared like alarms going off, and you have to let them all go. in some ways it felt like absolute failure and in some ways absolute failure feels like success. and a lot of it was a blur.

the one thing that did actually frighten me was the noise of the crowd. i mean i’ve heard that noise before, the basic wide cheering noise, but usually when i hear a crowd cheering im either in it, against it, or wondering what they are cheering about. and none of that applied here. and who is responsible for this noise – who will accept this sound – and who deserves this? cause it was there – at first between songs, and then sometimes during them – rising up on a strange delay. and my brain could not conceive of accepting this noise as something pointed at me. i actually worked at not hearing it – because what would happen to me? i think there is a very fundamental shift inside these people – the rock stars and maybe celebrities – because if you hear a sound like that, of many people, and it is pointed at you, and you accept it into yourself as if you are somehow deserving of this sound, then that has GOT to change you as a person – forever i imagine. in this way most of us will always be separate from rock stars i think.

so i moved on – trying desperately to hear and to not hear – and before i know it – its over. and thank god its over. and then of course the chanting and charlie’s saying “one more? lets do one more” and we dont have one more – so we start over from beginning – again? what do i care – its all out on the table at this point – i pick up the megaphone and count it all off again – in spanish – why in spanish? i dont know – but all the sudden i could hear myself – and that was it – the megaphone was it. and when you are singing underwater for 20 min – and suddenly you can hear your voice again – thats a great feeling man. i didn’t want to stop that last song – and for the most part… i didnt – even after the cops showed up – and after the music stopped – that happened too – and i’m left up there singing on my own – i mean you might as well keep going right? everything is happening anyway. who are we right? i mean are you going to arrest me lefkowitz? cause i’ve seen worse man. i just did it. i love your name by the way. that’s a great cop name.

Agent Shafer (Rooftop Cameraman)

I didn’t notice the cops show up. One moment I was filming Bono, the next moment the roof was flooded with police. They were ignoring me, so I switched tapes and hid the old one, then continued to shoot. They accosted Bono (Agent Slocum), assuming him to be the ringleader. I saw Agent Todd step in and assert that it was his project and his roof, saying that if anyone was going to be arrested, it should be him.

Agent Slocum was being a dick (hilariously), and wouldn’t drop character. The cops were incredulous when he was unable to produce ID. “I never need an ID,” he explained. “People just know who I am.”

It was chaos as everyone mingled uncertainly; Agents tried to break down the equipment and avoid arrest, cops tried to impose order and clear us out. No one really understood what was going on or what to do. I kept shooting. Some of the cops were laughing and joking with Agent Goodman (Adam Clayton), but they were not the officers in charge. Eventually an officer noticed me and told me to get off the roof. As I was about to climb down the ladder, some guys in the building behind us started chanting “Attica! Attica!” I pointed my camera at them and the cop noticed me again. “I told you to leave,” he said. I explained that I was about to, but he interrupted me and asked for my ID. I tried again to leave, but he insisted and I gave him my driver’s license. He said I’d get it back later.

I went down to the street, but not before getting shots of Agents Todd and Slocum corralled in the hallway, in handcuffs. Agent Slocum was still wearing his wig and glasses.

There was a crowd outside the building’s door, both IE Agents and enthusiastic U2 fans. The cops dispersed the crowd as it started to rain. I tried to stake out a nearby doorway and continue shooting, but an officer insisted I pack up my camera and leave. Since the cops still had my ID, that meant going back inside.


The crowd of autograph seekers outside

Eventually, 8 of us were gathered in the cramped, humid entryway to the building, along with several police officers: Agents Slocum, Todd, Jinn, Goodman, Kula, Walker (another camera person; I never saw what happened to Agent Winkler), and a guy I didn’t know. The police called in our names to check for warrants. Agent Slocum’s name gave them a bit of trouble, as did his lack of resemblance to the short-haired, red-headed guy in his ID photo. The cop was calling him by his middle name, “Roy.” People kept poking their heads in and asking why U2 were being arrested.

At first the police were stern and intimidating. But as the lengthy check wore on, they started asking about us and what we were doing. Agents Todd and Slocum in particular painted a picture of us as comedians and pranksters which gradually won them over. The cops chilled out and started to feel sheepish about what they were doing. They gave us each a summons for Disorderly Conduct/Excessive Noise. By the end, even the stern cops were friendly and apologetic.

Summons issued, the cuffs came off, the cops left, and we returned to the staging area in an upstairs apartment. Our court appearance is set for 9:30 AM on the 21st of June.

I hope the officers involved take Agent Todd up on his offer of show comps.

Agent Gerdts (event Sound Designer)

When I got the call from Agent Todd about Project Vertigo, I had only one thing to say: Yes. He wanted my help running sound for a rooftop concert using a U2-like band similar to the “Where The Streets Have No Name” video. A great homage to U2 and a nice way to have some fun with the U2 fans attending the concert that night.

Setup was uneventful. The other sound guy, Agent Kentron, briefed me on what he had done and what needed to be done, because he had to split. I finished setting up; the only problem was getting the monitor to work. Since it didn’t, our U2 didn’t mind winging it. The four band members were great. Our Bono was hysterical, continuously muttering “Pestilence” into the microphone, causing Agent Todd to try and keep him reigned in until we started. The closer we got to start time, the more energy and nerves were working up on the roof.

We decided to go a few minutes early, because the beautiful day was quickly giving way to storm clouds rolling in from the northwest. The agents on the ground gathered quite a group. For the first song, I’d say at least two hundred people were standing on and around the parking lot across the street. I spoke with Agent Chunk who was on the ground and giving me some feedback on how it sounded. “More drums, more everything,” he said. I obliged by cranking the drums (which caused the vocals to distort, unfortunately) and moving the Edge’s amp higher and closer to the precipice of the building. His goatee ruled, by the way.

The only way I could get a sense of what everything sound like with my own ears was sticking my head in front of the PA speakers (very close to a four floor drop to the pavement). It actually sounded great! The distortion helped us mask the fact that we were not, in fact, a rock band who has been playing together for about 20 years and their crew. The band was great and put on a U2 caliber performance.


Agent Gerdts adjusts the PA speakers

As the set rolled on, the crowd kept growing. People were stretched along a block and a half looking up to catch a glimpse of U2. The apartment buildings around us had people on the porches, roofs, and leaning out of their windows. A lane of traffic closest to the sidewalk had stopped and people had gotten out of their cars. By the end, I’d guess we had 400 people or so cheering on and singing along with the band.

I was really worried about the rain near the end of the set, because it looked like it was going to pour at any minute, and we had a lot of electronic equipment up there. During the final song, an encore of Vertigo, I noticed a police officer climb up on the roof of a building adjacent to ours. I ran to get Agent Todd, and we came over to greet him. He wasn’t pleased to be there and demanded we turn off the music. The band kept playing (rock&roll!), so I turned off the PA and started turning off amps. The people all around us chanted “Let them play! Let them play!” The head cop started collecting IDs (mine and Agent Todd’s first off) and said, “Shut it off! You’re all getting citations and if I have to come up here again, you’re gonna get arrested!” Agent Todd tried to take responsibility for it all as they were collecting IDs. Since Agent Slocum had an out of state license, they cuffed him. Agent Todd then pointed out he too had an out of state license, so they cuffed him as well.


Dark clouds roll in

I asked one of the police officers if I could get the equipment downstairs (remember the rain!) and they said, “Yea, you better.” The band, myself, and a few others busted it down and off the roof as the rain started. The timing was dead on; as soon as we got the most vulnerable electronics off, it started to pour. Once everything but the drums were left, I went downstairs, having been urged to get downstairs five minutes ago by a cop who I learned later was the Sergeant (different from the Head Cop upstairs from earlier). I wasn’t too concerned about myself, knowing a summons wasn’t too big a deal. I was worried, however, that they really were going to arrest Agent Todd and Agent Slocum.

When I got downstairs, they were still cuffed and after a few minutes the rest of the band came downstairs. Eight of us ended up in that stairwell, waiting for them to run our names to see if we had any outstanding warrants. The atmosphere soon went from tense to jovial, as the Police Officers quickly realized we hadn’t meant any harm and were being very cooperative with them. They were all very nice and professional. They uncuffed our two Agents and wrote us Disorderly Conduct – Unreasonable Noise violations. We all have to go to court at 9:30 am in a month, where we will have to pay a small fine, or maybe, if we’re lucky, the summons will be dismissed.

I’d never thought I’d say this about having been written a summons by a police officer, but it was worth it.

Agent Ace$Thugg (IE Agent Coordinator)

Out of necessity, I slapped on my U2 Press Pass and became traffic engineer as cars and taxis alike were stopping and enjoying the show. I figured the traffic jam would draw the wrath of the cops more than anything else. The people in cars obviously had the worst view of the performance by being low and close to the building, so all of them thought it was completely real. After being convinced of the power of my press pass, they would drive away; they were all extremely jazzed about catching a glimpse of U2 for a least a little bit.

Several people came up to me on foot throughout my traffic duties and asked me if that was really Bono up on the roof. My reply “Yes! Stay on the sidewalk! We’re filming!” always seemed to satisfy the curious gawkers and then they would look at their friends and say, “See, I told you!”

Towards the end of the show, I saw about 7 cops trying desperately to get to the roof. They would go in the wrong building then come out like a minute later, and then go in the next building and come back out a minute later again trying to find a way to the roof. Thankfully the correct building was locked and they all kept pressing the buzzers trying to get in. Finally, when they went into a third building, running this time as if they figured out a different way to the roof, I gave a call to Agent Todd the bad news that the cops were on their way. And the rest was Improv Everywhere glory.

Agent Wright (IE Agent Coordinator)

My group took a long loop around Madison Square Garden en route so as many people as possible would overhear us yelling into our cell phones, “Holy moley, U2 is playing! No, I know they’re playing a concert tonight. But they’re playing a rooftop right now! Where? Right around the corner! Yes! To sum up, U2 is playing a free rooftop concert right this second on 8th Avenue between 29th and 30th Streets!” Boy, that friend on the other end of the phone sure needed a lot of explanation.

The crowd at the concert just kept growing, both in size and excitement. Many people seemed like they either believed it was U2 or really wanted to believe–that is, except one particularly demonstrative guy who kept pointing two middle fingers towards the roof and shouting, “Boo, Fake U2!” You do not toy with that man’s trust.

Agent Ace$Thugg and I had briefed the IE agents beforehand that “Pride (In the Name of Love)” would require their participation. When the music fades down, it’s the audience’s cue to come in with the “Oooh, oooh, ooh” chants. However, since the sound system was not overpoweringly loud, most agents mistakenly thought the song had ended. I got my section started with the “Ooohs,” but we were easily drowned out by the crowd chanting, “One more song! One more song!” So for them, the encore must’ve begun with the last third of “Pride.”

Fittingly, rock history repeated itself as the police appeared to pull the plug. First the Beatles, then U2, now Fake U2. Even better than the real thing, indeed.

Agent Lang (Bouncer / Security Guard)

I had no idea what I was getting into. I remained as calm as possible till around 6:30 pm. At that time realization had just set in. The tip calls I and other agents had made to local news stations were not the same old prank calls I remember making in junior high. These calls were part of a grand concept that I never would have concocted then. My stomach started to bunch up in knots when I witnessed over a hundred people run down Eighth Avenue and the first song began to play. Initially, I feared that people were gonna rush into me to try to get into the apartment door to get rooftop access. It seemed that the real fans of U2 placed them self strategically to watch every move and note they made.

I remember a few of the regular vagrant people walking by and some of the surrounding bar patrons asking me if that was the real band. My response was that I wouldn’t be here if it was some joke. A number of those people that were conversing with me would let me know that U2 sucked or they didn’t have a preference for them. I then adopted their same attitudes and feelings to ease the moment and act as natural as possible. I stuck to my story that I was hired through a private company and I was from out of town and didn’t enjoy the styling of U2. There were also neighborhood people casually asking what was going on up there today. My response was that U2 was shooting some footage for their next DVD release. Neighborhood people seemed to be conditioned to the sighting of stars and would just nod in response.


Agent Lang chats with a cop

As a bouncer I noticed that there were more believers than disbelievers. I remember one guy talking on a cell phone saying that U2 always plays last minute secret locations in New York. He went on saying it was definitely them and couldn’t believe it. For the most part people passing by on the side walk and cars in streets would stop and be shocked in excitement. Many people had made phone calls to friends and would start with the phrase “you’re never gonna believe this, but U2 is playing on a roof over here.”

I laughed so hard at one moment when a white livery service car driver flipped off the band from five stories below at what I hope he thought was U2. The cops were furiously trying to find an entrance to the rooftop during the last song of the set. I was two doors down from the actual apartment entrance, which was to throw them off. The second door they tugged was the right one and they couldn’t get in.


Frustrated and unable to reach roof, cop gives sarcastic “thumbs up”

Knowing that the last song was being played I made myself invisible so that the police wouldn’t force me to let them up. I was one of the few people who had keys and I became nervous. I walked forward to the edge of the curb so the police couldn’t notice me or my security pass and hat. Eventually the people in another apartment had let them in their entrance.

After the police stopped the band, I remember a number of people had crossed the street to see if the band was gonna come down cuffed. One guy was totally convinced but just upset at the quality of the sound. He was retelling the event on his cellphone saying the band sounded like shit but only because they were playing outside, but it was crazy. One boy who looked to be twelve years old with a new set of braces was squeezed under an awning next to me to avoid the downpour. Totally bummed, he told me that he had been five people away when the tickets sold out at the box office. He was excited to have witnessed the rooftop show “even if it was them or wasn’t them… it was awesome.”

Agent Monachus (Security / Crowd Control / Cameraman)

The City is bizarre. The things that it cares about vary from moment to moment, and in the midst of all that caring is a vast stream of not caring that has to go along with it. None of that has anything to do with this event, but is an attempt to set my report off to a galloping start. It beats, “It was the best of times…it was the worst of times…”

U2 played on a rooftop. People screamed down below. Some people screamed that it was fake, (FAKE BONO ROCKS!) while others tried to get me (the security guy) to give them tickets to the show at the Garden. When asked if U2 was really playing on the rooftop, I simply responded, “Please get back on the sidewalk.” For the most part, people did.

The rain was coming, and so we started early. People screamed and pointed, and I stood and paced and held the screaming throngs back. I tried to move cars that were sitting on the street. I looked for girls to be screaming and flashing the band, but no one did. The drunks from the bar came out and milled around, trying to direct traffic (back on the sidewalk, sir), and they screamed for the band as much as anyone. The band played. The cops came. The band continued playing (I thought), and then it ended, and then the crowd dispersed, and then the rain came.

Then I saw Agent Todd and Bono in cuffs. That was hot.

The people who remained were either part of the operation or else they were fans who were convinced that what they had seen was real. One fan was upset that he had tickets to the show and that Bono was in cuffs. “How will they play?” He was distraught. Another woman (22 year-old Brea who lives nearby) was so excited that she had witnessed this event on her very own rooftop — “I swear – look online, and you’ll see ‘Home on 8th’ where we ate lunch today!” she quipped to her friend over the phone. I tried to record her and failed to press the button until it was past the juicy parts of her interview. I’m a dork, but damn can I keep a crowd calm.

My parents loved it.

The fans loved it.

Even the cops loved it. You know they did.

Agent Nicholson (Street Photographer)

My experience started with the making of the press pass. I had to get it laminated at Kinkos, and the man in front of me asked me if he could have one. I told him that the pass wouldn’t get him very far anyway.

Walking towards the rooftop two of the passes fell out of my pocket, the two gentlemen who handed me back the passes read them and very slowly passed them back – like they would hand a 100 dollar bill back. This happened across the street from Madison Square Garden.

A few things I overheard:

*Real Press Guy, “Is it really U2 playing?” – Me, “That’s why I’m here.”
*Dude impressing other dude, “No, it can’t be them… the sound quality isn’t good enough.”
*Middle age guy, “It doesn’t matter, I couldn’t get tickets – this is great.”
*Guy on phone, “Yeah it’s U2 on a roof here, yeah… they’re on the roof – they’ve done this before, and remember last year when they were on the flatbed truck, it’s great”
*Witty Drunk, “I don’t like stadium concerts anyway – this is even better than the real thing.”

Agent Warren (Roof Photographer)

The people on the rooftops surrounding us were fantastic. I got some great shots, and they were all very engaged when they saw me photographing… I heard from the crowd afterwards that the sound wasn’t so good, but people were more disappointed that “U2″‘s sound wasn’t good, versus thinking it wasn’t U2! Very funny. The crowd below did their job beautifully, and a few young tourist girls almost fell over with the thought that U2 was playing a free show – classic.


Agent Warren


Agent Warren


Agent Warren

Agent Chunk (Street Photographer)

At about 6:50 – around 50 or so people came running down the block yelling excitedly, thinking back on it now, I think they were plants, but at the time I couldn’t tell and it was exciting. Agent Todd came out to the edge and said something like “New York city, are you ready? This is for you – the biggest band in the world U2!!!!” and people were screaming.

And then a lot more people started to gather. By the end there must have been like 150-200 people.

The best quote was from this girl who came up to me and said “Do you think that’s U2?” and I said, “I dunno.” And she said, “Well, Bono is not that skinny, and he doesn’t have that dorky haircut and the edge isn’t Hispanic.”

Beautiful

Agent Marino (Cameraman, roof across the street)

After meeting on Agent Todd’s roof I had some time to kill before places, so I went back to the Magnet to help clean up before that night’s shows and to wait for the building’s manager (Honorary Agent 254, whose voice can be heard on the video) to let me on the roof. On the elevator ride up I let him in on the mission, and 254 seemed impressed and a little disbelieving. 254 helped me find a good spot for the camera and after a minute asked me, “So… you’re friends with U2?” And I explained that they weren’t actually U2 so much as they were improvisers who would be playing songs as U2. That he believed. Still, he thought it was cool. He lit a cigarette and chuckled through my explanation of Improv Everywhere. Words like “prank” and “hoax” were used begrudgingly. I think I once said, “hoodwink.”

254 gave me a stepladder for me to sit on. But I said that I would probably be walking around with my camera for the most part, so he sat down himself. We had just started talking about rooftop gardens when I could hear what sounded like a far-off chant growing rapidly near. The band started, I hit record, and 254 almost fell off his stepladder. It didn’t take long for people to start coming out and watching from their own roofs, or running out into traffic to see what the hell was going on. Agent Manning later told me that, minutes before the Level One Sketch Writing Class was to hold their student show, one of the performers ran down the street screaming “It’s U2!”

I couldn’t see the crowd from where I was, but it sounded big. Certainly it was big enough to hamper traffic, which grew progressively congested between 29th and 30th.

I knew the band was only prepared to play four songs. I also knew that when the crowd was chanting “One more song!” they were going to give them what they wanted. Part of me wanted them to play “Rebel Yell” from last year’s Enormous Television, because they know the song and could kick it’s ass, and also for the absurdity of having Bono cover Billy Idol. But of course they played “Vertigo” again, because that makes sense.

Towards the end of the song the police entered the scene and brought with them loud rolls of ominous thunder. I tried to keep the camera rolling in case we needed it for later evidence in a police brutality case. The crowd was chanting, “Let them play!” and “Attica!” Agent Slocum, gesturing to rooftop spectators and waving peace signs kept walking away from one officer who was clearly trying to get his attention. At the point the officer grabbed Slocum’s arm, I could feel the first drop of what looked like it was going to be a grizzly, camera-ruining downpour, so I decided to pack up and head in. After all, no cop would be stupid enough to brutalize someone who all onlookers thought was Bono.

VIDEO

VH1’s 40 Greatest Pranks:AGENT REPORTS

Agent HordeFest

As the shady-looking, typically nonparticipatory roommate of Agents Todd and Kula, I decided to observe the fracas both up close (from the top of the roof-ladder) and down on the street. I was sitting in my bedroom at 6:53 when that familiar IPOD-jingle / secondhand-Sonic-Youth riff rang out. At first I thought the fratpeople across the way were barbecuing, but then I was like, “Oh yeah – U2 is on my roof.” I got across 8th Ave a minute into “Vertigo” and joined the rapidly swelling crowd. Fake-Bono’s costume looked good and his moves were authentic enough, but he was clearly younger and slimmer than real-Bono, and I feared the majority of onlookers might soon get wise.

Not so! There was some naysaying from a handful of older dudes wandering out of the Molly Wee pub, but most gawkers were pleasantly surprised if not flabbergasted – lots of excited celly dialing and screaming for fake-Bono. I still worried things might lose steam, since the PA – and especially the vocals — sounded li’l thin. (Let it be said, however, that the band was plenty tight and fake-Edge’s excellent guitar work probably did as much to fool people as anything else.)

When I got back upstairs toward the end of the second song, I glanced out the window and was pleasantly surprised – nay, *flabbergasted.* 300-odd people were wilding out like they were on Springer. Granted, unfooled observers wouldn’t exactly have stuck out at that distance, but in both size and vivacity, the crowd was totally impressive.

Near the end of song four, a cop car pulled up below. I climbed the ladder to warn Agent Todd, but as I poked my head up, a cop was approaching from behind the band. When I came back down to the apartment the crowd was chanting “Let Them Play!” A fine capper to the performance — especially because, thanks to the cops, the crowd never knew the band was out of songs.

The aftermath was a little scary at first. Because the show wasn’t *that* loud – it took NY’s Finest almost four songs to show up, for chrissakes – and because the band stopped soon enough, I thought the cops might be “cool.” Not so, or at least not right away. I hid out in my room and was left alone. Despite my cowardice, I applaud everyone for not packing it in as soon as they knew the law was coming. That hassle (and near-arrest) made the story that much better – remember that all Ringo wanted out of the Beatles’ ’69 rooftop show was to be arrested, and Saturday’s principals came a lot closer than he did. This made my weekend.

Agent Simmons

The “Hard Day’s Night”-esque sprint from The Garden to the mission location was exhilarating but my personal highlight occurred after the N.Y.P.D arrived to break up the show. “U2″ had stopped playing and for the first time in my life I was able to instigate a fevered chant of “LET THEM PLAY! LET THEM PLAY!” ala “The Bad News Bears in Breaking Training”. Just then a grizzled old neighborhood local looked at me sideways and muttered “Bullshit”.

Agent Law

Here are some overheard quotes:

* One man speaking to a friend on the phone: “Yeah, that’s soooo guerilla.”

* One man was giving Bono the finger from the street. “Fuck You. Fuck You, Bono!” he yelled. Someone with a video camera asked him why? “Because he burned the Irish flag. Fuck you, Bono!!” Oh. [featured in video above]

That’s about all I can remember. It was funny how I couldn’t tell who was in on the joke after a while. Some folks were skeptical while others clearly bought in. I also enjoyed the people who wandered up on the scene after the music stopped. They were disappointed.

I was having dinner with a fellow “agent” later that night and I thought a nearby couple was listening into our conversation. I decided to bring up how amazing it was that U2 would play on a roof unannounced here in the city. I was speaking loudly enough and provided enough detail that they might’ve told some friends. Ha.

Agent Hunter

The mission started with everyone having to follow one of two IE guys, who would give the signal for us do our thing. It was a bit disorienting at first, but luckily I found a group that was spreading the news via talking loudly and saying “U2″ a lot. Convenient. I tagged along, pretending to overhear their conversation. Maybe someone would see me overhear and try to overhear, too? I don’t know. Anyway, I followed them with a brisk walk that quickly turned into a light jog. We arrived within two minutes and split up into the already semi-packed street.

Things that I overheard and saw:

1) People getting out of their taxis to join the crowd. I caught at least two of these and was pretty surprised.

2) The middle-aged man behind me apparently had some unflattering camera time (the U2 “crew” filmed the audience and asked for their reactions), because I overheard him say to his wife, “Where is that reporter? I have to find her! They’ll think I sniffed a gram of crack today.”

3) A lady in red was hanging out of her SUV, trying to get a glimpse of the rooftop.

4) Four or so girls (at least 3 of them were ours) taking breaks between yelling “BONO!” to explain to a couple that “IT’S REALLY U2! THAT’S BONO! WHOOO!”

5) One guy in the front was flipping U2 the bird, claiming “BULLSHIT! BULLSHIT!”. Five minutes later, both of his arms were up in the air. He changed his tune to “U2 ROCKS!”. Go figure.

After a few songs, the cops pulled up. They popped up on the roof within a few minute’s time and shut the operation down. This was met with chants of “Let them play!” and a few random hollers of “Fuck the pigs!”. The streets were soon thanked and told that the show is over. Most of the people scattered. I crossed the street to where there was a small crowd, right under where fake U2 performed. The front door to the apartment was the focus now, as that’s where the cops were holding fake U2. At this point, I still wasn’t 100% sure if the cops were part of the gag or if they were legit, so I waited outside of the door.

An alleged New York Times reporter came up to me and asked to share my umbrella. I obliged, skeptical as to whether he was pulling my chain. When he asked if I had seen his photographer, I laughed under my breath and said “no”. A few minutes later, the “photographer” found his way to his buddy and waited with us. The door finally creeped open and the cops told us to scram. The photographer walked up to the cop and showed his credentials. Maybe he was actually legit, I thought. Either way, the cops still told us to find something else to do. That’s was basically the end of the mission for me, since when I scurried over to one of the nearby restaurant’s awnings, I found out that the cops were indeed real cops and that Bono and the crew were handcuffed. The mission was a blast and later it came to be known that everyone got off with a mere slap on the wrist.

Agent Harris

I totally enjoyed participating as well. 2 funny things I heard some civilians say: an older man, quite effeminate, said to me “Is that really them? Over here in Chelsea??” and another young woman with a vague European accent tossed her hair and said, “Of course, that’s them. That’s just the sort of thing they would do.”

Agent Barrison

I was doing recon on the outskirts of the crowd. I was amazed how often people felt the need to expose the nature of the event, telling everyone that it wasn’t actually U2 up on that roof.

That’s what it was so refreshing when James arrived. The following is a transcript of our conversation:

J: Man, that’s sumpthin’, huh.
F: Hm?
J: Only in New York, man. I tell ya. New York is about havin’ a good time, man. New Yorkers. Greatest people in the world. That’s U2 up there. U2 up on the roof for nothin’, just playin’ for anyone!
F: Oh yeah, man, that’s why I live here.
J: This is what it’s all about. Just havin’ a good time, man. I’m tellin’ ya’ Where are you comin’ from?
F: Well, the Upper West Side.
J: Oh, you live here? Aight, aight. Then you know what I’m sayin’.
F: Sure do.
J: Man, you wouldn’t know it by lookin’ at me, but I’m no stranger to fun. Lots of Budweisers gone through this guy. Grays in the beard, but that’s nothin’.
F: Oh yeah?
J: Man, such a good time. Great to see everybodyt out here enjoyin’ theyselves.
F: Yeah, as long as you’re not hurting anybody, it’s great to do this kind of stuff.
J: That’s what I’m sayin’, man! You seem like a cool guy.
F: Sure.
J: You see that guy up there on the roof? That guy in the yellow jacket. (Pointing to the African-American NHK cameraman)
F: Yeah, I see him.
J: That’s my little brother, Tyrone. I like to be around, watch his back, y’know? He’s getting some great shots up there. So great of U2 to do this.
F: Wow, really? Your brother?
J: Yeah, man! But look around you! Look at all these happy faces. Man, THAT’S what it’s all about! We need some shots of these people. You seem like a good guy, I wanna tell you somethin’. I;’m gonna get on the Long Island Rail Road…(At this point a taller man comes by. He seems inebriated in some way)
J: Oh, man, c’mere! You see Tyrone up there? I wanna go on the Long Island Rail Road, get the other camera to get some shots of these people. Cause that’s what it’sd all about here, these smiles am I right?
M: Yeah, ok.
J: Great, we’re gonna go get the other camera on the Long Island Rail Road, y’know. So if you just…
F: Oh, I can;t go on the train now. I’m going to see the U2 show at 8!
J: Naw, naw. It’s just that I need someone to help with the camera, so my boy is gonna help. Now I got plenty o’ ducats for my own self, but my boy here needs a hand to get on the Long Island Rail Road to get that camera. So if you could help him out…
F: Oh, well, man, I don’t have any cash. I just spent it all on a ticket to see U2. They’re so great I had to see them in the Garden.
J: Yeah, man, I hear ya, I hear ya.
F: So, sorry, man. I’m gonna go over there, get a better look.
J: Sure, man, have a good one. Enjoy yourself. New York, nothin’ like it, right, guy?
F: Totally, man. Good luck getting that camera.

So there you have it. James using U2’s improptu concert to further his art I sure hope he got on the Long Island Rail Road, got his camera, and got back to see those smiling faces before the cops shut us down. I bet he did. No one would lie about something like that. This is New York! It’s all about havin’ a good time! For the Confidence Artist.

Agent MacNeil

I fake-answered my cell phone at least 7 times, each time screaming louder than the last, “U2? A FREE concert? On a ROOFTOP? On 8th AVENUE?” After pushing the obnoxious envelope one too many times, I finally put the cell phone away and broke into a trot, loudly discussing this free concert business with agents Kemp, Taylor and Robertson as we headed back toward 8th avenue. (Behind us, Agent Ace$Thugg was still wandering about with his hands clenched over his head, looking alternately fed-up or really relaxed). Halfway across 30th street, we managed to attract attention from several strange men, all of whom gave audible notice to our running and enthusiastically joined us once we explained what was going on. Moments later, across the street from the venue, I rudely interrupted as many skeptical exchanges as I could, earnestly refuting any denials of the band’s validity with, “No, it’s really them! My friend works at KROQ, he’s up there right now, I have him on my cell phone!” During the frantic, too-brief set, I watched in wonder at 300 people cramming the sidewalk, Jersey-plated motorists slowing to rubberneck, tourists paying cab drivers and dashing recklessly into the street, neighbors leaning dangerously out of their windows and NYPD flaks covertly chatting on their radios. Toward the end of the set, the cops stormed the building, causing a wave of panic among the believers in the crowd, who became indignant that the NYPD DARE arrest Bono. A small gaggle of tweens gasped in anguish, and one even squealed, “Omigod, we should… DO something!” I don’t know if they did something. I watched as one by one, the heads of the fake band and road crew disappeared from view. I called Agent Jinn, who said that Agents Todd and Slocum were in handcuffs and that the rest of them were being issued summonses. Then, as if on cue, the skies opened and drenched the dispersing crowd. Getting almost-arrested on behalf of your art… that’s fucking commitment.

Agent Riley

Reporting on Mission Vertigo
Mahem of crowds running down the street
Thugs too chill to care that Bono’s on the roof.

Suburban sweat-suit mom in hysterics
“I told you! I told you!”
Young Wall Street kid
Calling all his friends.
He’s the cool. He’s in the know.
And “fuck you bcs I’m looking at Bono on the roof”

Lighters, cell phones in the air. No one knew who was in on it
Or who wasn’t
Or if anyone was
And if it really was U2
Too skinny was the overall verdict
But it’s still funny…
And it sounds good…

And one more song one more song
BONO! BONO!
The police arrived a bit before the encore
Just in time for them to hear one last tune
One last Rock
Before the police through
Bono and the ring leader in cuffs
Yes, they arrested Bono.
The cuffs went on the storm clouds broke.

We waited in the rain 1 hour
With a crazy man.

Allegedly insane in my book
Standing in the rain drenched 1 hour
He followed us upstairs Hoping
Wishing wanting…Bono.
But it was just a bunch of comedians,
And he knew no one; just had the intense crazy look
in his eye of a person
Waiting years in the rain for their ultimate Rocker.
But he still hadn’t found what he was looking for.

Agent Moore

I showed up a few minutes early, and sat on the stairs with the other agents waiting for everything to start. As we sat there, a guy in rock star gear (all black, big boots, sunglasses, silly hat) showed up followed closely by three people with cameras and a boom mike pointed at him. Several passing tourists immediately stopped to take pictures. I was learning the lesson of the day already — for many, boom mike plus small crowd of people seems to equal “important thing I should take pictures of.”

The mission was explained to us. It seemed pretty straightforward – we were to pretend that we had just heard that U2 was playing a pre-show on the roof of a nearby building, before they played the Garden that night. I made friends with another girl and we decided to be partners. We walked causally to Seventh Avenue, where I crossed the street. When we saw agents giving us the sign to begin, my partner yelled my name and screamed the info about the concert from across the street.

We ran into a couple other agents we knew along the way, and exclaimed to them (loudly) that U2 was playing a block or so away. We kept explaining this to them as we ran. Every 20 feet or so one of us would ask, “So wait, U2 is playing RIGHT NOW?” and another would answer, “U2 is playing on a ROOF! Right this SECOND!!”

We arrived and the band was playing, and we started screaming. My favorite was “I love you Bono!!!” My partner seemed to favor the I’m-such-a-big-fan-that-I’m-close-to-fainting wail. The band played admirably, even with the disadvantage of not actually being U2. The singer sounded a lot like Bono, except when he didn’t. And sure enough, people arrived. We were soon surrounded by people…someone I was standing with estimated that there were a thousand people standing around. Most people were passing by and stopped and just asked what was going on, but there were a few people that ran over from the concert and were freaking out as much as I was pretending to.

Some funny moments from the crowd:

***An old couple walked by looking angrily at the noisy crowd. I yelled something like “I love you Bono! I love U2!” The old lady looked up at the roof and back at me and said, “Is that really U2?”

***A guy standing near me called a friend and told him about the free concert, and then held the phone up toward the building so his friend could listen in for a while.

***Another guy, who had been standing there watching both the concert and my apparent excitement at getting to witness the concert, came up to me at some point and said, “Sweetie, that’s totally not U2. I’m sorry.” I said, “What? Yes it is; that’s Bono right there!” He walked away shaking his head.

***A couple passed me after the show deep in discussion over whether or not that was really U2. “Well, during the concert his voice is being amplified and run through a bunch of machines,” the guy said. “I’m sure he always sounds like that; they just clean him up.”

***A friend of mine who was supposed to meet me and participate was really late, and ended up walking through the crowd dispersing and walking back toward the Garden after the show. He said that every person he passed was on his cell phone, going “Dude, I just saw U2 play a free show on a roof! It was awesome!!”

So then the cops showed up. It was funny watching them for a little while, because there were about eight of them and they were all going in and out of different doors, trying to figure out how to get up to the right rooftop. When they finally got up there, the show wrapped up, and the crowd started shouting. “One more song,” we chanted. “Let them play!” I assumed that Agent Todd might get a ticket for disturbing the peace. Imagine my surprise when people started leaving in handcuffs. Some of the other agents and I talked afterward about pooling money to post bail and making t-shirts and signs and going to protest the incarceration, but little came of all our talk, and instead we went to get beers.

Agent Shelktone

You can really see how IE is growing as when I arrived and saw Agent Barrison and Agent Harms, I noticed a full crowd of people at the meeting point and I hardly recognized any of them!

I was around Agent Barrison, Harms, and Simmons when Agent Ace$Thugg gave the signal. Agent Barrison pretended to get a phone call and perfectly situated behind us was a woman. She stood there as we sussed out our situation. “U2 is performing around the street!” “Really?” She decided to follow us.

As we ambled down towards the concert, some guys coming past told us,”U2 is playing on the roof over there.” “Really?” we asked. “For real bro!” was the reply.

I had a mid-fifties dude standing next to me start asking about the performance as it was going on. He was trying to figure out if they were really playing or not. He did not think it wasn’t U2. He thought it might have been just a taped recording.

The thing I was most amazed at the entire time was that at no time to anyone save fellow agents question the singing prowess of Agent Slocum. We were saying things like, “Bono sounds a little rough.” But nobody around us was commenting on it.

We probably had a mix of people who believed it and people who did not. The people who did not, took great joy in telling you, “it’s not real.” And yet they stayed around to watch.

Agent Taylor

The band was fantastic. Even though I knew it wasn’t U2, I would love to see these guys again. Agents Slocum and Jinn (Bono and the Edge) were amazing! I had a great time watching the crowd of hundreds gather across the street from Madison Square Garden and watching this spectacle take place. My favorite parts were when the chants would get started. The crowd chanted “One more song!” and the band answered…by playing their first song again. It was awesome. Anyone who wasn’t there in the beginning got to hear “Vertigo” and anyone who was, got to hear it again. Eventually, the cops came and broke up the band – but not the crowd. For at least 10 minutes after the music had stopped, chants of “Let them play!” reverberated up through 8th Avenue. The only thing that eventually broke up the crowd was a downpour, possibly caused by rock ‘n roll!

Long live U2, and long live Improv Everywhere!

Agent Bowman

I was one of the first to arrive at the location across the street from the bar. I looked around and there were about 15 people there including myself. As I was running from Madison Square Garden, I dodged a group of five tourists (like myself), who stopped me and asked where I was headed. I grabbed one of them by both arms and said “U2 is singing an impromptu concert down here!” and pointed to the location. It was amazing – they were immediately awestruck and couldn’t believe their luck! It only took about 10 minutes of Bono – the crowd was getting large and the crowd was getting larger.

Agent Mikes

I started out on 7th and 31st. At the signal, I pulled out my phone and started to “answer”. I pressed the Send button by habit or accident, and thus called the last number dialed, which happened to be my girlfriend at home. She is studying for finals, and is a huge U2 fan. And she picked up the call immediately. At first she was confused about why I would be talking about U2 playing on a roof when she didn’t tell me that at all. She’s studying for her final exams, and appreciated no distractions. As I ran down 31st St, I couldn’t tell her what was going on, figuring I’d just call and tell her all about it later. She’d laugh and understand.

It was a joy to see the crowd already there. The fact that traffic stopped is both frightening and amazing. People getting out of cars and buildings, taking pictures of them, calling others up about the “free” concert. Sadly, no helicopters came. Maybe next time. There were a few guys in a building behind the band that watched everything, so that counts. Every time I glanced up, there they were, arms crossed and unmoving. I laughed every time I saw them. Every time a convertible passed and stopped, I only thought,” Awesome!”

Most of the crowd passing through was polite. They managed to keep their New York air of indifference up the block, but most of them couldn’t help but keep smiling. The only dissenter was a guy with a thick brown moustache. He shouted at the crowd, “Yay for FAKE U2!” Pacing up and down the block and across the street, he seemed terribly interested in something that he scorned. At the end of the set, he proudly gave the band the finger, then took out his camera and took a picture of the band. The point goes to “fake U2″.

There was a man with a terribly short graying buzz cut, bug eyes, and no front teeth going through the crowd, looking for group of unescorted women, and offering them free drinks as part of a promotion at a nearby bar. I saw him again across the street later on, opening the door so that the police could get to the roof. Hmmm…could the shutdown have been averted?

On the way out after the shutdown, there was a local man and woman standing outside of a restaurant. The man asserts, “If ya sees a limo comin’ down for them, then ya know they’re real. They always get limos.”

So I walk over to 7th Ave. I have time to call back and apologize to my girlfriend. I explain to her what’s going on, and what happened. She’s understanding. As I’m talking with her on the phone, I start to pass a restaurant with a full al fresco area with people eating, chatting and listening. “Yeah, U2 was over on 8th Avenue on the roof! Seriously! Playing for free! It was amazing!” I could hear forks dropping, heads whipping around, exclamations being made. Satisfying, yes, but my girlfriend is again confused at my phone behavior.

I’d also like to add that Home on 8th has a number of decent vegetarian dishes.

Agent Condon

I knew things would be interesting when, as we were still sitting by the post office awaiting instructions, a guy dressed in black clothes, black boots, black hat and black sunglasses walked up, surrounded by an eager crew of young Japanese documentarians with a professional-looking shoulder camera and boom mic. They filmed him and our assembled crowd for several minutes, which made me a little wary, but the Man in Black turned out to be on our side (how could he not be, with that get-up?), so no problem.

As one of the organizing agents explained the mission to us, I noticed a police officer standing across the street, looking on intently (perhaps called over by the also-curious parking lot attendant). I was concerned that the jig would be up before it began. But if the officer did anything, the effect was very delayed.

Once sent on our way towards MSG, we only had a minute or two before the signal was given to begin. As a couple of nearby agents faked getting a cell phone call alerting them to the gig, I pretended to overhear and loudly asked them what was going on. When they told me, another guy on the sidewalk overheard. Like many people I saw throughout the mission, it was unclear to me whether or not sidewalk guy was an agent.

In any case, the sight of a group of people running down the sidewalk is enough to get many strangers’ interest. Within a few minutes, there was a sizable crowd along 8th Avenue. The Man In Black was in front taking care of crowd control. Certainly a good percentage of the folks around me were non-agents. The homeless (?) guy next to me was very pleased that while people down the street had paid huge sums to see U2, he was seeing them for free.

Bono (the real one) not only has one of the most recognizable voices in popular music, he also has a surprising range. His voice sounds so strong and masculine (exception: “Lemon”) that you don’t realize how high he’s singing until you try to sing along. The agent playing Bono made a valiant effort. The look and mannerisms were right; the preachy-poetic ramble towards the end was great. I can’t fault him on the singing, because – duh — it’s hard to sing like Bono, but the high notes eluded him. That, I think, was the biggest giveaway of the mission. But if they caught on, the people around me didn’t audibly let on. A group of teenaged girls near me were maybe a little too into it — my hunch is that they realized it was a hoax but got a kick out of playing along. Which I think is one type of reaction that we can call a success. If they weren’t fooled but they had fun, that’s great. The older folks walking by certainly bought into it, although they wouldn’t have known the real U2 from Fischerspooner. One older lady complained that she couldn’t make out a word he was singing, in a “these kids and their music today” kind of way.

After the gig was ended in the only imaginable way, and after the “Let them play!” chants died out, the crowd lingered a bit. I overheard one late-30s-looking guy ask someone else (an agent), “That wasn’t really U2, was it?” But the agent stuck to the script. As I walked away, I heard one middle-aged mother say to her young daughter how they needed to email photos of the event to the rest of the family.

Sidebar: Immediately after the show, one crowd member mentioned having an extra ticket to the (real) concert, and another crowd member promptly shelled out $500 cash for it.


Paid $500 for this ticket

Agent Barth

This was the first IE mission I’ve ever participated in and I would call it a smashing success! When we were standing on the street cheering for U2 there was a lady standing behind us freaking out that U2 was playing on top of her roof. She was constantly calling her buddies and holding up the phone so the person on the other end could hear the music. A few times people would walk past her and attempt to convince her that it wasn’t really U2 but she was so engrossed in the music/cheering/dancing that she paid them no attention. I’m absolutely sure that this woman was legitimate and completely believed U2 was atop her building.

I noticed quite a large number of people prematurely ending their cab rides to get out and see what was going on. At one point we attracted a group of real life hippies that appeared extremely confused and smelled questionable, however, definitely enjoyed themselves and the music. I think the amount of people that this mission attracted was very successful. Even the people who doubted whether or not U2 was actually playing hung around for the whole concert and clapped at the end of the songs.

Some other wonderful moments occurred post mission + a few hours when I was still in the area and got to brag to people/scalpers that I had already seen the free U2 pre-show. The cops ended the show at a good time as well b/c literally minutes later it began todownpour. I am a much more enthusiastic U2 fan when not soaking wet.

Agent Fite

I saw U2 in Albany, New York The Elevation Tour of 2000. Unfortunately, I didn’t get tickets for this year, but participating in this prank fulfilled my yearning. Not only did I get to sing along to my fav U2 tunes, I also got to get out all the pent up screaming and I saved at least seventy five dollars if not more. Thanks IE!!

Agent Cassis

Funny highlights:

1. The fact that there was not only a huge crowd on the street but also people on terraces on buildings in the surrounding area looking down from above at “U2″ and watching the whole show. I hear there was one guy on a terrace dressed in dayglo green, dancing like an absolute madman the whole time.

2. A middle-aged, slightly nutty looking guy yelling, “It’s not really U2!” at us and giving the band the finger for extended periods of time.

3. After the concert ended, I talked to a mom and daughter who were not involved:

Daughter: That wasn’t really U2, was it?
Me: Of course it was, you saw them!
Daughter: Oh wow, that’s so cool!
Me: How’d you guys hear about this?
Mom: Well, we were just on our way back from Momapalooza, a festival for bands with moms in them.
Me: Is your band as good as U2?
Mom: Haha, well, I think Bono could count as a mom, he’s got 4 kids!

4. As I was standing on the sidewalk waiting to see if the band would come down with the police:

Police man: Ok people, move along, nothing to see here.
Me: (laughing) Oh my god, policemen actually say that in real life?
Police man: (not seeing the humor) I’m telling you, there’s nothing to see.
Me: (backing away with my hands up)

5. There was a line down the block to get “U2″‘s autographs after they came down.

Agent Wood

I got to the P.O. early and — as the weather was amazingly summer-like — just sat on the main steps for a while and watched the people come and go (while I was waiting, this family released a red balloon and — very slowly at first, and then faster and faster — that balloon floated up and then disappeared completely in the blue sky). When 6:20 came around, I went around to the side steps and took a seat as everyone arrived, and then came an agent followed by a film crew, and we all got our instructions.

I was halfway up the block between 8th and 7th avenue when the signal was given to start. Not having a cell phone, I stayed close to another agent who had one and listened in as she “received the call”. She told me and another agent and we started running… as we passed by the sports bar on the corner of 31st and 8th avenue, a group of average Joe’s having a beer overheard our U2 roof concert remarks and said, “U2?! No Way!” and started to follow us (note to self: we should have poked our head in the bar and shouted out “U2 Roof Concert”!). When we got to the parking lot, there were already a lot of people. I started shouting “Bono! Bono!” and we all started whooping and hollering… the roof had speakers, there were photographers and film crews, and then Bono came to the roof edge and we went wild.

The concert was hilarious. Our Bono’s voice was about as scratchy and raucous as the real Bono’s (now), we caught an occasional glimpse of the Edge, people came to their windows (one agent shouted up “U2 is on your roof!”), a group came out on a roof a block behind the building and started dancing… it became hard to tell in the mayhem (other than by recognizing faces from the rendezvous point) whether people were “in on it” or not and if their enthusiasm was real or feigned. We all sang along with the band on their 4 song set, doing the chorus “In the name of love!” and the “do do do do, do do do do” closing bit, people were shouting “Bono we love you!”, and “One more song!”. Then the cops came, going from door to door trying to find their way to the roof, and I started shouting ‘Let them play! Let them play!” One agent suggested that the cops were also part of the hoax… who could tell?

The clouds grew dark, the band disappeared, the crowd thinned out. The agent next to me asked people if they had seen it… one girl said to a friend that she didn’t believe it when she heard about it and that she had wanted to finish her piece of pizza and by the time she got here is was all over! There was much discussion about whether Bono would be arrested or simply fined and allowed to play that night at MSG (most people felt he would be released). The sky opened up and it started to pour; I ran to the subway with another agent and we were soaked.

I had a great time. If a simulacra of a concert has as much excitement and mayhem as a real one, then does it matter if it wasn’t real?

Agent Anderson

U2 officially has some competition. Here are a few amusing things I overheard.

-While the band was playing a lady behind me on her phone was absolutely freaking out. For a good 5 minutes she just kept repeating “Ahhhh! Honey, they’re on the roof! Oh my God! OH MY GOD!” While I hadn’t seen her pre-mission, I initially assumed that she was part of Improv Everywhere because she had worked herself into such a frenzy. She was going so nuts that I thought she should probably tone it down a little because she was so enthused it might’ve made people suspicious. However, after about 20 minutes of this woman yelling into her phone and holding it up to let the person on the other line hear the music, I came to the realization that she wasn’t in on the joke but was still doing a really good job of letting everyone within earshot know that Bono himself was up on the roof. Awesome.

-Later in the Duane Reade near the site of the mission, I had two instances of post U2-dom. First, while standing in the vestibule, a man walked in talking to the woman he was with going “Whoa..I can’t believe it! Fuckin U2 on the roof!” Then he turned to me and said, “Were you there? Did you guys see U2? I don’t need tickets to the concert now!” About fifteen minutes later while I was standing in line I heard a woman telling her friend about it so I joined in on the conversation, expressing my excitement over getting to see them play. The woman was skeptical of the whole situation and tried to prove it had been a fake by asking me why, if I was such a huge U2 fan, I hadn’t tried to get on the roof. I told her that I had Vertigo, and she stopped arguing.

All in all, a fantastic day.

Agent KnightSwan

This was my first mission and I dedicated this day as a start to my smoking cessation program. I needed to get out and explore, forget about smoking ciggs- and boy-oh-boy this made my evening! I didn’t know all the music or really give a damn about U-2, but being the Lesbian/Thespian that I am I assisted with this project and found myself having a great time. I watched the tenants in the adjoining buildings stick their heads out and one even climbed out of her window. When I saw the cops and their white shirt captain searching for which doorway that led to the rooftop, I screamed, whistled and laughed until I almost pee’d my pants.

Agent Hammy

Meandering about, waiting for the signal, I pretended to listen to my iPod. I looked up and the Signal Agent was right next to me. Before I knew it, he gave the signal. This caught me a bit off-guard and I’m not sure what I did, but I’m sure I’ll find out because the camera crew was staying with the Signal Agent. As the signal was given, a crescendo of excitement preceded a mad one-block dash to the concert location. The commitment of all Agents made me giddy.

Agent Rainswept and I were standing in the parking lot across from Home on 8th, and were subsequently joined by Agent Pack. We were surrounded by people who seemed to be 8th Ave parking lot regulars and perhaps they felt somewhat deserving of a free U2 concert! One guy was sitting on the bumper of a car and nodded along with the music, smiling. Toothless, he was happy to explain to anyone that it indeed was U2 up there on the roof. I used him as my back-up. When someone asked me what was going on, I’d tell them and then turn to him, and he would nod and say, “U2!” In front of us, a sun burnt man with a tank top and tattoos slow-danced with a permed-haired woman in shorts. Adorable.

I was delightfully surprised to witness absolutely NO DOUBT from any uninformed secret concert attendee. NONE!! All believers! Although, there were some who didn’t find U2 that exciting.

Tall guy with dreads wearing pastel and eating an ice cream cone: Who is that up there?
Agent Hammy: It’s U2!! That’s BONO!!!
Tall guy with dreads wearing pastel and eating an ice cream cone: (turning away without interest) Oh.

After it was all over, Agent Rainswept went into the 99 cent store to buy an umbrella. (Ironic?) I waited on the street and listened to reactions.

Girl in red sweater on her celly: (so excited) I guess they were probably just using a part of their set!! And, they only sang , like, 4 songs. . .
(I was so excited to have heard this until I arrived at Dusk for the after party and saw her chatting with other agents. Good improv, girl in red sweater!)

Agent Bruise

Among my favorite things was that once we were dispersed into the neighborhood, and we started spreading the seed of the concert, I began to run into other people and had encounters where I could not tell if they were Agents not knowing they were talking to another Agent, or if they were real strangers telling me second-hand things that they had heard from Agents. A guy who ran into me and who may or may not have been IE was like “Hey, did you hear this crazy thing about U2?” just as the music started to blast, and at that point, we all booked it to the corner. It was a pretty fantastic display of “yes, and”-ing from all involved.

I do wish I’d known to brush up on my U2 lyrics beforehand. Regardless, once I got to the intersection, the joy was infectious. I loved the fake press passes, and how the very premise of the mission did away with the need to be discreet about having the cameras out (and lent credence to the part about them shooting a new music video). And it seems like one of the successes of it was that the vast majority of non-Agents who showed up either believed they were seeing a U2 show (in which case, no harm done, really, because hey, free U2 show.), or knew that there was something up, but decided not to ruin anybody’s good time, (also no harm done. They probably didn’t realize that they were “yes, and”-ing, but it was awesome, so good for them.)

Anyway, thanks for making my first Mission a swell time, even though I wish we’d been able to see it through to the end (even though that would have put us all in the middle of a really ugly thunderstorm, it probably would have been very Bono of Agent Slocum to keep being a rock star in that rain.). And I’m glad that nobody got in serious trouble.

Favorite moments:
-The hearty chants of “Let them play!” once it was clear that the police were shutting it down.
-People who had obviously taken cabs to the place upon hearing second or third-hand about the concert.
-The woman who double parked someone in order to sit on the edge of her sunroof for the concert.
-Someone walking by laughing, and muttering mostly to herself, “He doesn’t even look like Bono.”
-I think I heard a cry of “Oh my god, the Edge” when the Edge impersonator got close enough to the edge (the roof edge, not the Edge Edge.) to be seen.

Agent Diva

I’ve always wanted to see U2 in concert, and thanks to the latest mission, I finally got my chance…sort of. I arrived at the meeting place a half an hour early because I live in Brooklyn towards the end of the L and it’s severely messed up right now and I wanted to make sure I made it on time. Thank goodness for my GameBoy SP. As I was putting the smackdown on some dragons, some people showed up about five minutes after I did, asking, “Is this the Improv thing?” I nodded, and they sat down on the steps as well. It was pretty exciting watching more and more people walk over to the steps and sit down and to start conversations with some of the other people sitting around us. One gal had just celebrated a birthday, there were two guys sitting near each other with the same name, another gal had just gotten back from kayaking the Hudson River… the different types of people who showed up was a great eclectic mix of urbanites. Then, the Japanese camera crew showed up, and that instantly got everyone’s attention, as did the fellow in all black, with black sunglasses and a black backpack. Once our part of the mission was explained to us (we would be the crowd racing to the concert location from around 31st and 8th), me and this other gal for whom this was also her first mission buddied up and I immediately started playing it up, like it she and I were going to the concert at MSG together.

We walked across 8th towards 7th, always trying to keep our leader in sight. For a minute, we lost sight of him, and then we saw him give the signal. She pulled out her cell phone like she’d just gotten a call and mimed a conversation, and then I saw the other people running. We took off from about a quarter ways up the block and started laughing and being really excited. After all, we were about to see a free U2 concert!

When I got to the location, I channeled my inner teenager and screamed like nobody’s business. I took pictures, I swayed to the beat, I sang along as best as I could, but since Bono opened up with a song I didn’t know very well, I could only sing the chorus. I noticed some people had stopped right behind me so I pulled out my cell phone to place a real call to my boyfriend (who had been worried that I’d be doing something that could get me arrested). I shrieked out the news, and totally played it up. I think it helped convince the people next to me even more.

At one point, one of the guys next to me who asked me what was going on. “It’s Bono and U2!” I shrieked, and laughed happily. He then asked me how I’d heard about this, and I replied that I had heard about it from a secret mailing list (which is how the original fans found out about the music video shoot, right?). He then said, “I don’t think that’s Bono.” I replied, “It’s totally him!” and shrieked and waves my hands some more. He said something like, “If you say so.” He still stuck around for most of the concert, I noticed.

I also remember this one lady who glared at me as I shrieked and wiggled in place. Actually stopped walking down 8th and glared at me for a good minute or two. I think it was because I let out my scream exactly when she crossed right in front of me. Perhaps she was waiting for an apology, but I didn’t care. I was watching Bono!

I chilled out a bit for the next two songs, taking pictures of crowd reactions and agent happenings. One of the agents with the press passes came by while filming and I said something like, “I love U2, wooo!” while throwing up the horns. I totally loved seeing the people watching on the roof top far behind the stage and the people in the cars who would look up. In one of the pictures I’m submitting to go with my report, almost all of the people in the bus were looking up at the concert above them. Another favorite picture is of the guy in the next building a flight or two down from the stage who was watching from his window.

The last song was to be “Pride” and we were supposed to do some “woo-ooh-oohs” but frankly, that part is pitched way too high to be shouted en masse. Then, I think some other agents started chanting out, “One more song!”and everyone around us joined in. They started up the first song again, and the crowd went wild! I think it was at that point that the cops showed up on the roof, because I heard someone say that the cops were shutting them down. I think I was one of the first people to start the “Awwww!” of disappointment, and then the agents (?) behind me and to the left started chanting, “Let them play!” which also caught on very quickly. Alas, the cops on the roof and the rain threatening to electrocute everyone put a damper on the festivities (no pun intended). I dispersed sadly, and made my way to the after party at the bar.

Agent Robertson

I overheard a teenage girl being interviewed after the band was broken up. She was practically crying she was so excited and she said, “Oh my God, this is like the best thing that’s ever happened to me in my life. I don’t know how I could ever have anything better” or something very
close to that.

That was so much fun, I can’t wait to be back in NY.

Agent Castiglione

My girlfriend was suppose to meet me for the mission, but she was late. When we finally met up (2 minutes into it) I told her U2 was playing on the roof around the corner. I assumed that she would know “that” was the mission when I told her, but she totally believed it and thought U2 really was on the roof. Also…..I definitely had a few people on the street overhear me on my cell phone talking about it who picked up their phones to spread the message.

Agent Karp

This was my first mission, and I came by myself, so I wasn’t sure what to expect sitting on the steps, waiting for instructions of what we were supposed to do. Then I saw the “security guy”, Agent Monacus, (guy dressed in all black,) walking towards us, and I immediately recognized him as an old coworker of mine from an internet startup! Knowing just a little bit about him and seeing that he was involved, I
thought a few things: 1.) There’s some sort of computer networking element to this mission. 2.) There’s some sort of conspiracy element to this. 3.) He cut his hair!

So we got the instructions, I did the yelling into my cell phone thing, and on my way over i yelled into a bar that U2 was playing just a couple blocks away. I think they thought I was nuts. When we arrived and “U2″ started playing, I have to admit at first I was impressed by the copy. I know I was not the only agent in on this who at first, thought, wait. Is that really U2? Which made it all the more fun. But uh… that lasted about 10 seconds, and became abundantly clear that no, this wasn’t, and better start swinging into excitement otherwise all bets are off. More power to the agents of the U2 band, but the longer they played, the uh…less Bono sounding his voice become, and the louder and more often I yelled “Woooo! U2! I love you Bono!” to drown out the increasingly less convincing vocals. But I think that’s what made it all soooooo classic– the fact that this was obviously NOT U2– but that the gathering crowd was so trusting and wanting to believe that this was, that they were more than willing to forgive Bono’s croaking vocals to feed the dream. It was a blast.

I also witnessed the $500 ticket exchange, and I thought it was part of the mission… I guess I just couldn’t believe that some random guy on the street was ready to give away $500 on the street to some other guy just for a ticket to U2. Afterall, he did just see them for free…

Agent Knowles
Report located here.

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES


Agent Arauz

Many of the excellent photos from this mission were taken by Agent Nicholson. If you’d like to see more (and larger versions of the ones included here), visit his personal photo page for the event:
Agent Nicholson

Mission Accomplished

EPILOGUE

On June 21st, the eight Improv Everywhere Agents who were issued a summons for “unreasonable noise” had their day in court in Manhattan.


Note the the term “criminal” court

We each got to speak with a lawyer who told us we would probably get an ACD – “Adjournment Contemplation Decision” – which basically means we’d be given a six month window where if we didn’t receive any more summons our case would be dismissed. He also told us we would probably be asked to watch a video presentation on “The Quality of Life”.


Agent Slocum’s name appears on the court monitor

As it turned out, our lawyer was wrong. The Honorable Judge Eileen Koretz dismissed the charges and let us walk! No fine. Nothing. She wryly muttered to the court clerk after Agent Todd’s dismissal, “They were playing music on a roof!”


Free Agents


Bono and The Edge

Oh well, I would have loved to have seen the “Quality of Life” video.

More coverage of our court date on Agent Kula’s blog.


Fake U2 reunited in September of 2006 to play the IE 5th Anniversary Show.
Asian Edge Tee

Fake Bono Tee

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Comments

comments

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127 Responses to Even Better Than The Real Thing

  1. Michael says:

    I so wish I lived in the US simply so that I could become an IE Agent!! You’re all absolutely crazy! Long may your genius continue!

  2. Lolita says:

    Only in NY! This was hilarious! “The Edge” looked smashing, & the “bullshit” guy with camera in one hand giving you the finger -classic!
    Ok, for this at least you deserves some Tix for the Square concert….
    Mr. Mullen what do you say????
    Good Luck.

  3. frank van bergen says:

    Great what you guys are doing. Greetz from The Netherlands

  4. Badr says:

    Excellent reporting. To me the text of it was like a stream.

  5. Blaine says:

    I wonder if anybody told U2 about your concert, and what their response was/would be?

  6. Yazzi says:

    AAAAAAHAHAHAHHAHAHAHAHHAHA!! That is soooo wicked.
    Good job.

    TIGHT!!!!

  7. Smitty says:

    Hilarious. We gotta know whether U2 found out about this.

  8. jth2068@hotmail.com says:

    Awesome Job! Consider this: assuming you have all the footage I think you have, you contact MTV about having them edit together into a “punked” version of “MTV Jammed.” The viewers would love it, and I’m sure they could get U2’s permission as well!!!

  9. Diego says:

    Fucking Outstanding!
    Found this posted on a a Guitar Forum, again….
    FUCKING OUTSTANDING!
    Ha! You made my day, thanks!

  10. ZachsMind says:

    Very cool that Todd purposefully stepped in to share the blame and get handcuffed so “fake Bono” wouldn’t be on his own. That’s dedication to the craft of improv! Such an attitude can only insure that more people will place trust in him for future missions. This does beg the question though: can there be missions that don’t “disturb the peace” or otherwise break laws? Has our society become so anal in the making of laws that harmless pranks like this create outlaws from well-meaning folk? It would be ideal if the majority of those who participated appeared at court this June to (in a civilized and professional manner of course) stand by Todd and ‘Fake Bono’ in support of their actions. Even if no one said a word, it would act as a visual for the judge, to see how many lives were touched in a positive way that day. Granted it’s just a twenty dollar fine, but it’s the principle of the thing. Our laws should not prevent people from assembling in public and having a good time. Improvisational theater shouldn’t be misconstrued as wrong, and those who participate in improvisational theater are exercising their constitutional rights. They should stand up for their right to practice their craft. I mean it’s all fun and games until someone gets charged for a crime, however minimal it may be. Besides, seventy or more IE agents showing up at the courthouse? Could make for a “mission” in and of itself. Call it Operation Solidarity.. or something less corny.

  11. smoothie says:

    excellent prank! but from watching the video i feel the onlookers must’ve been tone deaf. it sounded pretty terrible to me. :/

  12. Jennifer says:

    “It looks like they’re shutting us down?!” HA HA HA HA! This is just CLASSIC!!!!!!! BRILLIANT!!!!!!!!!
    I love it – – you guys ROCK!!!!

  13. Plywood says:

    fuggin’ brilliant

  14. vic says:

    all well and fine, but what about the “larger than life” (real) Bono, who ran around some years back defacing statues here in San Francisco with cans of SPRAY PAINT…real class act. ;)

  15. Jason says:

    A bunch of the pictures aren’t showing up… bandwidth issues?

  16. Jess says:

    Well, I was in NYC visiting from the Philly area staying at the Chelsea Star hotel… we were duped! But we don’t feel bad beind duped by such a great act! Well done! Keep up the good work!

  17. Agent Bruise says:

    Heh. I had no idea until I read the article that there was even a drummer in the cover band. It really really would have filled out the sound, and made it more believable if the drumming could have been heard better.

  18. Jamie says:

    You guys are frikkin hilarious!!! What a scam! I can’t believe you got shut down by the cops… actually, I can’t believe you were so successful as to have a U2 armada hooting and hollering at you from the streets! LMAO!!!! And line about the cops not wanting to escort a Bono-clad man out the door in handcuffs was priceless. I wish I coulda been in your group for those moments!

  19. natalia says:

    wow, you guys totally rock! well done, its something you can always laugh back on haha

  20. joe says:

    haha, man thats funny that the cop actually said “move along, nothing to see here”

    GREAT STUFF!!