After watching the Grammys, there were several moments that stuck with you. Kanye West's onstage death and resurrection, Green Day's pyro-fueled punk rock, and Alicia Keys and Jamie Foxx's tender tribute to Ray Charles all spring to mind, but it was one of the show's quietest moments that left some people talking loudest.
When U2 took the stage to accept their third Grammy of the evening — for Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group With Vocals (see "Kanye Steals The Show, But Ray Dominates Grammy Winners' Circle") — Bono seemed genuinely shocked. And in a rare inarticulate moment, he had nothing to say. So drummer Larry Mullen stepped to the mic and delivered a hushed, humbled and heartfelt apology to the band's fans.
"Due to circumstances beyond our control, a lot of our long-suffering fans ... didn't get tickets [to our tour]," he said. "And I'd like to take this opportunity on behalf of the band to apologize for that."
It was the second time in a week that Mullen had taken it upon himself to address what some U2 fans are seeing as the biggest screw-up in the band's almost 30-year history. On February 6, he posted a letter on U2.com, writing in part that "there was a mess-up in the way tickets were distributed through U2.com. ... Some of it was beyond our control, but some of it wasn't."
The ticket snafu began with the January 25 Internet presale for the band's upcoming Vertigo 2005 Tour (see "U2 Finally Announce Tour Dates"). U2's most dedicated fans — members of their fan club, who pay a $40 subscription fee — were supposed to get first crack, but things didn't end up working that way.
Those running the Internet presale didn't rank fan club members according to length of membership when they issued presale access codes. Instead, they randomly issued codes, which opened the door for scalpers who signed up for the fan club just to get in on the presale action. For them, $40 was a small price to pay, especially when tickets to U2's first tour in four years could go for four to five times that on eBay. Needless to say, the scalpers gobbled up tickets, and many longtime fans were left empty-handed.
Mullen was quick to apologize, pledging to hunt down scalpers and offering members a full $40 refund of their subscription fees. But obviously he was still bothered by the way things went down, and when he spoke to MTV News backstage at the Grammys, he took the apology to a whole new level.
"Our audience is very important to us; they've supported us through peaks and troughs and we haven't always made it easy for them. So when something like tickets go astray, and people wait online for hours, and they don't get the seats they want, or they don't get seats at all, it's hard for us," he said. "It's personal, because when you walk down the street, people say 'I tried to go to your concert, but I couldn't go.' So it's not like it's in the background, it's right in your face."
Mullen promised that the band is working hard at fixing the problems that dogged the presale for the spring. He hopes fans will be able to log on with confidence when the presale for the fall North American tour begins, but he can't promise everything will be perfect.
"Next time, we're going to make some changes in the way tickets are distributed. But you know what? We'll never get it right. There's always going to be scalpers, there's always going to be screw-ups," he said. "But we'll certainly not allow what happened this time to happen again. But we can't keep everybody happy all the time. We'd like to, but it's not possible."
— James Montgomery, with reporting by John Norris