How a Canadian U2 Tribute Band Got Onstage With the Real Thing

"I performed in front of 20,000 people last night on the biggest stage in Toronto," says Bono impersonator Gabriel Pate. "How do you top that?"

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Acrobat
A U2 tribute band, Acrobat. Courtesy of Acrobat

As we reported earlier, Bono invited the Toronto U2 tribute band Acrobat onstage Monday night to perform "Desire" during a show at the Air Canada Center. Acrobat frontman Gabriel Pate gave us all the details on meeting Bono, getting onstage and dueling harmonicas. Here's his story in his own words:

I've been doing the U2 tribute thing for close to 15 years. I had another band in Toronto called October many years back, but Acrobat formed about three years ago. The bass player Mark is a good friend of mine from before this U2 tribute stuff. We always had different projects going, but one day I said to him that he should be in the band. He said, "But Adam Clayton isn't black." I said, "I don't give a shit about that! This is just about the music for us." He's a huge, crazy U2 fan, and so he agreed. We've done a couple larger shows, but mostly we play small bars in Southern Ontario and Toronto.

The first time that Bono pulled me onstage was at a Detroit show about 10 years ago. My dream for the longest time was to sing with him, but he didn't want to do it that night and he told a bunch of jokes about me and then I got down. I've bumped into him at shows and he always gives me a little bit of acknowledgement. I've also gotten to know members of U2's crew. When they were done with the Chicago shows, I put the word out to people close to the band like, "Hey, we're going to be in Toronto with the band. Who knows what might happen?"

I knew to actually make it happen, we had to make it easy for them. The whole band planned on having tickets and being on the same part of the floor. We printed off some T-shirts with our band name across the front. The icing on the cake was we were going to wait for the band when they drove in at the loading docks and we were going to acoustically serenade Bono as he was doing autographs, and prove to him that we could get up and perform. Well, yesterday he was late for the show and had to film something inside, so he just rolled down his window and waved as they drove in. 

Acrobat and U2
Gabriel Pate on stage with Bono Courtesy of Acrobat

We thought, "Oh, man. There goes our shot." But I stayed positive. I thought, "Let's go to the show. We're not going to change our plans." At the show, they did "Mysterious Ways" and a girl we know got up and was a belly dancer. Then they did "Elevation." The way the show works is there's only three or four E Stage songs and in that slot they do "Elevation" or "Desire," not both. Once I heard them start "Elevation," I looked at the guys and was like, "No, it's never going to happen."

When the song finished, the piano went up and there was a list of songs on it that said "Stuck In A Moment." I said, "Okay, definitely not going happen now." And no sooner had those words left my mouth then Bono looked over and pointed at Mark and myself and said, "You got the whole band here? Okay, let's go." The rest is what you see in the video. He pulled us up, and I was shocked that he handed me the mic. They've brought other musicians up before, but Bono usually trades verses with them and he basically still runs the show. For him to pass the mic over to me was amazing. I had a split second of just thinking, "Holy shit!" Then I was like, "Okay, I gotta go do this now."

I just went into performance mode. I knew I had to pull it off. I knew I wanted to sing with Edge, and I was happy I got to do the whole Bono and The Edge thing. I wanted to sing with Bono, so I went back and found him and we were able to sing together. There was a brief moment after the "money, money, money" part where I couldn't find my harmonica. It was stuck down in my jeans. I was searching and searching, and I see Bono out of the corner of my eye and he sees that I couldn't find it, so he sprints up the stairs and whips out his harmonica from his pocket. By the time he got to me we both had our ours, so we did a dueling harmonicas thing.

The plan from the get-go was to play "Desire." When we planned this out a few weeks back, we knew the most fan-requested song was "Acrobat." The U2 fan kingdom would have gone ballistic if we'd played it, but it probably wouldn't have fit in the show when and where U2 likes to bring up people because of the effects necessary for that song, for the guitar especially. That's more of a main stage song.

We took a band vote. I was really adamant that we should do "Acrobat" anyway. I knew what the U2 fans would say afterwards. They'd go, "A U2 tribute band named Acrobat went up and they still didn't do 'Acrobat!'" I took a bit of heat for that today. Everyone in line today is giving me heat. But I was outvoted. They wanted to make it easy for the band to bring us up. They wanted to do a crowd-pleaser, one that gets the crowd going. "Desire" is a four-on-the-floor rock tune.

I might be a little bit biased, but I think that U2 does things like this because they enjoy a relationship with their fans unlike many other acts. They actually do enjoy their fans and genuinely care about them and want the show to be good for everyone, not just for themselves. I've been interacting with them off and on for the last 15 years, and Bono will remember your name even if he hasn't seen you for five years. He's a special guy. By bringing fans onstage, they bring the show closer to them. 

Acrobat
Martin Chorlton, guitarist and Pate Acrobat

We're all going to the second Toronto show tonight, but we won't attempt to get up there unless Bono specifically calls for us. Someone else should get the spotlight. I really hope they do play "Acrobat" at some point on this tour. If he ever said, "Where's that Acrobat band? I hear they can play it." Oh my god, we'll get up there for sure.

I don't have any more fan goals at this point. What happened is as good as it gets. I don't know how much better it could get. If I could bump into the band at a bar and have a pint, that would be the pinnacle I guess. But other than that, I performed in front of 20,000 people last night on the biggest stage in Toronto. It's ridiculous. How do you top that?

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