I saw U2 play the Rose Bowl on May 20. It was the fifth tour of theirs that I’ve seen, and it was the best overall. Here is the setlist.
Highlights: “A Sort of Homecoming,” “Mothers of the Disappeared,” American optimism theme, set design and video.
“Homecoming.” We’re in the middle of a big 80s nostalgia kick in America, and this new arrangement of a 1984 track is loaded with clever throwback synth sounds. Great version.
“Mothers.” Rarely played live at all, the somber, sonorous last song on The Joshua Tree appropriately resonated that night, acoustically and narratively. Would have been great to see Eddie Vedder, though, like Seattle got to!
The Joshua Tree is about America, the country and the hemisphere. Like the original album, this tour focused on the good, the bad, and the absolutely heartbreakingly beautiful. At points in the show, Bono called for unity (“From the party of Lincoln to the party of Kennedy…”), thanked American taxpayers for helping improve the global AIDS crisis, and called himself a “guest” in this country who felt like he was “coming home.”
But in “Trip Through Your Wires,” for example, the video screen showed a woman painting an American flag on an old shack in the desert. It was a supremely loving gesture.
And the first Joshua Tree track, “Where the Streets Have No Name,” featured a slow, steady shot of moving down a desert road, the landscape lightly crusted with snow. That was it. Certainly a California locale, it could have been shot in Red Rock Canyon in January, though. These Irish guys have traveled the world for decades, and they came here to show us pictures of our own backyard. I was touched, and that shot made me tear up a bit.
Those videos. Most songs were backed by a video on the giant screen, but instead of the rapidly cut, information overload of their 90s shows, these were simple, slow shots, usually held for long times, of people in the desert. That was it. Their biggest hit itself, “Without or Without You,” featured nothing more than a single shot of a partly cloudy day over Death Valley. That was it.
It was gorgeous.
I was pleasantly surprised by a beautiful performance of “Red Hill Mining Town,” which had never been played live before this tour. The video was a single shot of a Salvation Army band, slowly pulled back, starting with a nervous horn-playing woman trying to rise to the situation of being filmed for this show. It was endearing.
The set was one whole screen, with a Joshua Tree logo, mirrored on the walkway and mini-stage that projected into the audience. Such a sparse set, utilized with such perfect art, really honored The Joshua Tree while bringing it into the 21st century.
“Miss Sarajevo” is a mediocre song made better by footage of kids in a current refugee camp (though my friend who served a mission in Africa said, “I slept in worse places that that.”). Still, the camera work here was excellent–her closed eyes opening at the end, to emphasize some interview audio about America being “where dreams come true” was very well done.
I really hope the eventual DVD release of this tour faithfully shares the background videos. They’re an important part of the show.
I read somewhere that Bono had said this is the album that America needs to hear again now, and he’s right. I’m grateful for this.
Mild complaints: partisanship and some lackluster playing.
“Ultra Violet” was played up at this show as a monument to women, with names and pictures rolled out. Fine, but the one and only conservative woman there was Sandra Day O’Connor. Other women included Michelle Obama and Hillary Clinton, and entertainers like Lena Dunham. There were a couple dozen total, and it was very slanted like that.
No Margaret Thatcher? No Oriana Falacci? No Mother Teresa?
Not only that, but the song was only played so-so, and it wasn’t the only one. Compare this recording of the great song “In God’s Country” from this weekend to how they played it back in 1987. Which one is tighter? Which one better communicates the complex harmony of the album track?
And did “Exit” really need to end with “Eeny Meeny Miny Moe?” That took away from a dramatic performance of a very dark song.
Most songs, though, were just as good as they usually are live, which is to say, they were awesome (“Bullet the Blue Sky,” “Running to Stand Still,” “Pride,” “One”).
The venue is nice, but needs more exits from the floor, and why isn’t there a parking garage or something? We were herded onto the golf course next door. Guessing the outrageous parking fee is to re-seed the course after thousands of cars tore it up.
Opening act The Lumineers were a great choice–they’re a lot like 1987 U2.
Adam Clayton is getting old. The other three guys all look like healthy men in their 50s, but Adam looks like he’s pushing 80. His face is deeply wrinkled and falling down to his chest. His hair has turned white. Not gray–white. Bono joked about doing another Joshua Tree tour in 2047, but…I doubt it.
Ranking the tours I’ve seen:
5. Popmart, 1997. Las Vegas was the first stop, and some equipment broke down during the show. Also, the album sucked.
4. 360 tour, 2004. Not great seats, but I took my wife and we danced to “With or Without You.” A monstrously epic setting of “Until the End of the World,” though–one of their best live songs, Missed it this year.
3. Zoo TV, 1992. My first U2 concert. High school. An epic extravaganza. I listen to this tour online all the time.
2. Elevation, 2001. At a small arena in Salt Lake City, just two months after 9/11, this intimate spectacle lifted spirits. I felt connected to everyone there. It was a warm night in our hearts.
1. The Joshua Tree, 2017. Their best album–indeed, the best album ever made–live. Plus my favorite song, “Bad,” in the next-to-last spot. They ditched a new song to end with their peppy first single. And everything I said above. I may need to retire from future concerts, because what could compete with this?
Although, I would go see an Achtung Baby anniversary.