U2’s Joshua Tree Tour 2017 Reviewed

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.”

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Reviewed: Desire–A Tribute to U2

I saw this great tribute band play for $10 at the Cannery in North Las Vegas on Friday night. Their set was a decently wide range from the U2 catalog–ranging from two tracks off the 1980 debut Boy album through 2004’s “Vertigo.” Most tracks came from The Joshua Tree and Achtung Baby. Basically, it was a roll of greatest hits, well chosen with the longtime fans in mind.

The lead singer does a pretty decent Bono impression–not as obnoxious as Ben Stiller‘s by a long shot, but still in that vein. His performance was faithful and loving, but avoided any arrogance that impersonating Bono might invite.

Still, his friendly, casual approach to the role led him to do some good stuff (like adding bits of classic rock lyrics to the end of songs, Bono-style), and some questionable stuff (like warbling improvised lyrics several times, off time to the point where it clearly confused the rest of the band–tighten this up in rehearsal, guys).

The rest of the band was strong, too. Some tracks had some weak spots–as good as the guitar was, on a song like “In God’s Country,” the searing, soaring sonic harmony of Edge’s work must be impossible to duplicate–but overall the sound was solid, and on some songs, even stellar. Their cover of “Running to Stand Still” was positively inspired–a heart-wrenching elegy worthy of the original.

The tough job this tribute band has is their own fault–they’ve chosen to imitate one of the best groups in history!  :)  As talented as they obviously are, much of their playing only served to illustrate just how amazing the men in U2 are. With that in mind, they were very entertaining. Somewhere out there is a Nickelback tribute band with the easiest job in the world.

The appearance of the guys in Desire was even impressive. Though their bassist doesn’t look anything like Adam, the other guys have enough similarity to pass on stage. (Then again, most any guy with a square jaw can get an earring and a crew cut and look like Larry.)

If you have any interest in U2 and you ever get a chance to see these guys live, I highly recommend it. Ten bucks well spent; I’ll gladly go see them again.

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“Bad”

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“All I Want Is You”

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“With Or Without You”

U2’s Best MLK Tribute

With MLK Day a week away, here’s an earlier version of U2’s “Pride (In the Name of Love)” than the one most know.  The first half sounds pretty much the same, but in the second half, you’ll notice that the track is extended, and Bono’s voice is even more passionate: he lets loose with an exuberant praise so unrestrained, his voice is audibly shredded raw by the end.

This holiday could use some of that passion.  Due in part to the rise of politicized tribalism, and all the myopia that engenders, Martin Luther King Day has long since become a staid formality.

Its celebration has about as much to do with the life and work of Dr. King as the celebration of Christmas has to do with Jesus Christ–the presence of the true meaning is nominal, at best, replaced by a simplified, commercialized, mainstreamed version, bland enough to suit the times, with just enough empty inspiration in it to give us some cheap, warm fuzzies without actually making us examine ourselves and change anything.

Biblical Allusions In U2’s “Until the End of the World”

Three intense interests of mine have intersected lately–literacy, religion, and U2 (I’ll be seeing them in concert Friday night).  Ah, leave it to the Irish to combine literature and religion!

U2 has always been a great example of that trait of their people, and I fear that much of it is lost on us.  (I just found this great site summarizing some of the many Biblical allusions in their work.) 

Case in point: 1991’s “Until the End of the World,” from the Wim Wenders film of the same name, and U2’s album Achtung Baby.  At first glance, it’s just another conflicted love song (as every true fan knows, even after 30 years, U2 has still never written a purely positive love song).  But if you’re familiar with the Bible, it’s clear that this is Judas Iscariot confessing the betrayal of Jesus Christ.  Even the title takes itself from a famous promise made by Jesus to His followers, which ends the Gospel according to Matthew: “…and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world.  Amen.” 

Here are the lyrics, with my explanations and links to relevant Biblical text (mostly from Matthew, since that’s the reference in the title):

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Michael Jackson Comments

I don’t really want to write about this, but a few things have come to mind over the weekend, and for what it’s worth, here they are.  Behold, the cathartic power of writing:

  • Michael Jackson was not that great of a musician.  Sure, he had some great songs, but most well known artists have some great songs.  His music was innovative and formative of the 80’s era, but let’s remember we’re lionizing someone who hadn’t written anything memorable in nearly 20 years, only released a few albums over a very long career, and never truly realized his potential.  In terms of both musical quality and actual cultural impact (as opposed to perceived cultural impact), tons of acts–from Lionel Richie to Madonna to U2–are far more important, and that’s just from the 80’s.   The best thing we can really say of Jackson’s talent is to remark that he was an amazing dancer–it was often angry and sometimes disturbing, but his skill there is undeniable.
  • I remember when “Black or White” came out, some people accused him of ripping off INXS’s “New Sensation.”  I bought it at the time, but that was dumb.  The resemblance is superficial–certainly not amounting to the kind of sampling that irritates us all.  MJ may not have been perfect, but he sure didn’t need to steal ideas from Australian pop bands.
  • His guest stint as the voice of a Michael Jackson wannabe on The Simpsons–yes, that was really him–was truly cool.  If I remember him well, it’ll be for that.  That and letting Weird Al parody a couple of his songs (Prince famously told him no).
  • I don’t know if he ever molested any children, but it’s likewise undeniable that he put them in positions that did bother and scare them.  He may have loved them, but his clueless self-obsessive behavior hurt others.  It’s hard not to ignore that.  During the recent NBA finals, I couldn’t appreciate Kobe Bryant’s awe-inspiring performances because I couldn’t stop thinking, “You know, that guy who just made that incredible shot is probably a rapist.”  Same thing here. 
  • How much does it suck to be the ghost of Farrah Fawcett right now?  Her untimely death (genuinely untimely, not one brought on by years of voluntary prescription drug abuse) got about five minutes of headline time before MJ took over and the world went into full time worship mode.  Her inspiring, dignified battle with cancer?  Might as well have never happened.  Remember when Mother Teresa and Princess Diana died within a week of each other in 1997?  Remember which one got a hundred times more coverage?  Did we learn nothing?  Even worse, it’s unlikely that the passing of TV pitchman Billy Mays will unseat Jackson any time soon.
  • If MJ hadn’t died, how would we all feel about him today?  I’m not saying that we need to go out of our way to disrespect the dead, but honoring him now is just dishonest.  The world is full of real heroes who have recently died, and many more who still struggle on.  Let’s spend some time on them, and less on trivial pop culture trends, OK?