U2 - May 12, 2017 - BC Place Stadium, Vancouver, BC
30 Years Later: The Joshua Tree Stands Tall Among Douglas Firs
Released thirty years ago, The Joshua Tree sent U2’s status soaring. The band went on to become the world’s biggest rock band. It was also a time when Ronald Reagan divided America with his foreign policies and Margaret Thatcher presided over a troubled United Kingdom at a time of political unrest.
Fast forward to 2017, The Joshua Tree is still relevant as U2 embarks on a 27-city tour to celebrate the 30th anniversary of its release. Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin are political soulmates and the U.K’s Theresa May is morphing into the next Iron Lady.
The spotlight was on Larry Mullen Jr. as he made his way out to the left side of the stage to the music of The Pogues’ “A Rainy Night in Soho”, clad in black jeans and a black t-shirt, walking down a ramp and catwalk to the B-stage (shaped like the Joshua Tree logo) before sitting down behind his drum kit. The heavy drumming intro to the 1983 fiery protest song “Sunday Bloody Sunday” was the cue for The Edge’s entrance, also dressed in black jeans and leather jacket, a white t-shirt and his trademark beanie. His distinctive guitar sounds was the next cue. The ohs from the stage were followed by “I Can’t believe the news today” as Bono sang to a jubilant crowd of more than 50,000 at BC Place as he made his way to the secondary stage, wearing his ever-present purple-tinted, round framed sunglasses. Bassist Adam Clayton was the last to appear and not too far behind the band’s leader. “New Year’s Day”, U2’s first international hit followed. Inspired by the various worldwide conflicts at the time, the song is still relevant today, in a time of global unrest. “So here we are again in this city we love, Vancouver,” Bono charmed after belting out the two War favourites. “We’re trying to find some magic in this concrete temple, where we feel strangely at home.” he said (the band had been rehearsing in Vancouver for more than two weeks). The show that started out so simple, with just a few lights, continued with “A Sort of Homecoming”, which hadn’t been played since 2001, “MLK” and “Pride (In The Name Of Love)”, all songs from 1984’s The Unforgettable Fire.
Five songs and twenty-three minutes later, the enormous 200ft X 45ft screen came to life. Dr. Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech scrolled from right to left across the screen, white lettering over a black background. “I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal. I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and …” with the words SING, PROMISE, COMPASSION and WAKE UP in bigger fonts and spread out, slowly leading the way off the screen as it turned to a fiery red as an orphaned Joshua tree silhouette appeared on the left side. The music buildup and transitioning to “Where The Streets Have No Name” began as the famous Irishmen made their way to the main stage, where they stood side by side, their silhouettes next to the tree and part of the landscape. Stunning visuals and imagery. The loud guitar and drums filled the air as Death Valley’s Highway 190 suddenly emerged on the screen with Larry and his drum kit on the double line, Bono standing in front with The Edge to his right and Adam to his left with the road moving forward under them as the lines changed between broken and solid. The Joshua Tree played in full and in sequence was like experiencing the album in IMAX, a music show you'd never imagined or ever forget.
Bono’s voice isn’t what it used to be, but it didn’t help that U2 was playing in a terrible venue. More often than not, his voice was terrible. The instrumentation made up for this, but it was the visuals that made this show a must-see.
The performance and visuals for “Bullet The Blue Sky” was brilliant, a great political song which describes the bloody consequences of Ronald Reagan’s foreign policy decisions on South America. “Outside is America, outside is America” Bono sang angrily before grabbing a large spotlight and shining it onto The Edge before abruptly turning it onto Adam, and back to The Edge again, rotating a few more times before turning the light on himself, each move adding to the one-light video visuals.
“Red Hill Mining Town”, a song about the United Kingdom miner’s strike of 1984, had never being played live. It made its debut on this night and performed beautifully with such passion. There would be no images of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher overlooking the band, instead, it was a projection of a Salvation Army Brass Band which was beautiful and very powerful.
“Trip Through Your Wires” hadn’t been played since December 1987. Bono joked “Thirty years and I still can’t play the harmonica.” Bono’s plaintive wail on the harmonica was played to perfection.
Another rarity was “Exit”, last performed live in 1989. A video segment from 1958's American western televison series Trackdown titled The End of the World would be the intro to the song. It featured a character named Walter Trump. The crowd erupted in cheers and laughter.
Trump: The world will come to a flaming end at midnight, tonight.
Townsman: Your name is Trump?
Trump: I am the only one. Trust me. I can build a wall around your homes that nothing will penetrate.
Townsman: What do we do? How can we save ourselves?
Trump: You ask, how do you build that wall? You ask, and I’m here to tell you.
Townsman: You're a liar.
Hands clapped in sync to Larry’s hickory on hickory sound, the snake oil salesman disappearing from the screen as Bono started to sing "You know he got the cure / But then he went astray He used to stay awake / To drive the dreams he had away. He wanted to believe / In the hands of love.”
During the encore, 1991’s Achtung Baby’s “Ultra Vilolet (Light My Way)” was beautifully done, Bono dedicated the song to “great women we know”. Images of women, including Canadians Joni Mitchell and k.d. lang, flashed across the screen during the song. THE WOMEN OF THE WORLD UNITE slogan appeared on the screen and changed to POVERTY IS SEXIST prior to the band performing “One”, another song from Achtung Baby. The infomercials to the ONE and RED Campaigns, non-profits Bono co-founded, then took over, “Send a message from Canada to the USA, not the people of the USA, but the people in power,” Bono urged, adding “Power of the people is so much stronger than the people in power.” Bono continued interacting with the audience, now singing the phrase. It just didn’t have that John Lennon “Power to the people” effectiveness. Bono then dedicated the song to David Wojnarowicz, the late artist and AIDS activist who died of the disease.
“The Little Things That Give You Away” closed out the concert. This new song will be on U2’s upcoming album Songs of Experience, the long-awaited follow-up to 2014's Songs of Innocence.
So much has changed over the last thirty years, including The Joshua Tree, an iconic album that truly comes to life in 2017.
Sunday Bloody Sunday
New Year's Day
A Sort Of Homecoming
Pride (In The Name Of Love)
Where The Streets Have No Name
I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For
With Or Without You
Bullet The Blue Sky
Running To Stand Still
Red Hill Mining Town
In God's Country
Trip Through Your Wires
One Tree Hill
Mothers of the Disappeared
Ultra Violet (Light My Way)
The Little Things That Give You Away