Written by Daniel Kohn • Photography by Getty Images • May 22, 2017
For a band that prides itself on continuously pushing forward, U2 has gone out of its way to pay tribute to its glorious past. Playing the first of two nights in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains, which was the scene of their 2009 triumph chronicled on U2360° at the Rose Bowl, U2 reminded fans at Pasadena’s Rose Bowl this weekend why there may never be another band that balances their flair for the spectacular along conscious, mainstream rock.
When it was released in 1987, The Joshua Tree was a tremendous leap forward sonically. The group’s steady climb over their first four albums made that album the beginning of its peak period. Nowadays, it’s hard to imagine how a rock album with an overtly political message would sell tens of millions of copies. But U2 always had an aura of importance and the band’s connection with their fans is a major reason why they’ve managed to endure for nearly 40 years.
The political and societal issues that the album grappled with have crept back into the public conscious, and was one of the reasons U2 decided to honor it’s 30th anniversary.
With Soundgarden’s “Black Hole Sun” blaring as the intro music as a tribute to the fallen Chris Cornell, Larry Mullen Jr.’s trademark battlecry drumming started the evening with “Sunday Bloody Sunday.” “New Year’s Day” and a couple of tunes from The Unforgettable Fire followed before the set gave way to The Joshua Tree, the emotional centerpiece of the evening.
Performing in front of a typically gargantuan screen that was the width of the south end-zone and billed as the largest high-res LED video used at a concert, U2 rolled back the years and embraced the importance of their revered album. With a host of friends and family on-hand, the band played many of their well-known songs from their 1983-2001 songbook.
The theme of the set, just like it was in 1987, was America. Much like when Amerigo Bonasera told Don Corleone at the beginning of The Godfather that "I believe in America,” and warts and all, Bono still does too. Even as the country is politically tearing itself apart, the band still has a romantic view of the country and its landscape as being a land of hope and opportunity. Though “Red Hill Mining Town” reminds that there remains angst about labor and what it constitutes, the band still expressed optimism and perseverance.
Even in the moments where they portrayed displeasure, like in a video clip from Trackdown featuring the fictional Walter Trump, it was balanced by hope. Most notably this happened when they showed the faces of the most influential women in history during a stirring version of “Ultraviolet.”
Other Joshua Tree tracks like “Exit” and “Mothers the Disappeared” (though not as epic as the Seattle version) maintained the album’s sense of urgency. Deeper cuts like “One Tree Hill” and “Running to Stand Still” — the latter which was dedicated to Cornell and his family — were treated like welcome old friends.
Of course, that doesn’t mean the show was without it’s light moments. Bono sang a snippet of La La Land’s “City of Stars” in the middle 8 of “Beautiful Day,” which elicited some groans. By the end of the night, the band powered through longtime crowd pleasing anthems “Bad” and “I Will Follow” that retain the same power they did when first released.
U2 are one of the last bands holding onto the “Rock ‘n’ roll can save the world” mantra. Taking The Joshua Tree for a spin in advance of the anticipated Songs of Experience is a nice way for them to take a look back at their celebrated past. But U2 have become the consummate professional rock band. The Joshua Tree tour thus far is a reminder they’ll neither retreat nor fade.
U2’s Joshua Tree world tour will roll on to stadiums across North America and Europe into August. More info on tickets is available at LiveNation.com.
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