“These are your songs now,” Bono told the massive stadium crowd on Sunday at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California. His band, U2, had just finished performing their landmark album The Joshua Tree from front to back, and he made sure the audience knew where the Irish rockers were coming from. “They’re yours more than they are ours,” he added.
This is the full-album concert in 2017. And in truth, The Joshua Tree is a rare instance where the front-to-back tour makes a whole lot of sense. It’s the 30-year anniversary for the album that sent U2 through the stratosphere, allowing the four-piece to earn and hold its status as the biggest band in the world for more than a decade. And it’s also the perfect time for U2 to do something like this, coming off a recent record release that somehow managed to piss people off by giving them a free album and a tour that found the band retreating from their usual stadiums into a relatively more intimate arena space.
For The Joshua Tree, U2 went back to their roots, in a sense. Long a band that has pushed for the latest in technology for their spectacles, The Joshua Tree tour is deceptively stripped down. It isn’t the enormity of the 360 Tour and doesn’t feature an LED screen than Bono can literally walk through like the Innocence + Experience Tour. Instead, the band is backed with just a giant video screen. Yes, it’s the largest un-obscured and highest resolution LED video screen ever used in a touring show, but by U2’s standards, it’s a fairly straightforward presentation.
And somehow it still made for many wow moments. There was the kickoff of the album, where the band stands backed by solid red with a Joshua tree illuminated and raised above the LED screen. There was the mammoth opener from the album, “Where the Streets Have No Name”, where the band performed in front of a desert highway, the crispness of the picture becoming almost hypnotic. There were the sunrise-baked rolling hills that backed “With or Without You”, a song that U2 has probably performed a thousand times but is somehow given new life in this setting.
Plus, there was the chance to hear a number of songs that the band hasn’t played since the 80’s, and the gorgeous “Red Mining Town”, which had never been played live period before this tour. Of those, “Exit” made the most commanding argument to be regularly included in U2 shows, with Bono going full televangelist by creeping out to the satellite stage and asking the crowd to put their hands against the screen and send him $10. Even after the record’s first four songs (the “hits”), the entirety of The Joshua Tree performance was treated like an event, and that made it feel necessary.
Maybe that’s what’s missing from the glut of full-album performances that populate Riot Fest and many veteran acts’ touring itinerary. Sure, it’s nice to hear Doolittle or Turn on the Bright Lights or Daydream Nation in its entirety, but it’s also not the full sensory experience that U2 can provide. And maybe that’s what full record sets often forget, that concerts are more than just about hearing the music. They have to create a moment, and either immerse the crowd in nostalgia or break down the wall of time to carry the songs into the present. U2 does this from the time you get to your seat. They offer a curated selection of poetry to read ahead of their set, specially commissioned video presentations that back their time on stage, and personal messages that Bono feels compelled to share throughout, often hitting on humanitarian causes and political topics.
The songs might belong to the people now, but U2 owns the space and manner in which they were presented. They’re a band that understands the symbiotic nature of performance, and with The Joshua Tree, this is taken to its ultimate conclusion, with fans getting a performance that the album deserves and the band getting to relive their personal and professional heights.
Sunday Bloody Sunday
New Year’s Day
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
Ultraviolet (Light My Way)
The Little Things That Give You Away