When U2 released The Joshua Tree in 1987, the album was an unparalleled success, both financially and critically. Now that three decades have passed, the album is a timeless classic—and to celebrate, U2 is currently touring to promote its re-release, and performing the album in its entirety.
On Saturday and Sunday night, U2 returned to the Rose Bowl in Pasadena. While the production of the Joshua Tree Tour 2017 was not as epic in terms of scale as some previous U2 tours, the 200-by-40 foot-stage featured the largest high-resolution LED screen ever used in a touring show. The main part of the stage featured a joshua tree on it, and the stage’s extended catwalk was supposed to be part of the tree’s shadow.
Openers The Lumineers took the stage as the sun was beginning to set, and the band’s folk anthems were a nice, calm warm-up to the anticipated high-energy show from U2. The Lumineers front man Wesley Schultz told the audience that opening for U2 was a dream come true, adding that the band was playing U2 covers in Denver bars 10 years earlier. The Lumineers’ 2012 radio hit “Ho Hey” appeared early in the set, but that wasn’t a mistake, given the band ended in high-energy style with “Stubborn Love.”
During the wait for U2, I was surprised to notice that Quincy Jones had been seated with his daughters in the row right in front of me. No one seemed to notice Jones at first, but before long, people began approaching him to take a quick selfie or shake his hand.
There was no grand intro for U2. Instead, as the house music played, drummer Larry Mullen walked across the stage and down the catwalk to the “B Stage,” where a drum set had risen out of the floor. Shortly thereafter, bassist Adam Clayton walked down to the B Stage, followed by The Edge, and finally followed by Bono, as the band started the almost-two-hour long set with “Sunday Bloody Sunday,” “New Year’s Day” and then “Pride (in the Name of Love),” songs typically heard at the end of live U2 performances. Bono declared at the end of “Pride”: “If you still believe in the American dream, you’re welcome here. We’ll find common ground and then higher ground,” and then shouted, “Awaken the America of compassion and community!”
The entire band made its way back up the catwalk to the main stage as the The Joshua Tree phase of the show began, starting with “Where the Streets Have No Name.” As the song kicked into gear, the video wall played footage of a car driving down a desert road, with the occasional hitchhiker off to the side. The wall’s high definition was unlike anything I had ever seen, even at Coachella.
During “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For,” Bono declared that Quincy Jones was in the house. Jones had a smile on his face as people in the same section turned around and applauded him.
Bono mentioned the band had made a dedication to Chris Cornell the evening before, and that he was going to dedicate Sunday night’s performance of “One Tree Hill” to him. Bono mentioned that Cornell had beaten drug addiction once and went on to live a beautiful life. Bono said it was tragic to see him fall again and told the crowd that if anyone was struggling, they needed to seek help.
During “Exit,” a video played of an old Western film. A man named “Trump” was trying to sell a wall, and was told, “Shut up, Trump” by a cowboy in a crowd. A pair of hands then appeared on the screen with the words “Love” and “Hate” tattooed on them. The fingers clenched before the image transitioned into footage of the band—with Bono wearing his signature Stetson hat from The Joshua Tree.
I got emotional during “Mothers of the Disappeared,” when footage of women standing in a line with candles appeared on the video wall. It referred to Bono’s experiences in Nicaragua and El Salvador, as well as a group of women whose sons “forcibly disappeared” during the Chilean and Argentine dictatorships.
After closing out The Joshua Tree portion of the set, U2 performed three encores, the first of which started with “Miss Sarajevo,” as the video wall showed footage of refugees in Jordan—most notably a woman who said she would love to live in the United States—followed by footage of war torn areas. Suddenly, a large sheet began to make entire way around the stadium—which was actually a photo of an Arab woman.
What followed was the highlight of the set for me: A performance of “Bad,” from 1984 album The Unforgettable Fire. The song started off gently, as it is on the album, becoming uplifting and powerful the song proceeded. Fans began to sing parts of the song even louder than the band.
The second encore started off with “Beautiful Day” and “Elevation,” as the band members paid tribute to women in their lives, as well as women who stood up for their rights. Images of Michelle Obama and Hillary Clinton received the loudest applause.
Bono told the audience, “The government should fear the citizens, not the other way around,” after talking about the successes of the ONE Campaign and other social movements. The band then closed with “One” and “The Little Things That Give You Away.”
U2 has mastered the art of production and putting on a high-quality show. All these years later, the band is as strong as it was in 1987, when it first released The Joshua Tree.