Thursday, June 29, 2017

U2 and The Lumineers – MetLife Stadium – June 28, 2017

U2 (l-r The Edge, Larry Mullen Jr., Adam Clayton, Bono) photo credit: Kara Hrabosky 
I first saw U2 in concert in the fall of 1987 in support of The Joshua Tree.  I can still remember the opening chords of “Where the Streets Have No Name” sending shivers up my teenage spine.  The Joshua Tree went on to sell over 25 million copies and cemented the Irish band’s status as one of the best live bands in the world.  Make all the jokes you want about St. Bono, it’s quite a feat for a band to be intact 30 years later with all of their founding members who started in the late '70s in Dublin.  (For the record, those members are the aforementioned singer Bono, guitarist The Edge, bassist Adam Clayton, and drummer Larry Mullen, Jr.) 

So when I heard that U2 were touring in support of the 30th Anniversary of their landmark album, I made sure to get a ticket.  Admittedly I haven’t been a big fan of some of their efforts over the last two decades (Pop, anyone?) but I didn’t want to miss the opportunity to hear this record live again and to see if the songs held up three decades later.

But first, the openers.  The Denver based Lumineers have become popular over the past five years or so, due to their indie folk rock sing along hit “Ho, Hey.” They played that song along with about a dozen others to warm up the crowd, including “Ophelia” from their 2016 release Cleopatra.  The band, lead by Wesley Schultz and Jeremiah Fraites, played to the half filled stadium as we waited for the headliners.

The Lumineers
And wait patiently, we did. About 90 minutes later, after a recorded track of The Waterboys' “The Whole of the Moon,” U2 hit the stage, launching into a few of their early hits I used to listen to on WLIR, one of the first radio stations in the US to support  them.   Those songs were “Sunday Bloody Sunday” and "New Year’s Day" (from War), “Bad” and “Pride (in the Name of Love),” their tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King (from 1984’s The Unforgettable Fire).  During “Bad,” Bono had the audience light up their phones and it’s always spine tingling to see a stadium lit up (in ’87 we used cigarette lighters).  All of these songs sounded amazing and laid the road for what was to follow.  



Then the opening chords of “Where the Streets…” started and yes, I did get the chills, as the crowd roared in appreciation.  They continued to play the entire album in order accompanied by stunning HD images of the desert, mostly filmed by famed rock photographer and video director Anton Corbijn.  

After quipping about turning over the record for Side B, the band played rarely heard live tracks including “Exit” and “Mothers of the Disappeared” to finish off the centerpiece set.  The intro to “Exit” was accompanied by a clip from an obscure 1950s TV series where a con man named Trump promised to protect people by building a wall.  (Imagine that!

Bono did not call out our current president by name, but U2 has always been a political (and humanitarian) band and mentioned that America is not just a place but an idea where immigrants are welcome to the land of opportunity.  This point was hammered home during one of the encores, ”Miss Sarajevo,” where a young Syrian refugee was featured on the screens wanting a new life in the US, and then a huge image of her passport photo was literally handed above part of the crowd.

Ultraviolet (Light My Way)
The band also celebrated women with a sharp rendition of Achtung Baby's “Ultraviolet (Light My Way)” with Bono mentioning the band’s wives and daughters in attendance and also showing many remarkable women in history across the screen. Some notable names were poet Maya Angelou, punk pioneer Poly Styrene, Gloria Steinem, Madeleine Albright and Hillary Rodham Clinton. The encore included a mix of post Joshua Tree hits including “One,” “Elevation,” "Beautiful Day" and “Vertigo.” U2 closed the show with a new song called “The Little Things You Give Away.”

So, to answer my original question: does The Joshua Tree hold up after all these years?  Yes! The songs don’t sound dated at all, and many of the themes of the record (love, loss, desperation, desire, wanting a better life) are timeless.  I’m paraphrasing here but Bono himself said that songs are mysterious things and when you think you know them well, they can surprise.   By mixing stunning visual imagery with these timeless songs and tight musicianship, U2 still delivers an unforgettable live experience.

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