"Maybe that is the step forward on this record, to be able to have the freedom to have humour sitting alongside songs that are deadly earnest, and the two actually balance out each other."
-- Edge, on All That You Can't Leave Behind
Celebrating The Joshua Tree with Daniel Lanois
April 01, 2017
From dinner parties to church services, there are plenty of ways for U2 fans to celebrate the 30th anniversary of The Joshua Tree. One recent event was extra-special, as it featured longtime music journalist Alan Cross and one of the original Joshua Tree producers, Daniel Lanois.
Fans gathered at the Hard Rock Cafe in Toronto on March 13 to hear Cross and Lanois in conversation, view the documentary Classic Albums: The Joshua Tree and listen to a panel discussion about the band, which included uber-fans and a representative from Universal Music (U2’s record label).
The band in attendance that night was Acrobat, a popular tribute group that actually played on stage with U2 during their Innocence + Experience tour at one of the Toronto shows. Mark Baker (who many know as “U2Brothr”) — the “Adam” of the band — was kind enough to share his memories from the night with me via an email interview earlier this week.
TK: Many of the stories of The Joshua Tree creation are known because of the Classic Albums documentary that came out in 1999. Did Daniel Lanois reveal anything that evening that surprised you?
MB: Lanois is an interesting person. Quite eccentric. Involved in the music ... and comes across very knowledgeable of the different parts of the band. Our band Acrobat was doing a soundcheck on stage when he entered in and he stopped right in front of the stage as we finished the last verses and he stood there listening to us! Imagine: The man who produced this great album was listening to us replicate the sound of the four guys from Ireland. The moment wasn't lost at all on our band.
Lanois was very generous with his time. He spoke to us all as we came up with questions prior to the speech with Alan Cross on stage. Some of Lanois’ ideas just reaffirmed what we as U2 fans have heard/known over the years.
[He] talked about Bono's Bongolese singing. Bono would sing songs without having words. Lanois said there were times where he would scribble words on a paper and say, "Hey Bono ... sing these lyrics instead of mumbling ..." Sometimes those lyrics would make it on to an album.
As a band, we talked to him about various lyrics. Gabe our singer mentioned the term "hunter child" in “Red Hill Mining Town.” What does that mean? Lanois admittedly said, he's made so many songs by U2, he fails to sometimes remember the lyrics or even the titles at times, as there's been so many over the years.
TK: They sort of skipped over discussing "Exit" in the video. Did Daniel Lanois or Alan Cross elaborate after the cameras stopped rolling (about "Exit" or anything else)?
MB: During his conversation with the crowd, I was interested in some of the fine details, such as:
a) White City was a working title for “Streets.”
b) Under The Weather was a working title for “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.”
c) The infinite Sustain Guitar was born in Toronto's Chinatown, and how the first two takes of Edge using it were used for “With Or Without You.”
d) Eno doesn't have a lot of patience.
TK: Your band, Acrobat, played The Joshua Tree in sequence that night. What was the most difficult song to play? What song got the fans the most excited?
MB: We played the album in sequence, yes. At one point, we did talk about doing the songs but maybe changing the order. “With Or Without You” is a perfect closer. We then decided since this was a 30th anniversary show, doing it in order was important!
We already play “Streets,” “WOWY,” “Running To Stand Still” and “Bullet The Blue Sky” in our regular sets. We had go back and listen and learn “Red Hill Mining Town,” “Mothers Of The Disappeared,” “Exit,” “Trip Through Your Wires” … basically the entire B-side of the record. We obviously don't play those songs in a regular set.
“RHMT” is difficult to play. Gabe (Bono) has to nail the high notes; Martin (Larry) has to keep the beat; Martin (Edge) had to do some pre-recording and make a back track of the extra guitar sound; and for me (Adam) I have to synch with the drummer while doing an Edge-like backing vocal. Like Lanois said, the song plods along and if you don't come at it with the right energy it can just keep plodding without the excitement.
I should also mention that we do “RTSS” in our sets regularly, but when we do it, we do it Zoo TV style. So in order to pay homage to the album, Gabe *made me* (lol) learn Edge's piano … while Gabe played the acoustic. Martin then did a switch and picked up my bass. We've never done “RTSS” in that style before. I should also mention Gabriel had to nail down the harmonica parts too. It was a success.
Strangely enough, “Exit” isn't difficult to play. It’s just learning where the changes happen in the song and changing all together. I think most fans [are] pleased to hear the regular workhorse songs (“Streets,” “WOWY,” “ISHFWILF”), but “RHMT” and “Exit” definitely got a huge reaction from the audience.
TK: As a fan, what song are you most excited to hear live on the upcoming tour?
MB: Definitely for me ... “Red Hill Mining Town.” If I could have my wish, I'd want U2 to only play songs from Rattle And Hum and only go backwards in their catalogue for this tour. Nothing past Rattle And Hum. So that opens the door for “Silver And Gold,” “Heartland,” “God Part II.” If U2 is gonna go retro, then let's keep it retro.
This [event] was a fantastic experience and I know I can speak on behalf of the band to say a big thank you to Mr. Lanois, Universal Music, and The Hard Rock Cafe Toronto for having us be a part of this great occasion.
To view photos from the event, visit Acrobat’s album from the night on Facebook.
(c) @U2/Kokkoris, 2017.