"I think all this thing about plastic surgery and pop stars obsessed with the way they look . . . they're kinda cuttin' bits off themselves, you know."
Column: off the record ... Vol. 17-762
May 29, 2017
The Joshua Tree Tour 2017 is one-third of the way through its North American run. With only 14 shows left in the leg, it’s an opportune time to reflect on how things are going. With a week off between shows, I hope the production crew is using this time to see how the show can be enhanced.
Let’s start with the setlist:
Vancouver: 22 songs
Notice a trend? The show is getting shorter. For the past three shows, “A Sort Of Homecoming” has been dropped from the set, much to the disappointment of many who were looking forward to experiencing that song for the first time. As you know, I’m very partial to “A Sort Of Homecoming,” calling it an “inspired choice” to include in the tour. Tim Neufeld has taken things a step further, exploring the American context of the song and how the band’s 1983 visit to the Chicago Peace Museum influenced a great deal of the imagery within it. He also shows how it connects with the encore of the show too. With the tour commencing in Chicago on June 3, it’s my hope the song will return to the set. (As a side note, the Chicago Peace Museum closed in 2007.)
“A Sort Of Homecoming” is a rare track that has been performed 110 times, but only six times since June 27, 1987, thus catering to the die-hard enthusiast. While the song performed well in Canada and Ireland, it was not released in the U.S. as a single. Most will know it because of its inclusion in The Unforgettable Fire Video Collection, and as the lead track on the band’s EP Wide Awake In America. The irony is Bono has been calling out to the audience to awaken itself during the transition into “Where The Streets Have No Name,” and it’s on an album called Wide Awake In America.
Because the Innocence + Experience tour catered to the band’s earliest days (1976-1982) for the first half of the show, it makes sense to pick up with 1983 for this endeavor. The focus on 1987 lends itself to really dive into the band’s catalog from 1983-1989. I wouldn’t expect to hear these tunes when Songs Of Experience goes on the road, so it is the ideal time to reflect on this stage of the band’s historic career. Even though no one wants to consider this tour a “greatest hits” excursion, it really is. If you discard the 11 tracks from The Joshua Tree, you are left with only “Ultraviolet” and “A Sort Of Homecoming” that do not appear on The Best Of 1980-1990, The Best Of 1990-2000, and U218 Singles.
I am really disappointed to see “A Sort Of Homecoming” dropped because it served as a beautiful bridge to connect the themes of peace and reconciliation that The Joshua Tree Tour 2017 presents. It seems I’m not the only one feeling this way. Someone has started an online petition to encourage the band to bring the song back into the set. There’s also an occasional #BringBackASOH circulating across social media.
Ultimately, it’s not our decision to make. However, it was a song that worked on so many levels in the show. Even casual fans were into it, singing the “o come my way” refrain. For the meantime, I’ll just replay it from one of the first four shows from the tour and have my earth move beneath my own dream landscape.
“The Little Things That Give You Away” was a wonderful way to close out Jimmy Kimmel Live! last week. It was the first time to clearly hear vocals without the stadium echo, and I must admit I am smitten with this tune. I am connecting profoundly with the song because of my current life situation, so I might be a bit biased when I say it is one of the deepest the band has produced to date. It is a song that can only come from experience, and it is filled with doubt and discovery. What really stuck out to me was: “Sometimes, I wake at 4 in the morning, When all the darkness is swarming, And it covers me in fear.”
That is a specific time, and if you look back to U2’s other time references, it may very well be intentional. “Unknown Caller” has 3:33, “Stay (Far Away So Close)” mentions 3 o’clock in the morning, “Fez – Being Born” refers to 6 o’clock, “Breathe” references 9:05 and 9:09, “Lemon” and “Mothers Of The Disappeared” use midnight, “Raised By Wolves” refers to 5:30 on a Friday night, and of course the title of “11 O’Clock Tick Tock.” U2’s lyrics reference time more generically in scores of other songs, so the specificity of the exact time in these tunes matter.
There is a general sentiment about 4 o’clock in the morning: Nothing positive happens then. It’s a time when the grim stuff is more likely to occur. American storyteller and poet John Rives explored the many references to “4 in the morning” in his 2007 and 2014 TED Talks, and launched an online museum about this. “The Little Things That Give You Away” should be added soon to the museum, but I digress. That 4 o’clock in the morning time reference is a little thing that gives away a raw emotion hidden behind a façade of confidence. Ironically, there is a confidence in trusting your audience to put yourself out there in such a way, and each time I hear this song I just want to hug Bono and say, “Me too.”
The performance was up on YouTube through Jimmy Kimmel’s official show account for less than 12 hours before it was removed. I wonder if it’s because the song isn’t an official release yet and the label is protecting the copyright.
There were so many great highlights from the Jimmy Kimmel interview: Dalton Brothers, Larry laughing and questioning gravity, Edge being the scapegoat for the Songs Of Experience delay, and the transition to the music performances. It’s fun to compare the band’s 2017 Jimmy Kimmel interview with Bono and Edge’s 1981 interview with Tom Snyder on the Tomorrow show. There are more similarities than differences. From Bono going into the audience in mid-song to sharing the band's love of America, some things haven’t changed. “America is a continent, it’s not a country at all” was Bono’s sentiment in 1981. That perspective has stayed with the band ever since.
If you’ve been following The Joshua Tree Tour 2017 from the beginning in Vancouver, you might have seen some news articles (or my Periscopes) of the general admission entry debacle. Many, including me, reached out to BC Place to express their disappointment in what happened. Those who did reach out received phone calls from management at BC Place. I had a productive conversation with a representative from the stadium who apologized for everything that happened and said there was no excuse. She assured me that additional steps would be taken for future events, and asked me if I wanted to be considered for a refund for my GA ticket. I haven’t heard anything further from the stadium since that phone call, so I’ll believe it when I see it. I have been told that anyone who had seats for the show was just given an apology and not offered a refund. I’ll pass along any further information in a future column as it happens.
And finally … I wonder if U2 has ever thought it would be cool to play every state in the U.S. As of now, there are still 12 states U2 has not performed in (that we know of): Alaska, Arkansas, Delaware, Idaho, Maine, Mississippi, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Vermont, West Virginia and Wyoming. Why do I know this? Because my husband keeps asking me this question. I think he’s doing it to test my brain as I age. I’m lucky to have a husband who is as nutty a U2 fan as I am, but I wish he’d give me easier brainteasers, like this.
Have a great week!
Any opinions expressed in this column are those of the individual author and do not necessarily represent the views of @U2 as a whole.