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From Father to Sons: A Dad’s Review of U2’s Joshua Tree 2017

@U2, June 18, 2017
By: Tim Neufeld

 

father to sons

November 18, 1987. That was my first U2 concert. My ticket cost $19.50, a hefty sum for me in those days, and I split gas for the 250-mile trip with four other friends. Sitting at the top of the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum that night, taking in the sights and sounds of the original Joshua Tree tour as a young 20-something, I couldn’t have anticipated how formative this band would be to me in the years ahead. I just knew that something more than sound waves powered by state-of-the-art decibels was churning above our heads, and I wanted to be a part of it.

Fast-forward to May 20, 2017. I’ve lost count of how many U2 concerts I’ve been to and how much money I’ve spent on tickets. But now, 30 years later, I made the pilgrimage back to Los Angeles, this time to the Rose Bowl, and this time with my family. For the 30th anniversary of The Joshua Tree, I wanted my wife and two teenage sons to experience it with me.

As we waited patiently on the GA floor, U2 sucked us in even before taking the stage, scrolling poems across the screen about justice and immigration and migrant farmworkers, searing our consciences with the names of Juan, Miguel, Milagros, Olga and Manuel, and the ignoble deaths they faced searching for their own elusive American Dream. So ironic. I wonder if even 1 percent of the audience actually noticed the poetry. In the same way that U2 surreptitiously opened for themselves by posing as the Dalton Brothers at my 1987 Coliseum adventure, this concert started before the band everyone came to hear had played a single note. But as for my little tribe, we stood and read with quiet reverence.

Joshua Tree 2017 opens with understatement. Larry Mullen Jr. simply walks out to his drum set on the B-stage and calmly takes his throne. But the force and fury of his snare quickly launches the concert into overdrive with “Sunday Bloody Sunday,” a nearly 40-year-old cry for peace, originally inspired by the violence of the Irish Troubles. THIS is what I had brought my boys to see.

Michael, my 18-year-old, later told me how emotional he’d become during the opening set. He said the movement from “Sunday” to “New Year’s Day” to “A Sort Of Homecoming” and then “Pride” took him by surprise, each song hitting harder than the one before. He also rightly noticed that these pre-Joshua Tree era songs all called for a sense of unity. Wow, only four songs in and my oldest boy was already tracking the narrative.

U2 performs their first set from the B-stage, a little Joshua tree-shaped island lost in an ocean of cheering voices, raised hands and surrendered hearts -- a likely metaphor for the quartet’s early days growing up on the Emerald Isle. As the group finishes “Pride” and Bono reflects on MLK’s Dream for America, a hidden organ offers up a reverent transition to “Where The Streets Have No Name,” pointing the way to a new world. Slowly and confidently, Adam, Larry, Edge and Bono ascend the ramp to the mainstage, then plant themselves under a massive Joshua tree, their silhouettes looking miniscule against the scarlet of an ultra-high definition screen.

These four men, now all in their mid-50s, have come again as guests to America, both to remind us of our beauty and call us to repent for our sins. Standing with my family in the middle of this concrete temple, I wasn’t sure whether to scream in cathartic release or rest in solemn quiet. This was more than nostalgia. Bono likes to say that “music is a sacrament,” and this, indeed, was a sacred moment.

The actual presentation of The Joshua Tree songs is spectacular and fairly uncomplicated, including some gorgeous minimalist film work by Anton Corbijn. As the Neufelds joined together with a 60,000-voice choir for soaring tunes including “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” and “With Or Without You,” I couldn’t help but think back to the first time I sang those in the Coliseum. In some ways, the experiences were similar. While many in the crowd experienced the show as a special collection of Top 40 hits, others lifted hands, and like me and my sons, found the deeper spiritual truths comforting.

U2’s encore was equally rewarding. The presentation of “Beautiful Day” really grabbed my kids’ attention, with a spellbinding display of sound, color and lights, seemingly inventing new harmonies and hues. Both of my teenage boys were mesmerized and said it was their favorite song of the concert. “It’s a beautiful day when people call home the place they want to live,” reflected Bono. From there, we danced to “Elevation,” reveled in the new adaptation of “Ultraviolet (Light My Way)” with its tribute to female leaders and innovators, and heard about the need for children’s education as well as the plight of the refugee.

As the lights came up and the Rose Bowl staff corralled us out, my wife and kids immediately began processing what we had just witnessed.

Michael liked the encore and called it “the activist section which discussed sexism and poverty.”

Excellent.

Daniel, my 14-year-old, asked, “What was ‘Miss Sarajevo’ about and why did they show a 15-year-old Syrian refugee on the screen?”

Perfect.

Michael noted that he’s proud to be a ONE campaign member and thought Bono’s appeal for more participation and advocacy was an important moment.

Yup.

When I asked my youngest what he thought U2 was trying to say through the concert, he nailed it. Somewhat sheepish but amused, he reflected on the band’s call to activism: “I quote Bono directly here,” he said. “‘Nothing scares the shite out of politicians more than millions of people united.’”

Well played, U2. Well played.

© @U2/Neufeld

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