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Joshua Tree Tour 2017

"I distrust anything that's obvious, like someone saying, 'Let's be original.'"

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Like A Song: A Sort Of Homecoming (The Joshua Tree 2017 Tour Edition)

@U2, May 15, 2017
By: Sherry Lawrence

 

Official Joshua Tree Tour 2017 logo

It was an inspired choice to include “A Sort Of Homecoming” in the setlist for The Joshua Tree 2017’s tour. It’s the first track on The Unforgettable Fire, ushering in the Eno/Lanois era in U2’s music. The rhythmically upbeat tune encourages audience response while traversing the deeper and darker subjects of exile, survival, longing and renewal. “A Sort Of Homecoming” succinctly encapsulates the themes of The Joshua Tree, offering a preview of the storytelling that is to follow in the rest of the concert.

“A Sort Of Homecoming” begins with the image of escape: the people are running away from the “fields of mourning,” seeking that light in the distance, dreaming of the landscape of security. Seeking the high road out of the terror plaguing the people, they run with determination and hope of survival. The refrain “I’ll be there tonight” reassures them that they are not alone in this. The use of bomb-blasts, burning rain and smokescreens alludes to an apocalyptic environment where the valley is exploding and people are suffocated, fighting for life as they once knew it.

“A Sort Of Homecoming” and “Where The Streets Have No Name” could be two sides of the same coin, written from different perspectives. In “Streets,” “See the dust cloud disappear without a trace, I want to take shelter from the poison rain” mirrors “the dust a smokescreen all around” and “see the sky, the burning rain” in “Homecoming.” While “Homecoming” takes the high road, “Streets” invites you to a high place on a desert plain. In both songs, I’ll be there / I go there with you. People have suggested that both songs are symbolic of the afterlife -- which heightens the power of “I believe in the kingdom come, where all the colors will bleed into one” in “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.”

In its conclusion, “A Sort Of Homecoming” tackles the topics of crying and death: “she will die and live again tonight,” “oh, don’t sorrow no don’t weep, for tonight at last, I am coming home.” The act of weeping can be traced through half of The Joshua Tree’s tracks: “See their tears in the rainfall” (“Mothers Of The Disappeared”); “A dog started crying like a broken hearted man” (“Exit”); “You know his blood still cries from the ground” (“One Tree Hill”); “You gotta cry without weeping” (“Running To Stand Still”). Death is a prevalent theme in “Mothers Of The Disappeared,” “Exit,” “One Tree Hill,” “Bullet The Blue Sky” and “Running To Stand Still.”

In addition, the running motif in “A Sort Of Homecoming” is found throughout The Joshua Tree, whether it’s personal or descriptive:
“Where The Streets Have No Name” – I want to run, I want to hide
“I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” – I have run, I have crawled / I believe in the kingdom come, then all the colors will bleed into one, bleed into one, well yes I’m still running
“Bullet The Blue Sky” – run into the arms of America
“Running To Stand Still” – Maybe run from the darkness in the night / She runs through the streets with her eyes painted red / Running to stand still.
“Red Hill Mining Town” – From father to son, the blood runs thin / The glass is cut, the bottle run dry / our love runs cold in the caverns of the night
“In God’s Country” – The rivers run but soon run dry
“One Tree Hill” – You run like a river runs to the sea / run to the ocean, run to the sea

It’s surely almost second nature for U2, coming from Dublin, to include rain in their music. “A Sort Of Homecoming” references both regular rain and burning rain, as well as the frozen variety, snow. Rain also appears in six out of the eleven tracks on The Joshua Tree: poison rain; stinging rain; rain coming through a gaping wound; driving rain; rain clouds in the desert sky; raining hard/rain will break my heart; and in the rain we see their tears.

Furthermore, there are connections with walls. “A Sort Of Homecoming” describes “the city walls are all come down.” In “Where The Streets Have No Name,” we hear “I want to tear down the walls that hold me inside.” “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” declares, “I have scaled these city walls, these city walls only to be with you.” “Bullet The Blue Sky” states, “and through these walls we hear the city groan.” “Mothers Of The Disappeared” describes, “through the walls our daughters cry.”

For The Joshua Tree Tour 2017, “A Sort Of Homecoming” has been modified to fit a more modern theme of mending relationships and community building. There are three distinct lyrical differences in the performance. The first change is replacing the term “the dust” to “and here’s” in the line “the dust a smokescreen all around.” In doing so, Bono points out that smoke is being blown to perhaps serve as a cover-up or a distraction. The second lyrical shift is by omitting the entire section “And we live by the side of the road / On the side of a hill as the valley explodes / Dislocated, suffocated / The land grows weary of its own.” The final change is at the end with the rewording of “And your heart beats so slow, through the rain and fallen snow” to “And your heart beats so slow, left you nowhere else to go.” This may be to underscore the feeling felt by refugees who are seeking a homecoming of their own.

Beyond all of these cross-references with The Joshua Tree, perhaps at the core of “A Sort Of Homecoming” is a definitive declaration of where U2 feels most at home: on stage. As the band looks out at tens of thousands in the audience, Bono singing “I am coming home,” it reinforces Larry Mullen’s statement, “Live is where we live.” Returning to the stage is indeed a sort of homecoming for U2, and it’s why this song fits this tour so well.

(c)@U2/Lawrence, 2017

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