"We chose the name U2 to be ambiguous, to stay away from categorization."
U2 Lists: 10 Great PopMart Shows
April 28, 2017
[Ed. note: This is the 72nd in a "U2 Lists" series, where @U2 staffers pick a topic and share their personal rankings on something U2-related.]
The Joshua Tree’s 30th anniversary has taken up most of our collective attention this year, and rightfully so. Lost in the hubbub of The Joshua Tree 2017 Tour is another important anniversary: Pop and the often-misunderstood PopMart tour. While it’s easy to overlook PopMart, at the time it was a highly innovative and creative experience with some surprising live gems.
The difficulties surrounding the album and tour are well known; the opening night in Las Vegas will live in infamy thanks to a plethora of foul-ups and unpreparedness. In fact, the majority of the first leg of the tour was a bit of a mess and the band didn’t really start to put together a strong cohesive performance until two or three months into it. There were, of course, some highlights. The nightly performances of "Miami" had a surprising energy and I’ve always been surprised that it didn’t remain in the setlist throughout the tour. The rocky start left a bad taste in many fans’ mouths and made for a negative image that time has not been able to shake off. However, once U2 found what they were looking for, they consistently put in high-energy performances that rate among their best.
Below are 10 performances that stick out as highlights of the PopMart tour. You will find them in chronological order. Of course, these choices are merely my opinion and I hope you’ll take the time to share your own thoughts on social media. Many of these performances were broadcast to millions via television or radio and high-quality versions are available to watch or listen to on YouTube. If you’re interested in hearing these shows, I encourage you to visit the entries in our Tours database and check out the videos attached.
1. July 19, 1997 - Rotterdam, Holland
The first European leg of the PopMart tour was when the show finally began to mesh. After a mess of glitches and bumps throughout the United States, U2 hit Rotterdam with a polished and confident show. If you listen closely, you can hear the crowd singing along with every song as the band “let rip,” as Pimm Jal de la Parra wrote in U2 Live: A Concert Documentary. Bono added a number of spontaneous lines to many songs, and the rest of the show featured particularly intense performances of “Miami,” “Discotheque” and “Pride.”
2. August 23, 1997 - London, England
Bono himself called this August performance in London the best of the entire PopMart tour due to the crowd’s enthusiasm. The fans were particularly forceful during “Pride” and The Edge’s karaoke performance of “Daydream Believer.” At one point, The Edge stopped singing and gestured with his microphone for the crowd to take over, which they did with gusto. And of course, it wouldn’t be a proper U2 tour if a band member didn’t fall off the stage at some point, which Bono did during “Miami.”
3. August 28, 1997 - Leeds, England
U2’s strong performance in Leeds was actually sparked by criticism from George Harrison. Throughout the show, Bono made many angry references to comments made by Harrison the day before, in which the former Beatle questioned U2’s longevity and significance. Despite the vitriol, Bono still made an effort to honor Harrison’s musical legacy, inserting lines from “Something” and “My Sweet Lord” into songs throughout the set.
4. August 31, 1997 - Dublin, Ireland
5. September 23, 1997 - Sarajevo, Bosnia
U2’s performance in Sarajevo dates back to the ZooTV tour, when Bono would call correspondent Bill Carter from the stage. The band pledged to play in the war-torn country, and finally made good on their promise four years later. This show is notable not only for an unusually high energy between the band and the massive crowd, but also for Bono’s voice. Laryngitis made it nearly impossible for him to sing, so he relied heavily on The Edge and the boisterous crowd to fill in the gaps. If you’re interested in hearing what “Pride” sounds like with The Edge singing the choruses, check out a recording of this show. This show is also notable for the introduction of a special version of “Sunday Bloody Sunday” performed solo by The Edge. It is one of U2’s most unique and powerful arrangements of the song and would go on to be played many times throughout the rest of the tour.
6. September 30, 1997 - Tel Aviv, Israel
The PopMart tour featured many shows in new places and politically sensitive environments. U2’s first-ever performance in Israel was both. Bombings throughout the country caused many other acts to cancel their Israeli appearances. But U2, only a week removed from their show in war-torn Sarajevo, went on as planned. It’s a politically charged show, with Bono making statements in support of Mordechai Vanunu, an Israeli imprisoned for treason. While the crowd’s reaction was mixed, his support did not go unnoticed in the national press.
7. December 3, 1997 - Mexico City, Mexico
If you’re a half-serious U2 fan, you’ve seen this show. It’s been released on every major home-video format and found its way to CD through the U2 fan club. In many ways it’s a standard late-era PopMart show. But as usual, the band responded to the television cameras with passion and energy. Michael Hutchence’s death a few days prior added poignancy as Bono inserted powerful lyrics from “Never Tear Us Apart” into “All I Want Is You” and fought back tears during an emotional performance of “One.” If you’re looking for a good introduction to PopMart, this is the show to start with.
8. January 31, 1998 - Sao Paulo, Brazil
Audience excitement for U2’s second night in Sao Paulo was so enthusiastic that the cameras shook and the crowd drowned out the band at times. Unofficial numbers indicate a crowd as big as 95,000, despite Morumbi Stadium’s significantly smaller capacity. Bono played up to the Brazilian crowd with Portuguese comments. A rarity on the PopMart tour, the show ended with “40” and the crowd sang the band off stage.
9. February 11, 1998 - Santiago, Chile
In Santiago, U2 gave a solid performance full of the usual PopMart standards. What really makes it stand out is a rare event: a performance of “Mothers Of The Disappeared.” Before playing it, Bono introduced “Las Madras,” the mothers of the disappeared referred to in the song. Las Madras gave speeches from the stage about their missing loved ones. Before “One,” Bono implored the Chilean government to give Las Madras closure on their missing sons and husbands. It was a powerful moment. Bono would later to go on to say that the atmosphere in Santiago and other politically charged cities were among the most memorable for him.
10. March 21, 1998 - Johannesburg, South Africa
The final night of the PopMart tour saw U2 in a relaxed, partying atmosphere. The highlight was when the Lemon opened before “Discotheque” to display the band holding balloons and drinks. Fittingly, the show and the tour end with a simple rendition of “40.”
(c) @U2/Betteridge, 2017