"What [Bono] said was very interesting about debt relief. It's an important cause. But I really wish I had a ticket to his concert tonight."
-- a fan, 2001
@U2 Staff: Final Thoughts on The Joshua Tree Tour 2017
November 05, 2017
The Joshua Tree Tour 2017 officially began May 12, 2017, in Vancouver, but really started earlier than that, when Bjorn Lodding started live-streaming all the band’s rehearsals at his hotel room across the street from BC Place (thanks, Bjorn!). We all went mad when they rehearsed “A Sort Of Homecoming,” even though the sound was fuzzy, muffled and recorded from a room across the street. But it was U2 performing live, right? And then, when the real tour began, we all went mad for the real thing.
Our @U2 staff attended a substantial swath of shows in North America, Europe and South America, amassing thoughts, feelings and too much overpriced merchandise along the way.
Although the U2-verse is already moving on to Songs Of Experience and the Experience + Innocence Tour (kudos if you’ve figured out the new ticket-buying procedures), several of our staff members thought we’d share a few final thoughts on the U2 tour with the longest hashtag ever, #U2JoshuaTreeTour2017.
After six years, U2 returned to Latin America, and I thought the nights would be very special. Indeed, the band didn’t disappoint me. Mexico suffered terrible earthquakes a short time before the shows, which gave them an extra dose of emotion. The Mexican audience had the pleasure of seeing the debut of “Spanish Eyes” and “Sweetest Thing” on this tour. Two great surprises!
The next concert was in Bogotá, Colombia. It was the first time U2 played in this country that is going through a peace process. That was a moment for history! In Argentina, the first show was delayed for an hour due to a World Cup qualifying game. U2 mixed fans’ passions, praising football (soccer) player Lionel Messi throughout the night. The band also talked about missing activist Santiago Maldonado and human rights, a theme that continued in Chile. U2 recalled the country’s painful past, and the courage of people who fought against oppression. “Mothers Of The Disappeared” was definitely a highlight, with everyone singing “El Pueblo Vencerá.”
The final four shows of the tour in Brazil also had an important political meaning. “You’re not going back,” and “One day, you’ll have the politicians that you deserve,” were some of Bono’s words. Larry carried on his T-shirt two different notes: “No More Censorship” and “Love, Order and Progress.” The tour ended better than anyone could expect with Daniel Lanois joining the band onstage. In this messy world we’re living in now, The Joshua Tree showed that its message is still relevant 30 years later.
Each concert I attended held a special moment for me — in Vancouver, the thrill of seeing the animated screen for the first time took my breath away; in Seattle, hearing Eddie Vedder take the lead on “Mothers of the Disappeared” is something I’ll never forget. The euphoria in Miami as the crowd erupted at the Spanish count-in to “Vertigo” was infectious; the Kennedy speech injected into the Foxboro set was goosebump-worthy. Hearing “Mysterious Ways,” which was only played sparingly on this tour, was a nice bonus in Cleveland. In Glendale, the shout-out to Bill Carter during “Miss Sarajevo,” who was present that night, brought tears to my eyes. In San Diego, I loved the acoustic version of “You’re the Best Thing About Me.”
Overall, the performance of “Exit” was a jolt of adrenaline (which never got old), and hearing songs like “Red Hill Mining Town” and “One Tree Hill” was a special treat. But the best part of the tour was connecting along the way with old friends and new pals alike. From a stint on CBC radio in Canada to a St. Louis pizza dinner (despite the fact the show was canceled), I’ll forever be grateful to The Joshua Tree Tour 2017 for new and renewed friendships.
From a business perspective, The Joshua Tree 2017 Tour was a huge success. According to Pollstar, the tour grossed over $316 million and played to over 2 million fans, positioning it as “Tour of the Year.” From an artistic perspective, I would argue the tour did not pack the same punch we’ve come to expect from U2. For decades, U2 has been direct in calling out world leaders who violated human rights. In 2017, Bono was direct in Europe as he called out Turkish president Recep Tayyip ErdoÄŸan on this topic. However, in the United States, the message was muted. The directness we saw in “Bullet The Blue Sky” from U2 at Salesforce’s Dreamfest concert and on The Tonight Show about President Donald Trump and his policies was not seen from the stadium stage. Instead, there was the Trackdown video ahead of “Exit,” and for a few shows an audio montage of Presidents Ronald Reagan and John F. Kennedy’s “City Upon A Hill” speeches where the band indirectly suggested its stance.
U2 have never seemed afraid of alienating their U.S. audience with their politics before. They use their show to voice their stance, and for this tour that voice seemed more muted than I expected. This shift might have been due to corporate pressure from Live Nation. However, as music journalist Lori Majewski said on SiriusXM a few months ago, she felt the band’s message had been castrated. I couldn’t agree more.
U2 had the ability to make a more compelling statement about the state of world affairs, and they chose not to. Instead, their inclusive “message of love” did little to change hearts and minds. This is why The Joshua Tree 2017 Tour will rank below PopMart for me. The band played it safe and did not take a risk. As I said on a recent podcast, this tour felt like a speed bump to Songs Of Experience, and I hope the band regains its desire to be the proven risk takers they have been for decades. “Kumbaya” this tour was, and I expected more from them.
I admit it. I’m like the sheepish yet proud starry-eyed teen fangirl who thinks her boy band can do no wrong. I’ve heard/read/pondered the discussions about this tour and whether or not U2 got political enough, or played ASOH enough, or played “One” too much, or put enough thought into T-shirt design. I get it, but mostly I just get goosebumps and giddy whenever this band performs live, especially when they play songs from The Joshua Tree. I will not forget my gasp when I first saw Anton Corbijn’s gorgeous videos; or my tears every time I heard Bono sing about the “boy washed up on an empty beach”; or my smile waiting to see Larry’s gesture and grin on the “Elevation” cam; or my jaw dropping when Edge did his Edge guitar things; or my heart softening when Bono and Adam touched; or my heart racing when the screen went red and all four boys became a silhouette. I’m just glad they’re still making music together, and playing it live. And leaving me breathless.
Am I just another face in the crowd? Or am I someone taking up space, meant to walk in silence? To some, I am, but not to U2. They see me as a force to be reckoned with. I am a voice that is not only meant to be heard, but must be heard. Thanks to their fresh, brilliant and feminist take on “Ultraviolet (Light My Way)” during the Joshua Tree Tour, I am among the finest women in history. We are all united. We must light the way for the future. I am so grateful to these four Irishmen for allowing me to feel like I can make a change not only in my world, but also the world around me.
Bono once said, “Things don’t have to be the way they are. You can kick things into shape.” To my hero and to all my sisters, I intend to kick very hard.
On Nov. 18, 1987, I saw The Joshua Tree Tour in the Los Angeles Coliseum. It was my first U2 concert and my first stadium show. I’m not exaggerating when I say it was life-changing. The impact of singing about something I haven’t found but I’m still looking for, with nearly 100,000 people, hasn’t diminished over time. But, never in my wildest dreams would I have thought that 30 years later I’d be taking my own teenage boys to the same city for the return of the iconic album, this time at the Rose Bowl with those I love most, yet again grateful to sing about the broken bonds and loosened chains.
While the original tour was about the enormity of everything — sound, lights, faith, politics, the desert — this tour was about simplicity. The images were gorgeously minimalist. But the message from three decades earlier was the same, and even more succinct. Love still dominates this post-punk band’s imagination. To experience that with my family … how to describe it? Is “thrilloveation” a word? That seems close. “I get so many things I don’t deserve” (like a backstage tour with my oldest in San Diego — thanks, Terry).
On previous tours I ran all over chasing down U2. But now that I have a family, I go to fewer shows because it’s more expensive. That’s not a bad tradeoff. It’s actually worth every credit card swipe, especially to see JT30. After all, the price of love is never cheap.
U2’s lyrical core has been about the idea of Home. Leaving home, finding a home, never having a home, defending home, and, most important, coming home. “A Sort Of Homecoming” was played only eight times during The Joshua Tree Tour 2017, but it was the highlight of the tour for me. You know how your favorite U2 song changes from day to day, but there’s a core group of 10 songs or so that vie for top spot? “A Sort Of Homecoming” is one of those 10 for me, and I finally got to see it.
It’s the story of a dead soldier whose body is being returned home, but it’s so much more than that. Larry’s drums propel its wheels forward, and Adam’s bass is the ground the wheels ride on. Edge’s guitar is the glory of the mission, and Bono’s lyrics are the vast poetry that sanctify the trip home.
I knew they would play it after I listened to Bjorn Lodding’s Periscope rehearsals feed in May 2017, but I wasn’t ready for how it would affect me in person. The new synth intro, Adam’s bass rumbling through walls of the massive concrete stadium, the glorious choral harmonies, and Bono’s declaration of “this concrete temple where we feel strangely at home, HOME” made this the best part of the tour for me. It wasn’t played anywhere near as much as it should have been, but I got to hear it twice, and it made the tour for me.
When I returned from seeing JT2017 in Santa Clara, several friends asked me about the concert. My response was a low-key, “It was OK.” Not exactly a ringing endorsement. In the past I’ve left U2 shows feeling inspired and energized, sometimes for days and weeks after. However, this time was different. Along with some sound and cue glitches, my biggest issue was, surprisingly, the setlist. I’m so used to the arc of a U2 concert building to songs like “Bad,” “Pride,” “Streets” and “With Or Without You” that hearing them so early in the show was a bit jarring. For me, emotionally there was no way to go after this point but down. I left Levi’s Stadium feeling underwhelmed and slightly disappointed. Fortunately, I was able to see JT 2017 in Boston and Minneapolis, and enjoyed it much more, probably because I knew what to expect. Adding “Vertigo” to the encore definitely helped, as did moving “Miss Sarajevo” earlier (Boston), or cutting it completely (Minneapolis). Amazing how tweaking a song or two in a setlist can change the overall tone of a concert. So, while JT2017 wasn’t my favorite U2 tour, I have come to appreciate it for what it was, a celebration of The Joshua Tree.