This is the tour that would mark an historic occasion. Not only is it the 30th anniversary of U2’s phenomenally successful The Joshua Tree album, but the third time I was to see the band live. Yep, the hat-trick was in sight in London on Sunday, July 9, and as Twickenham Stadium, the home of English rugby, loomed large, it still wasn’t quite sinking in.
To be honest, I’d only decided late on in April to try and purchase tickets for this landmark tour. On the subject of punctuality, my apologies for only just getting around to writing this review – the traditional U2 withdrawal symptoms have only just left me. The Irish rockers’ previous two albums, 2014’s Songs of Innocence and 2009’s No Line on the Horizon, had left me somewhat underwhelmed. That’s not to say that they weren’t both decent efforts, but when you talk about U2 it needs to be nothing short of a classic in order to stand up to the rest: like comparing Only Fools and Horses episodes post-1996 with what came before.
But as this was quite unique in its take on their live shows, I decided as a fan (as mentioned in the recent Rattle and Hum review) that it was something I really should be doing. So it would be fair to say that I wasn’t expecting it to top the two previous occasions on which I’d been (the first of which, funnily enough, was also at Twickenham). However, as every track from The Joshua Tree was to form the nucleus of each show, classic anthems were guaranteed. Either side would be a selection of tunes pre-1987 and post-1987 – a kind of B.C and A.D, if you like.
To warm up the crowd was a man who could probably sell out Twickenham on his own: Noel Gallagher. Songs from the High Flying Birds incarnation were enough to get everyone in the mood, but to then throw in four – yes, four – Oasis hits just went beyond all expectation. And so after all that, strains of The Waterboys‘ 1985 classic The Whole of the Moon were the prelude to the main event, and on they came. Larry Mullen Jr. went straight into the intro of Sunday Bloody Sunday, one of the most instantly recognisable drum riffs ever, and one by one The Edge, Bono and Adam Clayton followed. This was the first of four songs, along with New Years Day, Bad and Pride (In the Name of Love), that would preceed the eleven tracks from The Joshua Tree.
During Bad, Bono decreed that “this could be one of those epic nights that none of us will ever forget” – how right he was. As time dictates, U2 have, during the last two decades, become older and far wealthier. As such, the dialogue about war and politics that have become part and parcel of the live experience have become a little more intolerable to some: they see it a little like the privileged lecturing the man on the street. The beauty of this tour is that there is no hint of this whatsoever. This was London in 2017; therefore a few words about how this city has led by example in what has been a turbulent year was the order of the day, making the bond established between band and audience even stronger. A tribute to the London Fire Brigade and their heroics during the Grenfell tragedy, underpinned by Bad became a rendition of David Bowie‘s Heroes? Priceless doesn’t even begin to do it justice.
Personal highlights were Red Hill Mining Town (track 6 from The Joshua Tree), a song which has finally made its live debut on tour after all these years, as well as the usual suspects such as Where the Streets Have No Name. From the 2000-present selection, Mysterious Ways never fails to disappoint, whilst Miss Sarajevo, complete with Luciano Pavarotti vocals in the background, offered a genuine poignancy – and could there be a better finale than One?
The whole night was just full of uplifting moments such as these, and I went away not only praying for the next tour to hurry up and come along, but also with a sense that I’d played my part in something very special. I’ve already pointed out twice that I’m a fan. I’d just like to reiterate that by saying that I’m an even bigger one now. Will there be an Achtung Baby at 30 (their ground-breaking 1991 album) tour in four years time? I do hope so.