U2 Brought The Joshua Tree Back To Life at NRG Stadium

U2. Photo: Daniel Jackson

 

There are only one or maybe two concerts a year that are so worth making it out for that they bring back old memories or create new ones.  It might be a set at a festival, or a band that’s so mammoth that there’s only one space to house them. When it was announced that U2 was to tour their breakthrough album, The Joshua Tree as a 30th anniversary tour, I remembered thinking of it as a cash grab. However, as the weeks drew closer, I had to ask myself if this was something I’d ever get to witness before.  This wasn’t like the Zoo TV tour, or the PopMart tour that I had already seen. This was to be something that wasn’t likely to occur ever again, so I caved and decided to attend. As a guy who saw the band’s film Rattle And Hum in the theater for one of my birthdays, this would be a chance to hear those tracks that never get played in person. I wish I could tell you that they failed and that the concert was a bore, but I’d be a liar if I were to say anything other than U2 definitely brought their A-Game, and performed admirably in front of what’s billed as the largest high-res video screen ever used for a touring act.  

 

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U2 at NRG Stadium. Photo: Daniel Jackson

 

Things began with the band finding their way down into the audience to perform on a small round stage. Through the darkness, Larry Mullen Jr. opened with the iconic drums of “Sunday Bloody Sunday.” The other members soon met him and performed a tight and cohesive version of the song, only to have lead singer Bono call out for an end to war. This would get followed by “New Year’s Day,” only to be followed by an energy heavy rendition of “Pride (In The Name of Love)” which would have the entire stadium singing the backing vocals of “Oh Oh Oh Oh” in the end. Of course, the band was here for another purpose, and so the large illuminated Joshua Tree was lit, and the band found themselves atop a much larger stage that spanned the width of NRG stadium. There’s always been a chill that the opening of “Where The Streets Have No Name” seems to give me, and this was only heightened by the large tree that was lit up before the film work of famed photographer Anton Corbijn showcased how strong those LEDs really were. The illuminated tree disappeared in favor of a film of a road in the desert that was such high quality, that it felt like we were riding in a car and seeing it in real time. However, the fact that the largest band on the globe was performing in front of it, brought the imagery back to reality real quick.  

 

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The Edge & Bono of U2 at NRG Stadium. Photo: Daniel Jackson

 

The crowd would go crazy and keep their phones out for the iconic sounds of “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For,” before bringing the beauty of “With Or Without You” to life. There was something magical in how the screen seemed to transpire the music as it was played, while the four piece offered up one of the best renditions of the song I’ve seen from them ever before. Then, the bombastic sounds of “Bullet The Blue Sky” would change all of that. Complete with imagery of various people both young and old placing arm helmets on their head in front of an American flag, while The Edge brought out his black with black pickguard and pickups Stratocaster from the era to really bring those squeals and howls from the guitar to a new life. Bono would grab one of the many cameras and focus it on The Edge as those squeals emanated from the legendary guitar.  

 

The group would then slow things down and place The Edge on piano and Adam sitting on the drum riser for the quiet notes of “Running To Stand Still.” While Bono would close the song with a rousing harmonica solo, The Edge would stay on piano for “Red Hill Mining Town.” Complete with video of the Salvation Army Brass Band performing horns behind them, the song seemed to take on a new life with the addition of the horns before the band would usher in to one of my all time favorites, “In God’s Country.” While Bono would note, “welcome to side two, this song is about how the landscape of this fine country can change physically and mentally” the rarely performed track sounded as fresh as the first time I heard it. The Joshua Tree would turn purple before Bono addressed the crowd at the track’s end by starting with “we need new dreams tonight. We realize that we’re guests here, so thank you for having us in your country, all of us Irish; for hundreds of years.”

 

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Bono of U2 at NRG Stadium. Photo: Daniel Jackson

 

Before the opening of “Trip Through Your Wires” would have Bono jokingly state “we’ll be back for the rodeo,” and at the end, Bono again addressed the crowd with words about the recent tragedy in Manchester. “Our hearts are with you, with Manchester. We’re broken hearted for the families, for the parents, there’s no end to grief which is proof that there’s no end to love.” Then the band took the song “One Tree Hill” to a whole new place both sonically and visually. Then, Bono who had left the stage would return donning a hat before beginning “Exit.” The intense and somber tune hit hard, while a comical film would play making fun of President Trump clipped together from the films “Wise Blood,” and “Eeny Meeny Miny Moe,” before the band closed out The Joshua Tree set with “Mothers of The Disappeared” which ended with the audience singing along in unison. “Thank you so much, thank you so much. What a special night you’ve given us,” Bono would state before the outline of The Joshua Tree would turn to blue and the band would exit the stage.

 

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U2 at NRG Stadium. Photo: Daniel Jackson

 

The audience would almost light the way for the band to return with the flashlight functions of their phones. While that can sometimes be annoying, there’s something mesmerizing about how lit up a place as large as NRG stadium can appear under such circumstances. A film would soon begin, with the face of a young Syrian girl who is asked, “if you could say one thing to an audience of thousands, what would it be?” She would very cheerfully say, “I would very much like to go to America, because is the land of dreams where anything can happen.” As the band played “Miss Sarajevo,” and video of children playing in the war torn ruins of Syria, a flag with the young girl’s image was carried over our heads and made its way all around the entire stadium. The imagery of the gesture alone would hit so hard that it almost made me weep. The band would follow this up with the powerful fan favorite, “Bad.” The song evoked such emotion that the crowd was almost as loud as the band while they sang along.  Then, U2 would leave us again.

 

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The Edge & Bono of U2 at NRG Stadium. Photo: Daniel Jackson

 

When they returned for the final time, things began with Bono running to the smaller stage before a rainbow imagery covered the band as cameras captured them in real time on the large screen as they erupted the stadium with the opening of “Beautiful Day.” With an ever changing illumination on the band as they played, there was a real positive feeling in the stadium as they performed. The audience would sing along harder when the band began “Elevation.” The audience would happily sing the backing vocal of “wooh ooh, wooh ooh ooh.” While Bono would state, “Houston, we don’t have a problem,”  before shouting out the state of Texas and the Houston Rockets, before dedicating the song “Ultra Violet (Light My Way).” “We’d like to dedicate this song to the very special women in our lives, the wives, the mothers, the women of our crew, and our female fans here tonight who we feel like we know, as well as those we’ll have no way of ever knowing. The women who insisted and the women who persisted.” This brought out images on the large screen of women like Michelle Obama, Rosa Parks, Maya Angelou, Grace Jones, Patti Smith, Hillary Clinton, and Anne Richards to name a few. The band would then turn the stadium into a giant sing-a-long as they performed “One.” After Bono called the rest of the band to come down to the small stage where he was already met by Adam, he said the most poignant thing of the night, after thanking President Obama, President George W. Bush, and former first lady Laura Bush for their support of the (Red) program and helping save lives through AIDS research and care. “A social movement can change the world. Governments should fear their citizens, not the other way around.” After telling a funny story about Miles Davis being pulled over for speeding, the band offered up a new song with “The Little Things That Give You Away,” before closing the evening off with thanks to everyone from their team to the audience in attendance.

 

All in all, I was happy to attend and that I went. The band sounded better than the previous times I’d seen them, and getting to hear the songs of The Joshua Tree live was truly amazing. However, the screen and films just made the whole experience more memorable, and definitely a memory I won’t soon forget. U2 just proved that sometimes an event can bring up old cherished memories while giving us new ones, while pleasing us all in each and every performance.

U2 Brought The Joshua Tree Back To Life at NRG Stadium This was reposted for my personal reading use

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