“How long must we sing this song?”
Bono and the members of U2 have been asking that question for a long time — since 1983 when “Sunday Bloody Sunday” debuted as the first song of the band’s third album, War.
In the wake of the terrorist attack at the Ariana Grande concert in Manchester and a correspondingly beefed up security presence around NRG Stadium, the question seemed more relevant than ever. “We’re so sick of it,” Bono shouted over Larry Mullen, Jr’s propulsive drumming and The Edge’s soaring guitar.
But then, everything old is new again for the famous Irish foursome. Bono once said, “There’s no reverse gear on this tank,” but the band’s new tour celebrates the 30th anniversary of their iconic album The Joshua Tree. "New Year’s Day" and "Pride (In the Name of Love)" quickly followed Sunday. Then the band began to play the album in sequence: every song from "Where the Streets Have No Name" to "Mothers of the Disappeared."
Highlights included The Edge’s thundering solos on “Bullet the Blue Sky” and “In God’s Country,” Bono’s self-described “shite harmonica play” on “I Trip Through Your Wires,” and Adam Clayton’s classic bass line on “With Or Without You.”
Just as "Sunday Bloody Sunday" feels more relevant than ever, so too do the songs written when conservative leaders in both America (Reagan then, Trump now) and the U.K. (Thatcher then, May now) have reignited debates about whether we should commit to “Carry each other / Carry each other” (yeah, I just album hopped).
While the days of the band dressing up like the Village People and emerging from a gigantic, lemon-shaped mirror ball are long behind — so are the songs from Boy, October, Rattle & Hum, Zooropa, Pop, How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb, No Line on the Horizon and their most recent work, Songs of Innocence — the stage setup still impresses with both its scale and its simplicity. No pyro, no fancy light shows: just a massive screen, 200 feet long and 45 feet tall, that displayed the band’s performance and a series of short films created by frequent U2 collaborator Anton Corbijn using new footage from places like Death Valley and Zabriskie Point.
The ultra-widescreen and 8k visuals provided a stunning backdrop for the band, at times displaying a dusty road for “Where the Streets Have No Name” or women holding candles during “Mothers of the Disappeared.” The screen also served as a backing band for “Red Hill Mining Town,” courtesy of a Salvation Army brass ensemble that played along with the song.
After U2 reached the end of The Joshua Tree, two songs from the '90s received fresh interpretations. “Miss Sarajevo” from the Passengers album has been renamed “Miss Syria (Sarajevo)” and featured footage filmed at the Zaatari Refugee Camp in Jordan, where some 80,000 Syrian refugees currently live, according to information provided by the band. "Ultra Violet (Light My Way)", an Achtung Baby deep cut about the redemptive power of love, has been reinterpreted as a tribute to great feminists throughout history, including Texas icons Laura Bush and Ann Richards.
Speaking of the former first lady, Bono made sure to acknowledge both her and former President George W. Bush’s efforts to support the ONE campaign that made it possible for 18 million HIV/AIDS patients in Africa to receive life-saving medicine.
While it’s strange not to hear hits like “Mysterious Ways” and “Desire,” to say nothing of personal favorites like "Out of Control" and "Stay," the band played enough familiar tunes during the encore — "Bad," "Beautiful Day," "Elevation," and "One" — to ensure that no one left unsatisfied. As expected, the multi-generational crowd ranged from eight to 80 — Lynn Wyatt sat a few rows in front of me — and most people seemed to know all the words to all the songs.
But just in case anyone was feeling too nostalgic, Bono had a surprise. The band closed with a new song titled “The Little Things That Give You Away.”
Maybe they still have a few tricks up their sleeves after all.
Sunday Bloody Sunday
New Year’s Day
Pride (In the Name of Love)
The Joshua Tree
Where the Streets Have No Name
I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For
With or Without You
Bullet the Blue Sky
Running to Stand Still
Red Hill Mining Town
In God’s Country
I Trip Through Your Wires
One Tree Hill
Mothers of the Disappeared
Miss Syria (Sarajevo)
Ultra Violet (Light My Way)
The Little Things That Give You Away
Everything old is new again at powerful U2 concert, with an ending surprise
Everything old is new again at powerful U2 concert with last surprise
“How long must we sing this song?”