Joshua Tree Revisited
If I could, yes I would. If I could… I would have seen U2 in 1987 on The Joshua Tree tour. But I was finishing up my “option year” (read: fifth year) at Michigan State. The band played in April at the Silverdome in Pontiac and I was getting ready to graduate. Tickets were expensive and in the days prior to the Internet you had to stand in a huge line just to maybe get some shitty seats in the world’s largest indoor toilet bowl. I actually had no intention of getting involved in that mess. So I was thrilled when U2 announced they would be adding a Detroit show to their Joshua Tree 30th anniversary tour.
I love these shows where an artist revisits classic material and performs a record in its entirety, and this one certainly did not disappoint. I was particularly amazed by the sonics. Ford Field is a pretty huge cavern, but I’ve never been more engaged by the sound at a stadium show. There was a gigantic, full-bodied thump from Larry Mullen’s kick drum and Adam Clayton’s bass guitar. Lucid, hypnotic mids, dominated by The Edge’s liberal use of drone notes, contrasted with the crisp, complex high frequencies of guitar and cymbals. Bono’s ageless, inspired vocals soared over, and wound around and in between, the fully-realized instrumental mix.
Highlights for me included “Bad,” performed in the pre-Tree set of hits that served as sign-posts along the road to The Joshua Tree. The band were set up in a tight ensemble at the end of the long stage extension for this opening set. An unexpected cool element of the show was the woman performing the super-expressive American Sign Language presentation for deaf audience members (check out her air guitar and drums on my eye-witness video for “Bad”).
When they kicked into the album set, they mounted the full stage in front of a 200’ video wall. They performed in front of arresting black & white visuals created by photographer Anton Corbijn, who shot the original album photos.
All these years later, I am still moved by The Joshua Tree. I got a lump in my throat trying to sing with the crowd to “Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” (apologies for my vocals to those who watch my eye-witness video). But it was deeper cuts from the record that really took this thing over the top for me. “Exit” was worked into a frenzy by The Edge’s relentless strumming and tangles of distortion, while Bono prowled the stage with a hand-held video camera, whose images were dripping with twisted effects. And “Mothers of the Disappeared” featured a special guest appearance by Detroit-native Patti Smith, who Bono credited as an inspiration for the record.
The band concluded the show with a third set of post-Tree tunes, highlighted by “Ultraviolet (Light My Way)” and “Mysterious Ways,” which featured an inspiring collage of images of influential women.
I’m sure the ’87 show sounded about like the Stones Tattoo You show at The Dome in ’81 – strident, harsh, irritating and thin (S.H.I.T.). I’m glad I waited.