AMSTERDAM II, A CELEBRATION - Caroline van Oosten de Boer on 'the gift' that is this tour.
Caroline van Oosten de Boer, founding editor of U2log.com (2000-2011) and co-author of U2 Live - A Concert Documentary, was at the shows in Amsterdam. Here she reflects on the second night, 'a celebration'.
"I couldn't see beyond the motel room and the desert and highway. I couldn't see that there was another world. To me, the whole world was encompassed in that. I thought that was the only world that mattered." - Sam Shepard (1943 - 2017)
Reconnecting with the band during the 2015 I&E tour, as previously documented on U2.com, I've recently rediscovered playing U2 music in the form of albums, appreciating songs previously on my shitlist. I'm looking at you again, Pride. In fact, after years of exercising my right to be tough on the band's work, I seem to have arrived at a point where I'm relaxed enough to just celebrate the fact that thirty years on they're still here and so am I.
And so I arrive at U2's second show at the Amsterdam Arena, ready to mark the 30th anniversary of the album that propelled the band into stardom. U2's connections with The Netherlands go deep. Way back to the very early years. Maybe the first country outside of Ireland to really pay attention to the band and where they came from, through Bert van de Kamp's article on Lypton Village for OOR magazine in '82. Certainly the first country outside of Ireland to have its own U2 fan club, started by Annelies de Haan in February 1981. And most of all, the country of birth of the man who helped create U2's iconic visual presence. From the shimmering mysticism of The Unforgettable Fire's album cover to the stark black and white desert language of The Joshua Tree, and the full colour reimagining of the Achtung Baby artwork. "I always felt that Anton was photographing the song, not us," says Bono, "They were more interesting so he dressed us up with their qualities."
Anton Corbijn's unique point of view shaped the image of not just U2, but also Depeche Mode. While Gahan and co very quickly handed themselves over to Corbijn completely, letting him create and direct their live shows for many years, U2 had never given him the reigns in that area before. This time, however, they've surrendered to their Dutch Master.
At the start of the show the band file on stage one by one to the tune of The Waterboys' The Whole of the Moon, another seminal album from The Joshua Tree era. Drummer first, singer last. Unadorned, starkly lit, U2 knock out some of their pre-JT greatest hits, warming us up for the star of the show: The Joshua Tree played in sequence, in its entirety. And as Pride segues into Where the Streets Have No Name, the initially dull sandy coloured backdrop - not dissimilar to the 1987 tour set up - lights up to reveal its 60 meter wide brilliance. It's here where the film director Corbijn takes over, casting the four members of U2 in a movie starring the desert and the highway, the moon and shack, the mountains and those damn Joshua trees. They are supporting actors - not extras, not quite - providing the live original soundtrack.
It's a rare treat to hear some of these songs again. Trip Through Your Wires will probably never again be as funny as when it was first played in Belfast in '87, but Red Hill Mining Town, neglected for so long, turns out to be quite the earworm. Exit is performed just the way it is lodged in our tricky memories of the 1987 tour. Full on. Angry. Scary. Larger than life. Literally, because when I look back at videos of the 1987 shows, it turns out the song wasn't quite as heavy as it is right now. Apart from the sound being so much better than 30 years back, Bono - assisted by modern technology and unhindered by his guitar - has become a much, much better performer.
As fans, we've struggled to fit the anomaly that is this tour into the band's history. It just didn't seem like something U2 would do. Looking back rather than forward. Consolidating rather than innovating. But I now accept this tour as a gift. A rather considerate gift that gives me the opportunity to reflect on the last thirty years of my life with and without U2. To think about the people Bono mentions before One Tree Hill, the ones taken away. To appreciate the ones that are still around. The ones right here with me tonight, from the first bars of Sunday Bloody Sunday to the last notes of I Will Follow. To celebrate, to be grateful for and proud of this band's amazing achievements. "This song," Bono says, "… you really own this one, here in the Netherlands. This was kind of the first big moment for us, here in this country. It's never been less than great here. It's always great here, people are so generous to us. Thank you." No, thank you, for giving us fans great lives too. The playwright Sam Shepard, whose work greatly influenced The Joshua Tree, passed away this week. Shepard hated endings. To him, the most authentic endings were the ones which are already revolving towards another beginning. With U2 filming material for new songs right here in Amsterdam before and during the shows, that new beginning is just around the corner.