‘No ordinary 30 year old record…' Some days Harry Kantas works for Twitter in Dublin, some days he travels the world to watch his favourite band play live. Harry was at Bonaroo to catch U2 in a rare festival appearance - and sent us this review.
'The last time U2 played a festival in the US, it was 20 years ago, at the Tibetan Freedom Festival in NY. The time before that, it was 34 years ago, in Devore, CA at the US Festival. Bono had to get the rest of the band to sign a permission slip for him to wander off stage after that show, after the scare he gave everyone by climbing the highest part of the stage to fly his white flag, during Electric Co. Remember that?
The last time U2 headlined a festival in the US was, well, last night. Bonnaroo, in Manchester, TN. Headlining a festival in the US is no easy task. Especially something as massive as Bonnaroo. The diversity of the crowd spans music genres and age brackets. There were times where my wife and I felt like the oldest two people there, and times where we felt like the youngest. So how do you engage with such an audience... and play song from a 30 year old record? People from all over the country were there. People from outside the country were there. Parents, bringing their kids along. Kids, bringing their parents along. People in U2 t-shirts, people in country music t-shirts, people in no t-shirts. How risky is it to play a 30 year old record to those people?
Turns out, not at all. Because The Joshua Tree is no ordinary 30 year old record. It's not even a classic record. It's a brand new album, full of songs that might have been written 6 months ago. That’s partly because the kind of music that inspired The Joshua Tree is timeless, deeply rooted in the heartland of America, places like Tennessee, in fact. Partly because history never teaches us anything, and has a funny way of repeating itself, making themes around Running To Stand Still, In God's Country, Red Hill Mining Town, Exit, relevant as ever.
It's 11pm, and finally dark, and the temperature a little cooler. Looking up, over to the left of the "What" Stage, a perfect full moon lights up the field. The Waterboys' very fitting "Whole of the Moon" starts playing on the PA, as the band takes the stage. Sunday Bloody Sunday, New Year's Day, Pride. No room for a breather, hit after hit, 3 of the songs that led to The Joshua Tree, and also 3 staple songs of the original Joshua Tree Tour. The Edge was awarded the Les Paul Spirit Award a few hours back at a tent near the "Which" Stage. He is in top form! Bono has been singing the "maybe the time is right" bridge for New Year's Day on this tour. I believe last time that was played, it was the pre-War Tour, in late 1982, early 1983. The 3rd verse is also in. This one has never been performed live before. I'm having difficulty locating anyone in the crowd not singing or jumping along, from the inside of the pit, to the very back of the field, to the VIP hill area.
The end of Pride is a transition to the main part of the show. Streets! The massive screen behind them, showing short films by Anton Corbijn in 8K, is simply stunning, and sets the mood perfectly. The album is played in sequence: Streets, Still Haven't Found, With Or Without You, Bullet The Blue Sky. All 4 songs are staples on almost every U2 tour and you can barely see any feet touching the ground! Running To Stand Still, and even though we're in Manchester, Tennesse, in my head I'm hovering over Ballymun in Dublin, where the 7 towers used to stand. "I'm still running" coda to finish it off.
"Welcome to Side B". This is where all the memories from growing up with The Joshua Tree come rushing in. Red Hill Mining Town, played live for the first time, after 30 years. Steve Lillywhite's mix has brought the song to newer fans, as we all help Bono out during the chorus. In God's Country. Edge's trademark Vox AC30 Top Boost sound truly shines here, while Adam and Larry create a wall of bass, taking care of the low end. Trip Through Your Wires should serve as proof that Bono playing the harmonica does count as an instrument! He did pre-emptively apologise for his playing, but Bonnaroovians were very supportive - there's no such thing as bad harmonica playing in Tennessee! One Tree Hill. What a song. What a story. What a guitar solo. What a beautiful red moon in the sky above us.
U2 have been performing Exit even better than they did on the original Joshua Tree Tour. A 1950s TV show called Trackdown is playing on the screens, featuring a character called Trump, offering to build a wall around a town, and save them from the Apocalypse. It goes down well and lightens the mood. Adam's bassline. Larry counts in. Edge's riff and harmonics. "You know he got the cure...”.
As with every performance of Exit, I remember every millisecond of it, but have zero words to describe the state I find myself in. If you were near me, I may have been speaking in tongues, and fighting off an exorcist. "Put your hand against the screen". A line Bono also used during ZOO TV. Chills.
U2 headlined Bonnaroo with The Joshua Tree, and everyone loved it, sang along to the songs they grew up with or listened carefully to ones they were hearing for the first time. I kept getting high fives throughout the night from random strangers, you could just tell how everyone was in great spirits.
Time for the encore. Beautiful Day is the first post-JT song on the set list. I bet this song would have made the cut for the original Joshua Tree Tour setlist. Under The Bridge snippet, a nod to the Red Hot Chili Peppers, who will take to the stage on Saturday. Elevation gets people jumping, and in one breath, Vertigo makes its tour debut, keeping the party going and a string of fireworks light up the night sky.
Bono thanks the Bonnaroo crowd and One ends the show with everyone singing along. We did great tonight lads, you've made one of your (many) older brothers proud!’