Cathleen Falsani was 17 when she first heard The Joshua Tree. On Sunday she took her 17 year old son to see the show. Here’s their take.
On Sunday evening, as I stood with my 17-year-old son, Vasco, while U2 delivered a boisterous, joy-filled performance at LA’s Rose Bowl, I remembered that when the band released The Joshua Tree in 1987, I was a 17-year-old high school junior just like he is today.
The album was for me, as for countless others, a definitive cultural artifact and a touchstone for my burgeoning social, political, and spiritual consciousness. Three decades later, the 11 tracks still move me the way they did the first time I heard them on the old hi-fi in my teenage bedroom.
In 1987, my overprotective mother wouldn’t let me attend U2’s show at the Meadowlands in New Jersey, so I hadn’t heard the majority of the album performed live until last week. Thirty years was well worth the wait. The band’s multimedia reimagining of The Joshua Tree is magnificent.
Still, I wondered whether Vasco, watching through his 2017-era 17-year-old lens, would find it similarly compelling. Sunday’s show was his fourth time seeing the band live. In fact, his very first concert was their Rose Bowl show on the 360 Tour in 2009. He’s a U2 fan by birthright and a music lover by nature, but would The Joshua Tree, with its stories rooted in the UK mining strikes, the Salvadoran civil war, and U.S. foreign policy of the 1980s resonate with my thoroughly modern teenager?
“From the first notes on the drums when Larry plays alone and then The Edge joins in on guitar and then the bass and then Bono starts to sing, how it builds slowly and then explodes—“Sunday Bloody Sunday” on a Sunday—that was so great,” Vasco said when I asked him what his favorite moments from the show were as we drove home from the Rose Bowl in the wee hours of Monday. He’d heard it before, yes, but it sounded different coming out of the nowhere, out of the darkness, to launch the show. It seized his attention and didn’t let go for two hours.
We moved from the back of the stadium floor to the Red Zone adjacent to the stage at the front as the band transitioned from the first set of three songs—“Sunday Bloody Sunday,” “New Years Day,” and “Pride”—to The Joshua Tree sequence just as the mega screen awakened, blood red and sparkling against the night sky.
Vasco is a natural observer. He hangs back, takes it all in, processing slowly and watching intently. As Bono, Edge, Larry, and Adam appeared centre stage, tiny black silhouettes against the enormous scarlet screen, he took out his phone and started recording video. I took out mine and started recording him recording them, ever fascinated by the effect that the experience of music can have. He continued filming through “Where The Streets Have No Name,”“Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For,” and “With Or Without You,” pausing occasionally to post images on Snapchat.
As I scanned the audience, I noticed more than a few parents-and-children in the crowd. The 30-something father a few feet in front of us with his school-aged, pigtailed daughter hoisted on his shoulder so she could get a better shot of The Edge with her Go-Pro camera. The middle-aged woman with her teenage daughters leaning on the rail, singing every word to “One Tree Hill,” the song Bono dedicated to Soundgarden’s Chris Cornell, who tragically lost his life last week.
Somewhere up in the stands were friends of ours—a mother and father and their six-year-old son. It was a “bucket list dream,” the mom later wrote on Facebook, to hear the band perform “Bad,” (which they did during their first encore), and for her young son to experience the band perform The Joshua Tree, “the iconic album that initially got me hooked when I was just a preteen.”
It’s been a common refrain I’ve heard at each of the first five shows of the tour: grown-ups for whom The Joshua Tree was a defining experience of their youth want to share that experience with the younger generation with the hope that it might have a similar effect.
On our drive home, Vasco was a bit more circumspect. He said he really enjoyed the show and thought the films by Anton Corbjin, JR, and others—particularly the “luminous icons” video of women leaders through history that accompanies “Ultraviolet”—were smart, visually captivating compliments. But it was something different, and unexpected that he’ll remember most from the show.
“It was really interesting to watch adults dancing like they probably did when they were kids,” he said. “It’s like they got totally lost in the music—in a good way, like they remembered how they felt when they were young. It was really cool to see that, how the music did that.”
In that precious moment, life—and The Joshua Tree—came full circle.
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