U2: Donald Trump Takes A Back Seat In Seattle

Bono, Larry, Adam and Edge played the CenturyLink Field, Seattle last night and Olaf Tyaransen was on hand to give his verdict.

When U2 announced plans to tour The Joshua Tree a full three decades on from its seismic 1987 release, there were more than a few quizzical eyebrows raised. It seemed an extremely strange move from a ruthlessly ambitious rock ‘n’ roll band that has always prided itself on constant creative innovation and reinvention.

It initially appeared like it might be a backwards step. When they released Achtung Baby! in 1991, Bono had described the album as “the sound of four men chopping down The Joshua Tree.” So why would they want to retread old ground or run the risk of looking like some hackneyed old heritage act?

Subsequent to the announcement, the band themselves made the point that their politically-charged fifth studio album is as relevant now, in this scary era of Trump, as it was back in the Reagan years. This is unfortunately true, in a time in which evil sadly seems to be winning again, and international cruise missile cockfights are happening with worryingly regularity, but it’s worth noting that 2014’s Songs of Innocence was also all about them looking back to their earliest formative years. So perhaps revisiting The Joshua Tree – the album that propelled them from young pretenders to megastar status – is just a natural progression. Or is it the first sign of U2’s creative decline? Will rock eat itself?

The naysayers might be hoping so, but it’s unlikely to be the case. Lest we forget, The Joshua Tree is indisputably one of the greatest, not to mention biggest selling, rock albums of all time. So why not give it the full, beginning-to-end treatment?

“Recently I listened back to The Joshua Tree for the first time in nearly 30 years… it’s quite an opera,” Bono mused when they first announced this tour. “A lot of emotions which feel strangely current: love, loss, broken dreams, seeking oblivion, polarization… all the greats… I’ve sung some of these songs a lot… but never all of them. I’m up for it, if our audience is as excited as we are… it’s gonna be a great night. Especially when we play at home. Croke Park… it’s where the album was born, 30 years ago.”

Enough with the preamble. Croke Park is still a few months away. It’s a chilly Sunday evening in Seattle and, having kicked off the tour in Vancouver two nights ago, U2 are about to play their second show of a planned 33 dates across North America and Europe (a mighty 1.7 million tickets have been sold, making this the biggest US tour of the summer – and then some – eclipsing even Ed Sheeran).

Curiously, when they originally toured the album around America in 1987, the band skipped Seattle. According to an article in the Seattle Times earlier this week, it might have been a deliberate rebuke to the city that would later become the birthplace of grunge. “Because U2 passed us by, a rumour started that it was because a notebook of Bono’s was stolen in 1981 – either in Portland or Seattle,” wrote journalist Charles R. Cross. “The rumour became that the band skipped us as retribution (the band always said it was just that it couldn’t find an available venue).”

A near-70,000 capacity venue, the CenturyLink Field didn’t exist in 1987. Home to the Seattle Seahawks, it has twice held the Guinness World Record for loudest crowd roar at an outdoor stadium, first at 136.6 decibels in 2013, followed by a measurement of 137.6 decibels in 2014.

Can it be broken again tonight? Well, certainly not by the audience’s response to Mumford & Sons. The London folk-rock outfit do a decent job of warming up the crowd, but truthfully very few are really here to see them. It’s hard to command a large body of mostly middle-aged people still searching for their seats.

The only logical response is: fuck all that. This night is all about the main course and U2’s show comes in three sections. Larry Mullen Jr is the first member to appear onstage, striding purposefully down the promenade runway to a second stage where his drum kit awaits: he was after all the man who started it all the way back in 1976. Edge, Bono and Adam soon follow and the game is on.

As with their Vancouver show, the opening salvo is ‘Sunday Bloody Sunday’. They then play blistering versions of ‘New Year’s Day’, ‘A Sort of Homecoming’, ‘Bad’ and ‘Pride (In The Name Of Love)’. Bono is welcoming and funny, but the first section is essentially a trip through the hits that preceded The Joshua Tree.

In what may be a gesture to the way the original tour was configured, this is the first U2 show in many years where the stage is actually located traditionally i.e. at one end of the venue. For the 360° and iNNOCENCE + eXPERIENCE tours, the stage was in the centre of the venue. For this jaunt, they’ve reverted to a more normal setup. Well… sort of.

It would be hard to top the visuals from the last two tours, but creative director Willie Williams has has a very good go at it. Comprised of 1,040 individual panels, the massive 200 x 45 ft screen behind the band is apparently the largest LED screen ever used in a touring show. Throughout tonight’s set (after the opening section), when it’s not featuring a huge Joshua Tree image, a series of haunting and evocative Anton Corbijn films play in the background.

There’s so much happening between the band onstage and the striking visuals behind them, that it’s literally impossible to take everything in at once. As advertised, they play The Joshua Tree in its entirety from start to finish, from the memorable ‘Where The Streets Have No Name’ to the moving ‘Mothers of the Disappeared’ (they’re joined by Pearl Jam frontman Eddie Vedder for this one). This writer was 16 when that album was released and there’s a lot of associated memories. The whole thing is really fucking powerful.

After 40 years in the business, U2 have a mouthwateringly brilliant back catalogue, but after that central Joshua Tree segment, they close with a final burst through some of their their hits: ‘Beautiful Day’, ‘Elevation’, ‘Ultraviolet’ and ‘One’. They’re reworked interestingly, and the accompanying onscreen visuals are spectacular (‘Ultraviolet’ showcases a series of images of powerful feminists from over the years, including Caitlin Moran), but there’s a feeling that they may just be holding back the big socio-political guns for now. They finish with ‘Miss Sarajevo’ and one song from the forthcoming Songs of Experience album – a moving ballad called ‘The Little Things That Give You Away’.

The Joshua Tree originally had a working title of The Two Americas, and the band had specifically requested that, along with the Irish media generally, Hot Press would see the Seattle show rather than the Canadian debut. There had been some expectation that Bono was going to take a serious pop at President Trump, but other than a mocking mention in the visuals accompanying ‘Exit’, it simply didn’t happen on this occasion. Not a complaint, but the suspicion is that the band is still finding its feet on this tour and that Bono is going to choose his moment. Seattle simply wasn’t it.

Watch this space. Meantime, forty years into a spectacular career, this opening US date confirms that U2 are still for real. On a purely musical level, this was a special one.

The best may be yet to come – but this was more than good enough to be going on with.

OLAF TYARANSEN

JT2017 Set List - SEATTLE - 14 May

Sunday Bloody Sunday

New Year’s Day

A Sort of Homecoming

Bad

Pride

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

Trip Through Your Wires

One Tree Hill

Exit

Mothers of the Disappeared

Beautiful Day

Elevation

Ultraviolet

One

Miss Sarajevo

The Little Things That Give You Away

 

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Great Scott! An Interview with tattoo artist Scott Campbell

Internationally renowned American tattooist Scott Campbell on his early years in Louisiana, tattooing Heath Ledger and Courtney Love, and his work on Hennessy Very Special Limited Edition.

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