- 08 Nov 18
As a member of the atu2 team, Tassoula E. Kokkoris has seen more that her share of U2 gigs. Here, she reflects on her own personal U2 journey – and what the anniversary tour meant to her – and to atu2...
“The anniversary show was brilliant from start to finish…”
I was only 11 years-old when The Joshua Tree was released in 1987. U2 didn’t come to my hometown of Portland, Oregon on that tour, and I wasn’t old enough yet to travel to see them, so I missed out on that occasion.
In fact, it still upsets me that I wasn’t allowed to attend the ZooTV tour! As a high school student, I was obsessed with Achtung Baby, but didn’t yet have my driver’s license and the show was over an hour away at the Tacoma Dome, where I had seen George Michael the previous Fall. Unlike George, who they loved, my parents thought Bono was a leather-wearing troublemaker, outspoken, with a cigarette dangling from his mouth. They refused to take me or let me go with other friends.
Ironically, my mother, now in her late 70s, later became a huge fan and attended her first U2 show in Seattle on the Joshua Tree 2017 Tour. As a result, I didn’t see U2 live until Elevation, in April of 2001, so I was a late starter! But I’ve more than made up for lost time since – I’ve now seen 46 shows, including the first Slane Castle gig, their appearance at Live 8 with Paul McCartney, and the Apollo Theater last summer.
I started interacting with atu2 in 1999 and attended one of their events at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in 2003. There, I met our founder, Matt McGee, and shortly thereafter submitted an article about the similarities between The Beatles and U2, which he published. A few years later, my coverage of the Vertigo rehearsals in Vancouver, BC, convinced him I was worthy of a position on the team. It’s been a wild ride ever since!
The Joshua Tree was the album that proved the band I’d been listening to since I was six years-old wasn’t going to disappear anytime soon. I was still in middle school when it was released, but I was immediately a huge fan of songs like ‘Running to Stand Still’ and ‘One Tree Hill’ . The dark themes and the lyrics full of substance all served as a perfect accompaniment to my adolescent angst. I’ll admit, ‘Where the Streets Have No Name’ didn’t have much impact on me until I heard it live. Now it’s among my favourite U2 tracks of all time.
I also count the trip our staff took to visit the actual Joshua Tree, in 2009, among my most spiritual life-experiences.
I thought the anniversary show was brilliant from start to finish. I saw it in seven different cities and enjoyed each of the shows immensely. Starting with earlier hits like ‘Sunday Bloody Sunday’ and ‘New Year’s Day’ was a perfect way to take the audience through the journey to The Joshua Tree; then hearing the album in chronological order, live, was a dream come true. The older tunes blended seamlessly with the newer hits that followed, like ‘Beautiful Day’ and the screen throughout was nothing short of stunning. That first moment when the tree lit up in red during the intro to ‘Streets...’ was chill-inducing every time.
U2 will never please everyone. Some people moaned that the setlist was too predictable, but I can’t see the logic: it was an anniversary tour and they were playing the album in full! Initially there were complaints that the tour was just done for money, but as the band conducted more interviews and explained why it made sense to resurrect these songs, the criticisms thankfully abated. In the end, folks gave the tour its due respect. Considering how many are now begging for an Achtung Baby tour of the same nature, it would be hard to label it as anything other than a success.
In terms of emotional power, I’d put it up there with any of their other tours. The energy, the nostalgia, the elegance – U2 always ‘give their all’ live and this tour was no exception. The benefit of a band employing the same people for decades – from the choreography to the sound and lighting techs – was apparent too. Using the artistry of photographer Anton Corbijn, who shot the cover for the album and several of their videos, coupled with the designs by Willie Williams – who has been with them since the early 1980s – created what for me was an ideal visual experience.
The songs themselves were perhaps more relevant in 2017 than when they made their debut 30 years ago: they were prophetic back then, and rendered all the more poignant with the passage of time.
As a team, atu2 wanted to help enhance the concert-going experience for fans, whether they were old enough to remember the original tour or not. We did everything from posting hints on how to get tickets after reported ‘sellouts’, to sharing the inspiration behind some of the songs on the album. My colleague Scott Perretta recounted his experience, seeing the original Joshua Tree tour as a teenager. We also dove deep into the stories behind some of the people shown on the screen in the live show. Karen Lindell interviewed the Navajo documentarian who was featured during ‘One Tree Hill’ and I caught up with a few of the activists who were honoured in the accompanying visuals for ‘Ultravliolet (Light My Way)’.
Perhaps most sentimental, we invited fans to share their personal experiences of visiting the Joshua Tree in the middle of the desert, in our ‘Joshua Tree Journeys’ series. It was a privilege to share their beautiful memories.
On a personal note, The Edge had an exhibit at the Arcane Space, which displayed his original photography taken during the 1987 Joshua Tree Tour. To cover it for atu2, I flew down to California, where the co-owner of Arcane, Morleigh Steinberg (who also happens to be married to The Edge), was gracious enough to personally walk me through the display. It was a surreal, beautiful coda to the previous months spent experiencing those extraordinary songs in a new way.