- 23 Jul 17
It is 30 years since the release of The Joshua Tree catapulted U2 to the forefront of contemporary music. At their Croke Park homecoming, they reaffirmed that they are still up there, at the very top of the tree. By Roisin Dwyer
"The Irish are the only men who know how to cry for the dirty polluted blood of all the world," observes Detective Roberts in Norman Mailer’s An American Dream.
The Joshua Tree brings this pronouncement to mind, distilling as it does the fascinatingly conflicted relationship between U2 and America – that is both the myth and the reality. So much has happened over the last three decades – yet the album's themes remain as pertinent as ever.
Before the quartet take to the stage for their Croke Park homecoming, Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds treat us to a bevvy of tracks from their two long-players – a rousing 'Everybody's On The Run' from their debut and a boisterous 'Lock All The Doors' from the more recent Chasing Yesterday are stand-out songs – and a hefty sprinkling of Oasis' Greatest Hits: 'Champagne Supernova' and 'Wonderwall' instigate the obligatory singalongs.
Appropriately The Waterboy’s 'The Whole Of The Moon' precedes U2's entrance, Doubtless, Bono et al were lending a keen ear to Mike Scott & Co, before penning the 1987 masterpiece.
Then Larry appears on his own – a powerfully symbolic moment, given that Mullen Junior started it all – and takes to the second stage at the end of the runway, followed in turn by his bandmates. When the propulsive opening beats of 'Sunday Bloody Sunday' ring out, the crowd erupts.
The euphoria is unabated for a resplendent 'New Year's Day', after which Bono thanks the audience for 'letting us back into your lives'. The theme of gratitude – and that of love – are recurring throughout the night. 'Bad' and 'Pride' complete an exhilarating opening set.
A stark black and red Joshua Tree backdrop is replaced by Anton Corbijn footage for the album portion of the night. His parched landscapes and vast open highways a perfect visual accompaniment.
Of course, the opening segment of the album contains the 'hits' – but in the opinion of your humble reviewer, it is when we get into the meat of the record that its potency is fully revealed – 'Bullet The Blue Sky' is a lightning bolt to electrify your social conscience; 'Running To Stand Still' is as wrought with sorrow as a widow keening at her husband's wake; and a mesmeric spell is cast by 'Trip Through Your Wires' rootsy, impish playfulness.
Bono's banter is not without its frivolity either. He introduces the last number with a story about the band's first rehearsal and his admission to Larry that his only qualification was playing the harmonica. At other junctures, he references the use of the colours of the Irish flag as Anton Corbijn's veiled attempt to send a message to the international rugby authorities on the best choice of location for the next World Cup; and he takes time out to greet President Michael D Higgins and his wife Sabina, who are seated in the crowd.
It is testament to band that the songs on what was truly an historic record sound as fresh as ever.
The post-Joshua Tree segment of the concert kicks off with the majestic 'Miss Sarajevo' (Passengers), accompanied by stunning visuals of war-torn places, and then a triple whammy of 'Beautiful Day', 'Elevation' and 'Vertigo' act as a sonic sucker-punch to amp up the collective adrenaline flow.
'Ultraviolet' is dedicated to all the great women – there are subtle hints in there that Repealing the 8th is next on the agenda in Ireland – and 'One' reminds us of the power of unity and love. A brave parting gambit is 'It's The Little Things That Give You Away' from Songs Of Experience which opens in quasi-ballad form before building to an explosive climax.