U2 stuns Vancouver with opening night of The Joshua Tree tour

U2 with Mumford and Sons at BC Place 12/5/17

Photo By Ryan Johnson
Photo By Ryan Johnson

One of the greatest albums of the 1980s, Irish rock band U2’s The Joshua Tree catapulted them to massive stardom while providing the airwaves with some truly spectacular now-classics. Thirty years later, U2 is celebrating the album’s anniversary with a tour centering on recreating the original gorgeous tracks.

The tour kicked off at BC Place in Vancouver Friday night (May 12) with frontman Bono greeting the crowd with, “here we are again, in the city we love” during the second song of the evening “New Year’s Day”. The beloved group had been rehearsing in BC Place for the lengthy North American tour, and the opening night went off without a hitch. Well, on U2’s end that is. The catastrophe outside beforehand involving insane lines and ticket confusion will no doubt take some time to clean up. This massive Ticketmaster credit card-entry issue would mean that openers Mumford and Sons would play to a half-filled stadium. But if they were angry about the long wait beforehand, concertgoers would leave the show happy after a truly fantastic performance by U2’s four members.

This is the second tour U2 has launched from Vancouver. First off, drummer Larry Mullen Jr. walked out solo onto the middle stage and started playing the drums until finally bassist Adam Clayton, guitarist The Edge and vocalist Bono joined him one by one. The opening song: “Sunday Bloody Sunday”. Bono—energetically swinging from the mic stand and belting out the famous lyrics in his eerily on-point voice—is every bit the performer he always has been. The Edge…well there’s very little that is new to say about The Edge. The man is a brilliant guitarist that makes all the U2 riffs seem entirely effortless and epic at the same time.

The Joshua Tree songs at the center of the sold-out show—“Where the Streets Have No Name”, “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking for” and “With or Without You”—were cheer-inducing and heart-capturing. Of course life-long activist Bono, always politically outspoken, would preach equality and perseverance to the crowd throughout the entirety of the show from “Exit” to the HIV-fighting anthem “One”. The former song was introduced by old black-and-white film clips from an episode of the classic TV western Trackdown. In the episode a con man named Trump comes to town and urges citizens to build a wall: “You’re a liar, Trump,” retaliates the hero of the show. This led into hands-down one of the best parts of the evening. During “Exit”, adorned in a preacher’s hat and healed boots, Bono danced out on the catwalk in a devilish jazz style so completely arresting as the rest of the band played behind him. So yeah, the guy is pretty damn cool and one heck of a performer. His bouts with the harmonica, despite his saying otherwise, were fantastic bluesy points in the evening.

“We’re trying to find some magic in this concrete temple, where we feel strangely at home,” Bono said. The entire evening was decidedly anti-Trump, whether outright or subtly. U2’s tricky history with the United States came front and center with the patriotic imagery depicted on the enormous screen behind the band: a woman in a cowboy hat and American flag bikini top lassoing, and multiple people putting on a military helmet, to name a few. These images will have a stronger crowd reaction once the group makes their way into Trump land.

Once at the main stage, the band stood together in front of the large screen that reflected a red backdrop and the chill-inspiring Joshua tree, the visual was entrancing. As the show progressed, just like the old days Bono picked up the spotlight and shone it on The Edge while the latter absolutely killed the guitar solo in Bullet The Blue Sky. Each The Joshua Tree track was partnered with a film that showcased the landscapes and people that had inspired the album. The films would mirror the themes of the songs while featuring the California desert reminiscent of the original album shoot. This tour-launching concert also marked the first time the band played Red Hill Mining Town live.

The night focused a lot on women’s rights; in an outright tribute to women during “Ultra Violet (Light My Way)”, the faces of famous inspiring women such as Rosa Parks, Canadians Joni Mitchell and k.d. Lang, Nawal El Saadawi and Lena Dunham appeared behind the band. Referencing the Match Girls Strike and Pussy Riot on the backdrop, the group covered a lot of feminist ground with their multimedia efforts. “Women kind, educate my mind”, said Bono.

Wanting to send a “message to the USA”, Bono led the adoring audience to chant along: ” the power of the people is stronger than the people in power”. Along with this politically charged content, U2 showed a video of a Syrian refugee and the audience would help with the emotionality of the concert by carrying a flag adorned with the girl’s face across the large stadium.

U2 closed out with modern hit “Beautiful Day”, “Elevation” and debut song “The Little Things That Give You Away”. It seems that the four men haven’t missed a beat since their Joshua Tree days, and the entire album still holds live in a very haunting way. Their sound can be described in many ways, given that The Edge is one of the greatest living guitarists and the wailing of his instrument gives particular emotional backing to each song’s poignant lyricism. This show was one hot ticket, and U2’s ability to pack a stadium like that cannot be overlooked.