As I was waiting to get my ticket from will call before Sunday’s U2 concert at CenturyLink Field in Seattle, the first U.S. show on the band’s the “Joshua Tree Tour 2017,” I heard a woman at another window say, “I just wanted to triple-check that no tickets have become available.”
Shortly after she was told ticket sales had closed, a man, also hoping to snag a ticket at the last minute, was told the same.
At another window, a slightly frantic man was asking a customer service rep to contact a ticket agency because his ticket had been rejected with only about 10 minutes before U2 took the stage.
Outside the stadium, people sat in folding chairs, happy enough to just hear the concert.
When one of the biggest bands in the world plays the album that made it one of the biggest bands in the world, these reactions are warranted.
Before playing 1987’s “The Joshua Tree” in full, the band, performing on a smaller stage in the middle of the audience, warmed up the crowd with the pre- “Joshua Tree” hits “Sunday Bloody Sunday,” “New Year’s Day,” “A Sort of Homecoming,” “Bad” and “Pride (In the Name of Love),” Bono’s voice reaching all the way to the nosebleed seats.
The quartet then moved back to a larger stage in front of a giant screen featuring an illuminated Joshua Tree.
This portion of the show was 30 years in the making, as U2 didn’t stop by Seattle on the original “Joshua Tree” tour. Without fanfare, the band launched into “Where the Streets Have No Name.”
As the band performed each song from the album, short films by Anton Corbjin, who photographed the “Joshua Tree” album art, played on screen.
The videos, which sometimes shared the screen with live footage of the band performing, called back to the elements of Americana from which U2 drew inspiration when writing the album – desert roads (“Where the Streets”), Death Valley’s Zabriskie Point (“With or Without You”), men and women putting on a soldier’s helmet (“Bullet the Blue Sky”), a girl painting an American flag onto a building, then showing off her lassoing skills while wearing a stars-and-stripes bikini top, jeans and a cowboy hat (“Trip Through Your Wires”), and Native American men and women (“One Tree Hill”).
Before performing “Exit,” the band made its first big political statement of the night via clips from a 1958 episode of the Western TV show “Trackdown” in which a con man named Walter Trump tries to convince the townspeople that he could prevent the end of the world by building a wall.
The collection of clips ends with one character saying “You’re a liar, Trump,” which drew cheers from across the stadium.
On “Mothers of the Disappeared,” the final song of the “Joshua Tree” portion of the night, U2 brought out show openers Mumford & Sons and special guest Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam to help sing.
Though I expected to hear a story or two about the band’s time working on the album or more about how America influenced the band, U2 kept mum about “The Joshua Tree,” save for a quick note of thanks to the crowd from Bono.
“Thank you for keeping an album that means so much to us so close to your hearts for so long,” he said before the band briefly left the stage.
After returning for the first of two encores, the band started with “Beautiful Day.”
It’s at this point in the show that the stage banter became more inspirational than critical.
“It’s a beautiful day when sisters around the world can go to school,” Bono said. “It’s a beautiful day when everyone’s home is where they want it to be. It’s a beautiful day when women around the world unite to rewrite history to herstory.”
After performing “Elevation,” the band continued to praise women, dedicating “Ultraviolet (Light My Way)” to their wives, mothers and daughters; the women on their crew and “women who stood up or sat down for their rights.”
Behind the band, images of iconic women, from Sojourner Truth, bell hooks, Ellen DeGeneres and the band Pussy Riot to Patti Smith, Khalida Popal, Melinda Gates and Michelle Obama, flashed on screen.
Bono then praised Bill and Melinda Gates specifically, saying “Next to my bandmates and my wife, Ali, no one has inspired my activism, and thus our activism, more than Bill and Melinda Gates.”
He also talked about the ONE Campaign he co-founded – with funding from the Gates Foundation – to fight poverty and preventable diseases in Africa.
“We have 8 million members in the ONE Campaign and that scares the (expletive) out of the politicians …” he said. “The government should fear its citizens, not the other way around.”
After saluting the U.S. for its involvement in the fight against HIV/AIDS and Starbucks for participating in the RED campaign, which works to eliminate HIV/AIDS in eight African countries, the band dedicated “One” to artist and AIDS activist David Wojnarowicz.
“Miss Sarajevo” kicked off the second encore and was accompanied by a video of Syrian activist Omaima Hoshan and scenes from the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan. A banner with Omaima’s picture on it was passed around the stadium as the song played.
Wrapping up the show was “The Little Things That Give You Away,” from the upcoming “Songs of Experience,” and, in what seemed to be a somewhat spontaneous decision, “I Will Follow,” from the band’s debut album “Boy,” which received a huge response from the audience.
Before the second encore, after thanking Mumford & Sons and the crew, Bono again thanked the crowd.
“Thanks to our audience for giving us what has turned out to be a really ridiculous life.”
But as much as U2 loves its fans, after more than 40 years, the fans love the band even more. When Bono said jump, the crowd jumped. When he told the audience to sing their hearts out, the crowd could surely be heard blocks away.
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