After U2’s last two studio albums didn’t light the world on fire like they usually do, the band who previously shied away from nostalgia finally jumped that shark by announcing a 30th anniversary tour celebrating “The Joshua Tree.” But just because the bulk of the set list was mined from that breakthrough album and others from its surrounding periods on Sunday at Soldier Field, the near sell out didn’t necessarily seem like an oldies show, even if it didn’t always come across like a total touchdown.
In spite of the booming beginning, U2 came to a nearly hushed halt with “Running To Stand Still,” an extraordinary song in its own right about the sinister side of addiction, but also a gentle reflection that surely wasn’t sculpted with a stadium in mind.
Perhaps that’s because the group comprised of messianic front man Bono, unmistakable guitarist The Edge, no-nonsense bassist Adam Clayton and militant drummer Larry Mullen Jr. didn’t sound a second dated throughout the two-hour night. It also didn’t hurt that the Irish foursome opened the evening on a small runway stage mid-field, rumbling through “Sunday Bloody Sunday” (tweaked with an anti-terrorism angle), “New Year’s Day,” “A Sort Of Homecoming” and “Pride (In The Name Of Love)” without a single production frill, evoking the early days when they played clubs like the Park West and Aragon Ballroom.
Granted, it made the guys look like mere specs to those in the rafters (if they were visible at all), but that all changed pretty quick once U2 took refuge under a virtual “Joshua Tree” on a high definition screen spanning the entire end zone (a true technological marvel that overcompensated for a significantly slower and subdued Bono). Yet as the complete album unfurled with the enormous hits “Where The Streets Have No Name,” “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For,” “With Or Without You” and “Bullet The Blue Sky,” it was interesting to see these once burgeoning rock stars revisit them as superstar adults who continue to wrestle with the same complexities and injustices they initially pondered in 1987, but with renewed hopefulness for resolution and an all-around reclamation of the American dream in 2017.
In spite of the booming beginning, U2 came to a nearly hushed halt with “Running To Stand Still,” an extraordinary song in its own right about the sinister side of addiction, but also a gentle reflection that surely wasn’t sculpted with a stadium in mind. The second side of the project also had its fair share of muscular performances (“Red Hill Mining Town,” “In God’s Country,” “One Tree Hill”) juxtaposed with less memorable material (“Trip Through Your Wires,” “Exit”) that sent many of the less dedicated departing for the restroom.
A lengthy encore mirrored the mixed bag of the main portion, starting with the Luciano Pavarotti collaboration “Miss Sarajevo” (a ballad from the Passengers side band that was also stylistically inappropriate for a venue of this scope) and ending with the forthcoming but unremarkable “The Little Things That Give You Away” (characterized by a sluggish start and gradual momentum build). In between, the group championed women of the world with “Ultraviolet (Light My Way),” pumped up AIDS activism during “One,” then revved right back up to the towering “Beautiful Day” and the euphoric “Elevation,” all of which recalled a time not all that long ago when U2 was much more anxious to make history rather than merely retrace its steps.
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