Creating intimacy with 50,000 fans: The brilliance of U2 on the 2017 Joshua Tree tour

It’s been 48 hours since I saw U2 at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, MA on June 25, 2017.

Still tired yet still smiling, I’m sitting at my kitchen table in my newly purchased U2 t-shirt and hoodie and have finally figured out what I want to say about the concert experience of Sunday night.

So much has already been said about this band and about this tour that’s celebrating the 30th anniversary of their magnificent album, The Joshua Tree. So much has already been said about how U2 is one of the greatest bands that the world’s ever known. So much has already been said about how their live shows are pretty much a religious/spiritual experience. So much has been said about Bono, Edge, Adam and Larry.

So what can I add to the conversation? First I’ll mention some cool technical stuff that I received from the band’s publicists and then I’ll talk about the personal impact the show had on me.

But first, here’s a collage of photographs that I shot during the show with my iPhone. My friend Colin and I are hardcore fans and we had field seats.  We got to the show before noon and spent a heck of a lot of time standing in assorted lines. But the end result is we were just a few feet from the “tree” stage that extended out from the main stage. Said another way; holy shit we were right up front.

U2 at Gillette Stadium on June 25, 2017Photos by Aimsel Ponti
Photos by Aimsel Ponti of U2 at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, MA. 6.25.17.

So back to the cool technical stats that I think are worth sharing:

The stat: Dutch photographer and film-maker Anton Corbijn whose iconic photos are part of the original “Joshua Tree” album went back to Death Valley and Zabriskie  Point among other spots to produce a new series of films that are projected behind the band in jaw-dropping 8K resolution on a 200 x 45 foot screen behind the band as they played.

My comment: I’ve never seen anything so massive and so spectacular. It added a whole other layer of depth and meaning to the show.

The stat: A specially commissioned film by French artist J.R. accompanied “Miss Syria” (originally titled “Miss Sarajevo”) was shot at the Zaatari Refugee Camp in Jordan. This is home to 80,000 Syrians who were forced to flee their country.

My comment: To see such devastation on such a large scale was overwhelming. The film was shown while the band played “Miss Syria” and what’s more, a giant tapestry of a refugee woman that was probably 50 square feet was passed over and among the crowd on one side of the stadium. Incredible. Moving. Real.

The stat: Creative director for the tour is Willie Williams and he has been U2’s show designer on every tour since 1983.

My comment: Willie, you’re a genius. My first U2 show was at the end of 1984 and this most recent one was my 7th. They’ve all had different layers of brilliance.

The stat: The Joshua Tree tour stage is 200 x 40 ft and it is almost the full width of a stadium

My comment: Holy bananas. It was huge and it was perfect, especially with the backdrop.

The stat: The stage set features the largest un-obscured and highest resolution LED video screen ever used in a touring show.

My comment: Leave it to U2 to take it to a whole other level of multi-media awesomeness. This screen was from another planet. Incredible.

The stat: The screen is make up of 1,040 individual video panels. The 200 x 45 ft custom built screen is painted to look like a golden piece of cardboard and features a silver Joshua Tree. The tree extends above the screen and becomes the visual centerpiece of the show.

My comment: A feat or artistic and engineering mastery. I can’t even…

The stat: The B stage that extends into the audience from the main state is a perfect shadow of the tree that’s part of the screen.

My comment:  Yep, they did that.

The amount of thought, design work, carpentry, electronic wizardy and all around technical magic is awe-inspiring. It’s not over the top, it’s not too much, it’s perfect and glorious. U2 doesn’t need any of this stuff. The first time I saw them was on the “Unforgettable Fire” tour and I don’t remember anything other than maybe a simple video screen. But they are all about being on the cutting edge of what can be done. And they do it so well. And what’s more, in the context of a giant stadium show, it very much added to the experience.

So how was the show? Actually, that’s not the right question I should be asking myself. Because yes, the show was INCREDIBLE. And being right up front was all the more special. The show was transcendent. The show brought me to tears. The show made me dance and made me sing and shout and feel just about every emotion a human can feel.

The right question came to me a few hours ago. Actually a slew of questions and  here they are:

Did this show make me feel the way I felt when I first saw U2 as a teenager? Did it make me feel the way I did all those years ago when U2 were to me essentially larger than life gods? Did the show remind me of why I’m a music writer? Did the show remind me of why there are few things more important to me than music? Did the show keep me in the moment and out of my own often tormented head? Did the show reach right inside my heart? Did the show make me feel connected to everyone else there? Did the show make me genuinely care about the welfare of others? And when the show started with Larry Mullen Jr. walking over to his B stage drum kit and launching into “Sunday Bloody Sunday” did I feel a tremendous wave of love for this band crash over me that it was all I could to do hold myself together?

Did it do all that?

Here’s my one word review of the entire show:

yes
Here’s the set-list: Sunday Bloody Sunday,  New Year’s Day, Bad, Pride (In the Name of Love), Where the Street Have No Name, I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For,  With Or Without You, Bullet The Blue Sky, Running to Stand Still, Red Hill Mining Town, In God’s Country,  Trip Through Your Wires, One Tree Hill, Exit, Mothers of the Disappeared, Miss Sarajevo (Syria), Beautiful Day, Elevation, Vertigo, Ultraviolet (Light My Way), One, The Little Things That Give You Away (new)

I’ll end with a compilation video of several song clips I shot from my to-die-for spot on the field. Editing props as always to my pal Shamus Alley.

 

Final thoughts:

THANK YOU U2 for a night I’ll never forgot. When you sang “Where the Streets Have No Name” I thought of my late father-in law. When you sang “Bad” I thought about a lot of things; both painful and beautiful. And when you sang “Ultraviolet (Light My Way)” which is my favorite Achtung Baby song while images of powerful women who have made history in so many ways scrolled across that giant screen I cheered with everything I had.

Yeah, you sure do keep me hanging on.

 

 

 

 

 

2 thoughts on “Creating intimacy with 50,000 fans: The brilliance of U2 on the 2017 Joshua Tree tour

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s