Anniversary concerts featuring a hit album from the hazy past can be nostalgic fun for older fans.
Sometimes, such tours serve as a cash-grab for the band. U2 transcended both scenarios at Soldier Field on Saturday, performing 1987’s landmark “The Joshua Tree” as an act of spiritual communion with a multi-generational gathering of devotees. The concert marked the first of two shows slated for the lakefront venue (tickets are still available for Sunday night).
It’s been said that the Irish quartet’s strengths include diminishing the space between itself and the crowd while leading concert-goers into a state of worship. When the stadium-sized choir of voices sang the questing gospel chorus of “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For,” there was no arguing the point. Had there been a roof, it would have been raised and cast into nearby Lake Michigan. “We lift each other up in a church not made with hands,” said Bono later, as thousands of palms were raised to the sky.
Denver-based folk rockers The Lumineers opened with an hour of rousing and roots anthems before U2 emerged to perform more than two hours of what Bono referred to as the band’s “desert songs.”
The last time U2 packed Soldier Field was during 2011’s U2 360° tour. This time, there was no forbidding, claw-shaped apparatus straddling the stage. The accoutrements were high-tech but less obtrusive, reminiscent of the band’s visit to the former Rosemont Horizon for the original tour decades ago. As the band launched “Where the Streets Have No Name,” a large screen behind the band displayed the alien terrain of California’s Joshua Tree National Park, immortalized in Anton Corbijn’s striking photography and film footage.
With the complete album performance, the set featured material rarely played since the original tour supporting “The Joshua Tree.” “Red Hill Mining Town” made its Chicago debut at a mature age. “After 30 years, we just figured out that song,” Bono quipped. Led by Bono’s wailing harmonica, the waltz-time “Trip Through Your Wires” connected Irish roots music reminiscent of The Waterboys’ “Fisherman’s Blues” with American country music. “One Tree Hill” was simultaneously haunting and uplifting, as the Edge’s guitar built from ringing arpeggios to a euphoric crescendo. Bono appeared to struggle to hear himself mid-song, but rallied for the coda.
The band mined other albums, too. Larry Mullen Jr.’s machine-gun snare echoed the violence protested during “Sunday Bloody Sunday.” Beatific bassist Adam Clayton provided hypnotic substructure to the heartbreaking tale of addiction “Bad.”
Although recent shows have given a glimpse of the future with “The Little Things That Give You Away” from the forthcoming “Songs of Experience” album, the band’s first night in Chicago focused upon reflection. “This is where we came in,” said Bono, as the Edge lashed and bounded his way into “I Will Follow” from U2’s 1980 debut LP “Boy.” As Bono had said earlier during a gripping rendition of “With or Without You,” “These songs belong to you now. Chicago, sing your heart out.”
Jeff Elbel is a local freelance writer.
U2 Set list for June 3, 2017 at Soldier Field:
Sunday Bloody Sunday
New Year’s Day
Pride (In the Name of Love)
“The Joshua Tree”:
Where the Streets 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
Mothers of the Disappeared
Ultraviolet (Light My Way)
I Will Follow