Predictably, Bono’s not a huge Donald Trump guy. Months before Trump’s election, U2’s famously outspoken frontman had this to say about the prospect of the business mogul becoming the Leader of the Free World:
“America is like the best idea the world ever came up with, but Donald Trump is potentially the worst idea that ever happened to America,” he told CBS's Charlie Rose. “He could destroy it.”
Not only did Trump’s victory rock America’s political system, it also indirectly delayed the launch of Bono and the boys’ follow up to 2014’s Songs of Innocence while they reevaluated the record’s message. So, as U2 prepped for its first concert in Trump’s America Sunday at CenturyLink Field—the second stop of it’s The Joshua Tree tour—it begged the question of how they would address the nation’s biggest political upheaval of the decade (if not a generation).
This is the subtext for the so-called biggest band in the world’s current tour commemorating the 30th anniversary of the album that launched them to superstardom. The record, which the band’s playing in its entirety, was written during the Reagan-Thatcher era of deregulation and “unrest,” as The Edge put it in a Rolling Stone interview. Decades later it feels just as relevant.
Before jumping into The Joshua Tree material, the Irish foursome mined a handful of their earlier classics. Strutting down a catwalk to a secondary stage immersed in the crowd, The Edge plucked the famous riff to “Sunday Bloody Sunday,” as the sold-out stadium erupted. Despite the gravity of a song about violence in Northern Ireland, its jubilant tone set the mood for the two-hour set.
Few voices in rock are capable of scaling stadium rafters as easily as Bono’s. This was as apparent as ever during booming versions of “New Year’s Day” and “Bad.”
For the cover-to-cover Joshua Tree portion, the band slid back to the main stage backdropped by an outline of the iconic tree depicted in the album’s artwork. The tour’s production was relatively modest compared to the giant claw-like spaceship setup that descended on CenturyLink Field back in 2011. “Where the Streets Have No Name” proved a triumphant starter, as the quartet proceeded to knock out several of its most famous hits, including “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” and “With or Without You”—the band’s first two chart-toppers.
Befitting the album’s overarching American theme, the bluesy roar and funk underpinnings of “Bullet the Blue Sky” tip the adoration for American music U2 had during its formative years. The ever-beanied Edge shifted from guitar to keyboard for a solemn, somewhat perfunctory “Red Hill Mining Town,” which had never been played live before this tour. A more confident take on “Trip Through Your Wires”—untouched since the original Joshua Tree tour, which skipped Seattle by the way—was another bluesy treat for the die-hards.
“It’s been awhile,” Bono admitted after the harmonica-laced tune. It didn’t show.
The only explicit Trump reference of the night came ahead of “Exit,” when snippets from an old western flick depicted a man named “Trump” promising to build a wall to keep a town safe. Another cowboy calls him a “liar,” which drew cheers from the crowd.
Bringing the Joshua Tree set to a climactic close, Eddie Vedder stepped onto the stage lending a quivering verse on “Mothers of the Disappeared.” Openers Mumford & Sons later joined them, with the collective star power and gentle anthem punctuating the celebratory run.
Despite the euphoric aspirations of “Beautiful Day” and “Elevation,” the back end of the set never matched the sonic power of the first 90 minutes, stuffed with most of the band’s greatest hits. But a Mother’s Day-dedicated “Ultra Violet (Light My Way)” was as emotionally potent as anything, while images of influential women who “resisted and persisted”—from the Match Strike Girls to Pussy Riot—flashed on the big screen.
After the song, Bono made his impassioned case for the need for activism from the public and “commerce” alike, shouting out Bill and Melinda Gates and Starbucks in the process. “The government should fear its citizens, not the other way around,” he said.
Leading into the operatic “Miss Sarajevo” a powerful video showed images from a refugee camp in Jordan and footage of Omaima, the famous teenage Syrian activist, before a giant banner with her portrait was passed around the stadium’s lower level.
Before closing the set with hard-charging oldie “I Will Follow,” the band flashed a new song dubbed “The Little Things That Give You Away.” What started as a tender piano ballad blossomed into a soaring soft-rocker with blissful sentimentality.
While Bono never directly addressed the political elephant in the room, his reverence for American ideals (if not its political machinations) seemingly remains as strong as it was 30 years ago. The grander theme of the night—hope and faith in humanity—was the only parting shot the tens of thousands in attendance would get.
In 2017, maybe that’s exactly what we need from a rock show.