Author Topic: U2's Joshua Tree tour: stuck in the past, or a new sense of purpose?  (Read 6778 times)

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Offline jrodr079

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U2's Joshua Tree tour: stuck in the past, or a new sense of purpose?
Touring Trump’s America with their newly resonant 1987 album is either the grand act that makes U2 great again, or a tacit admission of creative decline

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It’s the opening night of U2’s Joshua Tree 2017 world tour, and Bono is gamely “trying to find some magic in the concrete temple” of Vancouver’s BC Place stadium. It takes him longer than you might expect: the five-song warm-up set that leads into The Joshua Tree itself betrays some first-night rustiness, and there are moments when the diminutive frontman with the elephantine ego seems uncharacteristically subdued, uneasy, even a little insecure. “Was that all right?” he asks the crowd as he leaves the stage two hours later, seemingly unsure of what sort of answer he’ll get in response.

There are good reasons for that uncertainty, reasons that might go some way to explaining why a band who always prided themselves on evolution and reinvention have suddenly decided to gaze into the middle-distance of their own history. Classic-album tours have become commonplace in recent years, but while the financial rewards are plentiful, they’re also a tacit admission that your audience is less invested in your future than your past – anathema for a group like U2, who have always conflated being the biggest band in the world with being the best.

It was on The Joshua Tree that they first grasped that mantle, but 30 years later, they’re struggling to figure out what size amounts to in an industry that’s changed beyond all recognition. The Joshua Tree sold 25m copies in a pre-digital age and is by any measure one of the most popular albums of all time; their most recent effort, 2014’s Songs of Innocence, was thrust on to 500m iTunes accounts as part of an ill-judged publicity stunt, and is merely one of the most pervasive. As a touring band, U2 still have a licence to print money, but as a creative force, a question mark continues to hang over them.

The Edge has cited the Trump effect as one reason for revisiting The Joshua Tree, pointing out that the album, “was written in the mid-80s, during the Reagan-Thatcher era of British and US politics. It was a period when there was a lot of unrest. Thatcher was in the throes of trying to put down the miners’ strike; there was all kinds of shenanigans going on in Central America. It feels like we’re right back there, in a way. I don’t think any of our work has ever come full circle to that extent.”

If that’s the case, you could argue that 1993’s Zooropa provides more fertile thematic ground to explore the fake news, demagoguery and data analytics that actually swept Trump to power, but that iteration of the band is neither as beloved nor as iconic as The Joshua Tree’s outsider’s-eye-view of America’s shared symbols, history and heritage (it also sold 18m fewer copies). No, if the idea is to make U2 great again, to restore them to their former capacity as rock’s great mediators in an age of hyper-partisanship and polarisation, it could only be The Joshua Tree.

The striking visuals that accompany the main set – directed by Anton Corbijn and shown on a curved 200ft screen that is the largest and highest-resolution ever used for a concert tour – further complement the album’s mythic ideal of America as a shining city on a desert mesa. Where the Streets Have No Name is set against a stark, slow-moving tracking shot of a bleached-out desert highway, while Trip Through Your Wires sees a Stetson-hatted cowgirl defiantly painting the stars and bars on to a dilapidated wooden shack. On With Or Without You, against the dramatic backdrop of an 8K-resolution mountain range, the band even seem to physically inhabit its nooks and crannies while stormclouds gather overhead. By U2’s own standards, this is a relatively stripped-back production, but the effects can often be quietly spectacular.


Trump, inevitably, is the elephant in the room, and true to The Edge’s rationale for embarking on this tour, certain tracks, like Bullet the Blue Sky, or the never-before-played Red Hill Mining Town – written about the 1984 miners’ strike but eerily prescient of the social and economic angst felt by many American voters – really do feel newly resonant. Elsewhere, there are not-so-subtle contrasts drawn between US and Canadian refugee policies (“While others close their doors, yours are open”) as well as the double-take of Exit being introduced by footage from the 1950s TV series Trackdown, in which a huckster named Trump tries to convince people that he alone can save them from the apocalypse by building a wall around their town. It will be interesting to see how that rhetoric translates to the red-state heartlands of Texas, Virginia and Kentucky, where audiences may not take kindly to a band of multi-millionaire Clintonites disparaging their Dear Leader, but for the time being, it seems Trump has done for U2 what he’s already done for artists, journalists and late-night talkshow hosts alike: given them a nemesis, and a renewed sense of purpose.

What they do with it, of course, will be the next big test. Tonight’s second and final encore pointedly concludes with The Little Things That Give You Away, a new track from their long-delayed Songs of Experience album, and clearly intended as a gentle reminder, after two hours of basking in past glories, that the group are still a going creative concern. Evidently, there’s still some anxiety there, some gnawing desire to keep proving themselves to themselves. After 40 years as a band, you have to admire them for it.



Offline Mr. Sinnerman

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Stuck in the past.


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stuck in the past but not a bad thing

Offline RunningtoStandstill (The League of Extraordinary BonoPeople)

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As a band that never once in 30 years looked back at their own music, I find it kind of insulting that the minute U2 decides to reflect on their past for a bit, the world leaps on them and says "you can't do that." i find it even worse that fans complain about U2's new music and how they long for the good old days, and then whine about when they revisit those same days. to me the tour is the perfect balance between revisiting the past and being excited about the future. not to mention its a great way to get them back on the radar before their next album comes out.

Offline Mr. Sinnerman

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I don't know if people are saying they can't do it or that fans won't enjoy it for what it is.  But it does mean they're stuck in the past.


Offline eddyjedi

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I think they can do whatever they like.

Who would have thought 5 years ago they would be playing the Joshua tree album in full?
Certainly not me.


Offline georgemccauley

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As a band that never once in 30 years looked back at their own music, I find it kind of insulting that the minute U2 decides to reflect on their past for a bit, the world leaps on them and says "you can't do that." i find it even worse that fans complain about U2's new music and how they long for the good old days, and then whine about when they revisit those same days. to me the tour is the perfect balance between revisiting the past and being excited about the future. not to mention its a great way to get them back on the radar before their next album comes out.

I fully agree. We are going to have a new album out sometime in the near future accompanied with a tour of some sort, probably the continuation of i+e which will be heavily focused on new material.

Then we'll see just how much they are "stuck in the past" But honestly, why is it such a crime for A band like U2 to do a small anniversary tour for their most successful album of all time?

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Focus on the past, but not exactly same old, same old either.

Offline Mr. Sinnerman

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I'll believe there's a new tour when I see the new tour announced.  Hell, I'll only believe there's a new album when I see a release date announced. 


Offline the_chief

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Not exactly sure what some of you want....

Do you want Bono trotting around in the leather outfit, cigar hanging outta his mouth, dancing in front of a TV to an industrial drum pattern?

The lads are pushing 60. They have earned the right to do what they like. The only obligation they have is to write and release the best music possible. They don't have to try and reinvent the wheel again and again and put on another Zoo Tv.

People say U2 are stuck in the past and relying on nostalgia....Going by some of the posts on here, I don't think it's them that's stuck in the past...

Offline lucas.homem

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Re: U2's Joshua Tree tour: stuck in the past, or a new sense of purpose?
« Reply #10 on: May 15, 2017, 02:28:02 PM »
A person stuck in the past is someone who won't move on and acknowledge where it belongs and where the world is at right now.

On the contrary, I think U2 is too self aware of their recent image and declining relevance. Going back to the Joshua Tree can be interpreted as a way to exploit the past to bring some glory back. However, I do think there's a lot of merit in revisiting the past, celebrating it, understanding it, as a form of moving forward. Music should't be treated as something that dies when the next album is released.

I think The Joshua Tree Tour is being done beautifully and that can do wonders for the band in the next few months. I really hope this tour will help them find their inner voice to complete Songs of Experience.

Offline jjcruiser

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Re: U2's Joshua Tree tour: stuck in the past, or a new sense of purpose?
« Reply #11 on: May 15, 2017, 02:45:38 PM »
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As a band that never once in 30 years looked back at their own music, I find it kind of insulting that the minute U2 decides to reflect on their past for a bit, the world leaps on them and says "you can't do that." i find it even worse that fans complain about U2's new music and how they long for the good old days, and then whine about when they revisit those same days. to me the tour is the perfect balance between revisiting the past and being excited about the future. not to mention its a great way to get them back on the radar before their next album comes out.

Well said.  Certain critics (not all) have frequently looked for ways to tear down U2.  When you can't complain that their new material is boring or derivative or is being lampooned because they (God forbid it) gave it away, I guess you go back and complain they are doing a greatest hits tour.  What gets me as well though are the "fans" who can't seem to get it straight whether they want new music or old.

Offline mrsamrocks2

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Re: U2's Joshua Tree tour: stuck in the past, or a new sense of purpose?
« Reply #12 on: May 15, 2017, 02:59:58 PM »
Well, I'm still disappointed that the band decided to go down the nostalgia road. SOI proved they can still write great songs and the IE tour proved that their new songs are worthy of being played along the band's biggest hits. I really don't see why they need to go back to a 30 year old album. It may be a masterpiece, but I want new songs.

Offline The Exile

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Re: U2's Joshua Tree tour: stuck in the past, or a new sense of purpose?
« Reply #13 on: May 15, 2017, 03:05:57 PM »
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As a band that never once in 30 years looked back at their own music, I find it kind of insulting that the minute U2 decides to reflect on their past for a bit, the world leaps on them and says "you can't do that."

Revisionist history much?

Look, I was at last night's show and loved it for what it was, quibbles aside (and there are plenty). But to suggest that U2 has "never once in 30 years looked back at their own music" demonstrates not a moment of critical reflection on the band's own propaganda.

U2 started looking backwards before the PopMart stage was disassembled in Johannesburg:

- They re-recorded The Sweetest Thing, a B-side from a single from 11 years prior, and used for its cover old pics of the kid from War, and had as its B-sides old live recordings from the Boy album.

- They have put out 2 Best Of collections, as well as the U218 set.

- They released U2 by U2, a book that's a look back at their career up to that point.

- ATYCLB was explicitly touted as an attempt by the band to recover their prior greatness and "reapply" for that job.

- The Elevation Tour was characterized by Bono actually pretending that it was 1980 again, introducing the band and introducing their early songs by saying things like, "We're a band called U2, this is our first single."

- HTDAAB was hailed as a throwback to Boy, and its supporting tour reinforced that by showing the Boy album cover on the screen as they played songs from that album.

- They released an entire documentary about Achtung Baby and even went back to the studio where it was recorded and drove around Berlin in old Trabants (and what was funny was that, despite everything I've listed above, Bono insisted that FTSD was this utterly uncharacteristic look back!).

- The 360 Tour devolved from supporting their new album to dropping almost all those songs and playing loads of stuff from Achtung Baby.

- Their most recent album, SOI, is explicitly backward-looking. Almost every song is about Bono's past (the street he grew up on, the bombing that happened in that road he used to walk to school down, his mother, that one time they saw The Ramones, how influential The Clash were, etc.).

- The i+e Tour was replete with harkenings back to the past (Bono as a teen playing guitar in his room, etc.).

- And now we are asked to believe that this Joshua Tree 2.0 Tour is NOT exactly what anyone with any critical faculties sees it to blatantly be, namely, a nostalgic look back at their former glories?

Again, I have loved U2 since 1983, I listen to my SOI playlist almost weekly, and I had a great time at the show last night. And I am not saying that these things I have listed are necessarily bad. But for anyone to insist that U2 "has never looked back even once" is to drink the Kool-Aid and bury one's head in the sand.

I'm sure all these historical facts will be dismissed as "negativity" by the more sycophantic types here (you know, those who post shirtless pics of Larry in the Band section and know what Edge's kid had for breakfast yesterday). And that's fine, to each their own and all that.

But others of us will still be around, pointing out that just because the masses are insisting that the emperor's clothes are beautiful doesn't prove he's actually wearing any.
« Last Edit: May 15, 2017, 03:14:43 PM by The Exile »

Offline aviastar

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Re: U2's Joshua Tree tour: stuck in the past, or a new sense of purpose?
« Reply #14 on: May 15, 2017, 03:16:27 PM »
Certainly they deserve to look back a bit, though.  They have earned it.  Every act has a career arc, and it's worth noting that U2 has remained relevant for so long that they have far beaten expectations (TJT2017 tour is the hottest summer tour according to Stubhub).  They can't be all innovative all the time; every act coasts on past glories a bit, and that's okay.  Also, while they are reminiscing, they have given us a new song, and hints at a new album!

So let's enjoy it while they are still playing, folks.
« Last Edit: May 15, 2017, 03:17:58 PM by aviastar »