Sunday, July 9, 2017

CONCERT REVIEW: U2 At The Rosebowl, Sunday May 21, 2017

With the possible exception of Bruce Springsteen, I can think of no other legendary band, so critically celebrated and adored by their own generation, that has been so firmly and completely rejected by the next.  We're not talking a normal level of disinterest here, as all generations feel to some degree for their parent's music.  No, with U2, we're talking abject millenial hatred.

Why, who knows.

If I had to guess, Pitchfork, with their unrelenting anti-classic-roc lean, has probably played a part, and clearly the band's tepid post-All That You Can't Leave Behind output hasn't helped.

Or maybe there's just something to the preachy, over-striving, baby-boomer earnestness of Bono/U2 and The Boss that rubs the less-grandiose-in-their-thinking millenials the wrong way,  and by extension then Pitchfork's attitude toward both acts is merely a reflection of this generational divide rather than a misguided taste-making forward charge.

But what millenials will probably never  quite understand is how completely right both Springsteen and U2 felt for their moment (I mean, sensitive, do-gooder, male earnestness was were it was at in the mid-80s - it's no accident Kevin Costner and U2's careers peaked and ebbed at the same times) - and never was U2 more completely connected to its audience than with its Brian Eno-sheparded masterpiece - The Joshua Tree.

So for me, an unabashed fan, it was with great excitement that I ventured with wife and friends to catch the band's Sunday Rose Bowl performance of their 1987 classic.

And what a fantastic show it turned out to be.

After a near-hour-long, engaging warm-up set by Colorado's Lumineers, the band finally took the stage - or rather the small secondary stage designed to look like a reflection of the Joshua Tree pattern that topped the set's huge projection screen - and launched into an opening assault for the ages.

BAM, BAM, BAM - Sunday, Bloody Sunday, New Year's Day, Pride - all knocked out with zero production assistance and as much force and tenacity as I've ever heard the band bring to them live.

It was, without question, one of the strongest starts to a live concert I've experienced.  We were on our feet, ecstatic.

And then it was time for the Joshua Tree.

Things kept on a clicking at an extremely high level through the first four tracks of TJT - Where The Streets Have No Name, I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For, With Or Without You, and a positively badass rendition of Bullet The Blue Sky. And the video production work was awesome, in a deliberately reflective way as suits the majority of the material from the album.

Rather than hit us with all manner of flashing pyrotechnics (Bullet The Blue Sky, Exit, and a couple encore numbers excepted), the massive screen primarily favored long, flowing shots of vast vistas - a never ending dirt road through Joshua Tree park for Where The Streets Have No Name, vast desert expanses for I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For and With Or Without, etc., etc,.  The early visuals were frankly awe inspiring, and did so much to put the themes of the album into clear focus.

But then, with Running To Stand Still, the show did hit a bit of lull over the next five songs.  At the heart of the problem was not the band, who were sharp throughout, but Bono's live singing, which is highly spotaneous and a bit too often, late, especially for the gentler more nuanced tracks of the album's second half like RTSS, Red Hill Mining Town (which received an all new brass anchored arrangement that many loved but I thought was the low moment of the entire show), and One Tree Hill.

Also, just a thought, but I don't understand why U2 always goes it alone stage, rather than bringing on additional musicians for those songs that will benefit from the added orchestration like so many contemporary acts follwing in the band's footsteps do.

But back to the Joshua Tree, In God's Country was excellent with that killer bass line and the stage's Joshua Tree all of a sudden glowing in psychedelic colors, and Trip Through Your Wires, always my least favorite of the Joshua Tree tracks, was actually damn good, though it provided the set's weakest video production moments.

But then Bono donned a hat right off of Robert Mitchum's head from Night Of The Hunter, and jumped into the strongest and most pyrotechnically flamboyant song of the entire show, Exit. An eleagic Mother's Of The Disappeared with a gorgeous slowly evolving back visual of a bunch of third world mother's somberly holding candles for lost loved ones closed out the Joshua Tree portion of the show, and after a kinda long break, it was on to the encores.

For the first encore, we got a politically charged version of Miss Sarajevo recast against recently shot footage of a Syrian refuge camp, and then a fabulous rendition of Bad, one of really only two ballads on the night, along with With Or Without You, to emerge unscathed from Bono's timing issues.

The final encore, while featuring mostly excellent performances of slightly more recent material Beautiful Day, Elevation, One, Ultraviolet and then second encore of BD, E, One, UV, and finally a new track, The Little Things That Give You Away - did get bogged down in too much, all-over-the-map, political messaging, and the visuals of female pioneers set to Ultraviolet, while an admirable gesture, were so busy they detracted from the song.

But those quibbles aside, this was for the most part an wonderful night of music - one in which the hard charging rockers consistently outshone the gentler material, but that overall left me feeling nothing but satisfied.

Not sure how much longer they are on tour, but if you can still catch them in this interation, do! This was the strongest tour they've put together in quite some time.

Here's fan captured videos of the first three songs from The Joshua Tree portion of the show.

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