I Wanna run, I Want to Hide
30 years after the release of their album, The Joshua Tree, U2 manage to make their legendary release feel current and contemporary
Review by Andrew Steel
“Three-hundred languages are spoken in this city!” roars U2’s Bono into the late summer evening at Twickenham. “Is this not the capital of the world?” he adds. The roar of avowal he receives from 50,000 people would indicate a shared opinion. At the home of British rugby, the singer and his bandmates – The Edge, Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen Jr – are performing their cinematic masterpiece The Joshua Tree, front-to-back, for the first time in Europe. The spectre of 1987 may hang somewhat, but this is no nostalgic embrace by an outfit who have aggressively railed against such notions; more, it is a searing reaffirmation of U2’s unparalleled ability to marry socio-political concerns with a scintillating live show.
Prefaced by a clutch of earlier hits – including a raw Sunday Bloody Sunday and an esoteric Bad – the group dive in quickly, with a rousing Where the Streets Have No Name propelled by Mullen’s brisk tom-tom fills and The Edge’s echoed, looping riff. Backed by a stage-spanning video-screen inhabited by idyllic vistas of pastoral America, the cultural resonance of The Joshua Tree has with the USA is telegraphed clearly, amplified by tracks like Trip Through Your Wires‘ bluesy shuffle and the proto industrial-metal of Exit. But the brass-punctured Red Hill Mining Town carries the scars of Thatcherism proudly, its legacy perversely suited to the narrative of Brexit decline; and few songs still match the desperate heft of With or Without You, underpinned by Clayton’s pulsing, four-note bassline. The record’s profound legacy is not lost on its audience – but in the shadow of the twenty-first century, the quartet’s decision to revisit it is well justified by the parallels conjured to 2017.
An encore set that begins with Miss Sarajevo‘s ambient turmoil peaks with the technicolour explosion of Beautiful Day and an elegiac Ultraviolet (Light My Way), dedicated to the late Jo Cox. But a final act of communal outpouring awaits, as support act and former Oasis guitarist Noel Gallagher emerges for a cover of Don’t Look Back In Anger, the adopted anthem of these troubled times. “For the people of Manchester! Grenfell Tower! London Bridge!” the Mancunian shouts during its coda as a mass singalong gives way to tumultuous applause. Three decades on, U2’s gamble of reaching back into their history has paid off – their reinterpretation of The Joshua Tree live does both their magnum opus and their legacy justice in magnificent fashion.