U2 At Metlife, Wednesday, June 28th, 2017, Reviewed, Second Take
Now that U2 are in the third act of their career, it is time to get them right. Bono may be disliked but he is disliked for no good reason, in a world so self-centered it threatens to implode, Bono, and U2, tried to be more: tried to include more, tried, as Irish Catholics in the middle of a civil war, to maintain their balance and humanity, at serious risk from time to time. Ego trips up rock star, skills don’t always maintain speed with success, and Bono and U2 have not had a great 21st Century, but they are good men and they care. Near the beginning of Wednesday night’s performance of The Joshua Tree, before some 60,000 fans, Bono welcomed the left, the right, and everybody in between. Whatever doubts U2 have about the States in 2017 (a witty “Thanks for letting us in” expresses it best), they act as though the US are their best friends in the middle of a bad third marriage: they don’t want to break off their relationship with us when they just know it is going to end in divorce anyway.
The Joshua Tree was a big break through for the boys, the small peaceniks from Dublin, who, unlike contemporaries the Undertones who remained studiedly about chocolate and girls, faced down sectarian violence with songs of unification and still managed to change the world as they changed themselves with the huge album. U2 weren’t strangers to success in 1987, eleven years into their career, even the States was no longer a surprise, they had dealt with it on 1985’s The Unforgettable Fire. Even Daniel Lanois and Brian Eno were not strangers and as far as songs go, “Pride In The Name Of Love” had already announced the enriching sound of anthem rock meets Irish brogue. While The Joshua Tree was the one to make U2 superstars, song for song it is of a piece with Unforgettable Fire. It is more of the same only more so.
The Joshua Tree is a huge, shameless universal pacifism shout out of big groove damaged hard rock. As Ken Davis noted (here) ,the first side is among U2’s great achievements, the other side much less so, even a serious U2 scholar like Nikki Vee , who had seen them on Sunday in Boston before emerging from her reclusive life with essential better half Ken Shane, to spend the night at a local hotel to catch them again, noted, the best song of the evening was probably “Vertigo” -the early 00s hit.
When last seen in town, U2 were on the Innocence + Experience tour, and though hindered by the need to push an album well past its due date, and while they gave a better performance as a performance goes Wednesday then in 2015, they weren’t stuck performing five bad songs in succession in 15, and that, coupled with the greatest stage the band had ever had constructed, made for an evening of astounding consistency that The Joshua Tree does not have. We got the four best songs off The Joshua Tree that evening, and though six songs from Songs Of Innocence was six too many, it was an enthralling show. It wasn’t so enthralling at MetLife, Four songs were performed on the small stage followed by the entire album, followed by one song no one likes, five hits from the turn of the century, and one song nobody knows.
In its own way, it was a very careful performance. Bono watched his lip, and watched his energy level. By U2 standards it was a subdued evening, Bono is a great mover not moving greatly, he nursed his voice and by the big ending he was singing along to backing tracks of his voice. If you see a four piece rock band play an 80K seater take my word for it, there are a lot of tapes in the background. Still, this is what Bono does and opening the proceedings with an excellent “Sunday Bloody Sunday” Bono and the band were just about perfect for 50 minutes straight, right through the first side of the album and including a run of songs, “Pride In The Name Of Love,” to “Where The Streets Have No Name” to “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” to “With Or Without You” that is simply staggering. But then it lost its way, reaching a nadir with Bono discussing feminism, a subject he doesn’t have a single clue about, before handing the concert over to Pavarotti who has been dead for nearly ten years and still sounded better than Bono.
It’s not that Bono was quiet, it was that he seemed stuck in a moment and forgot what he had to do. He misses his guitar (that bicycle accident in 2015 permanently damaged his hand) meaning that when he used to catch his breath playing rhythm guitar in the past, he was forced to move and couldn’t. The rest of the band are such stoics they could do nothing to lift the weight, Adam and The Edge’s idea of performance art is switching places on a song. There was another problem, and that had mainly to do with where I was sitting, I couldn’t see the lush HD definition screens because I was on the side. So Bono couldn’t much move and the rest of the band wouldn’t much move, and there was a maybe thirty minute hole. And Bono was on guard in Trump’s America, not because he was scared but because he couldn’t figure out how to travel between who he was and who he had been, the urge to dress Trump down was being held back by a deeply rooted wish in the U2 mythos not to insult half his audience. Compare Bono to Springsteen, Bono’s political evenhandedness, level headedness even, the way he never ignores his universal pacifist and suffrage universal aspirations, to Bruce’s party politics endorsement of, for God’s sake, John Kerry, It might not help the show (though they have grossed over $63M this year so it hasn’t harmed) but it keeps it open. Due to his consistent work on AIDS and Third World debt, Bono realizes you can’t go it alone.
But I have even more problems with the show, though U2 played it last night, on Wednesday night we didn’t get “Mysterious Ways,” and the heart of the encores were all 00s songs that sound like they sound like U2 but are missing something in translation, “Elevation,” “Beautiful Day,” and “Vertigo” all shine as much as they can but they are all part of that nearly U2 feel. It’s like (him again) Bruce playing “Mary’s Place” -it isn’t the real deal. So I was stuck with, except for a song here and there, finding 90 minutes of the show up to nothing much. It felt as though U2 were missing a piece of the set, wasn’t there. It didn’t really work.