On Saturday 22 July 2017 The Joshua Tree returned to Croke Park. I saw the original Joshua Tree tour at Wembley and was too far back to really enjoy it back then. That was in the days when bands just played stadiums, rather than putting on a show designed for a large venue. U2 have now become the masters of the stadium show. There is no one like them in this regard – beautiful visuals, really imaginative use of the screens.
My ticket was for the back part of the field, i.e. not the front pit. I got almost as good a spot as I could with that (three rows from the dividing barrier), which was okay. Would have preferred to have been nearer.
Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds were very disappointing. I like Noel. In interviews he comes across as really nice, and he is very witty. He has written all these great songs, but he is no frontman and only an average singer. In the Liam versus Noel battle it is 1-0 for Liam this summer. If only they could patch up their differences... Noel played 'Wonderwall' and 'Don't Look Back In Anger' and it sounded strangely flat. I was dutifully singing along but not enjoying it.
I had been to a wonderful gig the previous night (Damien Dempsey and Lankum) and wondered if this event perhaps was not going to live up to that. But then a magical moment came.
I had purposely avoided reading reviews or looking at clips of the Joshua Tree tour. I knew U2 were going to play the album, but I did not really know about the rest of the show. Suddenly 'The Whole Of The Moon' blasted out of the PA and all of Croke Park sang along. My mood switched instantly. On the last tour U2 had 'People Have The Power' as their walk on song, so my beloved Waterboys are in the best company.
U2 opened with 'Sunday Bloody Sunday'. They played four songs on the smaller podium that extended into the pit, just them playing, with no special effects. Of course one of the most endearing things about U2 is that it is always just the four of them, no additional musicians. 'New Year's Day', 'Bad' and 'Pride (In The Name Of Love') followed. Not a bad opening section.
They moved to the main stage for the actual performance of the Joshua Tree itself and this is when the extravaganza started. Just as 'Where The Streets Have No Name' kicked in, four planes with smoke trails in the colour of the Irish flag flew over the stadium. It was as if they had shot up from the stage. An incredible moment – hard to describe.
The band played in front of a gigantic LED screen on which stunning images were shown, bright and laser sharp. These were shot by Anton Corbijn (which Bono mispronounced as Corbyn; surely he knows Anton long enough to be able to pronounce his name correctly?!). I would love to see these videos again actually. This is the thing with U2 shows: So much happens at once that you do not know where to look. I have DVDs of the '360' and 'Innocence And Experience' tours, but you cannot really capture on DVD what it is like to be there, 'in' the show as it were.
I never actually owned a copy of the Joshua Tree album, so I had a vague idea that I would not know the non-single tracks terribly well, and so it was. Bono specifically welcomed us to side two of the album, and for me that was the best part: Songs that I had not really listened to in great detail before, accompanied by amazing footage: 'Red Hill Mining Town', 'Trip Through Your Wires', 'One Three Hill', 'Exit', fabulous stuff.
There was an enormous ovation when the album finished, followed by a short break. The band returned and the last part of the show was triumphant. Bono talked quite a bit, plugging the ONE campaign, thanking their crew and mentioning what it meant for them to play Croke Park. All the band seemed quite emotional at stages.
'Miss Sarajevo' was accompanied by images of a Syrian refugee camp. This was shot by a French artist at a camp in Jordan and was so compelling that I had to stop watching the band. During 'Ultra Violet (Light My Way)' the screens showed images of pioneering women, politicians, writers, activists, but also Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Patti Smith, Grace Jones and Poly Styrene, all of whom of course inspired U2 in their early days. The roll call also included MP Jo Frost and captain Dara Fitzpatrick.
Unlike some, I am also a fan of U2s later work, and for me 'Elevation' and 'Vertigo' were standouts. To prove they are not a heritage act, they finished with an excellent new song, 'The Little Things That Give You Away'. Full marks for another superb show. I guess like many who attended, I will be playing all my U2 albums today.
Side note: I was standing near the barrier on “Edge's side”, but also close to the VIP section. During Noel's drab set everybody in my area got involved in celebrity spotting. I saw Leo Varadkar, John Rocha, Ali Hewson (very pretty), Gavin Friday, Guggi, Noel Gallagher's wife, Glen Hansard, Mark Geary and Colin Farrell. Once U2 came on people stopped paying attention to them as there was more important stuff to watch.
I did not take my camera. The photo is from U2's Instagram page.