U2 give Dublin 'epic night of rock' on The Joshua Tree tour

By Shane Harrison
BBC News NI Dublin Correspondent

  • Published
U2 performing at Croke ParkImage source, Reuters

Under a fading blue sky, the imminent arrival of U2 on stage in the Irish capital was heralded by two songs - Thin Lizzy's The Boys Are Back In Town and The Waterboys' Whole Of The Moon.

More than 80,000 people were in Croke Park for the homecoming show to mark 30 years since The Joshua Tree album.

First drummer Larry Mullen Jr appeared, then guitarist The Edge, next Bono, and finally Adam Clayton on bass.

Image source, Reuters
Image caption,
U2 are consistently regarded as one of the best live rock acts in the world

As they launched into Sunday Bloody Sunday, the crowd went wild.

Many of those watching had flown in to Dublin from all over the world.

With Bono name-checking Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Irish President Michael D Higgins as part of the audience, the band played some of their classics before playing The Joshua Tree in full and in order.

Image source, Reuters
Image caption,
Many of those in the crowd of more than 80,000 sang along word-for-word to the band's setlist

Those earlier classics included New Year's Day, Bad and Pride.

"Our prayer is that we have one of those epic nights of rock 'n' roll," Bono told the audience.

The Joshua Tree was the band's take on americana in 1987, and the element of the gig commemorating that record was accompanied by sometimes haunting images by U2's long-time visual collaborator Anton Corbijn on a giant screen behind the band.

Image source, Reuters
Image caption,
The Pogues singer Shane MacGowan was among the many famous Irish faces watching the gig

The album made U2 the biggest rock band in the world and saw the beginnings of Bono the human rights and third world debt campaigner.

Though wildly acclaimed at the time, it was criticised by some as being a bit politically naive at a time when Ronald Reagan was the US president and many feared where his policies might lead.

Others see worrying similarities 30 years later with the United States of President Donald Trump.

"It came out 30 years ago and it has taken us 30 years to figure out some of these songs - not just how to play them but to understand what they're about," Bono said.

Image source, PA
Image caption,
The band is making the 30th anniversary of The Joshua Tree album with a huge world tour

The only sideways reference to the current American president was when a character called Trump and a wall was mentioned in footage from an old western series on the huge screen.

In between songs Bono likened the gathering to "a big Irish wedding" and lent his support for the Irish bid to host the Rugby World Cup, with Croke Park as one the main proposed venues.

At one stage the band and the colossal crowd sang Happy Birthday to three members of the U2 crew.

With all the better known songs from The Joshua Tree - Where the Streets Have No Name, I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For and With Or Without You - on the first side of the cassette, as Bono put it, the concert flagged a little once the gig got to side two.

Image source, Reuters
Image caption,
Irish air force planes flew over Croke Park, leaving smoke trails in the colours of the Irish flag

When the album was finished the band launched into Miss Sarajevo, a song about the Balkan war, as the screen behind showed sometimes distressing images of the ongoing war in Syria.

Bono thanked the Irish Naval Service in the Mediterranean for the "thousands of lives" it has saved.

In two songs - Beautiful Day and Vertigo - the band segued into David Bowie classics Starman and Rebel Rebel.

There were musical and visual tributes to women from Ireland and around the world who "insisted and persisted for their rights", and praise for the generosity of the Irish people before the almost-spiritual coming together of the band and the audience for One.

Image source, Reuters
Image caption,
Bono told the Croke Park audience that the hometown show felt like "a big Irish wedding"

But the evening wasn't all about nostalgia and U2 ended their set with The Little Things You Give Away, from the band's expected forthcoming album Songs of Experience.

As a live act, U2 are considered among the best, if not the best, in the world - they set a high bar for themselves.

Last night, while all consented that it was a fantastic night, not all agreed the band had reached their own high standards.

Personally I thought they came pretty darn close to them.