Through The Looking Glass: San Diego Hosts U2's Joshua Tree
It’s a miracle that bands come to San Diego anymore. Sure, we have great weather, but our music venues are limited and our radio stations are horrendous.
When you're U2, I guess you’re already on the radio, so it doesn’t matter that the 1967 maze of Qualcomm Stadium (aka SDCCU) makes audience members feel like they are Alice falling through the looking glass but without the assistance of the rabbit…and that mother jumper was useless.
In fact, just about as useless as “the Q” staff that was taking the tickets and directing people to their seats…becasue, oh wait…NO ONE scanned my ticket and NO ONE helped me find my seat.
Somehow, with the luck of Apollo, my husband and I made it through the labyrinth and sat down with enough time to see the end of Beck’s opening set.
We quickly learned Beck still had two turntables and a microphone. Actually, we THOUGHT he had two turntables and a microphone…until he came to a complete and utter stop to introduce his band members one by one. After seven minutes and four separate 16 bar cover song breaks later, where each musician came out from behind the shadows to shine, Beck took over with a harmonica solo of his own. “One Foot in the Grave,” fell back into “Two Tables” and finished with the self confidence of Frank Sinatra at the Las Vegas Hilton. What kind of crazy “opening act” stops the last song; the most recognizable song, to introduce the band and step aside so each can shine? Beck is that kind of crazy opening act. Turns out, he wasn’t an opening act at all, he was the extra concert that we missed because of the stinking relic that is Qualcomm stadium.
There are no accidents during a U2 show. When deciding to tour for the anniversary of Joshua Tree, the group was calculated and deliberate. To a lesser band, this could come off as trite and insincere, but to U2 (and their fans) it is yet another chance to be moved beyond words.
The spirit began to stir in me when I realized poetry was running on a portion of the 200 foot screen while the stage hands set up the main stage. Walt Whitman’s “I Hear America Singing” and then Langston Hughes’ response “I,Too” is enough to throw any literature lover to their knees. Not that anyone noticed…they were all too busy stepping on my toes to get a beer or still stuck in the Q maze.
And then, as if Bono himself wanted to rip my heart out, I heard one of my favorite songs over the sound system. “The Whole of the Moon” by The Waterboys. It has always spoken to me of hope and promise; a man who sees limits and a woman who sees possibilities, “I saw a rainbow/ You held it your hands…I saw the crescent/ you saw the whole of the moon.”
ON WITH THE SHOW:
1.The concert was a play in three acts. The first, pre Joshua Tree; the second, Joshua Tree track by track, in order; the third, post Joshua Tree.
2. The stage was minimal. Yes, there was a 200 foot LED screen with a gigantic Joshua Tree growing that dwarfed everything in front of it, but images and music were the focus and not an enormous claw.
3. When Adam walked around the stage like a free bird, it messed with my head…I am used to him stage left.
4. They had choreography like a freakin’ Taylor Swift concert…but without the insincerity. There were posed pauses to finish the first act and to begin the second.
5. I gasped out loud when “Where the Streets Have No Name” began and the screen panned onto a moving highway. And that's when the tears happened. But I didn't wipe them away. I wanted to hold onto that emotional moment and connect to the music and let it wash over me and make me new. I cry at U2 shows. I don’t plan to. The Catholic in me resists the urge to throw my hands up in the air and be overcome by the spirit. But at U2 shows, I am unable to control my arms, my hands, my head and my mouth from moving around like some Pentecostal in a trance.
6. I've always believed live music is a collective experience (even with our phones in our hands). When Bono told us to clap: we clapped. When he told "the church" to sing we still haven’t found what we are looking for: we sang at the top of our lungs.
7. Live shots of the band didn’t hit the screen until “Bullet in the Blue Sky” (track 4 on Joshua Tree). These shots were directly contrasted with the culturally diverse people standing in front of an American flag while wearing a helmet on either side of the live shot. It was all in black and white..and ended with Bono using a handheld close up camera. I’m still not sure about the meaning of it all; however, I’m still thinking about it, so mission accomplished.
8. “Red Hill Mining Town” began with the image of The Salvation Army Band. They could have chosen a no name band, a college band, a group of nobodies. But this tour is the FIRST time this song has ever been played live. When you can add some awesome brass, it works much better. This was another choreographed number for visual effect. The images began tight on the Salvation Army group then panned back.
Adam was sitting off to Larry’s right side, which I thought was a little odd until the camera picked up U2 and created a split screen with the brass section. Had Adam been in his normal spot, the image would have been incomplete. They combined the old and new to create a song worthy of playing live for the first time.
9. Self deprecation is always funny: “Invented in Germany, made in the USA and murdered by an Irishman.” These were Bono’s thoughts on his ability to play the harmonica on “Trip Through Your Wires.”
10. If the concert was a play, “Exit” was the monologue by the sweaty tooth madman character. I read somewhere that Bono has to enter into a different head space to make the song work. It didn’t land in the crowd though…people appeared confused.
11. He had to come out of the character it in order to deliver the haunting “Mothers of the Disappeared.” Yet, this was another song that didn’t land. People did not respond to the chorus sing along at the end. (I did though…I love the “ohhhhh” part).
12. “Miss Sarajevo” kicked off the third act. A solemn song and maybe an odd choice, but the refugee camp images hit a stark modern element. We were in the path of the giant refugee photo passed around the stadium. As I saw it moving towards us I got really excited becasue I was eager to participate in the live moment of visual modern art. I was physically involved in this congregational gathering of love and respect. I did not expect it to affect me as much as it did but I purposely and spontaneously took a quiet moment of reflection as it passed over me.
13. I love Larry…he’s normally so serious..but his little 4th wall camera grab during “Elevation” was adorable.
14. The acoustic version of “You’re The Best Thing About Me,” dedicated to Bono’s wife, Ali, did not work at all. And you could tell they knew it wasn’t working. I imagine Ali thanked Bono backstage but added, “Maybe next time..plug in.”
15. They finished it all off with “One.” The crowd loved it. I still wish they would end every show with “40.” I can be a brat that way.