U2 BRING THEIR 30th Anniversary Joshua Tree tour to London this weekend, unwrapping their four-IMAX-sized high-def video screen at Twickenham stadium and rolling out the rich emotional songs that made up their original 1987 album – still their most successful ever.
Like all U2 tours, as guitarist the Edge tells MOJO magazine this month, this one has evolved to meet the logistical challenges that have arisen.
“There’s a learning process to every tour,” says the guitarist, before conceding that this time the stakes were higher than usual. “Normally we start indoors then jump it up to stadiums, but this time we obviously started straight in the stadiums, so there’s a lot of pressure on everybody to create something that really makes sense of those venues. Stadiums are a beast, they’re difficult to do. And obviously the screen helps, but the music has to fill the venue.”
So far, there’s been no complaint about the music, although U2 are unused to having their set list dictated to – even if that dictating is being done by a 30-year-old album. “People react a little differently when they know what’s coming next,” says U2 bassist Adam Clayton, “and they also react a little differently when they’re having an internal relationship with that particular running order.”
Bringing a stately poetry to the presentation that fits beautifully with the music are the films by U2’s longtime visual collaborator Anton Corbijn, who returned to Joshua Tree National Park and Zabriskie Point to recapture the breathtaking vistas he employed on the original album sleeve.
“There’s a rigour that really fits with the album,” says Edge. “It’s beautiful, and epic, but still. Not flash. Not showy. There’s a poetry, but it doesn’t *do very much.”
At rest, the screen – painted gold except for a massive silver Joshua Tree – looks like a huge sheet of wrapping-paper. “To begin with we were worried the gold would be a bit blingy,” says Willie Williams, “and that we’d look like a misguided rap act. But to our great joy one review said the screen looked like plywood.”
One particular snippet of film is likely to elicit cheers and knowing guffaws in the audience. It’s a clip from a 1958 TV Western series called Trackdown, where a frontier huckster called Trump peddles a fantasy of a coming apocalypse that can only be averted by the erection of a protective “wall”. While U2 fretted at the beginning of the tour whether this piece of found satire was too-controversial reflection on America’s sitting president, it’s unlikely to encounter any grumbling in London, or any of the European cities U2 head to next for shows throughout July and August, although they re-grasp the nettle of the US’s divided body politic when they return to North America in September.
“I was in the studio, listening to this Fall track, trying to work out how the guitar riff went.”
“In a simple, elegant way it makes such an important point,” says Edge of the clip. “But we’re also guests in the nation, so we have to balance that out. It’s not our place to get too in people’s faces about something that’s very much their business, and not ours.”
Despite songs that continue to resonate politically – notably the interrogation of US foreign policy always inherent in Bullet The Blue Sky – rather less controversy attends The Joshua Tree’s music: it’s still some of the best U2 ever made. And as Edge reveals to MOJO’s web site exclusively, some of its original inspirations may strike even forensic listeners as unlikely.
“I was in the studio,” the guitarist recalls, “listening to a particular Fall track. And I was on my own, trying to work out how this guitar riff went. I hit on something that was in the same general area, and it was uptempo, like real hard-hitting – and Larry [Mullen] got on the drums and started playing it half time. I thought, ‘You’re not hearing it all,’ and Adam got on the bass and started playing this weird bass part. In the control room, Bono was going, ‘What the fuck?! That’s amazing!’ And I was, ‘Really?’ because it was completely not what I had in mind. But yeah, for the guitar part in that chorus The Fall was a kind of jumping-off point. Great band, The Fall.”
Whatever would Mark E. Smith make of that?