Behind the shades, sermonising and silly names, U2 are, and always have been, a formidable live band. Last night’s show at Twickenham Stadium — the London leg of a world tour celebrating the 30th anniversary of The Joshua Tree — was a brilliant reminder of this.
If you’re going to do a song-by-song rendition of an album (and everyone’s at it nowadays, from Travis to The Twang), you’d better make sure the source material is worth a second reading. Thankfully, U2’s magnus opus is a stone-cold classic, selling 25 million copies and making its creators the biggest band on the planet.
Hearing all its tracks would have been pleasure enough, but last night was much more than that, with The Joshua Tree element bookended by highlights old and new. If there’s a more commanding way to begin a rock concert than with the martial beats of Sunday Bloody Sunday, I’ve yet to hear it. Had Twickenham had a roof, it would surely have been blown off by the time Bono reached that song’s lung-busting chorus.
It was the stuff of encores; it was only the beginning.
With Anton Corbijn’s spectacular films of American vistas playing on the widest of widescreens behind, the band launched into The Joshua Tree’s opening salvo of Where the Streets Have No Name, Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For, and With or Without You — gigantic songs built for gigantic spaces such as this.
While these tracks are famous for Bono’s impassioned vocals and the Edge’s echo-laden guitar, the singer was at pains to thank another architect of The Joshua Tree’s iconic sound. “There wouldn’t be a side 2, there wouldn’t even be a side 1, without [the album’s producer] Brian Eno,” he said.
Bono could be irritating too, with his earnest between-song exhortations and unnecessary harmonica playing. But when the songs and show are as good as this, who cares? Certainly no one lucky enough to have been at Twickenham Stadium last night.