Joe Shanahan, a longtime fan and friend of the band, is founder and owner of legendary Chicago music clubs Metro and Smart Bar. Joe attended the first of U2's two-night stand at Soldier Field Saturday night with his wife Jennifer and their children, Tara (21) and Michael (19), and shared his reflections on the night with us.
'The roots of the Joshua Tree go deep in Chicago and U2's return to Soldier Field Saturday night felt like a family reunion in the city that has embraced the quartet from Dublin's North Side as its own since they first performed here in April 1981.
I was at their first Chicago show at the International House at University of Chicago, where the enthusiastic audience wouldn't let them leave the stage so they ended up playing songs more than once, and have attended each of the more than 30 shows they've played here since their debut. The next night they played the Park West — a 900-capacity room that was more of a sit-down venue with a maître d' and a two-drink minimum—and turned it into a big ol' sweaty rock club. The next show they played in Chicago was at the Aragon Ballroom and went from 1,000 people to 5,000 people. I remember thinking, These guys have big plans…
They say 'how long do I have to sing this song,' but they're not stopping. For most bands that have been together for decades, there is a tendency for things to become sort of automatic, to leave it in second or third gear and get through the race. But not U2. They have a kind of alchemy that transforms a concert into community.
We live in a world that is just confused. It's so heavy on everyone's mind and heart. Bono came on stage and immediately addressed it. During the first song, Sunday Bloody Sunday, he spoke about violence—in Manchester, in London (news of the terrorist attacks broke as many of us were on the way to the show), and on "the streets of Chicago."
"Take me to church," he shouted. We have to feel that we're all there and we're there together. The communal musical experience is the strongest thing we have. It's undeniable.
To go from Bad to Pride to Streets—I was weak in the knees. Standing with 21-year-old daughter Tara, who flew in from New York for the show, singing every word to Pride together. It's something we do and have done as a family. At that moment, I looked around and saw people young and old with tears in their eyes. Then Adam hits that first bass note for Streets and it's a rumble that just rolls right through you.
The fact that the band continues to create an intimate rock experience on a grand scale is an amazing thing to do and not many bands can do it.
When the band transitioned from the opening set (Sunday Bloody Sunday, New Years Day, Bad, Pride) to the Joshua Tree album itself (Where The Streets Have No Name), I was struck by their four silhouettes against the road that stretched out behind them on the screen.
It was so compelling: four guys with this big sound and big story, talking about the American dream—an idea that's as expansive as it is simple. I stood in awe of it. For anyone who wondered how the album would stand up 30 years later, the music did the talking. It wasn't nostalgic. I felt like someone was telling me a story.
By the time they got to In God's Country—"Welcome to side two!"—there was a really beautiful shift into a few songs that many people really haven't heard. When you can dig into your catalog and find those nuggets and present them in such a beautiful way, all of a sudden we're hearing something new in a 30-year-old song. It's a great juxtaposition.
Closing the show with I Will Follow, they had all of us jumping up and down together, bringing out the teenager in all of us. It was community, all of us coming together to experience the sound.