'The tension of modern life makes a U2 show feel even more essential. Each of us in the audience last night at Twickenham came from a different place. Each one of us secured a ticket, arranged free time to attend and made our way to the home of English Rugby. Security staff beaming and friendly. The lovely chap on Gate C bought me an ice-cream when I admired his. The perfect omen for what lay ahead.
Through the gates. We’ve made it. We're here. And so are they. Them. The band. The ones that have brought us together. Our hosts and entertainers. They've been in our lives a while and now it feels like we need them now more than ever. When you're a U2 fan going to one of their gigs touches something deep within you. That's why we keep coming back. Craving that feeling only they can give us.
Tonight The Joshua Tree comes back to us. We all bring our own Joshua stories with us tonight. Memories soundtracked by this music that's deeply ingrained within us.
It feels like the arena fills up as soon as doors open. Noel Gallagher and His High Flying Birds the massive bonus act for so many. The man who could headline Twickenham himself happy to row behind one of his all-time favourite bands. A member of the U2 family since Oasis toured with U2 twenty years ago. Noel as excited as we were to be there, played his heart out and the full room loved him all the more for it.
U2’s pre-show tapes have been the best radio station ever for a long-time. Every tour new tracks wriggle their way into your ears as they chug along building the groove. Cigarettes After Sex, Small Black and Future Islands are on the perfect warm up tape tonight. Thirty years ago in Croke Park, Dublin when U2 played two shows to celebrate The Joshua Tree, cherished memories extend to hearing Sweet Bird Of Truth by The The wafting through the sweet summer air on the warm up tape for that perfect day. Tonight we’re standing in a glorious field where so much has changed and so much remains the same. The mix tape revs up. The Waterboys’ The Whole Of The Moon at full crank is the signal that the show's about to begin. Everyone sings along, joyously belting out an anthem from kindred spirits. We are all kin tonight, bound by our shared histories and beliefs.
The Waterboys fade and Larry the founder is out first to take his place. Wonders about what they'd start with are dispelled when one of the most unforgettable drum intros of all time begins - Sunday Bloody Sunday.
Tonight we are all one. Our years evaporate with every refrain. We bounce around the youth clubs of our mind singing words that have outlived the conflict they decried.
‘I will be with you again’ sung by the 80,000 strong clan drowns out the band as New Year's Day erupts and a bass line from utopia drives us to ecstasy. No bells and whistles, just the songs, as it was when their played their first stadium gigs three decades ago. 'There is nowhere we'd rather be tonight"', Bono acclaims over Bad's intro. “Three hundred languages spoken in this city. Is this not the capital of the world?”
What Bono doesn't say also registers as the band loop in snatches of the late great David Bowie over Bad. ‘We can be heroes just for one day’ he sings in what can only be a tribute to everyday heroes who’ve shown their true mettle in recent months. The chronological penny drops. That’s what they're up to... songs from before The Joshua Tree... played first. We’d been too busy dancing to recall they hadn’t started into The Joshua Tree yet. Edge’s ‘chicka chicka’ intro sound is all we need to hear to know they’re sharing one more monster with us first. ‘Pride’! An equality anthem ringing out all over London during Pride Week. Fresh relevance and empathy as Pride becomes about equality of all kinds.
Now The Joshua Tree looms in silhouette against a blood red backdrop on the widest screen I’ve ever seen. We're off.
Where The Streets Have No Name. Anton Corbijn's panoramic slomo desert drive on the screen elicits a collective gasp. The side of the desert road is peppered with bedraggled, weary walkers. ‘Have they just crossed over from Mexico?’ I found myself wondering.
We know the tracklisting, we know what's next but still we gasp when Anton’s beautifully captured landscape unfolds on screen to herald ‘I Still Haven't Found What I’m Looking For.’ A whole new experience, like going to an art gallery with 80,000 others. The band are dwarfed by the nature on screen and it's beautiful. We're transported to the Californian wilds evoked by an album made in Dublin. ‘Take it to church’, Bono implores, as a choir of 80,000 takes hold.
A collective roar of delight greets With or Without You, the single which heralded The Joshua Tree. A thousand cover versions haven't diminished the track that invented trip hop. Anton's screen imagery switches from black and white to eye-watering colour as the clouds blow across the Mojave desert. Memories come flooding back - sitting in my dad's car waiting for Dave Fanning on RTE radio in Ireland to premiere With Or Without You when it first came out and now here we all stand thirty years later.
Bullet the Blue Sky was about Nicaragua and El Salvador then, now it feels like the Stars and Stripes is once again in peril. On screen, generations try on an army helmet on and it's not a good look on anyone. This was once a song that rallied against US foreign policy in central America and now it’s picking away at a bigger, less definable malaise.
“My comrade Bob Geldof is here tonight”, Bono declares as he announces to massive cheers that the One campaign has three million members. “Things can be achieved when unlikely people work together in the radical centre”, Bono shares, distilling the mission statement.
Running to Standstill, that closes Side A of The Joshua Tree in introspection, now blossoms into a monster anthem while Red Hill Mining Town is augmented with a Salvation Army brass band on screen and after all these years it becomes the performance it always deserved to be.
“It came out 30 years ago and for 30 years we could never work out how to play that song”, Bono shares as Red Hill ends, “But we finally did. Sometimes it’s like that . A song feels even more relevant now than it did then. This next one is about how the landscape can change - in a person, in a town, in a country" - as the band reach into the dark heart of ‘In God’s Country.’
Bono’s mouthorgan brings us into Trip Through Your Wires before he introduces One Tree Hill. “In our hearts this album will forever take us back to our beautiful Kiwi friend Greg Carrol. We lost him in a motorcycle accident, stolen away. In London we remember the wonderful Kirsty MacColl, who sequenced The Joshua Tree album…also taken too soon. I’m sure so many people have a story like that – a friend, a family member - gone in a moment and nothing is ever the same.”
After One Tree Hill and before Exit, a cut and splice video adds a new section that wasn’t on the album and provides the nights most explicit political commentary to date. A medicine show huckster called Trump from a 1950s TV series ‘Trackdown’ declares he ‘can build a wall around your home that no-one can penetrate. The crowd on screen call him a liar.
There’s one group of people highlighted on The Joshua Tree who have not found resolution: Argentina’s Mothers Of The Disappeared are still waiting for truth. A lifetime spent wishing and waiting for closure that hasn't come. A line of them span the screen, each holding a candle for their missing loved one, abducted by a state whose records have yet to be revealed. They’ve spent generations waiting for the dignity of a funeral, an admission of guilt, a chance to move on. The sea of camera phone lights in Twickenham mimic the candles on screen in solidarity. As the last candle is blown out The Joshua Tree ends.
The first time The Joshua Tree album has been played in full in Europe. Ever. An Event. An anniversary. A rebirth. Everyone in Twickenham last nights owes a debt of gratitude to whoever had the idea of performing this classic album from beginning to end. It's gorgeous. Bono dedicates the show to Paul McGuinness, “The maverick who saved us from ourselves,” and thanks the crew members as the band tear into an encore including a gorgeous new song The Little Things That Give You Away. Johnny Moonwalker summed last night up best on Twitter - “Imagine a place where everyone is on the same team. And it all kicks off. And we all win.”
Can’t wait to let it wash all over me again tonight.
Donal Scannell has worked with U2 on different projects for twenty years. His first ever U2 show was The Joshua Tree tour in Dublin's Croke Park in 1987 and he hasn't missed a tour since. @donalscannell