U2 Live is even better than the real thing!

As a precursor to Irish rock band U2’s 15th and last gig of their ‘The Joshua Tree Tour 2019’ in Mumbai on December 15, I travelled to Singapore to see them live on December 1.

The date and venue for U2’s visit to Singapore were not finalised until June 14 but, once announced, expectedly tickets for the November 30 show of the band’s ‘The Joshua Tree Tour 2019’ sold out and, hence, I managed to obtain tickets for the second concert scheduled on the following day, their 10th gig of the tour, courtesy my host, Glenn Mascarenhas.

With that as a background, I reached Singapore a day earlier to acclimatise myself to the city and to my own debut of seeing U2 performing live. Queues existed not for entry, but for the merchandise though and, although I avoided the one that was located just outside the entry into the main stadium, I did utilise the one located inside it and bought myself – and for a Mumbai-based friend – an ‘U2 The Joshua Tree Tour 2019’ tee which listed the venues and tour dates at the back.

It was a bit of trepidation as my turn for the purchase arrived about 8.10pm for an event scheduled to commence at 8.00pm. Quite unlike the punctuality usually shown at Singapore-based events that I have attended in the past [Eric Clapton, Bob Dylan et al], the music of Irish-British band The Waterboys’ “The Whole Of The Moon” wafted on the PA system at 8.15pm with U2 – consisting of Bono [real name: Paul Hewson; lead vocals], the Edge [real name: David Evans; lead guitar, keyboards, and backing vocals], Adam Clayton [bass guitar], and Larry Mullen Jr. [drums and percussion] arrived on a smaller stage [“Stage B”], located in the midst of the standing audience, at 8.21pm. The concert started with the rocking “Sunday Bloody Sunday”, backed by a militaristic drumbeat with its lyrics describing the horror of the 1972 incident in Londonderry, Northern Ireland’s second largest city, where British troops apparently shot unarmed civil rights protesters. “I Will Follow”, from their debut album, arrived next before moving into “New Year’s Day” from ‘War’, following which Bono announced that due to “rock ‘n’ roll transcendence, [it] took us only four decades to get here…” As the band moved onto “Bad” – from ‘The Unforgettable Fire’ – U2 segued it with David Bowie’s “Heroes” to a dramatic effect as, on Bono’s request, the audience – both seated and standing – utilised the torch on their phones and pointed it in the direction of the band.

“Pride [In The Name Of Love]”, the first U2 song that I ever heard, in 1984, was next as it was soon time for the band to move onto the main stage to focus on the album that they were commemorating. Until then, there was no video shown, as it was obvious that U2 wanted their fans to witness something spectacular when they introduced songs from 1987’s ‘The Joshua Tree’, and it was…

While walking onto the main stage, U2 appeared against a backdrop of visuals on the video screen with the songs accompanied by short films. The stage featured a 7.6K resolution video screen measuring 200 feet × 45 feet, reportedly making it the largest and highest resolution video screen of any concert tour. A silhouette of the Joshua tree from the album sleeve was painted on the screen, while a Joshua tree-shaped Stage B represented the plant’s shadow. Photographer Anton Corbijn, who photographed the album sleeve, provided the films that accompanied performances of the album’s songs.

The album’s opening song, “Where The Streets Have No Name” was accompanied by a slow tracking shot of a desert highway featuring migrants walking whereas, for “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For”, a forest was depicted, as the audience sang along with the band. During the anthemic “With Or Without You”, images of Zabriskie Point in California’s Death Valley were displayed.

For “Bullet The Blue Sky”, the visuals showed men and women of various ages and ethnicities placing army helmets on their heads while standing in front of a shed painted with the American flag as The Edge played slide guitar that sounded amazing. During the song’s performance, Bono shone a handheld spotlight on The Edge, evoking the cover image of the band’s 1988 album, ‘Rattle And Hum’. Followed by the incredible “Running To Stand Still”, a folk sounding song on which Bono played harmonica which, for me, is certainly the album’s outstanding track. As U2 moved onto Side B of ‘The Joshua Tree’ with “Red Hill Mining Town”, the Salvation Army brass band was depicted on screen with their pre-recorded brass section accompanying the band’s performance. After “In God’s Country”, Bono went around his fellow members and inquired about what they miss about being away from home, resulting in revealing responses. Another outstanding song from the album, and another favourite of mine, was the blues influenced “Trip Through Your Wires”, with Bono playing the harmonica again, which was accompanied by visuals of The Edge’s wife dressed as a cowgirl while an American flag is being painted onto a wooden shack.

Prior to “Exit”, a clip from ‘50s Western TV series ‘Trackdown’ was shown and so, during the performance of the song, Bono wore a black suit and preacher hat and adopted the persona of a character known as “Shadow Man” as the song’s music almost bordered on metal mayhem. Ending ‘The Joshua Tree’ with the intense “Mothers Of The Disappeared”, a song about women whose children had disappeared in countries ruled by dictatorship, it was supported by fitting visuals of children holdings candles, blowing them one by one by the time the song concluded. In retrospect, it seems ironic that U2 became superstars on the back of such a dark album but, paradoxically, their focus had never seen more light, resulting in the remarkable ‘The Joshua Tree’, the band’s best-selling album to date.

After one and a half hours of ‘The Joshua Tree’ and, following a four-minute break, U2 returned for an encore, running through “Desire”, “Elevation”, and “Vertigo”, following which Bono introduced the members of the band, as if it was required at all. After “Even Better Than The Real Thing”, it was the acoustic guitar of The Edge on “Every Breaking Way” [from ‘Songs Of Innocence’], and his harmonising with Bono, that showcased The Edge’s vocal talents too. “Beautiful Day” was next, followed by “Ultraviolet [Light My Way]”, wherein the video screen displayed “Women Of The World Unite” with images of women achievers.

With “Love Is Bigger Than Anything In Its Way” as the second last song, Bono said, “Thank you for two unforgettable nights”, moving to the appropriate end by performing “One”, preceded by Bono discussing the fight against HIV/AIDS.

After almost two hours, 20 minutes, the band bade farewell as they strode off the stage with memories for the 40,000 strong audience who would cherish that unforgettable night for posterity. With U2 reaching the shores of India for its Mumbai gig on December 12, November 22 saw the band releasing a new song, “Ahimsa”, with A.R. Rahman, which is due to be showcased live during their December 15 gig.

It’s now time for you to be part of the #U2 movement too!

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