It’s been about 20 years since U2 played a proper show in New Orleans. The band played the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on Sept. 25, 2006, as part of the Saints return to the Superdome after Hurricane Katrina and they played during the halftime show for Super Bowl XXXVI in 2002 — the first Super Bowl after the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.
While there wasn’t the same level of gravitas as their two previous New Orleans performances, U2 returned to the Mercedes-Benz Superdome Thursday night to celebrate 30 years of their seminal album “The Joshua Tree.” It was dedicated to peace, love, unity, women and Rep. Steve Scalise. It was also an opportunity to hear one of the world’s biggest rock bands do what they do best — play their unique brand of post-punk pop.
Beck opened the show with an hour-long set that included “Devil’s Haircut,” “Loser,” “E-Pro” and “Black Tambourine.” I was concerned Beck would get lost in the vastness of the Dome, but his multi-member backing band created a sound that was larger than life.
Somewhere around 9:20, the lights went down as The Waterboys’ “The Whole of The Moon” faded and drummer Larry Mullen Jr. walked from the stadium-length stage down a ramp to a small tree-shaped stage in the center of the Dome. He started U2’s opening number of “Sunday Bloody Sunday” as the rest of the band made their way to the smaller stage one at a time. They followed “Sunday” with well-played versions of “New Year’s Day,” “Bad” and “Pride (In the Name of Love)” before reuniting on the larger stage to perform “The Joshua Tree” in it’s entirety.”
And they did the album song for song, from the album opener “Where the Streets Have No Name” to “Mothers of The Disappeared.” The band used film snippets on a large screen behind them that included films from Anton Corbijn, who shot the iconic album cover for “The Joshua Tree.”
I was 16 when “The Joshua Tree” came out and the album, with all of its Reagan-era tension, still holds up some 30 years later. At the time, it was a much needed relief from the hair metal that was popular. Now, I see “The Joshua Tree” as tale of some young Irish lads coming to America where they experienced heartbreak and disillusionment, but they still love the US.
Bono made this clear several times throughout the night — U2 loves America and New Orleans. And New Orleans loves him back.
After a stark, beautiful rendition of “Red Hill Mining Town” that featured The Edge on piano, Bono took pause to send love and well-wishes to Louisiana Rep. Steve Scalise (R), who was shot in June at baseball practice in Washington DC, before launching into “One Tree Hill.”
After the set concluded with the haunting “Mothers of The Disappeared,” U2 came back for an encore that Bono called ‘the future.” The set opened with “Beautiful Day” and rocked-out versions of “Elevation” and “Vertigo,” which ended with a version of Skids “The Saints Are Coming,” complete with the Dome being bathed in black and gold and the signature Saints helmet fleur de lis” on the jumbo screen. This was the song they played with Green Day at the Dome in 2006.
The band took the opportunity to praise women during “Ultraviolet (Light My Way).” The screen was filled with images of women such as Michelle Obama and New Orleanians Ellen DeGeneres and Leah Chase as the words “herstory” and “womankind” scrolled across the screen.
U2 closed the show with the iconic “One” and a new song, “You’re The Best Thing About Me.” And then it happened. The band, back on the small stage, played “I Will Follow” and the crowd responded in a big way.
It was during the show-closing punk rock love song that is “I Will Follow” that I remembered why I love U2 — strip away all of the ambition and pretension and you still have a four-piece rock band from Dublin that has a punk rock heart.