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U2 review: High-tech, turns of phrase keep ‘Joshua Tree’ tour fresh

U2's Larry Mullen Jr. and Bono perform during

U2's Larry Mullen Jr. and Bono perform during the band's Joshua Tree Tour 2017 concert on Wednesday, June 28, 2017, at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J. Credit: Getty Images / Mike Coppola

Irish rockers U2 preached about finding common ground to save America Wednesday night at the band’s MetLife Stadium show. However, U2 may also have found some artistic common ground for itself as a way to move forward.

Though the band is celebrating the 30th anniversary of “The Joshua Tree” by playing the landmark album in its entirety, it has never been an act that embraces nostalgia. But maybe they see a bit of its power on the current tour.

“Thanks for letting us into your lives again,” lead singer Bono said while opening the show. “Thanks for letting us into your country again.”

For its latest stadium tour, U2 confronted the question head on: How exactly do you improve upon a classic?

Yes, the fog of nostalgia helps. And U2 has also turned to technology — using a 200-foot video screen, the largest ever used on a tour, to show striking visuals from photographer/filmmaker Anton Corbijn, who worked on the original album and tour. (U2 returns to MetLife Stadium Thursday night.)

But they are even craftier than that, as Bono and guitarist The Edge make sly changes in phrasing to have these songs reflect the band today. Bono’s voice can still be as earnest and inspiring as it was in the ‘80s, but it also has more soul now, in the way he croons in “Ultraviolet (Light My Way)” and the new song “The Little Things That Give You Away.”

“We will find common ground reaching for higher ground,” Bono said during “Pride (In the Name of Love).” “Some people think the dream is dead, but not tonight in New Jersey.”

While U2’s first stadium tour 30 years ago was powered almost entirely on the passion of Bono, The Edge, bassist Adam Clayton and drummer Larry Mullen Jr., and their fans, this show is meticulous about planning.

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It’s actually a triumph of structure, from the brilliant planning of revving the crowd up with early hits before getting to “The Joshua Tree” section of the show to designing the second stage that extends into the audience, so that it’s shaped like the shadow of the tree in the screen. The lighting cues hit just as the crowd roars along with Bono during “With or Without You.” The video montage of powerful women -- from Sojourner Truth to Michelle Obama, Malala to Ellen DeGeneres -- that flashed behind the band during “Ultraviolet” was inspiring.

“It’s taken us 30 years to get to know these songs,” Bono said. “Sometimes they surprise you.”

With this tour, U2 shows that they realize the relationship they have built with their fans through their music, especially in mainstream blockbusters like the ones on “The Joshua Tree.” “These songs are more yours than ours now,” Bono said.

SETLIST: Sunday Bloody Sunday / New Year’s Day / Bad > America / Pride (In the Name of Love) / Where the Streets Have No Name / I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For / With or Without You / Bullet the Blue Sky / Running to Stand Still / Red Hill Mining Town / In God’s Country / Trip Through Your Wires / One Tree Hill / Exit / Mothers of the Disappeared // ENCORE: Miss Syria (Sarajevo) / Beautiful Day > Starman / Elevation / Vertigo > It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll > Rebel Rebel / Ultraviolet (Light My Way) / One / The Little Things That Give You Away


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