U2 performing The Joshua Tree in Seattle was Ireland's greatest band at their very best
"Trump’s not invited, not that he’s clamouring to get in."
Deep in the bowels of America's noisiest sports stadium, the CenturyLink Field, home of the Seattle Seahawks, one Paul Hewson, AKA Bono, is holding court with a group of Irish journalists all hanging on his every word. He's there to talk about the Joshua Tree tour and of course to set the world to rights.
Thirty years ago, U2 released arguably their finest piece of work, The Joshua Tree. It provided the soundtrack to my teenage years and is an album that brings back so many great memories for me. Lying on the grass hills of Finglas, eyeing up potential girlfriends with ‘Exit’ blasting out of the obligatory ‘ghetto-blaster’. It was the late eighties, deal with it.
I’ve been a massive fan of the band and have been to a few of their concerts so when they announced the Croke Park gig, I was admittedly blasé and not too pushed about getting tickets, safe in the expectancy that they would announce a few gigs at the famous venue.
As luck would have it, they didn’t announce any more Dublin dates and I was left stranded, ticketless and feeling a but stupid. "Yeah, sorry about that," said The Edge with a laugh when I mentioned this to him. I made The Edge laugh!
He’s a very cool, charming, articulate individual. He spoke about the tour, the upcoming album, Songs of Experience, and also spoke about the lack of response from the music community to the Trump-dominated landscape the world finds itself in. Apart from hip-hop he felt there was a lack of reaction in music, but was confident it would come.
He concluded the interview with us and thanked us all for being there. I suppressed the need to say, "No bother me oul’ flower Edge, the pleasure is all ours!" It was. It was certainly mine anyway.
When the lads in JOE asked me if I’d like to go to Seattle to see them kick off the American leg of the tour, I thought it was a windup.
Quickly it became apparent that they were not joking and all of a sudden, without too much time to think about it, I was off to the West Coast to see my beloved U2 in Seattle at the Seahawks' stadium. The stuff of dreams.
We got to the stadium about two hours before the gates opened and already, there were thousands queuing outside. The sun was out and Seattle was looking resplendent in the sunshine. The atmosphere was building and all of a sudden a loud roar was heard as U2 kicked off their sound check inside the stadium.
Along with some other Irish media folk, we were invited inside to see U2 do their sound check. I won’t lie, I nearly passed out with the excitement.
I watched in awe as the four lads from Dublin chatted, played and took the piss out of each other. They even acknowledged our presence by saying, "Hello to the Irish press". I won’t lie, I was in ultimate fanboy mode and felt almost paralysed with elation.
The sound check gave us a glimpse of what was to come, including a new song which instantly resonated with me and had ‘U2 classic’ written all over it.
We were then ushered into an area in the underbelly of the stadium, a large room full of round tables. This was where the U2 roadies had their meals. Complete with Joshua Tree ice sculptor and a large catering operation, we sat down expecting to be fed.
I was still reeling from the shock and awe of being in The Edge’s company for around 15 minutes when I spotted Bono and Adam walking toward our table.
They sat down and started to field questions too. Bono did most of the talking, but he was brilliantly entertaining. Self-deprecating, insightful and still as passionate about their music as he has ever been.
Aware that many people who voted Trump into the White House would be at their gigs on the tour, he said "These people are of course welcome to the shows, but him, Mr Trump, he’s not welcome, not that he’s exactly clamouring to get in."
The interview came to an end and immediately he was surrounded by Irish journos looking for selfies. I thought it’d be rude not to, so I waited for the initial scramble to die down and then seized the moment. "Hey Bono, Eric Lalor here from JOE, a fellow Finglas man," I blurted to which he replied, "I know who you are Eric."
Now, he may or may not have known who I was, but it was nice to hear and led me to think he’s a man who dabbles in Fair City every now and then, another one who views it as a guilty pleasure.
The stadium itself, CenturyLink Field, the home of the Seattle Seahawks is a hugely impressive stadium. They were expecting a crowd of around 65,000 for the gig and with Mumford & Sons providing support, the scene was set for a very special night.
We took our seats and I felt like a kid at Christmas Eve, fidgeting with adrenaline and barely able to contain my excitement. As dusk set in Seattle, a huge roar went around the stadium as the four lads from Dublin took to the stage to do their opening track, Sunday Bloody Sunday.
They did a few songs before launching into the Joshua Tree from start to finish, and in order. They used the massive screen to amazing effect. They had recruited the services of long-time collaborator Anton Corbijn for some powerful imagery on the largest LED screen ever used in a touring music gig.
They’ve never played the amazing Red Hill Mining Town live so it was of great interest to me when they kicked it off. A flawless performance for a majestic song and it transported me back to Finglas in the late eighties lying on a field with a really dodgy haircut and even dodgier shoulder pads.
Bullet The Blue Sky was particularly resonant in these times and, combined with the images on the screen behind, it was a powerhouse performance of one of their most iconic songs.
Special nod to Exit too which was preceded by an old black and white western video and a cheeky dig at Trump, superb stuff.
Before the final number, Bono thanked the crowd "…for giving us this ridiculous life", and then launched into a blistering version of their old classic I Will Follow. The crowd all sang in unison and fist-pumped the sky with considerable gusto.
The gig finished and as the thousands swarmed from the stadium I sat back to attempt to compute what I had just witnessed. This was U2 at their very best. A bone-shuddering tour de force from start to finish and a very fitting tribute to one of the greatest albums ever released.
Trump may not be clamouring to get in, but if he knew what he was missing he’d be first in the queue.