In 1987, it was the album that confirmed U2’s arrival as an undeniable global force in rock music and inspired Time magazine to call them “Rock’s Hottest Ticket”. In 2017, some 25 million sales later, The Joshua Tree has become the enduringly relevant record that links the band’s stellar past with their exciting future.
In other hands, the album’s 30th anniversary deluxe reissue, with multiple formats, remixes and myriad other delicacies, might have seemed first and foremost a marketing exercise. But to witness U2’s remarkable Joshua Tree Tour 2017 – which plays 49 stadium dates between May and October in North America, Europe and Latin America – is to understand how the album has been built afresh from its already exalted place in their history. In the process, it not only delivers new validation to the U2 story, it proves their instincts were correct.
Those were the instincts that told the band to shine a new stage spotlight on the album in such an expansive new live setting. Just two years after the world threw its arms around their equally spectacular iNNOCENCE + eXPERIENCE tour, inspired by the Songs Of Innocence album of 2014, work was continuing on the Songs Of Experience album that would – and will – complement the earlier release. No one was expecting to see U2 on another major, continent-straddling tour any time soon.
But in the summer of 2016, with the impending 30th anniversary of The Joshua Tree coming into focus, the band thought again about the album inspired by the America they would later describe as a broken promised land. The record had even had the working title The Two Americas. Modern-day events would soon demand that initial plans to commemorate its birthday with just two major shows should be dramatically upgraded.
Against the backdrop of the (dis)United States of the bitterly rancorous 2016 presidential election, the opportunity to examine the album’s themes in a 21st-century context were too pertinent to resist. U2’s longtime creative confidant, photographer and filmmaker Anton Corbijn, set about gathering new images to enhance those of his undying 1987 album cover. The visually and musically breathtaking remounting opened on 12 May, in front of 45,000 eager admirers in Vancouver.
As the lavish deluxe reissue formats of the album emerged on 2 June, the opening box office returns provided further confirmation of what was palpable at the concerts themselves: that audiences fully understood and admired what was no mere exercise in nostalgia, but an apposite recasting of a landmark album, performed in full but bookended by countless other U2 classics.
In early June, Billboard reported that tour promoter Live Nation had logged grosses of $62 million from the first ten (all sold out) shows on the opening four weeks of the tour. The total of tickets sold was just shy of 520,000; two shows at Pasadena’s Rose Bowl, just 125 miles from the album’s spiritual epicentre in Joshua Tree, California, accounted for 123,000 of those fans.
Situated squarely in the middle of their setlist for these concerts, the original album races out of the traps like the miniature greatest hits disc it became, with a triple bill of anthems in ‘Where The Streets Have No Name’, ‘I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For’ and ‘With Or Without You’. But new fire is breathed into such subsequent cuts as ‘Bullet The Blue Sky’, ‘One Tree Hill’ and, perhaps most notably, ‘Red Hill Mining Town’. Performed in Steve Lillywhite’s new mix, it has the uplifting addition of an on-screen choir to give it further elegance.
On either side are career songs everywhere one looks, from ‘Sunday Bloody Sunday’ to ‘One’, well over two hours later. But perhaps the greatest testament to this inspired repurposing of The Joshua Tree is that the band confidently closed several early dates on the anniversary tour not with a hit, but with a striking song from the next album, ‘The Little Things That Give You Away’. It’s the greatest evidence that U2’s history informs the adventures they are still to have, and that, in 2017, The Joshua Tree has new roots.
Purchase the 30th-anniversary super deluxe reissue of The Joshua Tree here.