First Tree Reflections 2017: Primary U2 is Music and Poetry for Peace and Justice

May 18, 2017 · Print This Article

Back in January, the Edge showed up at the Los Angeles version of the global women’s march during #45’s first weekend as president to play a jagged version of “Pride” with cinema star Juliette Lewis on vocals. As it turns out, that was not a one-off nod to the current wave of feminist fury against the gendered injustices of the current predicament. Indeed, the Joshua Tree’s 2017 revival reminds everyone in attendance about the vulnerability of women’s rights and the vision for universal equality.

Bono and the band reframe several songs as statements about sex and gender in the context of poverty and power. The encore of post-Joshua Tree songs come packaged in a searing cinematic tableau of agit-prop feminist and Womanist organizing. The re-invention of “Ultra-Violet” is ultravisionary for the audience member who can suspend the dark doubt of denial.

Somehow, U2 once again risks but transcends the white-liberal guilt-trip with a global testimony and altar call to activism. The videography blasts the buzzed and tired masses with a prophetic message packaged in sensationalized documentary footage. These are crimes against humanity, the disasters we privileged and paying customers might not want to stomach after already surviving so much cacophonic bombast and Bono preaching, unless we give in with our tears and a commitment to real social change.  Making “Miss Sarajevo” about Syria, the band brings Omaima Hoshan, a teen activist in the tradition of Malala Yousafzai, to speak for the hopes of young people in a war-ravaged region.

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If you resent and recoil when Bono asks you to organize not agonize — as one fan tweeted, that the singer was talking “at” him and not “to” him — you may go ahead and beat the traffic at this point. When the cut-out mask gimmick with Aung San Suu Kyi didn’t really take on the first leg of 360 in 2009, this next stunt is a U2 crowd- engager in a history of such audacious and seemingly silly risks. A giant cloth photograph of Omaima is passed through the crowd; it’s kind of like “the wave” meets summer-camp ice-breaker, and that is when I started to stupid cry. We humans are better than our borders, biases, and bigotry, and we thank Bono and band for reminding us.

But last night was the Bay Area. And I cannot help but wonder how these bits will play when U2 reaches — where I will be for the rest of my shows this tour — the American South? Will the band keep this bit for the terror-mongers of Texas, the stoners at Bonnaroo, or the Bible thumpers in Kentucky? I remember the 2001 Lexington show when a fan cheered for Charlton Heston and against U2 during the gun-control version of “Bullet The Blue Sky.” Omaima might really inspire the crowds in Texas and Tennessee, in Kentucky and Florida, in ways the band might not anticipate, but that does not mean they should change the show. I don’t think they will. Just be ready for the masses to challenge this boldness.

Added to this are dynamic themes about diversity and the dogged ghosts of racism and genocide that haunt our content. From the U2 curated anthology of American poems that scroll on the screens on an empty stage while fans wait for the show to start to the sepia tones of Anton Corbijn films and photos, the shows runs on a rugged hope and passionate honesty; the band’s status gives them courage to challenge us, after all these years.

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Before performing the Tree-in-sequence for the massive and meaningful middle section, the fans get going with a suite of War and Unforgettable Fire songs that send us singing and jumping and arm-waving. A reimagined “Sort of Homecoming” is the hard-core fan’s favorite addition to this tour, and it brings many of us back to our teenage years, first discovering this band on MTV and on vinyl records in our basement family rooms and poster-decorated bedrooms.

After a song by the Pogues, the band walked out, one at at time. Larry sits alone for the drum cadence of “Sunday Bloody Sunday” and catapults us into the song Bono once said he hoped to stop singing. The world requires us to keep singing it. Same for “New Years Day,” “Pride,” and “Bad.”

We need to hold onto these songs of hopeful defiance. But other things we need to surrender. We fans need to surrender any second-guessing about the motives for this tour, for this is pure U2 in its primary colors. We need to throw ourselves into the enduring meaning of this tour and let go the rest. We need to let it all go, not just addiction and loneliness but also cynicism and hopelessness, resentment and the need for revenge.

I am so grateful to have four more shows yet to see, and I hope to write much more, as these morning-after musings just scratch the surface of everything we experienced with thousands of our friends on the third night of this inspiring annivesary tour and this present-day testimony to the power of music and poetry as means for peace and justice. -Andrew William Smith   @teacheronradio

Photos from opening night in Vanouver courtesy of Remy at www.U2Start.com 

 

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