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Concert Reviews:
U2 celebratest Detroit, "Joshua Tree" at Ford Field
 

By Gary Graff
ggraff@digitalfirstmedia.com, @GraffonMusic on Twi

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DETROIT -- U2's Joshua Tree tour 2017 is meant to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the Irish group's most iconic album.

But as it began a new leg of the trek on Sunday night, Sept. 3, at Ford Field, the band and particularly frontman Bono was equally interested in celebrating the Motor City.

Playing its first metro area show since October of 2005 and its first in the Detroit city limits since March of 1985, U2 even enlisted an adopted daughter, fellow Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Patti Smith, to help spread the love. Smith, who lived in St. Clair Shores from 1980-96, joined U2 for "The Joshua Tree" closer "Mothers of the Disappeared," powerfully reciting verses that, among other things, noted she gave birth to two children during her time here.

As the band members hugged Smith after the performance, Bono noted that, "We don't have anyone to compare with Patti Smith. We wouldn't have written The Joshua Tree without her. What an honor it is to have her on the stage." He then honored Smith by incorporating a bit of her "People Have The Power" into the next song, "Beautiful Day."

Detroit's resurgence from its 2013 bankruptcy was also top of mind for Bono during the two-hour, 21-song concert. After visiting with fans outside the stadium prior to the show, Bono spoke of the "extraordinary feeling in this city" and pronounced it "a miracle" as well as "the city of invention, the city of reinvention, the city of history, fast becoming the city of the future." During "Pride (In The Name Of Love)," which featured excerpts from Dr. Martin Luther King's "I have a dream" speech on the massive video screen, Bono noted that it was "a dream started in Detroit, on a march for freedom." (King first delivered the speech on June 23, 1963 during the Great March on Detroit, two months before the more famous recitation during the March on Washington.)

Those heartfelt local touches only enhanced a sight-and-sound spectacular that more than lived up to U2's reputation as a potent concert force and as visual pioneers. Early on Bono promised "one of those epic nights that none of us will ever forget" and U2 delivered with a powerful recreation of "The Joshua Tree" album in its entirety as well as a well-chosen selection of other favorites from the group's lengthy catalog.

Following a sharp 45-minute opening set by Beck -- who paid a brief tribute to Steely Dan's Walter Becker, who died Sunday, and dedicated "Go It Alone" to co-writer and Detroit native Jack White -- U2's members started on a second stage, designed as silhouette of the large Joshua Tree that was part of 200-foot video wall behind the main stage. The group ran through four pre-"Joshua Tree" favorites, including "Sunday Bloody Sunday," "New Year's Day," a hypnotic "Bad," which incorporated a bit of Simon & Garfunkel's "America," and "Pride."

The video screen sprang to life for "The Joshua Tree" segment, with images and films by album photographer Anton Corbin accompanying the front-to-back recitation whose 11 songs sounded as fresh and relevant on Sunday as they did 30 years prior. The opening trio of hits -- "Where The Streets Have No Name," "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" and "With Or Without You" -- are, by this point, bulletproof, while the roaring "Bullet The Blue Sky" remained a showcase for The Edge's guitar heroics, with Bono, as he did during 1987, brandishing a hand-held spotlight.

But the real treat on Sunday was hearing less-played songs from the multi-platinum Grammy Award-winning, including the affecting anti-drug meditation "Running To Stand Still" and the never-before-performed "Red Hill Mining Town," both of which featured The Edge on piano, as well as Side 2 two gems such as "In God's Country" and the rootsy "Trip Through Your Wires." Introducing "One Tree Hill," inspired by the death of a band friend from Maori, Bono spoke of meeting a family outside Ford Field whose patriarch had recently passed away and dedicated the song to him.

The third portion of the show was dedicated to post-"Joshua Tree" material from 1991-2004 and more hits such as "Elevation" and "Vertigo." There were more spectacular videos, particularly a film-like, stop-action sequence during "Mysterious Ways," while U2 turned "Ultraviolet (Light My Way)" into a salute to "womankind," with photos of visionaries that included Detroiters such as Smith, Madonna, Aretha Franklin and the late Rosa Parks. The closing "One," meanwhile, was a salute to America -- "Not just a country but an idea, a great idea," as Bono put it -- and expressed support for Hurricane Harvey victims by showing both the Texas state flag and the Red Cross logo on the video screen, along with an appeal for text contributions to the aid organization.

Epic? Absolutely. Unforgettable? You bet. U2 hasn't been through these parts in quite some time, but it made up for its absence with a performance that will take its place in a lineage of other legendary shows the group has delivered over the years.

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