“Let’s make this a canon trip” my sister says as we discuss our upcoming trip to Cleveland.
“What’s a canon trip?” I ask, without thinking.
She responds with a MacPhisto like grin and says in an Irish lilt… “It’s a musical journey.”
For those of us who heard War (or The Joshua Tree, or Achtung Baby…) and instantly fell in love, the U2 pull is strong. I am a die-hard fan and have weathered many ups and a few downs over the last 35 years or so. The ups? Great albums, evolving sounds, awe inspiring tours, socio-political awareness and musical longevity through re-invention. The downs? The ribbing I get from Bono-detractors, perpetual album delays and a giant lemon. The spectacle of U2 can overshadow the art of U2, and that’s a shame, because I cannot think of another band that has spent 40 years as a tight, unchanging unit, striving to be relevant and always looking forward.
In January, U2 announced that they would mount a tour to mark the 30th anniversary of their first truly classic album, The Joshua Tree. They also promised that they would play the entire album during the show. As a fan, I was stunned, nervous and tickled, all at once. Stunned, because though U2 has always honoured its back-catalogue when playing live, every one of its major tours was in support of new music. This “look back” is a marked departure from their M.O. Nervous, because experience has taught me that getting good tickets for any U2 concert can be challenging. Tickled because I would finally hear Red Hill Mining Town live!
My first encounter with U2 playing live was at Montreal’s Olympic Stadium in October of 1987 on the original Joshua Tree Tour. At that time, getting your hands on tickets required great planning and skill. Man, have we come a long way since the days of staying out all night in line to get a wristband that would allow you to try to buy tickets. Times have changed and modern technology has made things better… and worse. Remarkably, armed with multiple credit cards, seating charts, 2 fan-club codes and a few not-so-silent prayers, my sister and I secured 8 tickets to 3 shows, including Toronto and the last North American stop in Cleveland. (This is the definition of sheer happiness for a U2 fanatic.)
Post purchase, to still my racing heart, I pulled out my vinyl copy of the album. I stretched out on my living room floor by the window, felt the sunlight on my face, and listened to The Joshua Tree from beginning to Mothers of the Disappeared. The intro to the record seems achingly long and requires patience, but the anticipation allowed me to collect my thoughts and focus. The next 50 minutes were blissful. The U2 fan-base will debate endlessly about which album is the greatest, which era, which tour. I have no doubt that The Joshua Tree is the U2 album that warrants retrospection – at least until Achtung Baby turns 30. This 30th anniversary offers fans a moment to pause and look back. A moment to see how much the world has changed, and how little. A moment of surrender.
I’m looking forward to reliving the Joshua Tree from my 2017 vantage point. I expect there to be more irony than anger; more poignancy than self-satisfaction. These are interesting times. If you are wondering, of course this will be a canon trip! We’ll be taking an iPod loaded with all 13 studio albums, and the trip (through those wires) will take us on a musical journey through space and time. Starting with Boy, we’ll listen to the heart-warming sound of four men getting older and wiser. Maybe looking back is not always a bad thing; it lets us appreciate how much road still lies ahead.