Photo by DAN LONG
First, a word to the haters – you know who you are – and then we’ll be done with them: F*ck y’all. Keep movin’, nothin’ to see here. Now, about that U2 concert last night. Full disclosure: I have seen every Philly U2 concert since The Unforgettable Fire, with the exception of the Pop Mart tour, which I am fine with, and no, I wasn’t cool enough (or old enough) to see them at the Bijou in 1980 when they were just four no-name dorks from Dublin. U2 remains a sorry/not sorry guilty pleasure. I am a sucker for the hallelujah choruses and Velvets-y chug of their Capraesque, proto-emo anthems. I am a sucker for Bono’s bleeding heart blarney, his constant appeal to our better angels. As such, I have left every U2 concert feeling like some measure of my humanity had been restored after being worn down by the blistering winds of the daily shit storm we call living. Last night was no exception.
The current tour celebrates the 30 anniversary The Joshua Tree, their admittedly overrated mega-selling 1986 breakout album, which they perform start to finish. (Everybody knows 1990’s Achtung, Baby is the band’s true masterpiece.) The 41 years that have passed since the band’s inception have not diminished the capacity of their music to enchant, elevate and enlarge the perspective of its global audience. Bono’s voice is no longer the earnest blare of yore, but it’s become a much more nuanced and convincing instrument in the fullness of time. A loveable fireplug of a man, Bono has aged into his drunk-uncle-at-the-wake phase, with his round-eyed spectacles and thick brushed-back pompadour, he looks, from a distance, like an elder Guy Ritchie gangster or Gary Oldman in The Dark Knight. Edge’s guitar playing is still a six-string clarion call of incandescent chime and spiraling jangle. And he can still rock a wool knit ski cap in subtropical heat without breaking a sweat. Adam Clayton remains the rock of the band’s Gibraltar. To hear the whirling thrum of his bass on “New Year’s Day” last night was to know why Adam Clayton is the bass player of U2. Larry Mullen Jr. remains an impeccable, precision beatmaker, and still movie star handsome after all these years. Together, they still rattle and hum with grace and power, they remain a perfect engine of late 20th Century post-punk rock n’ roll.
Yes, they preach, but they preach common decency. Humbly. No shame in that. “We see the same scourges here that we saw in Dublin in the 80s: heroin, stupidity, stupors, nationalism, whatever the analgesics that keep us from ourselves we will let go tonight in Philadelphia,” said Bono, before they launched into the ephemeral whoop and sigh of “Bad.” But it’s anyone’s guess how connected U2’s audience is to the band’s politics these days. U2 has always preached the liberation theology of three chords and the truth and Bono is still invoking the poetry of the streets, but at these prices — a single ticket to see them at FedExField on Tuesday tops out at an astonishing $2,697.48! — their audience isn’t from the streets, they are the bourgeoisie from the suburbs.
All that jazz about the nobility of native Americans and desperate migrants and tragic refugees from the mad slaughter of war running into the arms of America and the quality of mercy being strained by the theater of cruelty that is America in the age of Trump? I wonder how that plays these days. U2 are Christians, after all. SJWs and proud. And righteous. And sure most of the their stateside audience identifies as Christian, just, you know, not that Christian. Not any more. Maybe they never were. But when you strip away all the pomp and circumstance, the kingdom and the glory, you will find that unconditional love is the immaculate heart of their music. Maybe you’re too cool or red-pilled for that, but I’m not. It’s what brings me back year after year. It is a sad and beautiful world, to ignore that incontrovertible fact is folly. As a wise man once said: “I don’t think there’s any point in being Irish if you don’t know that the world is going to break your heart eventually.” — JONATHAN VALANIA