I almost completely forgot about this show! I didn’t put it on my calendar, and wasn’t sure how hopeful I was on being approved for press. Also, I’m not their number one fan. However, I wholeheartedly appreciate their music and what they’ve done not just in the music scene but for the good of the world. So, imagine my surprise when I am notified of approval at 2pm day of show … while I’m hard at work at my day job.
I was supposed to be just reviewing the show, as someone else had already claimed the photographer spot. So, you can further picture my surprise when I am subsequently notified that our appointed photographer couldn’t make it and I can fill his spot! What?! This would be my first U2 show and my first stadium concert with a mega production.
After sticking it out at work for two more hours, I hastily head home and take care of a few things as I prepare yet another journey to from Orlando to Tampa. Upon packing up my gear, I can’t seem to locate my telephoto lens which I haven’t used in a while. I look and look, but I still haven’t found what I’m looking for. (Yes, I sang that as I searched my house up and down before remembering it had been borrowed by a friend.) No time for out of the way visits, I gotta go!
The weather is overcast and the rain has been on and off all day. I eventually arrive in Tampa and pick up a best friend, Mike, who lives five minutes from the stadium. We’re running a bit late and pushing it close, but we park on a side street a few blocks down and start walking. Somehow the rain and bland gray that had been lingering in the Tampa skies (and probably during opener One Republic‘s set) vanishes and the sun is showing its shining, setting face, bringing a big rainbow with it. U2…, welcome to Raymond James Stadium!
This is where I have to separate from my friend Mike and meet up at the press area. I won’t see Mike again until almost the encore. I’m escorted through the tunnel with the fellow photographers and out to the middle of the floor. I spend the first four songs standing here next to the audio-visual tent waiting for songs 5, 6 and 7.
The first four songs showcased the Irish rockers on a small stage to warm things up with “Sunday Bloody Sunday,” “New Year’s Day,” “Bad” (with “America” snippet), and “Pride” (In the Name of Love). No light show here, yet …
Fans old and new stood and cheered, or sat and smiled, sang along loudly, or just enjoyed the atmosphere. Some with ponchos, others with a beer in each hand spilling them on their neighbors. During one of those first four songs (ah I can’t remember!), Bono commands the lights be turned off and within seconds there are thousands of lighters and cell phones lights illuminating the stadium. This would happen a few times throughout the show.
Toward the end of “Pride” I make my way to an elevated platform in front of the audio-visual tent along with ten or so other press photographers. We squeeze together and get in our places, being ever so careful not to slip on the wet surface. I can’t believe it, I have the best seat in the house, at least for the next three songs.
This middle segment of the show featured the band playing their momentous fifth studio album, 1987’s The Joshua Tree, in its entirety. Thirty years this tree has grown and its become more powerful than ever. As the band make their way from the small stage up to the big main stage, the wall behind them starts to light up. A 200-foot wide behemoth HD LED video screen that stretches the full length of the stage and almost the entire width of the field is ready to show us what it can do. It’s the largest screen ever used in a touring show. The Joshua Tree comes to life as the red backdrop provides a silhouette of Bono, Edge, Clayton, and Mullen as they engage this album from start to end.
The screen helps the band tell the story and provides a visual interpretation of their fascination with mythical America. From “Where the Streets Have No Name” to “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” and “With or Without You,” every song have their own passionate video or mind-bending visuals. Many feature landscapes and portraits by album artwork artist, Anton Corbijn. From a two-lane road in the barren desert to black & white foliage, to an orange-red mountain range, we were on a 3D virtual topography tour with the greatest soundtrack.
Bono humbly addresses the crowd to give thanks for all of the support over the many years and for the monumental success. Tonight, U2 is playing these classic songs, our songs, just for us … even the B-sides.
After “With or Without You” I make way across the floor toward the side of the stage as us photographers must be escorted out of the venue after our allowed time. As I pass the stage, I see a sign language interpreter doing the sickest air guitar during the solo of “Bullet the Blue Sky.” I look at him and air guitar back with a laughing smile as I disappear through the tunnel.
The next 25 minutes or so finds me walking back to my car on that side street we parked on, only now it seems sooooo much farther away. I finally get back to the stadium, but unknowingly take the long way to my section. I stop to get a beer at a vendor and naturally get behind the one guy who only has one card for a payment method and it’s not working. I impatiently waste five minutes trying not to roll my eyes as I grip my cash firmly.
I finally meet back up with Mike at our seats for the last few songs of the album. I thought the middle of the floor was the best seat in the house, but man, this on wasn’t that bed either: lower bowl, Section 112, Row J, around the 30-yard line close to the stage. “One Tree Hill” was dedicated to Orlando and the Pulse nightclub victims. The emotional heavy-synth “Mothers of the Disappeared” finishes the album play-through and sends the band to the encore break.
A few songs later bring more dedications: “Miss Sarajevo” dedicated to the Syrian refugee crisis as a flag of a Syrian girl passed around the stadium; “Ultra Violet” (Light My Way) dedicated to women throughout history, featuring hued photos the likes of Melinda Gates and Oprah Winfrey; and “One” dedicated to unity.
Next are three of their bigger hits from the 2000s. “Beautiful Day” is accompanied by the most colorful of the visuals and sends me floating in a tie-dye rainbow ocean below a dreamy prismed sky. Appropriately enough, Bono slips a few lines of “Singing In The Rain” made it into the song. The show closed with two of the most energetic songs with the bellowing ooohhh’s of “Elevation” and the whirlwind that is “Vertigo,” the latter of which has the video screen hurling black and red flexing geometrics at my face.
Dear Bono, Edge, Clayton, and Mullen … thank you for making my first U2 show and my first stadium concert unforgettable. The bar has definitely been set. I’m a thousand times the U2 fan than I used to be. Uno, dos, tres, catorce! 😎
(I wonder if Bono ever found what he’s been looking for this whole time.)
U2 Live Review 2017 & Photos by Richie.
Check out the setlist below, as well as my highlight video and all of my pictures!
Watch The Sober Goat‘s highlight video!
U2 LIVE PHOTOS
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