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Music Review

An uplifting return to ‘Joshua Tree’ — and much more — from U2

The conceptual necessity of tackling every “Joshua Tree” track meant a mix of longtime concert staples alongside songs that U2 has rarely played. Ben Stas for The Boston Globe

U2 was already U2 by the time “The Joshua Tree” was released in 1987. The songs were there, the sound was there, the political focus and emotional empathy of their mission was there. What changed was the scale, of both the band’s own vision and the audience’s embrace of it. Sunday’s sold-out concert at Gillette Stadium commemorated the album’s 30th anniversary by playing it in full, and it served as both a reminder of and reckoning with the power that fell into U2’s grasp at that moment in its history.

A handful of pre-“Joshua Tree” songs provided context for what was to come. With no fanfare, Larry Mullen Jr. casually sauntered down the catwalk extending into the audience and began pounding out the drum intro to “Sunday Bloody Sunday,” joined one at a time by his bandmates as their parts entered the song. The equally martial “New Year’s Day” followed, then the warm thrum of “Bad” and “Pride (In The Name Of Love).”


The direct segue into the organ heralding the start of “Where the Streets Have No Name” as the band moved to the main stage suggested an unbroken progression, but the scope felt undeniably different. Still, there was little of the messianic (or, later, satanic) posturing of old, save for Bono’s slick huckster persona during the tense “Exit.” The singer largely stood his ground with relaxed confidence, focusing his power in the massive stadium instead of dissipating it.

The conceptual necessity of tackling every “Joshua Tree” track meant a mix of longtime concert staples alongside songs that U2 has played rarely or, in the case of “Red Hill Mining Town” (which replaced the Edge’s ringing guitar with piano arpeggios and added Salvation Army horns via video), not at all. But there was such uniform uplift that there was no hint that U2 was tired of any of them three decades on. “One Tree Hill” might have been about grief walking in bright daylight, but something seemed to be let loose by the end, when the band was digging in and flying at once.


The encore couldn’t touch the depth or breadth of the band’s career since its breakthrough album, though open-your-eyes anthem “Beautiful Day,” the buzzy and celebratory “Elevation,” and “Vertigo” provided a rousing one-two-three punch amid more politically-inclined selections. U2 closed on the new “The Little Things That Give You Away,” with a tremulous, John Legend-ish vocal from Bono. When the Edge switched from piano to guitar, the song shifted from minor-key moody to major-key victorious; the drums kicked up and the bass drove forward, and it was unmistakably U2.

Stomp-and-holler openers the Lumineers pulled off the admirably difficult trick of filling a stadium with anthemic yearning with just a folk-band lineup


With The Lumineers

At Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, Sunday

Marc Hirsh can be reached at