“We should’ve been coming here every year.”
This is what U2 frontman Bono said toward the end of their much-awaited Joshua Tree concert last night at the Philippine Arena. He and bandmates David Howell Evans (more popularly known as the Edge), Adam Clayton, and Larry Mullen Jr. basked in the collective adoration of the Philippine crowd who had been waiting for the band to arrive in these shores for the last four decades.
To underscore just how highly-anticipated the event was, heavy traffic greeted motorists on all roads that led to the Ciudad de Victoria venue, the world’s biggest indoor arena. Both entry points along the North Luzon Expressway already had long queues hours before the event was expected to begin. That we are neck-deep into the holiday season and the closing ceremonies of Southeast Asian Games were being held at the same time at New Clark City—just an hour and half away from the Philippine Arena—added to the traffic gridlock.
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After 8 PM, the announced show time, many took to abandoning their respective cars and buses to go to the Arena on foot. Society figure Tessa Prieto Valdes was trudging along in a glittery silver dress with scores of other concert goers, just as a recording of the band’s “Where the Streets Have No Name” blared from countless speakers.
Inside the 55,000-seater stadium, audiences were greeted with a stage that jutted out into a Joshua tree-shaped island, bringing the band closer to the crowd at the mosh pit. This was backdropped by a 200 x 45 ft 8k high-resolution LED screen—later used to flash Filipino poet Bino Realuyo’s “Filipineza” during the performances—that has been the key feature of the stage design in this rebooted world tour based on the band’s 1987 fifth studio album of the same name.
A better world
Around 8:45 PM, the band finally came out on stage and launched into “Sunday Bloody Sunday” which, curiously, isn’t from The Joshua Tree but from the band’s 1983 album War. This brought everyone to their feet, hands swaying, clutching brightly lit phones over their heads.
U2 is credited as composers of all of the music in The Joshua Tree, with Bono (born Paul David Hewson) as sole lyricist. The album showed the Irish rock group’s fascination with the United States, particularly its topography, and this concert continued along the same vein. Dramatic shots of American deserts, highways, and ranges in either black and white, or crisp, vivid color accompanied almost all the songs. During “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For,” for example, dramatic shots of trees and rocks flashed on the screen while the song “One Tree Hill” was highlighted by a mesmerizing, ever-changing desert moon.
The band has built a reputation for their strong humanitarian convictions and, while Bono made it clear that he’s here in the Philippines “to make a difference, and not headlines,” there was political commentary touching on both local and global topics. At several points during the night, the singer wished for the safety of journalists, for them not to have to worry about their safety for just doing their job.
During “Bullet the Blue Sky”—a song that touches on US military intervention in Nicaragua, which Bono saw firsthand—people of different ethnicities were shown wearing soldier’s helmets. A little later on, the screen lit up in the colors of the Irish flag and the frontman made a comment on climate change before launching into “In God’s Country.”
Apart from a pointed rib at US President Donald Trump and his “build the wall” obsession, perhaps the biggest humanitarian statement of the night was made during the encore. After playing “Elevation,” “Vertigo,” and “Beautiful Day,” among others, the band segued into “Ultraviolet,” honoring powerful women who have moved or are moving the world forward. Bono made a plea for everyone to unite, and as the song played, photographs of these prominent names were shown on the screen: Greta Thunberg, Melinda Gates, and Sojourner Truth, along with Filipinas Melchora Aquino, Lea Salonga, Maria Ressa, Grrrl Gang Manila, Maria Carpena, Lidy Nacpil Alejandro, Marinel Ubaldo, reps from the #BabaeAko movement and -- wait for it -- Pia Cayetano.
The show must go on
Showing impeccably choreographed and well-timed flourishes, the two-and-a-half-hour show was a display of masterful direction. Even after all these years and in this, their 2,050th performance, the band exhibited impressive dexterity and stamina in the seamless transitions between songs, with nary a significant break in between.
Here is their complete repertoire:Sunday Bloody Sunday I Will Follow New Year's Day Bad Pride (In the Name of Love)
Where the Streets Have No Name I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For With or Without You Bullet the Blue Sky Running to Stand Still Red Hill Mining Town In God's Country Trip Through Your Wires One Tree Hill Exit Mothers of the Disappeared Desire
Elevation Vertigo Even Better Than the Real Thing Beautiful Day Ultraviolet (Light My Way) Love Is Bigger Than Anything in Its Way One
After thanking everyone who trooped to Bulacan and expressing their admiration for the stadium, the band launched into “One.” The song, from their 1991 album Achtung Baby, was inspired by the German reunification and in the resolution of a spat the members had over the direction of their music. The chorus talks about the ties that bind us all together, and the responsibility that comes with those bonds:One love One blood One life You got to do what you should One life With each other Sisters and my brothers One life But we're not the same We get to carry each other Carry each other
And so this was the song on the minds of attendees as they left the arena, U2’s final statement in what could possibly be their last tour of this magnitude. As the concertgoers exited into separate bottlenecks at Marilao and Santa Maria, an exodus that lasted well past 1 A.M., the words that took Pinoys four decades to sing with the guys who made it rang in everyone’s ears: “We get to carry each other, carry each other.”