Arrowhead Stadium is one of the biggest and loudest of its kind, but Tuesday night U2 turned the gargantuan sports venue into a church, a place of spirituality.
Tuesday’s show was U2’s first in Kansas City since November 2001, and it showed many in the crowd of 40,000-plus hadn’t seen the band in the interim, or longer. Thus the rousing reception and feverish reactions from the beginning of the two-hour-plus show until its finish.
The tour celebrates the 30th anniversary of “The Joshua Tree,” U2’s most successful album, released in March 1987. They would perform the album in its entirety, in the order it was recorded, but not before treating the crowd to some older material.
U2 took the stage to the sounds of “The Whole of the Moon,” a song by another Irish band, the Waterboys. Then they lit into one of their best-known songs, “Sunday Bloody Sunday,” a fiery political anthem from their “War” album.
The first set was performed on a satellite stage in a dark and austere setting, reviving the band’s early days when it was just a fierce no-frills foursome playing clubs, theaters and auditoriums.
They followed that with “New Year’s Day,” in which guitarist the Edge delivered the song’s signature keyboard riff and then his own signature guitar sounds — peals of reverb and fuzz. During the next song, “Bad,” Bono tossed in a bar or two of lyrics from Simon and Garfunkel’s “America,” foreshadowing a theme he would return to a few times.
After “Pride (In the Name of Love),” their homage to Dr. Martin Luther King, they left the satellite stage and manned their posts on the main stage, a mammoth platform backed by an 8,000-square-foot video screen that lived up to its hype, delivering spectacular images that could be seen with clarity from the floor to the upper decks.
“The Joshua Tree” is the recording that turned them into an arena/stadium band and identified them as men with grand ideas, political and otherwise. Thirty years later, the songs hold up surprisingly well.
U2 has been a band that has refrained from bouts of nostalgia, insisting instead on reinventing itself or taking musical swerves instead of plumbing its past or repeating itself.
Yet they made most of “The Joshua Tree” material sound invigorated, if not fresh. The opening riff to “Where the Streets Have No Name,” the album’s opening track, aroused a raucous ovation and brought many in the big crowd to their feet and incited widespread singing-along. The momentum did not wane after that.
One by one, they marched through each song. Along the way, Bono preached about the kinds of themes his band has long been associated with: justice, liberty, community.
He kept his politics primarily general and universal, but everyone got the drift. Before “Trip Through Your Wires,” Bono thanked America for being a sanctuary for the Irish and then declared “The Irish were the original dreamers. … This country was built by dreamers.”
That video screen behind the band broadcast an array of images, some live images of the band, many in stark black-and-white; others complemented the songs they accompanied, including stunning landscapes and mountainscapes from the American Southwest. Thus, the show never slipped or veered into a lull, musically or visually.
There were other highlights during the “Joshua Tree” set. During “Running to Stand Still,” Bono heaved out some primitive riffs on a blues harp.
During “Red Hill Mining Town,” the screen delivered footage of a performance by a Salvation Army band. “Exit” showcased the band’s ability to ignite an inferno of guitar and percussion. At the end of “One Tree Hill,” a eulogy for a long-gone friend, Bono flashed an impressive falsetto.
The encore plumbed later albums and favorites, most of them built on arena-sized riffs, like “Elevation,” “Vertigo” and “Beautiful Day.” They also played a new one, “You’re the Best Thing About Me.”
The highlight of the encore: “Ultraviolet (Light My Own Way),” which they turned into a manifesto on women and feminism, honoring leaders and legends and artists and activists like Sojourner Truth, Rosa Parks, Rosetta Tharpe, and the Women’s Land Army. Some Kansas City-area women were there, too: Sonia Warshawski, a Holocaust survivor who runs a tailor shop in Overland Park; Lucile Bluford, former editor and publisher of the Kansas City Call; and Leavenworth’s Melissa Etheridge.
The band closed with “One,” a hymn about unity and compassion and charity and love. Bono delivered a short sermon before the song, once again celebrating the American spirit, despite recent events that have “summoned dark spirits,” like the Charlottesville march, and recalling the humanitarian response to hurricanes in Texas and Florida.
“There’s nothing we can’t do when we’re united,” he said, preaching to a congregation that was one and single-minded all night.
Beck: His 55-minute performance was one of the best opening sets I’ve seen in a long while. He and his stellar band, which included Jellyfish alum Roger Manning and Jason Falkner, delivered enthusiastic versions of favorites, like “Devil’s Haircut,” “Lost Cause,” “Loser” and “Where It’s At.”
Timothy Finn: 816-234-4781, @phinnagain
U2: Sunday Bloody Sunday; 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. Encore: Beautiful Day; Elevation; You’re the Best Thing About Me; Vertigo; Ultraviolet (Light My Way); One.
Beck: Devil’s Haircut; Go It Alone; Black Tambourine; Think I’m in Love; Que Onda Guero; Soul of a Man; Lost Cause; Loser; Wow; E-Pro; Where It’s At.