U2 @ Rogers Centre

Celebrating the 30-year anniversary of their groundbreaking album The Joshua Tree, the world’s biggest band made their triumphant return to Toronto this past Friday to play for 50,000 adoring fans. Opening for the Irish crew were southern folk stars, The Lumineers.

The Colorado trio are no strangers to massive stages themselves. Having spent the better part of last year touring in support of their 2016 album Cleopatra, they’ve grown accustomed to playing for thousands at once. Taking advantage of the Rogers Centre’s massive size, they amped up their sound with thunderous drums that hammered home the emotive nature of their work. Thunderous was the applause they received as well, with the audience loving the selection of tunes the band picked from Cleopatra and their self-titled 2012 debut. “Ho Hey” inspired a sing-along of huge proportions, but it was “Stubborn Love” that really got people on their feet.

The new wave veterans were on next and proved once again why they’re the undisputed kings of arena rock. U2 have been around for an astounding 41 years and perform with the fervor of a band straight out of high school. Their energy was matched by the crowd in the Rogers Centre, the tension palpable as the arena’s massive roof was opened for the night.

Their set was centered around The Joshua Tree, the American-themed masterpiece that established U2 as socially conscious legends. Political statements aside, the album also continued the band’s streak of hits with no less than five huge singles, three of them being unimpeachable classics. “Where the Streets have No Name”, “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For”, and “With Or Without You” are some of the most timeless tracks the band’s ever put to tape, and hearing them played live back-to-back-to-back is an absolute joy.

Joshua Tree has always been praised for its cinematic quality; the vast soundscapes embody the notion of “widescreen music”. So of course, the band played with the widest of screens behind them, stretching from one end of the arena to the other. Southwestern US vistas were splayed across the stage, along with video portraits of various residents of those states. Everything was in the highest of definitions, and added to the epic feel of the show.

Bono was a real firebrand for the entire duration of the night, crossing from one end of the stage to the other and back again several times. Between songs he’d either give a little background into the album’s themes, praise Canada for its progressive values, or implore people to be more active citizens of the Earth. He also busted out a harmonica for the bluesy “Trip Through Your Wires”.

The show was bookended with singles from before and after 1987. A short intro prior to the main set featured the band playing “Sunday Bloody Sunday”, “New Year’s Day”, “Bad”, and “Pride (In the Name of Love)” on a small centre stage. The lengthy encore featured a lot of newer material, including brawny rockers “Elevation” and “Vertigo”. One notable exception was the addition of “I Will Follow” as the very last song. It was implied that 1991’s Achtung Baby hit “One” would be the closer, but the 1980 single surprised everyone and finished the concert on a high energy note. The crowd couldn’t be happier. U2: pleasing crowds since 1976.

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