The Joshua Tree. Forever linked not just with the tree or the National Park, but also with one of the greatest albums of all time. The album that pushed U2 to mega-stardom from which they never went back. Considered to be either the, or one of the, best U2 albums, The Joshua Tree became the theme for the whole of 1987. It was a year full of firsts, a year full of experiences which laid the groundwork for the band and live shows we know today. The album was released on 9 March and no more than a month later The Joshua Tree Tour kicked off in Tempe, Arizona for its first of 3 legs. The tour spanned nine months, touched on two continents and consisted of 110 shows.
The Joshua Tree Tour consisted of 3 ‘legs’. The first leg took place in North America which was organised around multiple-night stands in centres of U2 fandom along the two coasts, with only a very few dates in the middle of the country. U2 played a total of 29 shows which sold a total of 465,000 tickets. In this first leg U2 played only arenas. The second leg brought The Joshua Tree tour to Europe in May, by which time the album had sold seven million copies, catapulting the band to a new height of fame. U2 were a band everyone wanted to see, which made U2 decide to play stadiums as well as some indoor dates to a total of 30 shows in 13 different countries. The continued success of the album and the first leg made U2 come back to North America to play their most extensive American tour to date. Hysterical ticket scenes occur (just as in Europe) now also in North America where U2 will play 50 shows in stadiums and arenas.
The indoor stage used for the arena shows of The Joshua Tour Tour was basic and had nothing more than what was needed; somewhere for the band to stand and some lights. The Joshua Tree Tour however was the first tour during which U2 played big stadiums consistently, bringing some challenges to light, sparking U2’s first major move into stage design. After U2 played the Pontiac Silverdome on 30th April (their first headlining stadium show in the United States), the show received very positive reviews but also some criticism that the people at the back may require a video screen in order to see what was happening at the front. U2’s concern was that it might divide the audience’s attention between the stage and the screen. It was not until the third leg (20 September in Washington D.C.) before U2 installed a video screen behind the lightning tower so the rear of the stadium could see better. Screens were subsequently used for most remaining shows in the tour. The stage in the outdoor shows had a large Joshua Tree canvas stretching the full width of the stage. The words "stop the madness" were splashed - graffiti-style - on the right side. The front of the stage had a small projection for Bono to be closer to the audience and on the floor there were a couple of boxes that Bono used to access the crowd. Many parts of the Joshua Tree Tour stages were quite durable as well as most of the indoor stage was reused for many years and elements of the ‘underworld’ (areas below the stage) were re-used later for the Elevation Tour.
The Joshua Tree Tour saw a large number of support acts stopping by over the year. The outdoor shows even had two to sometimes four support acts to provide fans with more value for money. Fans listened to support acts such as UB40, Big Audio Dynamite, The Pretenders, The Waterboys, The Alarm, Lou Reed and BB King, the latter which was the opening act for both final shows of the tour on 19 and 20 December. On 1 November 1987 one of U2’s most memorable support acts ever came on stage when a band called The Dalton Brothers came on stage. It turned out that The Dalton Brothers were U2 themselves dressed in Western outfits and wigs, while Bono spoke with a twangy southern accent. Playing their own country-influenced song, "Lucille", and Hank Williams' "Lost Highway", only some of the audience in the front few rows recognised them. The Dalton Brothers would later also appear in Los Angeles and Hampton.
When U2 played multiple nights at one city during the first leg of the tour these stands woulds feature quite an unusual setlist twist. All but the last night would begin like most shows (with Streets and I Will Follow opening), with the last night opening with the house lights on and U2 playing a cover of “Stand By Me” with The Edge singing one verse before the setlist segued into Pride after which the lights would go off and the setlist would resume as usual. U2 played a total of 44 different songs during their 109 shows. I Still Haven't Found, Bullet The Blue Sky, Exit, I Will Follow, Pride & Running To Stand Still were played during all shows, with '40' closing almost all shows (104). U2 played all but Red Hill Mining Town from The Joshua Tree album live during their shows. U2 also played a total of 14 different cover songs such as C'mon Everybody, Help and Knockin' On Heaven's Door. Most shows had a setlist of 18 to 20 songs where U2 mixed it up quite a lot (for their standards) apart from the opening, mid-segment and ending of the shows.
As The Joshua Tree Tour progressed, more footage of the shows was being recorded. A big part would be released later as Rattle and Hum while the concert registration of the concert in Paris on 4 July would be released 20 years later. Aside from these highlighted shows there are many more worth a mention. The first one that we higlight took place on 1987-04-29 in Rosemont, Illinois dubbed “Rock’s Hottest Ticket”. Early in 1987, Time magazine headlined an article about U2 referring to the band as Rock's Hottest Ticket. This show has become legendary under that name. With great performances of With Or Without You, Exit and Bad U2 demonstrates that they are indeed Rock's Hottest Ticket, superstars, and the biggest band of the decade This show is a classic and the recording is outstanding. The essential Joshua Tree Tour recording.
Another great show took place on 1987-07-08 in Belgium with an outstanding audience and a great tribute to Greg Carroll with Bad. Other highlights include With Or Without You with an extended outro, The Unforgettable Fire with a full audience sing-a-long and I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For. Bono's voice was amazing this show which is reflected well on a great audio recording. This was a band at its best with a crowd going wild.
A final highlight was the show on 1987-11-07 in Denver, Colorado. U2 are back in Denver to film a show, only four years after Red Rocks. Footage from the two nights in Denver make up a major part of Rattle and Hum. Bono acknowledges Red Rocks during New Year's Day while putting on another amazing show where Spanish Eyes is considered being one of the highlights of the night. During the Joshua Tree tour U2 got to perform more of their b-sides and here we get to hear a new song called Silver and Gold. An energetic performance and audience coupled with this show being immortalised in the Rattle and Hum live film make this a legendary two nights.
The Joshua Tree celebrates its 30th anniversary in 2017 and for this reason U2 will perform some very special shows to honour the album and perhaps also the tour from 1987. Until an announcement is made, we can only guess what this will mean. One could think of shows similar to Bruce Springsteen’s The River tour, honouring the album carrying the name of the tour and setlists which partially consisted of the full album from start to finish. Could U2 do something similar? With one song never been played reportedly because Bono couldn’t hit the notes (Red Hill Mining Town) and one song written off completely for other reasons (Exit) this does not seem very likely. This still leaves 9 songs and plenty of b-sides such as Spanish Eyes and Silver And Gold left for U2 to play. Could U2 do another mix of indoor and outdoor shows again? Could U2 ever do a full stripped down stage again such as for The Joshua Tree tour? Could The Dalton Brothers make an appearance again? Time will tell! What are your thoughts?