On Friday night in Vancouver, U2 returns to the road for a 33-date world tour — and for this trek, the world’s biggest rock band is celebrating the 30th anniversary of their classic album The Joshua Tree.
When it was released in 1987, the record heralded a bold new step for the Irish rockers, who took inspiration from America and its rich musical heritage, from blues to gospel to rock and roll. The album, which featured hit singles “Where the Streets Have No Name” and “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For,” scored an Album of the Year Grammy and has since been certified 10-times platinum. In fact, the collection is so historically significant, the United States Library of Congress selected it for preservation in the National Recording Registry in 2014, where it joins a rarefied group of masterpieces like the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s, Nirvana’s Nevermind, and Michael Jackson’s Thriller.
So when the band — frontman Bono, guitarist the Edge, bassist Adam Clayton, and drummer Larry Mullen, Jr. — set out to reproduce these 11 songs in a live setting 30 years after its release, it was crucial to stay true to the original material, the band’s longtime creative director, Willie Williams, tells EW.
“We all felt that there was a duty to be faithful to the record — radical reinvention would rather defeat the object of celebrating this album,” he says. “At the same time, though, there have been some discoveries over the years that made the performance of some of the songs better, so they’ve held on to these.”
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While the group has recently embarked on tours that are both grand (2009-2011’s massive U2 360° Tour) and intimate (2015’s Innocence + Experience Tour), Williams says the Joshua Tree production is appropriately scaled for both stadiums and outdoor stages like the ones at Bonnaroo, which the group will headline June 9.
“After talking over many possible approaches, we looked at the original Joshua Tree stadium stage and then allowed its bold, simple aesthetic to guide the design,” says Williams. “Being U2, it simultaneously comprises some extraordinary brand new visual technology, of course, but somehow without being a contradiction.” In fact, photographer Anton Corbijn, who photographed the album art, has created films to accompany each track on Joshua Tree. The result, Williams says, “is frankly breathtaking.”
In terms of the setlist, Williams teases that U2 won’t just stick to Joshua Tree material. “[The album] is barely an hour long, of course, and the show is twice that length, so it has been a delightful challenge to figure out a setlist that provides a setting for the jewel without being predictable,” he says. “In the end, we’ve arrived at a show that pretty much comprises Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed, and Something Blue. Well, actually not that much Blues, to be honest.”