U2 came to CenturyLink on Sunday for their first Seattle show in six years. Lead singer Bono used music and words — and a guest appearance by Eddie Vedder — to speak to injustice.
Even before U2 walked on stage for their sold-out CenturyLink concert on Sunday, it was nearly certain the night would touch on politics. Seattle was the second show of the band’s “‘The Joshua Tree’ 2017” tour, which started Friday in Vancouver, B.C., but it was the first U.S. U2 show since the fall election.
In the course of two hours at CenturyLink, Bono used his songs and words to address anger at injustices in the U.S. and around the world. One of the basic tenets of U2 has always been the musical idea that advocacy can change the world, and they went back to that theme again and again, even using Eddie Vedder to punctuate it.
Vedder came out to sing the powerful “Mothers of the Disappeared,” with Bono and openers Mumford & Sons providing backup vocals to the Pearl Jam singer while video showed mothers of the politically murdered. Bono later cited women who “resisted and persisted,” a reference to Sen. Elizabeth Warren.
“Wake up!” Bono urged the crowd at one point. “The government should fear its citizens, not the other way around,” he said at another.
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“Joshua Tree” was U2’s musical response to Ronald Reagan 30 years ago. The album was the centerpiece, and songs like “The Streets Have No Name” and “Bullet the Blue Sky” still had bite and resonance.
Concerts that focus on “classic albums” can be problematic, as the set list is fixed. U2 undertook this tour only after failing to come up with a new album, and they played just one new song on Sunday. The band showed little of the cockiness it had last decade.
Drummer Larry Mullen Jr. was sharp all night, but particularly on opener “Sunday Bloody Sunday.” Guitarist the Edge and bassist Adam Clayton were also on point.
U2 concerts soar or stall on Bono, though. He didn’t pace the long catwalks, and when he sang, “How long must we sing this song” on the opener, there was weariness.
One video clip was from the 1957 CBS-TV western “Trackdown,” which actually featured a villain named Trump who wanted to build a town wall. “You’re a liar, Trump,” the film’s hero said. Seattle cheered.
Yet there were also moments of elation, as with “Pride (In the Name of Love)” when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s words were projected on the giant video screen. “One,” near the close, was also magnificent.
The night ended with the new “The Little Things That Give You Away” and “I Will Follow.” “Little Things” was about searching for faith in a world “full of anger and grieving.” It wasn’t the highlight — that had come during “Miss Sarajevo,” which featured video of a Syrian refugee girl, and as U2 sang, the crowd passed a giant image of the girl around CenturyLink. That moment was unforgettable.
But “Little Things” was the artistic risk of the evening. For just a few minutes, the singer was no longer larger-than-life Bono, but instead fragile Paul Hewson, leader of a little Irish band that has made a search for meaning the purpose of their creative lives.
“You walked out in the world,” Bono sang, “like you belong there.” These were lyrics that seemed as if they had been written for this moment, this uncertain time in this uncertain land.