The last time I needed a U2 live fix as badly as I need a U2 live fix this dark time around was in the hours, days and months after 9/11. At the time I was a young dad with two little curious kids in my heart and on my mind, trying to stay optimistic in troubled times, so it’s no wonder I found myself regularly weeping along to the state of the world and listening to and writing about U2’s super soulful classic, “All That You Can’t Leave Behind,” with a fire that still burns in me today — and most certainly will be lit again Friday night, when U2 lands in downtown Minneapolis.
Nowadays I’m an old dad with two big curious kids in my heart and on my mind, and I admit that I cringe a little when I confess to needing a concert by a dinosaur rock band at my age. But the truth is as much I’ve learned in life, as alternately confident and confused I can feel at any given time, this year has brought me to my knees yet again. The toxicity of politics and media and hate and war has done a number on me for sure, and despite all the good in my life and the great natural joy to be found in the world, I have never felt more unsure of my/your/our future.
Times are bleak, onward. I do my best to keep my chin up and carry on and count my blessings. I play the “Thanks, I needed that” and ignorance is bliss games, even though I more often than not feel adrift in this gloomy, stupid world. Survival mode has kicked in and taught me to, as I float amidst the flotsam and jetsam of despair, grab onto whatever hopeful piece of driftwood that happens by, and, so, lo and behold Friday night, for a few hours under the big corporate top, this clueless man will hang his hat and hopes on four Irish kids to salve if not save the hole in his American soul.
Yes, I need U2 right now because wizards are real, and, like the movie says, I see dead people, and because, like U2’s Bono says in concert, a wee bit too above-it-all for my liking, that he “sees a bitter division in the United States” (no s—, shaman). He’s right, of course, and at a truly bizarre time when the daily doses of mean people sucking and the collapse of the American federal government can torpedo any power of positive thinking, and although most of my preferred live music miracles these days happen in much smaller settings, I am looking forward to the bigness of it all at USBS, and to the sheer force of what can happen when thousands raise their voices in song and lift our collective soul up against the bad vibes happening all around us.
Starting with, as U2’s “Joshua Tree” tour has been this year, a massive lyrics-on-the-big-screen sing-a-long to the Pogues’ timeless ballad “Rainy Night In Soho” and/or the Waterboys’ underappreciated lifesaver “The Whole Of The Moon,” as good a song about love and loss and healing as has ever come down the magic mountain. After which drummer Larry Mullen Jr. takes the stage by himself and launches into the drum solo that jumpstarts “Sunday Bloody Sunday” and Bono poses the unanswerable questions, “How long must this go on/How long have we sung this song?” I’ve got shivers just watching it on Youtube right now, and there’s more where that came from, and surely bigger and even more connective ones to be had in the flesh.
Pretty sure I could walk out of the big bank stadium after that and feel like I’d gotten my money’s worth, but from everything I’ve read — from Chris Riemenschneider’s raves in the Strib and tons of good reports from tour stops in Chicago, Vancouver, Dublin,\ and more — I should and will stick around.
Why do I need U2 now? Because they’re built big and for these times, the same times that birthed the similarly epic “Game Of Thrones,” whose undead armies of ancient frozen zombies known as the White Walkers serve as a metaphor for any and all of this modern epoch’s enemies of positivity and possibility that we encounter every day. U2 is massive and anthemic that way, and it’s easy to visualize the Edge’s mammoth guitar riff and the band’s monster hooks rising up as an aural wall of goodness to do battle against the likes of the White Walkers and their zombie dragon’s flames of evil (aka Trump, Pence, et al).
All of which is to say that, even though arena rock can be plodding and pompous and Bono’s stage patter never explicitly expresses the anger and hopelessness in America over Trump’s presidency — ignoring, presumably, the political gutter in favor of the higher ground (the music) — U2 has the power to lift spirits like few other big bands can. And, if you give yourself up to their sonic baptism, they can remind a body and soul that freedom here on earth is possible and make heretics believe in gods in godforsaken times.
So, bring it. Bring it all: The giant HD screen with its psychedelics and political poetry. “The Joshua Tree,” U2’s 1987 AOR classic about America, played in its entirety, and the big pay-off of “Vertigo,” “Elevation,” “Beautiful Day” and more. The goal is elevation, and as such I’m gonna get my Irish on in downtown Minneapolis Friday night with a loud, liberating tribal experience that combats the likes of the White Walkers, the White House, Nazis, racism, misogyny and hopelessness itself and lets me know that even though winter is coming, so is spring.
Jim Walsh lives and grew up in South Minneapolis. He can be reached at [email protected].