U2 comes back to Heinz Field with 'Joshua Tree'
On April 21, 1981, a young Irish band visited The Decade, the beloved rock 'n' roll club at the corner of Atwood and Sennott streets in Oakland. The setlist was a mere 13 songs, starting with "The Ocean" and ending with "I Will Follow," which was then in regular rotation on college radio stations.
The club had a listed capacity of 250, but 36 years later you can find 10 times that many fans insisting they saw U2's debut in Pittsburgh.
On June 7, U2 returns to Heinz Field with the Joshua Tree Tour 2017 for its 10th Pittsburgh appearance. The band will perform the 1987 album in its entirety.
What's your favorite U2 song?
Tell us about your favorite song from the Irish band by emailing email@example.com or Tweet using the hashtag #U2pgh.
U2's previous local shows include concerts at venues that have since been renamed (the Fulton Theater, now the Byham) and razed (Civic/Mellon Arena and Three Rivers Stadium). The June 7 gig will mark the band's second appearance at Heinz Field. The previous engagement at the North Shore venue was July 26, 2011, and was scheduled belatedly at the behest of the late Dan Rooney, the Steelers patriarch who was then the U.S. ambassador to Ireland.
Mark Dignam, an Irish native who now lives in Pittsburgh, remembers a chance encounter with lead singer Bono about 20 years ago via his friendship with the Irish musician Christy Moore.
"(Moore) picked me up from my house one Sunday morning, in his big SUV," Dignam says. "I had been out the night before ... and a little the worse for wear. I heard someone moving in the seat behind me and looked around to see Bono sitting there. I was in shock and wondering how I had managed to get the front seat.
"I came to admire the man himself that day. He was very, very giving, in a setting without any publicity, any shining lights. We were jamming out a song and I asked what key, his reply really made me laugh: 'Ah, it's three chords, like all our songs.' He was humble, he was smart. It was a good day out.
"I know people who know him and one or two who know him well. And from what I hear, he really is the guy who does care and wants to make a difference. He knows the game he's in and the game he's playing and he knows what people think about him."
Most people haven't had the chance to meet Bono or the Edge, Larry Mullen Jr. or Adam Clayton. But via their songs, there's a rare connection with U2 that transcends the ordinary.
Musicians pick their favorites
We asked some local musicians to share their favorite U2 songs and got a variety of responses.
"I have a lot of respect for U2 (who doesn't?) because they always keep it classy. 'Big Girls Are Best" is a song I came across more recently and pretty much sums up why I love them so much. There are a lot of directions a song with this title can go ... but Bono used it to honor his wife and really just women in general. I always have much more respect for male artists when they choose to paint women in a respectful light and unfortunately it doesn't happen as much as I would hope."
— Joy Ike, solo artist
"As a songwriter, I am partial to lyrics and melodies. 'A Sort of Homecoming' has these both well covered. While Bono is typically known for his politically charged lyrics, in this song, he has a unique way of simultaneously writing about love and hope: 'The wind will crack in winter time/this bomb-blast lightning waltz.' ... 'Tonight we'll build a bridge across the sea and land/See the sky, the burning rain, she will die and live again tonight.' These lyrics are sung over only a few non-conventional chords played in The Edge's signature arpeggiated guitar strumming. Additionally, the drum line is so good that they used the identical track for another song on the same album."
— Dan Paolucci, Good Brother Earl
"My long-standing favorite is 'New Year's Day.' I was an impressionable ninth-grade music fanatic when its brooding minor key, its simplistic but essential piano, and its jagged guitar hooked me. One of the first times I heard it was late at night while riding in a car to visit relatives out of state, so that nighttime imagery is the mental video that I see every time I hear the intro. That song was definitely one of my pathways beyond classic rock ... as I began discovering U2's other new wave contemporaries."
— Terry Divelbliss, Seven Color Sky, various bands
"October 1980. I'm driving. Radio up loud. A song comes on that takes me by surprise. More sound then song. Totally different then than what has been shoved at us on the airways. It was the guitar, creeping up from the cold ground. Something I could understand, but yet sounded like it was a million miles away. 'I Will Follow' hit me when I needed hit. Three and a half minutes of industrial wasteland. And I was the weed growing from the crack in the cement, with rusted blast furnaces above me, against an unfriendly, grey sky. ... That first song on that first album by the band U2 secured their place in the heart of a confused 19-year-old from Pittsburgh."
— Bill Toms, Bill Toms & Hard Rain
"My wife was in labor with our son Jack for 24 hours. After he was born, I ran home to get some things. On my way back, 'One' came on the radio and I was moved to tears. I still turn to that song when family challenges arise. To learn later that the same song was a bonding moment for the band, a new start for them, it continues to serve as a reminder that there is always hope for the souls who stay the course and journey through life together as one."
— Tom Breiding, solo musician
" 'A Sort of Homecoming' arrived at exactly the right moment of my late adolescence. It affirmed my belief in the soulful, otherworldly power of music, especially when I heard it live at the Civic Arena on the 'Unforgettable Fire' tour. I instantly favored U2's live arrangement ... with its clearer, chiming guitar lines and more exultant vocal. Feeling the grand passion in every note, I couldn't imagine ever hearing a more incendiary, brilliant band."
— John Young, The Optimists
" 'Bad.' I love the dynamics as well as the melody most, with the lyrics falling second to those. Funny thing is I always thought it to be an inspirational and uplifting song (contradicting the title) about one helping another out of a bad situation. But only about five years ago, discovered through an interview with Bono that it was about a friend's addiction to heroin and the state of Dublin at that time."
— Dave August, North of Mason-Dixon
"Sometimes songwriters do their best work when they write about a parent. ... One of Bono's finest moments as a songwriter came with 'Sometimes You Can't Make It on Your Own,' a hymn to his troubled relationship with his father, Bob Hewson, who died in 2001. The portrait Bono paints doesn't skimp on hard reality ("I know that we don't talk, I'm sick of it all"), but it's also loving and generous ("You're the reason I sing /You're the reason the opera is in me"). The Edge contributes a sympathetic guitar accompaniment that echoes old-school U2 style yet feels fresh and elevates the emotional impact of the song. A tearjerker and an underrated classic."
— Steve Morrison, The Optimists
"You know a great band, when you struggle to pick a favorite song but of the raft of hits that U2 has produced, 'I Will Follow' still stands tall for me. The simplicity, yet immediacy of that guitar riff, the raw energy, the floating charisma of a singer, driven to climb beyond his personal hurt and create an anthemic legacy, is all there. I grew up about 3.5 miles from Bono and you couldn't throw a stone in the city without hitting a musician, I remember them playing school halls, but this song took them above everyone else, by far."
— Mark Dignam, solo musician
"I've always loved 'Beautiful Day.' Its positive sentiment penetrates my state of mind in the best way, and the structure of the song, from its muted intro to its crescendo of an ending, I find to be the sonic equivalent of a beautiful day.
— Ben Alper, solo musician, Cranberry Sanders
Rege Behe is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.