u2 in manila

this has been discussed so much in the periodicals and with friends that i can hardly add to the narratives being spun.

they go along the lines of:
(1) worth it — it being the the price of admission, including the hours enduring traffic, long lines, and standing toe to toe with “fans” who don’t care for the band’s politics — and
(2) LIT AF referring to the vibe/energy and the use of spectacular, massive visuals.

the post-punk/pop-rock veterans, idols of my youth, can sure knock out a performance. despite the bad acoustics of the venue. (there, i said it.)

i was lucky to be there with true-blue u2 fans, so there was that harmony.

a lot of folks were there for the sing-along anthems [“With or Without You,” “Pride (In The Name of Love), and “Where the Streets Have No Name”]. many came for the screaming guitars and the pounding drumbeats [“Sunday Bloody Sunday,” “New Year’s Day,” “Desire,” “Elevation,” “Vertigo,” “Bullet the Blue Sky”]. and yeah, i was there for those, too. these songs can literally take your breath away.

Joshua Tree was an experimental period for the band, a kind of soul-searching, with the focus being embracing American influences and being inspired by the vastness of, well, an alien landscape. Bono, who in his younger days styled himself (or perhaps was often portrayed by the media as such) as a sort of Messianic figure, is easily pictured on this pilgrimage in the desert. the Irish band, the open country road, the cohesion in isolation required to create a piece of visceral music, is easily pictured.

you’ve got a lot of songs with runs–you know, pounding, driving movement–and you’ve got a lot of intimate, reflective moments, too. pretty much what the concert itself was like. interspersed with patter, pithy anecdotes about the band members, and good-natured jokes at each other’s expense. and yes, let’s not forget the politics, only slightly diffused for the hardliners who close their ears to criticism.

“Mothers of the Disappeared” was especially apt for the Philippines. i doubt anyone was really prepared for that one, for all that it’s part of the Joshua Tree album (and this late in the tour, the set-list was already pretty much revealed, including the slight variations). i doubt all of the fans appreciated it, either, being obscure and too close to home.

“Running to Stand Still” is one of the highlights of the Joshua Tree album, and we listened to it in the car on the way to the concert. what does it say about me that the songs about addiction resonated? this song posits that if you’re running from the darkness in the night you might very likely take poison to escape. “you gotta cry without weeping, talk without speaking, scream without raising your voice,” Bono sings, detailing the desperation that practically begs for respite.

songs of struggle and surrender, Bono is able to emote them so well. he knew how to weaponize his voice before “weaponize” became a buzzword for every little thing under the sun. or, you know, “woke.” rambling proselytizing poet that he is, he warbles” “desperation, dislocation, separation, condemnation, revelation in temptation, isolation, desolation, let it go and so fade away. i’m wide awake, i’m not sleeping.” it’s a seductive thought. the way he sang it, it’s a provocative thought. “Bad” isn’t in the Joshua Tree album, but it worked so well for the tour.

being the melancholy sort, i was also there for these ballads. “Every Breaking Wave,” the way Bono sung it, was especially touching. rough-voiced as he laments, for every shipwrecked soul out there: “are we so helpless against the tide?”. anyone who has felt overwhelmed by circumstances, heart-broken over the push and pull of discord, can empathize. it’s a love song, but love songs are often used as disguises for something else entirely. it has been argued that every song is a love song (see first episode of Soundtrack on Netflix.)

a stellar torch-bearing (cellphones ablaze and held high) moment was the politically laced “One,” right after a rather divisive curated “Ultraviolet” pushing the band’s political advocacy: collective/mobilized effort for human rights, women’s rights, press freedom. “we’re one but we’re not the same…we get to carry each other” Bono cajoles. immediately prior to that, he preached, “love is bigger than anything in its way.” it’s a theme. even in “New Year’s Day,” you have the lyric: “we can break through, though torn in two, we can be one.” there’s almost a naive (and yeah, very american yes-we-can, or okay fine “resilient human”), thread of sentiment buried in all the ideology.

i’m a fan, but i’ve still got a lot to learn about them. i wanted to hear so much more of the U2 discography that night. not possible, of course. four decades. they needed to focus, so they focused on arguably their most beloved and celebrated album. they also had a message to send out: trust in the truth-bearers, honor the humanitarians, hang on to your own humanity, hang on to hope, hold fast to each other. in chaotic times, who/what do you have left to hold on to? (i’m still waiting on that answer, lolz.) it fit neatly in with a snippet of david bowie’s “heroes.” just for one day, one band, 45,000 believers, coming together in the name of love.

anyway, that’s the message i got.

that and larry mullen jr.’s peace sign.

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