U2 strikes perfect balance of spectacle, message at MetLife show

Saying that U2 are masters of spectacle is like saying New York City is a master of bagels — a “no-duh” understatement, but one that’s fundamentally true nevertheless.

U2 has been constructing live temples to match their transparently gargantuan ambitions for their entire career. They’re a band whose narrative might be better chronicled through performances — Under a Blood Red Sky, Rattle and Hum, Zoo TV and U2 360 to name a few — than through albums.

However, if there’s one album in U2’s catalog truly worthy of its own spectacle, it’s “The Joshua Tree,” which the band played in full Thursday night at the Meadowlands’ MetLife Stadium.

The show began inconspicuously, with the band’s four members — Larry Mullen Jr., Adam Clayton, The Edge and Bono — walking down a large catwalk to a smaller stage in the center of the crowd.

Much to the delight of the audience, the band launched into “Sunday Bloody Sunday,” perhaps one of their all-time great set openers.

Bono laid out his intentions for the evening via prayer: “Our prayer this evening is that we have one of those epic nights that we all remember and hold on to.”

For the first four songs on the smaller stage, it felt almost as if U2 was opening for U2. Aside from the raw energy of the music, the mini-set was refreshingly devoid of spectacle — no video projections, no drawn-out Bono speeches, nada.

But like everything U2 has ever done, the show’s opening served a larger purpose, to maximize the “ooh-ahh” factor when the stage’s massive LED screen was illuminated blood red for “When the Streets Have No Name.”

The 200-by-45 foot screen served as the band’s backdrop for the rest of the show and featured striking images of Death Valley and Zabriskie Point, among other scenes, as shot by longtime U2 collaborator Anton Corbijn. Of course, since it’s U2, the screen has earned its own superlative: largest high-resolution LED video screen ever used in a touring show.

While the shockingly realistic projections could’ve easily detracted from the focus of the music, they served only to immerse the audience further into the world of “The Joshua Tree” and its overarching themes.

For the uninitiated, “The Joshua Tree” is a love letter to America and the American landscape. Released in 1987, Bono found ways to translate its messages for the current American moment.

Bono also addressed immigration without overtly calling out President Trump or the travel ban that took effect Thursday night.

“This city, this country have given us Irish safety and sanctuary for hundreds of years,” Bono said. “We would like to say thank you.”

They began their encore with a stirring rendition of “Miss Sarajevo,” a tribute to civilians in the Bosnian War of 1995, but repurposed for the current civil war in Syria.

On screen, a Syrian teen said, through subtitles, “I would love to go to America because it’s a very beautiful country … It’s the land of dreams.”

The Edge performs at MetLife Stadium on Thursday night, when the band played “The Joshua Tree” in full.

The Edge performs at MetLife Stadium on Thursday night, when the band played “The Joshua Tree” in full.

(David Wexler/For New York Daily News)

“Beautiful Day” and “Vertigo” allowed the band to trade politics for pleasure, but the night closed with U2’s anthem-to-end-all-anthems: “One.”

As the word “one” flashed on the screen in many different languages, U2 were able to bring home their central message of togetherness and understanding.

As the word “one” transformed into many different languages and a Wael Ghonim quote splashed across the humongous screen: “The power of the people is so much stronger than the people in power.

U2’s fusion of spectacle and social mission seemed complete.

SETLIST

Sunday Bloody Sunday

New Year’s Day

Bad

Pride (In the Name of Love)

The Joshua Tree

Where the Streets Have No Name

I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For

With or Without You

Bullet the Blue Sky

Bono and U2 perform Thursday night at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J.

Bono and U2 perform Thursday night at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J.

(David Wexler/For New York Daily News)

Running to Stand Still

Red Hill Mining Town

In God’s Country

Trip Through Your Wires

One Tree Hill

Exit

Mothers of the Disappeared

Encore

Miss Sarajevo (Passengers cover)

Beautiful Day (inc. Patti Smith’s “People…”)

Elevation

Vertigo (inc. Patti Smith’s “Rock ‘n’ Roll N—-r” snippet)

Mysterious Ways

Ultraviolet (Light My Way)

One

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u2
larry mullen jr.
adam clayton powell iv
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