The Edge breaks down The Joshua Tree 30th anniversary tour with Rolling Stone:
Can you give me some background on how this tour came together?
Well, when we came off the last tour, the Innocence and Experienceindoor tour, we headed straight into finishing the second album of that set, Songs of Experience, which we were pretty much complete with after a couple of weeks of the final touches leading up to the end of the year. And then the election [happened] and suddenly the world changed. We just went, “Hold on a second – we’ve got to give ourselves a moment to think about this record and about how it relates to what’s going on in the world.” That’s because it was written mostly, I mean, 80 percent of it was started before 2016, but most of it was written in the early part of 2016, and now, as I think you’d agree, the world is a different place.
You’re talking about Trump and Brexit?
The Trump election. It’s like a pendulum has suddenly just taken a huge swing in the other direction. So, anyway, we then were looking at the anniversary of The Joshua Tree, and another thing started to dawn on us, which is that weirdly enough, things have kind of come full circle, if you want. That record was written in the mid-Eighties, during the Reagan-Thatcher era of British and U.S. politics. It was a period when there was a lot of unrest. Thatcher was in the throes of trying to put down the miners’ strike; there was all kinds of shenanigans going on in Central America. It feels like we’re right back there in a way. I don’t think any of our work has ever come full circle to that extent. It just felt like, “Wow, these songs have a new meaning and a new resonance today that they didn’t have three years ago, four years ago.” And so it was kind of serendipitous, really, just the realization that we needed to put the album on ice for a minute just to really think about it one more time before putting it out, just to make sure that it really was what we wanted to say.
So we said look, “Look, let’s do both. We can really celebrate this album, which is really born again in this context, and we can also really get a chance to think about these songs and make sure they’re really what we want to put out.” So the two sort of coincided and we decided we were gonna do some shows. And we’ve never given ourselves the opportunity to celebrate our past because we’ve always as a band looked forward, but I think we felt that this was a special moment, and this was a very special record. So we’re happy to take this moment to regroup and think about an album that’s so many years old, but still seems relevant.
Are you going to play the album in sequence at the shows?
I believe we will, and I say “believe we will” because that is certainly the working assumption right now. The show might not necessarily start with Track One, Side One, “Where the Streets Have No Name,” because we feel like maybe we need to build up to that moment, so we’re still in the middle of figuring out exactly how the running order will go, so yes. We will be playing the album in sequence.
What’s the stage going to be like at these Joshua Tree shows? Will it be like the original one in 1987 at all?
I don’t think we want to be too slavish, but at the same time we want to acknowledge sort of the aesthetic ideas that went with the record. I don’t think we’re going to go overboard in reinventing the wheel, but we’ll definitely take those aesthetic ideas and kind of update them somewhat. This is The Joshua Tree 2017. It’s not The Joshua Tree 1986.
What songs are going to feature in the non–Joshua Tree parts of the show?
Obviously whenever we go to do something live, we are looking to establish a through line, a cinematic core that we can hold to. And we’re kind of spoiled and lucky that in the canon there’s a lot to draw from. Being kind of early in the process, it’s kind of hard for me to say exactly what we’ll be looking to do. But I will say that all the old songs are going to be considered and what we finally end up playing will cohere to what the core theme is. You know, we’re doing shows in America. We’re doing shows in Europe. But certainly the American shows, I have no doubt that a lot of it will be focused on that mythic America that we were writing about during the Joshua Tree.
Still, I’m sure the word “nostalgia” is going to get tossed around in connection to this tour. How do you feel about that?
Well, as I said, I think what’s important for us is that it’s not really about nostalgia. There’s an element of nostalgia that we can’t avoid, but it’s not motivated by a desire to look backwards. It’s almost like this album has come full circle and we’re back there again. It’s kind of got a relevance again that we’re certainly aware of
Do you have any idea how the next album will be distributed? There was so much attention paid to the distribution of the last one.
My plan is that Bono and I would sneak into everyone’s house and put a CD under their pillow [laughs]. But unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to be getting much support from the rest of the band. But, no, again, it’s quite interesting the way music distribution and promotion and marketing has sort of been thrown into turmoil over the last number of years. What seemed like the most cutting-edge and innovative ideas six months ago no longer seem novel or groundbreaking. Also, I’m aware that sales of vinyl records are going through the roof. It’s just crazy to see that. That speaks about so many things about what the artifact, the object of a vinyl record signifies to people versus a digital download, a file. People, in the end, have an emotional connection with a great record and with the artist.
A digital file is … Look, convenience is wonderful. If I’m being honest, I still have my vinyl collection, but I use digital files 90 percent of the time. But I would never give up my vinyl. And so there’s a need for both, and I find that kind of reassuring that in the midst of convenience being king, there’s still this deep, emotional connection that people have with the body of work that is an album. So who knows? We’re still trying to figure it out like everyone else.
What I find heartwarming is that music culture and music is still at the forefront. People are enjoying it and reveling in it and turning to it for all kinds of reasons. I’m interested to see if in this new post-truth world, music sort of reconnects with the activist-protest thread that it had for so many years and seems to have lost recently. I think that aspect of music has always been, to my mind, an important, crucial part of what drew me to it, and why I think a lot of people are drawn to it. So I feel that this is a moment where music might go through a kind of renaissance of a kind and I’m very excited to see what young kids in their garages across North America and Europe are going to be writing about and releasing over the next number of years. I think it’s time to get back to some of that.
OK final question: Do you think there will be an Achtung Baby 30th anniversary tour in 2021?
[Laughs] No plans, but never say never.