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U2 Celebrate Special Connection With Indian Fans at Joshua Tree Tour Closing Show

U2 Joshua Tree Tour
Ross Stewart

U2 perform during the Joshua Tree Tour in Mumbai.

MUMBAI -- U2 enabled over 40,000 Indian fans to check an item off their bucket lists when they performed in Mumbai on Sunday (Dec. 15). Those fans might have endured over a decade of false rumors about their idols touring the country, but when the legendary Irish quartet finally took the stage at the D.Y. Patil Stadium to play the last date of the Joshua Tree Tour, they got a career-spanning, 150-minute performance that was well worth the wait.

Bono, being Bono, used every trick in the book to charm the audience, and then some. He used a smattering of Hindi, asking “Kaise ho (How are you)?” at one point. He altered lyrics to pay homage to his hosts, singing “Shine like stars in an Indian night” during the additional verse he tags on to “With Or Without You” live. He repeatedly mentioned U2’s love for India, and pointed out how the Irish and Indian flags share the same three colors, and how their Prime Minister, Leo Varadkar, is of Indian origin and studied medicine in Mumbai.

He also spoke a lot about his admiration for Gandhi. After sharing that the group had visited Mani Bhavan, Gandhi’s home in the city, earlier in the week, he led the crowd into chants of the chorus to “Give Peace a Chance,” which he said John Lennon and Yoko Ono were inspired to write after visiting Mumbai “as students of peaceful protests.” It was the perfect segue into their classic Martin Luther King tribute “Pride (In The Name of Love)”, which closed the first third of the set.

Next up was the triple-treat of the first three (and most popular) tracks from The Joshua Tree, which elicited some of the loudest sing-alongs of the evening: “Where The Streets Have No Name,” “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” and “With or Without You.” When the giant, 200 x 45-foot LED video screen displayed Anton Corbijn’s films of the road along and the trees and mountains of the California desert during this segment, it looked almost three-dimensional. You felt as though you were driving along the highway, or standing in front of the trees or peaks.

Creative director Willie Williams’s stage design succeeded in creating an immersive experience unlike any Indian audiences had seen before -- at least at a rock concert. The sense of vastness was frequently mirrored in the band’s selection of hits, mostly on anthems such as “New Year’s Day,” “Elevation” and “Beautiful Day.” A refreshing contrast was the lesser-known and somewhat underrated “Every Breaking Wave,” off 2014’s Songs Of Innocence, which sparkled in a stripped-down version with just The Edge on keys, and Bono hitting some of his highest notes of the night.

This being the tour-closing show, there were a couple of surprises. Noel Gallagher, whose band High Flying Birds has opened for U2 in a number of countries, was brought on to play acoustic guitar on “Desire," though his presence was kind of wasted. (Surely a rendition of “Wonderwall” with Bono on vocals would not have been too much to ask for, after getting Gallagher all the way here.)

The other surprise of the night was largely expected: A. R. Rahman came on to perform “Ahimsa (Non-violence)”, his recently released collaboration with U2, along with his daughters Khatija and Raheema and singer Rianjali Bhowmick. They stayed on for concert closer “One," which Bono introduced by referencing Gandhi’s quote about how “all humanity is one undivided, invisible family," before adding, “albeit a dysfunctional family" Just like during several songs prior, fans across the stadium spontaneously held up their cellphone torches, to make it appear as though thousands of fireflies were lighting up the black sky.

U2 has said the impetus for the Joshua Tree tour was that several of the issues that America is dealing with today are similar to those that inspired the making of the album over 30 years ago. Sadly, those same issues are being faced in present-day India. With a political band such as U2, you can’t separate the music from its associated ideologies. Given that Bono was clear about his political alliances at the press conference and concert they held in Manila, we can’t help but wonder why they chose to play it safe in India. Bono said plenty on stage, but never explicitly called out names. 

Was Bono making an allusion to India’s right-wing ruling regime when he said, “The minorities know what I’m talking about” during “Give Peace a Chance”? Was he making a subtle plea for India’s increasingly threated secularity when he mentioned “the temple," “the gurudwara," “the mosque” and “the synagogue” during “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For?”  Was he referring to hyper-nationalists, colloquially known as bhakts, when he preluded “In God’s Country” by saying, “Many of us consider our homeland to be god’s country but we should be careful -- the next song is about how in the blink of an eye, the most beautiful landscape can turn ugly"? Were U2 playing a balancing act when during “Ultraviolet (Light My Way)” -- which celebrates women who have made a positive change, they featured on the screen union minister Smriti Irani, alongside writers and activists such as Arundhati Roy and Rana Ayyub both of whom have written extensively about human rights abuses by the current government?

This relative diplomacy was particularly stinging, because while U2 were staging a concert that celebrated the messages of peace and non-violence, police in Delhi and Aligarh were brutally attacking students inside universities there protesting the controversial Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019. The parallels between the incidents and the inspiration behind show opener “Sunday Bloody Sunday” seemed like some bizarre coincidence.

The Citizenship (Amendment) Act, coupled with the proposed implementation of National Register of Citizens of India, has been criticized by the UN Human Rights office for being "fundamentally discriminatory" and has evoked nationwide protests. That the band chose not to call out human rights violations in a country where they seem to be occurring incrementally, was the sole disappointment in what was otherwise a spectacular reaffirmation of why for millions of fans, U2 remains the best band in the world. 

Setlist:

Sunday Bloody Sunday
I Will Follow
New Year’s Day
Bad
Pride
Where the Streets Have No Name
I Still Haven’t Found What I'm Looking For 
With or Without You
Bullet the Blue Sky
Running to Stand Still
Red Hill Mining Town
In God’s Country
Trip Through Your Wires
One Tree Hill
Exit
Mothers of the Disappeared
Desire 
Elevation
Vertigo
Even Better Than the Real Thing 
Every Breaking Wave 
Beautiful Day
Ultra Violet (Light My Way)
Ahimsa
One 

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