The coolest thing U2 did at Bonnaroo doubled as the most righteous thing Bono said during the two-hour headlining set on Friday night (June 9). The leader of a band that appeals primarily to dads in 2017 — and the Bonnaroo crowd was certainly full of them — honored the females in the audience, and the overall strength and power of modern women.
During penultimate song “Ultraviolet (Light My Way),” the faces of famous women through history flashed behind the band, from Rosa Parks to Angela Merkel to Michelle Obama. Was it a little grandiose for Bono to speak about “turning history… into herstory”? Sure. But for U2’s first-ever stint at a U.S. music festival — a setting that has never been artistically gender-balanced — the dedication to highlight and champion the non-dudes in the audience made for an excellent set’s most powerful moment.
Bonnaroo has booked some heavy hitters over the past five years, but Billy Joel, Elton John, Pearl Jam and Paul McCartney have all performed at other American festivals. U2 has only ever played Glastonbury across the pond, and as arguably the biggest touring band in the world, their appearance at Bonnaroo this year was a major coup for the festival. The performance did not disappoint: translating their current Joshua Tree 30th anniversary tour to a festival setting, U2 was spry and mighty, wielding their collection of massive singles with a veteran ease. The still-incredible opening trio of the 1987 album (“Where The Streets Have No Name,” “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” and “With Or Without You”) were preceded by an opening punch of “Sunday Bloody Sunday,” “New Year’s Day” and “Pride (In The Name of Love),” with The Edge’s guitar slicing across the packed Manchester field on all three.
There were jabs at President Trump, but the message was more for the audience than for him. “Some people may think [Martin Luther King Jr.’s] dream is dead, but not at Bonnaroo tonight,” Bono said of modern social justice. “Maybe the dream is just telling us to wake up.” The band also dedicated “One Tree Hill” to Lily Cornell, the daughter of Chris Cornell. “Her dad had an epic heart,” Bono declared.
The Bonnaroo performance never felt overly heavy, thanks in part to some subtle nods that the band was actually playing at Bonnaroo. Bono shouted out the xx, who had preceded the group on the main stage a few hours earlier, as well as Saturday performance Chance the Rapper, who got props during “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.” The bridge of “Beautiful Day” turned into a sing-along of Red Hot Chili Peppers’ “Under The Bridge,” a tip of the cap to Saturday night’s headliners. And throughout the evening, the quartet looked stunned at the size of their audience; Bono ended the performance by saying that it had been an unforgettable experience, and he sounded genuine.
“Did we make a big mistake not coming [here] before?” Bono asked. “Can we come back again?”