A lot can happen in the music world over three decades. Dominant, guitar-driven genres cede to Mac-aided styles. Messianic anthems fail to connect with a younger generation suspicious of religion. Glorious mullets regress from a sign of strength to a hirsute disaster.
But one thing that hasn’t changed throughout recorded music’s history is the existence of an amplified quotient that moves every generation to feel unmistakable elements of salvation in a song.
This has been Irish rock quartet U2’s live stock and trade before and after its landmark release “The Joshua Tree.” On Tuesday at New Era Field, they returned to that 1987 album and other hits that, piece by piece, gave fans — and the uninitiated — a renewed introduction to why the band still matters in the narrative of popular music.
Should this be a point of contention for an act responsible for some of rock’s most revelatory material? It shouldn’t be, yet throughout the course of the band’s output, some of its most recent material has failed to connect with a younger audience not raised with the communion of Adam Clayton, Larry Mullen Jr., Bono and The Edge.
But there's nothing fresh or niche about shaking someone's soul with chords and choruses. On Tuesday night, U2 showed that brand of showmanship still sells, all while invigorating a packed New Era Field.
After a late start under fellow countrymen The Waterboys' "The Whole of the Moon"--under a full moon over Orchard Park--the quartet busted into the militaristic cadence of "Sunday Bloody Sunday," which rang just as poignant as it debuted 34 years ago. Perched on the edge of a catwalk jutting into the crowd, they transitioned into fellow classic "New Year's Day" before delivering arguably the night's most personal moment: complimenting Buffalo before recalling its famous show at Stage One on December 8, 1980, the night John Lennon was killed.
"Kindness the blind can see and the deaf can hear: Buffalo," said Bono.
This led into the isolation, revelation and condemnation of "Bad," a song that still elicits an emotional response impressive in any setting. At New Era, it drew shouts and cries, all amid a stadium illuminated by cell phone flashlights.
But this show was about celebrating "The Joshua Tree." With the opening trio of "Where the Streets Have No Name," "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" and "With or Without You," the band did just this, transporting many back to a 1987-era Aud on the euphoric wave of echoing Edge chords.
And this persisted into the thick of its set. The political unrest of "Bullet the Blue Sky." The rarest of brass-backed thrills with "Red Hill Mining Town." The unbridled jangle of "Trip Through Your Wires," which Bono dedicated to the recently threatened Dreamers of DACA.
All were working for a band still at the top of its game--and still injecting a spiritual charge into audiences game for salvation.
And for U2, its performance had to be as good as it was--just to answer the opening set of Beck. The wildly entertaining and chameleonic singer/songwriter dazzled early arrivals with selections from across his 25-year career. His Fender storm intro of "Devil's Haircut" laid the tone for the entire set, veering his stellar eight-piece touring band through classics like "Loser," the grooves of "Black Tamborine" and the emotional "Lost Cause."
The Grammy Award-winning artist was a opener in designation only, and given another hour of set time -- and even more time to stretch out the harmonica-infused free-for-all amid "Odelay" single, "Where It's At" -- he could've handled the night by himself.