Joshua Tree anniversary tour rumours and commentary
Rumours are coming thick and fast for U2's tour celebrating the thirtieth anniversary of The Joshua Tree. U2Songs have an excellent page that provides a comprehensive overview of rumours to date and is being updated regularly. I am not seeking to replicate it here. Rather, this is a short overview of the state of play right now, with an announcement seemingly imminent. It is expected on Monday, 9 January, around 8-9am US eastern time. Already there are targeted online ads for the Bonnaroo festival that name U2 as the headliner, with a leaked poster billing them as playing The Joshua Tree; that festival drops its lineup officially on 11 January.
The North American leg will be first, across May and June, followed by a European leg in July and August. This is a common pattern for U2's tours; the only tour in the past 25 years to deviate was the 360 Tour, which had the European leg before the North American one. There is no doubt that these will be stadium shows.
The initial belief among fans was that this would be a very short tour with only a handful of celebratory shows in the largest markets. But the scope of rumours has been expanding gradually, to the point that the North American leg may visit more cities than the ten on the Innocence + Experience Tour in 2015, and may contain about as many shows as the twenty played on that continent's first leg of 360. The European leg this year will be a bit more concentrated than the average U2 European tour, so don't expect them to visit anywhere uncommon or new, but it still won't be radically shorter than standard legs.
The tour is rumoured to begin on or about 12 May in Vancouver, British Columbia. This stands to reason. For visa and taxation reasons, it benefits U2 to rehearse in Canada before spending most of the tour in the States. After a show in Vancouver the tour is expected to trek down the US west coast before heading across the continent; most cities rumoured are in the US, but Toronto and Mexico City have appeared among the chatter. Most of the cities rumoured are predictable - e.g. Los Angeles, Chicago, New York, Boston - but there are some surprises. The most unexpected is Cleveland, by some accounts slated as the last show of the North American leg. If true, it will be U2's first show anywhere in Ohio since December 2005.
The European leg will commence not long after the North American one ends. Rumours at present suggest the first of these shows will be in London at Wembley, though another rumour points to the Olympic Stadium. U2's strong markets in Spain and Italy will be visited; for a whistle-stop tour it may be a little surprising if there are shows in both Belgium and the Netherlands but that's what the rumours say. Dublin is included but rumours conflict with regards to the venue. Some rumours appear to be little more than guesswork; until the last couple of days, London seemed to feature in rumours more out of expectation than from any report of substance.
Back in 1987 the Joshua Tree Tour stuck firmly to North America and western Europe. It is understandable that this year's anniversary tour will only hit select markets, and a tour of this nature cannot be comprehensive. It seems to me (i.e. Axver; I do not purport to speak for the rest of U2gigs), however, that this tour would be a great opportunity to take The Joshua Tree to a few countries that missed out in 1987. U2's European touring patterns remain stuck in the eighties, failing to venture much into central or eastern Europe - and this is especially the case for what's rumoured for 2017. There are no current rumours of this tour visiting any additional continents, despite the fact the album focuses heavily on Latin American politics ("Bullet the Blue Sky", "Mothers of the Disappeared") and contains a song about a Māori New Zealander, Greg Carroll, and named for the volcanic peak One Tree Hill / Maungakiekie in Auckland. New Zealand and Australia at least got the Lovetown Tour, which had a strong Joshua Tree emphasis, but U2 did not tour Mexico until 1992 and South America until 1998.
So fans in other parts of the world will probably have to travel, or live in the vain hope that the scope of the tour will expand beyond North America and western Europe. There are recurrent rumours - vague ones - of Australasia and South America in 2018 for a resumption of the Innocence + Experience Tour but that's all. Should U2 not visit anywhere else in the world this year, they will get very close to their record for the longest gap between shows in many places. In Australia that record is over 8.5 years between Popmart (last Aussie show 27 February 1998) and Vertigo (first Aussie show 7 November 2006). The longest gaps in Latin American countries are roughly similar, but as they were toured in April and May 2011 (the most recent show being 15 May 2011), the current gap is slightly less than that for Australia and New Zealand, both last toured in 2010. Fortunately the New Zealand record is unlikely to be broken; the biggest gap between shows ran from 4 December 1993 to 24 November 2006 and U2 will most likely pass through the country before 2023. The one continent that really needs a visit is Asia - U2 have never played outside Japan, and their last concert there was 4 December 2006. This gap, of a decade and counting, is already the largest between Asian shows for the band (I am not counting the Middle East in these stats, and for obvious reasons any return to Israel or Turkey is unlikely at present).
To conclude, some of you may be wondering about Songs of Experience. That remains up in the air! Bono mentioned it in the band's Christmas video, so it's coming, but the focus of all rumours is just on the Joshua Tree anniversary. The new album is based on the experience of becoming a massive global act with the Joshua Tree. Hence, I have suggested that a good idea would be to release a lead single just before the anniversary tour begins, play it and one or two other new songs as part of the setlist, treat the anniversary shows as the band's most elaborate promotional tour ever, and then drop the new album and tour it. In effect, it would be: "you've attended the experience, now enjoy new songs about that experience". But this is me dreaming out loud, with no basis in any fact. The forthcoming tour announcement may give us some clues about the fate and timing of Songs of Experience.