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Axver's Tour Predictions: The Joshua Tree

After the flurry of interviews late last week and early this week, things have gone a little quiet again. I thought I would take this opportunity to continue my series of tour predictions. I began with Songs of Innocence, then looked back to Boy, October, War, and The Unforgettable Fire. Today I turn my attention to U2's best-selling album.


This album has remarkably lopsided live representation. Songs from the first side of The Joshua Tree have been performed a combined total of 3,029 times; the songs from the second side can only claim 372 performances. The only song from the first side that has not been played more times than the entirety of the second side is "Running To Stand Still", but it's only 27 performances shy of the mark. Will this imbalance continue on the next tour?

Where the Streets Have No Name
Likelihood: 100%
Is there anybody out there who thinks “Streets” will not be played? This song has become such an essential part of any U2 setlist that the twelve Joshua Tree Tour shows in Europe and one Lovetown Tour show without it seem strange and even alien now. Even if U2 try to drop it, you know they’ll come running back. This is the transformative moment for any gig, saving those that are faltering and turning those that are great into something transcendent.

I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For
Likelihood: 100%
Bono loves tens of thousands of people singing his lyrics back to him. His voice also isn’t getting any younger, and he can take a bit of a breather with this song because the crowd is always happy to take the reins for the first couple of verses. ISHFWILF hasn’t always been a fixture on recent tours, and I can see it being rotational, but it will be there in some capacity.

With or Without You
Likelihood: 95%
You may be surprised to see I’m not giving this an instantaneous 100%. The set is getting more and more crowded. One of JT’s opening trio might have to give way. WOWY has missed fair chunks of a couple of tour legs in the last 15 years, and that could happen again – or it could enter rotation. It has sounded tired at some recent shows, with Bono mumbling through the verses in a seemingly uninterested manner. That said, if it’s done almost every night as per usual, I won’t be shocked in the slightest. I just hope Bono includes the Shine Like Stars verse more frequently (probability: 10%).

Bullet the Blue Sky
Likelihood: 60%
Although “Bullet” was played at all but six full tour gigs from 1987 to 2006, there was little surprise among fans when it was omitted from 360: somehow it felt like the right time for a rest. The question is now whether “Bullet” returns rested and fresh for the next tour. I think this is more likely than not. Much is happening in the world to feed the fire behind Bono’s delivery. Edge is in good form on Songs of Innocence and perhaps he has new ideas of how to approach this song, which has always been something of a showcase for his abilities.

Running to Stand Still
Likelihood: 15%
If U2 want to prove their abilities as storytellers, never mind writing new songs – here is an absolute gem of vivid lyricism in their discography. It got bumped abruptly from the Vertigo Tour setlist by “Miss Sarajevo” and did not get to fully enjoy its time to shine. Now is time to bring it back – and, dare I say it, find a way of playing it divorced from “Bullet”. The two songs are an effective pairing, but they are also very different and need not come together.

In God’s Country
Likelihood: 20%
Hopefully U2 are sick of representing The Joshua Tree simply by playing songs from its first side. The album has such a lofty reputation because it is a complete package, and it’s time to dust off songs from the second side. “In God’s Country” is not only uptempo; it’s also short, which means it can slot into a set easily. I must admit I’m surprised this song has not appeared more frequently as part of mid-show acoustic sets (but I hope that it won't fall victim to that gimmick if it is revived).

One Tree Hill
Likelihood: 20%
Might U2 be acquiring renewed appreciation for this song? If they tour New Zealand then the likelihood of this song’s performance gets close to 100%, but on Vertigo it stayed in the set briefly afterwards, and on 360 it showed up on a couple of special occasions much later. This is a big fan favourite, a holy grail of many fans; it is powerful and arresting and if we are lucky U2 will start to share the brilliance of live “One Tree Hill” a bit more generously with fans around the world.

Mothers of the Disappeared
Likelihood: 10%
Much to everybody’s surprise, this song briefly showed up on the 2010 European leg of 360 – and to even greater surprise it was not played in full (just snippeted) in Argentina and Chile. What next for this haunting song? It’s hard to be sure, but I wouldn’t rule it out; it couldn’t find a home on 360 but it may slot in on a new tour, especially for arena concerts. If the rumours are true and U2 will be visiting Argentina and Chile on the next tour, then its likelihood of appearance should improve considerably.

Luminous Times (Hold on to Love)
Likelihood: 1%
Edge spoke favourably of performing this song before 360, but it never came to pass. Will they be bold enough to dig up this fantastic rarity? I’m just pleased to know they have not forgotten about it. The optimist in me hopes that when they come to rehearse songs for the next tour, they give “Luminous Times” greater consideration. Could it be a wild outside chance for an arena tour? Fingers crossed.

Sweetest Thing
Likelihood: 25%
I actually find it surprising this song has had such a short live career. It’s a very well known hit – I was in high school not long after this was redone as a single and it was one of the first songs anybody mentioned when they found out I was a U2 fan. Bono played it on keys on the Elevation Tour, but if that is the hindering factor, it wouldn’t be hard to either rejig it to have Edge handle keys and not feature any guitar, or for Terry Lawless to do the keys. If it comes back, you know the chorus will be a singalong moment.

Spanish Eyes
Likelihood: 5%
Actually, the likelihood for “Spanish Eyes” being performed during at least one show in Spain is 50%; it currently has a pattern of appearing in Spain on every second tour. The likelihood for “Spanish Eyes” being played anywhere else is close to zero. But then if “One Tree Hill” can get a gig outside New Zealand and “Mothers of the Disappeared” can enjoy a run in Europe, maybe this tour will be the time for “Spanish Eyes” to make a few special appearances elsewhere on the globe.

Will not be played: Red Hill Mining Town, Trip Through Your Wires, Exit, any other b-side.
If Bono had trouble singing “Red Hill Mining Town” in 1987, then it isn’t much of a shot today! “Trip Through Your Wires” is a song very much of its time, a song with a much lower status relative to most of the rest of the album, and it would probably sit awkwardly in a set today. And “Exit”, poor “Exit”, seems to have been forgotten, or perhaps still tainted in the band’s collective memory by being cited in a murder trial.

Ax’s wishes: In God’s Country, One Tree Hill, Exit, Mothers of the Disappeared, Luminous Times, Spanish Eyes, Womanfish.
"Womanfish" is the greatest U2 song ever (and as an appendix go knock on heaven's door too). I have this dream that one day U2 will do the full suite of death – “One Tree Hill”, “Exit”, “Mothers” – live. I expect this dream to go unrealised. My love for “One Tree Hill” is no secret to any long-term followers of this website (I still remember the very nice messages I received in 2006 from readers who knew I was at the Auckland concert when it was played for the first time in almost 17 years); I am also a vocal champion of “Exit” as an electrifying live beast and its legacy should not be defined by a lone nutjob. I would also dearly love U2 to showcase some of The Joshua Tree’s b-sides – like The Unforgettable Fire, some of this era’s best music did not even make the album.

Up next: will you be humming along live to songs from Rattle and Hum? Will those songs rattle around in the set for long? Will Ax think of more bad puns?

Posted on by Axver

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