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[Herald Review] U2’s 1st outing in Seoul a gift after long wait

As incredible as it sounds, U2 -- one of biggest names in rock history -- has never had a huge following in Korea. The disparity between the band’s international fame and popularity in Korea, among other things, has prevented U2 fans in the country from enjoying the group’s music live.

U2 performs at Gocheok Sky Dome in Seoul on Sunday. (Live Nation)
U2 performs at Gocheok Sky Dome in Seoul on Sunday. (Live Nation)

That was until the Seoul leg of the Joshua Tree Tour 2019 in Gocheok Sky Dome in Seoul on Sunday, held in commemoration of the 30th anniversary of one of their best-received albums, “The Joshua Tree.” For fans who waited decades for the moment, the concert was the culmination of the band’s history, enticing a charming performance and tantalizingly short demonstration of the genius of Bono, the Edge, Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen Jr.

After nearly four decades of waiting, the show did not get off to the smoothest of starts, with the public announcement system apparently malfunctioning midway into the intro music.

But this is Bono we are talking about. 
U2 performs at Gocheok Sky Dome in Seoul on Sunday. (Live Nation)
U2 performs at Gocheok Sky Dome in Seoul on Sunday. (Live Nation)

“We don’t need no music right now, we’re going to make the music. We don’t need an introduction, we’re going to make our own introduction,” said the legendary frontman, filling the stage with his presence before the introduction of drummer Mullen via a mad drum solo.

Starting off with “Sunday Bloody Sunday,” the show started galloping with “I Will Follow” and “New Year’s Day,” before -- sadly -- skipping over “Bad” on the preannounced set list for some reason and proceeding to “Pride (In the Name of Love).”

These first songs were special; absent the giant screens, props, gimmicks and effects the band has come to be known for.

It was as if U2 were giving us a summarized version of what its Seoul concert would have been like had they visited in the 1980s. What’s left? The music. And U2’s music did not need visual effects to strike the hearts of those privileged to attend.

Sunday also happened to be the day John Lennon died, 39 years ago. Bono acknowledged this in a strike of class and respect for a fellow music great, saying “Think about the great peacemaker we lost, Dec. 8th, 39 years ago tonight. John Lennon, we lost John Lennon. A great peacemaker, great soul.”

U2 performs at Gocheok Sky Dome in Seoul on Sunday. (Live Nation)
U2 performs at Gocheok Sky Dome in Seoul on Sunday. (Live Nation)

“Let’s turn this Gocheok Sky arena into a cathedral,” he said, as the lights were turned off and lit up with smartphone flashes held up by the 28,000 gathered there, paying tribute to the great soul to the words of “Pride.”

“Late in the evening, Dec. 8th. Shot rings out in the New York sky,” Bono sang, changing the lyrics that originally referred to the 1968 assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. “Free at last, they took your life. They could not take your pride.”

Then of course, the band proceeded to perform songs from “The Joshua Tree.”

Over 30 years after its release, the music contrasting the “mythic” and real America screamed out at those living today and facing similar issues.

This was where the use of the giant screen came to full effect. The visualization of the desert from the album’s iconic artwork to the music “In God’s Country” pulled the crowd in.

It was with “With or Without You,” likely the best-known U2 song in Korea, when the crowd got really fired up. Edge’s ambient guitar sound in the song was hauntingly beautiful as ever, as was Bono’s vocal delivery that captivated the crowd. The audience rallied behind the 59-year-old who commanded them to sing along to the famous words.

From the hard-hitting “Bullet in the Blue Sky” to the deeply touching “Running to Stand Still” -- a slight comfort after missing “Bad” -- “The Joshua Tree” portion was easily the show’s highlight. This was bit of a letdown for the extensive encore section that went on for well over half an hour, knowing that while still great, the band’s greatest days may be well behind us.

Still, the last sections of the show spoke powerfully, particularly during “Ultraviolet” when the band acknowledged iconic Korean women in a message for equality. The band wrapped up with prayer for a compromise that may bring peace between the South and North Koreas, to the words of “One.”

Overall, what we saw was U2. What started out as a tribute to arguably their best work turned out to be a culmination of the great band’s past and present. It had spectacular and touching moments in spades, which felt truly like a gift after a long wait.

By Yoon Min-sik (

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