Dancing the Night Away with Passion Pit

Every so often I need a night of dancing, pressed against 1000 sweaty bodies, screaming lyrics into the air. You can imagine my excitement when I heard Passion Pit was playing at The Depot. I was in for a such a night and a memorable one at that.

Opening band Courtship did little to entice me. As soon as they took the stage I leaned over to a friend and whispered, “I’m probably not going to like this band.” I know I shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but it was just so tempting. Hailing from Hollywood, they were the embodiment of LA hipsters. 4 good-looking boys played unoriginal indie-pop, dressed in designer clothes made to look like they came from a thrift store.

The music was pompously poppy and portrayed the sense that everything is happy and magical. Songs seemed to lack depth and complexity. The crowd went crazy as they covered “Hey Ya” by Outkast. The guitarist, who was essentially a glorified hype man, told a story about seeing Passion Pit years ago and how it was a dream come true to open for them just one year after forming a band. Dreams aside, I couldn’t wait for them to finish their set and Passion Pit to take the stage.

When Passion Pit front man Michael Angelakos stepped into the light I knew we were in for a show. He has a tremendous amount of swag in his shirt and tie, casually undone and untucked. He is confident and relaxed with the crowd that is looking to unwind themselves. Eager anticipation sweeps over the audience as they wait for the music to begin. Passion Pit jumps into “I’ll Be Alright” and the crowd erupts. They know every word and boogie with the music.

Passion Pit is currently touring following the 2017 release of their fourth studio album Tremendous Sea of Love. Formed in 2007, the indietronica band from Cambridge, Massachusetts has known moderate success. Manners (2009) and Gossamer (2012) performed well both critically and commercially. While their most recent albums have been less well received, Passion Pit continues to make their mark in the electropop world.

The crowd helped carry the concert and made it special. Due to Angelakos’ singing style, the vocals are fairly quiet. The voices of 1000 others singing along amplify the music and fill the room. Their love and help is appreciated and expressed by Angelakos. He jokes that his voice was never that strong, but the always energetic crowds of Salt Lake do the work for him. Passion Pit played the hits for around 70 minutes, including, “Sleepyhead”, “Carried Away”, and “Lifted Up (1985)”. After a brief exit and chanting from the crowd, Passion Pit returned to the stage to play “Talk a Walk”, the cherry on top of the sundae.

Passion Pit put on a marvelous concert. Michael Angelakos was entertaining and got the crowd involved. The dance-heavy show didn’t drag on and tire out the fans. The sound quality at The Depot is always top-notch. At the end of the day there is nothing better than live music, especially when it’s as good as Passion Pit.

Octopus Project at Urban Lounge

Monday Night. In Utah, typically reserved for families, board games, and green Jell-O. For some they are better occupied listening to live music at Urban Lounge, Salt Lake City. Of course, I’ll choose the latter. Not too many people left their nieces and nephews on Jan 22 when The Octopus Project came to town. When I first walked in there were only about 10 other people, exactly the way I like it.

Intimate shows are the way to go. Small venues with the stage right in front of your face. No metal barriers dividing musicians and the audience.  This is how music should be played/watched. There are too many ultra-artists playing in those mega-domes and super-stadiums. And some guy payed $200 for him and his daughter to sit in section 317 row J. Anyway, enough with my rant. Back to the important stuff.

The first band was SLC natives Indigo Plateau. With two guitars, bass, drums, and vocals they have a pretty classic dream-pop/alt-rock sound. And they sound pretty good. Both guitarists use a variety of effects during song interludes creating a nice atmosphere. Their music doesn’t blow me away with originality but an altogether strong sound. They were a good opener, playing for about 30 minutes.

The second act was New Fumes from Dallas, TX. A single musician graced the stage. A guitar hung around their neck and was surrounded by a variety of electronic gismos and gadgets creating the rest of the music. The music was wildly experimental. The vocals were incomprehensible and drowned out by the sheer noise. You’d often loose sense of tempo and rhythm. It was on the verge of being something truly original and cool but wasn’t quite there.

Headlining the show was Octopus Project. I first heard about them through a friend just a few weeks prior. I looked them up on Spotify and really liked what I heard. They are an experimental neo-psychedelic band from Austin, TX with a noteworthy sound. On stage, they are incredibly talented. The four musicians move around from instrument to instrument, each playing multiple throughout their hour-long set. Three of them provide lead vocals on at least one song, but much of their music is instrumental. They seem to have a strong connection as a band and play off each other immaculately.

Octopus Project put it all into their performance. Band-member Josh Lambert opened the show saying, “I know it’s cold and it’s a Monday but let’s have a fucking awesome time together.”  And that we did. The crowd had grown considerably but was still sporadic. Nevertheless, people danced, whooped, and hollered. Yvonne Lambert played an electronic instrument called a Theremin, which is played without physical contact. All-in-all it was a delightful show with excellent music.

Music is often inspiring and can teach us important life lessons. But sometimes it doesn’t have a deeper meaning. Sometimes it’s just meant to be enjoyed. Seeing Octopus Project was a chance to simply enjoy some live music.

Holiday Musical Adventures

During the holidays, I found myself in a very strange place, Portland, Oregon. As a music junkie, of course I was gonna check out the local music scene. There is no better way to get to know a place than to listen to its music and I had to make the most of my mere two nights in the city. The first night I wandered downtown into the Ash Street Saloon.

Ash Street Saloon is a landmark in Portland. Located just around the corner from the famous Voodoo Doughnuts, the dirty rock bar features nightly live music. Locals go here to grab some pub food, a microbrew, and to listen to Portland’s common people become rockstars. December 27th, 2017 was dubbed the Farewell to Indie Rock because unfortunately, Ash Street Saloon will close in 2018.

According to the Portland Mercury, “commercial real estate agents have already begun showing the property to potential new tenants.” The owner has no plans to open a second or similar venue, “which means it’s time to celebrate Ash Street for what it has always been since it first opened its doors on Halloween 1994: a readily accessible venue for live music, specializing in local, loud, and low-cover shows, often spotlighting bands before they break through on the scene.”

I felt like an outsider as bands that had been playing here for years graced the stage one last time. That night featured sets from King Ghidora, J. Graves, Another Neighbor Disappeared, The Hoons, The Bible Belts, Pink Tornado, and Aux.78. There was nothing too special about the venue, but the poorly lit room with overbearing music didn’t try to be anything it wasn’t. It simply was what it was.

Night Two started with a red headed flannel wearing Lyft driver picking me up in a blue Prius, but when in Rome right? We ventured to what is acknowledged as one of the top music venues in Portland, Mississippi Studios. Inside the intimate room attached to Bar Bar, it’s all about the music. Built, owned, run, and for musicians, they provide a comfortable setting for local musicians to showcase a variety of new and innovative music.

The room was absolutely beautiful. The floors are semi-carpeted with rugs. The red painted walls suspend wooden guitars surrounded by angel wings. Purple lights shine down on decorative drums that line the balcony.

The first band was Volcanic Pinnacles. They are only a drummer and a sax player, yet produce sound that is so complex and intriguing besides using such little instrumentation. The perpetual pounding of the drums keep rhythm, while the smooth sax plays with effects pedals looping, distorting, and morphing the sound. Their music is some kind of post jazz psych rock and is fantastic. They stole the show at the beginning of the night.

Long Hallways was the second instrumentalist band of the night. The 5 musicians formed a mini-orchestra with drums, trumpet, synthesizers, a bass, guitar, xylophone, flute, cello, and a euphonium. They play post indie rock and display a comfortable familiarity on stage. Therefore, between songs you can hear them talking with each other. The bass player casually raised a finger to the crowd to indicate “last song”.

The final band was Mercury Tree. A simple 3-piece band that played indie rock with a twist. They had modified a guitar and bass dividing the octave into seventeen notes, five more than the standard twelve used in Western music. The lead singer’s microphone was programmed with heavy effects. Tempo variation within songs and strange titles such as “Hedgehogs are the Emperors of Space” and “Jazz Hands of Doom” added to their uniqueness.

However, as the rollercoaster of a year that was 2017 came to an end, these nights exploring the Portland music scene were exactly what I needed. It helped me unwind after the stresses of the year and reminded me of a few things. Primarily, that the world is constantly changing. Local hideouts are getting shut down and replaced with big businesses. Music is evolving and growing as technology improves. Change can be frightening but can lead to positive transformation. May 2018 bring innovation, personal expression, and new music to help get us through.

Arcade Fire live from Las Vegas

 

Arcade Fire sets the stage big when they perform live. When I saw them in Las Vegas, they had a square stage designed like a boxing ring. The 9 musicians on stage play somewhere between 20 and 30 instruments.  Just 3 weeks after the worst mass-shooting in US history, the Canadian indie-rock band fearlessly took the stage at Mandalay Bay. Lead singer Win Butler offered his condolences to the victims of the horrible attack followed by “f*ck being afraid”.

Arcade Fire neither lacks style nor confidence. In a recent interview with the Chicago Tribune, Butler said, “I feel like we’re one of the best rock bands on Earth now.” The lead singer has also been quoted saying they are one of the best performing bands of all time. Before you dismiss them as crazy, go to one of their shows and then decide.

The squareness of stage meant no front. Arcade Fire was constantly moving around rotating from side to side. They had enough members so that all sides of the stage were always filled. The beauty of this design was it allowed more people to get close to the stage. The constant rotation gave the concertgoers a chance to meet each individual musician, instead of staring at one the entire night.

Opening act Angel Olsen, didn’t have the band members or preparation to fill the stage in the same way. They stuck to one side, and unfortunately my friends and I were on the wrong side. Frustration arose as we could just see their backs. They sounded hollow, as if they weren’t able to fill the entirety of the arena. Had I seen the indie-folk artist in a cozier venue and actually been able to see them, I might have enjoyed the show.

The stage wasn’t the only boxing themed part of Arcade Fire’s performance. As they were entering, an announcer on the overhead speaker stated each musician’s “boxing” record. They walked through the crowd with their pump-up music blaring (“Everything_Now (continued)”), then climbed through the ropes and started into “Everything Now”.

The next hour and a half were awesome. It is pretty obvious when bands love performing. Their passion radiates through the crowd who in turn loves watching them perform. Smiles were visible on the faces of band members Richard Reed Perry and Regine Chassagne. Will Butler is one of the most animated performers I have ever seen. Whether he is banging on a drum or jamming on synth, just watching him will bring you pure joy.

Arcade Fire’s sound doesn’t miss a beat transitioning from recordings to live shows. Balancing that many different musicians and instruments can be difficult but they do it with ease. The music is extremely powerful yet so fine-tuned you can still hear each individual instrument.

The disco balls and strobe lights are programmed beautifully so that the lights portray what the music is playing. There are moments of complete darkness and others when fog is so thick they disappear from view. Light and dark are themes that Arcade Fire loves exploring in their music and they bring that into their live shows.

Their setlist was spread-out across their 5 albums playing at least 3 songs from each. They finish with fan favorite “Wake Up”, and leave the stage with the crowd still singing the chorus. Many concertgoers continued singing as they flooded into the casino. I don’t have the expertise to say if Arcade Fire is one of the greatest performing bands of all time, but it was one of my favorite shows I’ve ever been to.

Skalloween!

When the air begins to take on a colder tone, the leaves change, fall off, and all you’re left with is tree skeletons. It must be Fall. Fall has most often been a time of falling apart for me. It seems like my repressed stress builds up during the summer and hits me twice as rough come September. Perhaps that is why I choose to go so hard every Halloween.

This season is a very important time in my culture. It’s a time to celebrate those that have passed. It’s a time to ask for forgiveness and help from ancestors on our journey through the present.  It’s a time of release. Skalloween always helps me to relax.

Sometimes, my past comes face to face with me in the present. I just dance it off and try to stay in the moment. There is something about skanking in a big circle with like-minded individuals that brings me closer to earth.

Skanking is the style of dance for Ska music. Ska music is most often described as a combination of Reggae and Rock, I find it also has influences taken from Mariachi music. Personally, I think good Ska is severely overshadowed by a massive amount of really detestable Ska. Luckily, we have some of the best Ska available in the world right here in Salt Lake City. Every year we appreciate these dedicated bands by attending Skalloween.

The show was at Kilby Court this year, my favorite venue with its intimate setting. The first band The Schemeing Thieves came onto the stage dressed as Mr.Meeseeks from the television series Rick & Morty. Their juxtaposition between somber sections to more upbeat sections in their songs definitely made this band stand out. They were very passionate, as the opening act they did not fail to get the crowd skanking.

Following their set was a band I had never had the pleasure to see before, The Gringos. These guys are hardcore. They’re very seasoned musicians doing what they love.  The amount of energy they had kept everyone in the space and all attention was on The Gringos.

Talk to me about a fire in the eyes and let’s take it to the max. The Anchorage, who played next, has that kind of Maximum Fire in their eyes. The whole band was dressed as David S. Pumpkins. It’s its own thing. Each member of this band is very talented in their own right and the combinations they make are unlike anything I’ve ever heard before. There is a very powerful message behind their lyrics. The trumpet is so crisp and every note is played without falter. The trombone floated through like a raft on the bars. The keyboard adds necessary texture to the music. The guitar and bass hold it together and make it rock. All conducted by the drums which set the perfect pace and rhythm for the band.

The final act was Show Me Island. The Mario Kart theme played and they entered through the back dressed as the characters circling around unleashing a prize box full of candy and bananas. Show Me Island put on a top-notch show. The band has such amazing stage presence and passion. They kept the audience engaged for the entire runtime. The drums have such a nice sharp sound, perfect bass lines, stunning guitar, the lead singer has breathtaking vocals, and the horn section adds beautiful melody. If I could describe this band in three words they would be: see, hear and feel.

I supremely enjoyed this show. It charged me up and I’m very glad that I got to enjoy it. I hope that Skalloween will continue to bring joy to our city for years to come. Though the bands change every year the energy never dies.

 

Click Through this Gallery to see Photos from Skalloween!

  • Kilby Court

    Street Art at Kilby Court

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    Street art at Kilby Court

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    K-Ute Sticker on a bench at Kilby Court

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    Statue at Kilby Court

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    March Sign at Kilby Court

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    Costume At Skaloween

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    Costume at Skaloween

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    Scheming Thieves at Skaloween

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    Scheming Thieves at Skaloween

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    Scheming Thieves at Skaloween

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    Scheming Thieves at Skaloween

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    The Gringos at Skalloween

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    The Gringos at Skalloween

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    The Gringos at Skalloween

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    The Gringos at Skalloween

  • The Anchorage

    The Anchorage during Skalloween

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    The Anchorage during Skalloween

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    The Anchorage during Skalloween

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    The Anchorage during Skalloween

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    The Anchorage during Skalloween

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    The Anchorage during Skalloween

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    The Anchorage during Skalloween

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    The Anchorage during Skalloween

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    The Anchorage during Skalloween

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    The Anchorage during Skalloween

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    The Anchorage during Skalloween

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    The Anchorage during Skalloween

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    The Anchorage during Skalloween

  • Show Me Island

    Show Me Island at Skaloween

  • Show Me Island

    Show Me Island During Skaloween

  • Show Me Island

    Show Me Island At Skaloween

  • Show Me Island

    Show Me Island At Skaloween

  • Show Me Island

    Show Me Island At Skaloween

LINKS:

*The Anchorage- Spotify

*Show Me Island- Spotify

*David S. Pumpkins

*Mr. Meseeks 

A Night With The National

Concerts have a way of bringing people together. We all have personal struggles, yet concerts have always been a way for me to forget mine and enjoy a night. Being in an amphitheater, surrounded by 5,000 people; it doesn’t matter if I just failed a test or had a spat with a parent. I’m going to enjoy the show and dance with the person next to me, regardless of if I know you or not.

The National is one of my favorite bands. Their songs speak to me on a personal level. I deeply relate to their lyrics that speak of depression, anxiety, and not fitting in. I recently saw them perform at the Cal Coast Credit Union Open Air Theatre in San Diego, making it the third time I’ve seen the indie-rock band from Cincinnati. The venue is in the middle of SDSU’s campus. College students wander around the many restaurants and bars surrounding the school.

Eager anticipation overtakes me as the opening act, Daughter, performs. There is nothing better than seeing your favorite music being performed with people you love. My mom and I are sitting in the third row. She is almost as big of a fan as me. It is fitting to go to the show together as she was the first person to introduce me to The National years ago.

Earlier this year, The National released their 7th studio album Sleep Well Beast.  Their new album is more experimental than their older stuff, but still has a classic National feel. Seeing them perform is a one of a kind experience. Despite their melancholic sound, the 5 band members know how to rock out and put on a hell of a show. Lead singer Matt Berninger ventures into the crowd during “Mr. November”. He often reaches into the crowd and grabs peoples drinks. He chugs half, then showers the concertgoers with the other half.

For certain songs, guitarist Bryce Dessner plays with 2 guitars; 1 around his neck and 1 in his hands. He bangs the hand-held on the ground creating an ominous feedback that echoes throughout the theater. Band member improvise and elongate songs, making 3-minute songs last 7 or 8.

Prior to playing “Fake Empire”, Berninger says that some song’s meanings have slightly changed over the years. “This is one that has,” he says. “Things seem a little less fake now.”

Berninger told a story about a conversation he had with his dad earlier that day. His dad said, “Matt slow down.” “I’m trying to dad, I have to be in San Diego in 2 hours.” His dad then repeated, “Matt slow down.” Berninger tells the audience, “I heard him that time.” I love when musicians are honest with their fans and show that they are people too. Simple stories like these create an intimate connection between the musicians and the crowd.

With close to 20 years’ worth of music, The National has plenty of material to choose from. You’ll never hear them play the same setlist twice. They played “Start a War” for the first time since 2014, numerous songs from Sleep Well Beast, classics such as “Apartment Story” and “Terrible Love”, and some lesser known songs like “Wasp Nest”. They are on stage for a solid 2 hours, playing over 20 songs.

During the show, I remember looking up at the night sky and taking it all in. I had had a bit of a rough week, and it seemed like all the pressures of the world were coming down on me. For a moment, just a moment, I forgot about all of them. Listening to music doesn’t erase my problems. It doesn’t put a roof over my head or buy the groceries. It does, however, make life tolerable. It brings people together and allows them to dance. I’ll always cherish that night in San Diego, with my mom and 5,000 other friends, listening to some of my favorite music in the world.

The Possibilities of Music

Some bands simply love playing music and don’t care about anything else. King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard is one of those bands. These Aussies are straight-up music-holics. Since their formation in 2010, they have released 11 full-length studio albums that span a variety of genres. Their music is described as psychedelic or progressive rock but is influenced by folk, jazz, and heavy-metal to name a few. Songs incorporate themes and ideas from these extremely different styles pushing the boundaries of music.

I saw them at Metro Music Hall accompanied by Ice Balloons and Tropical Fuck Storm. Ice Balloons did not impress me. They sounded muffled and messy. However, they did leave a lasting impression for one particular reason, their lead singer wore a fly’s head mask. Uniqueness aside, I was not a fan of their music.  Tropical Fuck Storm was less memorable but seemed more put together as a band.

King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard consists of a herd of members and more instruments than I could count. Their distinct sound is attributed to multiple guitars, synthesizers, harmonicas, a flute, driving bass lines, and two dueling drums. Drummers Eric Moore and Michael Cavanaugh are smack-dab in the middle of the stage battling the entire night. They are the heart and soul of the band whose songs constantly change tempo.

Mixing music genres is not the only way King Gizzard revolutionizes music. For their album, Flying Microtonal Banana, guitarist Stu Mackenzie, Cook Craig, and Joey Walker “modded” guitars adding additional frets.This allowed them to access microtones, semitones, and additional notes impossible on a traditional western guitar. Lead singer Mackenzie had the idea after messing around on a Turkish stringed instrument called a baglama. The result is an easter sounding electric guitar. Creating their own instruments adds to their odd unique sound.

The Melbourne musicians put everything into their performance. They are incredibly energetic and the crowd matches their energy. In all my years going to concerts, I have never seen a wilder crowd. My shoes were completely destroyed in the madness. During the slower parts of songs, concertgoers sway and headbang. When the music gets faster and heavier, mosh pits form in the blink of an eye. The crowd is tightly packed, but the proximity doesn’t stop people from dancing.

King Gizzard’s albums have related songs that blend together and are often broken into multiple parts. Their setlist is programmed in the same manner. They play multiple songs in order or slightly jumbled so that they playing music for 20 or 30 minutes with no breaks. The reoccurrence of melodies and specific lyrics makes you question whether you are still listening to the same song as half an hour ago.

By the time Mackenzie announces their last song, the audience and musicians are beat. They summon enough energy to play a 15-minute version of “Am I In Heaven?”. The crowd cheers for 10 minutes but they don’t get an encore today. After almost 2 hours of constant music, there is nothing left in the tank.

Music truly is limitless. There are innumerable possibilities to be explored and as a society, we have only scratched the surface. King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard is a band that is pushing the limits of traditional music both in the studio and on the stage.

An Epic Night of Rock and Roll

When I was 9 years old, my dad took me to my very first concert. We saw U2 at the then Delta Center. That show introduced me to a world of live music and changed my life forever. I have now been to hundreds of concerts and it is one of my favorite things to do.

I recently saw U2 in Phoenix, Arizona, making it the 5th time I have seen the rock’n’roll giants perform. U2 is currently touring their album The Joshua Tree for its 30-year anniversary. The Joshua Tree is U2’s most popular and critically acclaimed album, featuring iconic songs “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For”, “Where the Streets Have No Name”, and “With or Without You”.

This album has sentimental meaning for my dad. He first saw them perform on the original Joshua Tree tour. Going to U2 concerts has become a tradition for the two of us and is a special bond that we share.

Beck opened and put on an excellent show. His hour-long set had a solid mix of old and newer songs. The singer-songwriter was very animated and seemed thrilled to be touring with the likes of Bono and The Edge.

U2’s set list was incredible. They play their songs in chronological order, with a few exceptions. They start with 2 songs from War (1983) and 2 songs from The Unforgettable Fire (1984) before they dive into The Joshua Tree (1987). The Irishmen play the entire 11 song album start to finish before leaving the stage. Their 7-song encore is comprised of songs released after ’87, playing only 2 songs released after 2000, and ending with “One”.

U2 spares no expenses when it comes to their stages. The 50-yard-wide stage sits underneath a massive video screen and hundred-foot-tall Joshua tree. The walk-way and secondary stage is also shaped like a Joshua tree. While they play, images of Joshua Tree National Park and the American South West flash across the screen.

The entire show is very political, as the band comments on the current state of the U.S. Bono says that America has been a second home to him and the band. They condone President Trump showing a video clip mocking a character named Trump who wants to build a wall. Bono voices his disapproval of the end of DACA saying, “this country was built by dreamers, for dreamers”. The project images of Syrian refugee camps, women activists, and the words, “the power of the people is so much greater than the people in power”.

Somethings change and some never do. 30 years ago, the world was entirely different and would be almost unrecognizable now. However, people are still listening to the same music and seeing the same bands perform. U2 is no longer the young rebel rockers they were but still know how to put on a hell of a show. In the end it was, in Bono’s words, “a night we’ll never forget. An epic night of rock and roll.”