U2's Joshua Tree Tour celebrates a classic album, but the band's long-time creative director, Willie Williams, and photographer and film-maker, Anton Corbijn, are also promising a spectacular visual experience, writes David Skipwith.
U2 promise to "bring a piece of America to New Zealand" when they kick off their Joshua Tree 2019 Tour in Auckland next month.
One of the greatest live acts in the world today, the Irish rockers hope to deliver more than just a nostalgia trip when they revisit their classic 1987 album – including the hit singles With Or Without You, I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For, and Where the Streets Have No Name - at Mt Smart Stadium on November 8 and 9.
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Fans can look forward to a visual feast curated by Dutch photographer, film-maker and long-time collaborator Anton Corbijn - who shot the iconic desert images that graced the original album cover – shown in brilliant 8k resolution on a 61m x 14m cinematic screen, the largest high-res LED screen ever used in a touring show.
"We decided to give the visual element back to Anton because it's his aesthetic," explained Willie Williams, the band's creative director and the man responsible for every U2 show over the last 37 years.
"The whole vibe of that album, the way it looks, is Anton's aesthetic. And we realised that we had to give him the best canvas that we possibly could.
"So the screen we have fills the end of the stadium and it actually looks 3D sometimes, because the quality of his films is so astonishing, and the playback is absolutely unprecedented. The pictures are just jaw-droppingly beautiful."
Corbijn's involvement in this tour began two years ago when U2 began organising "a couple of shows" to mark the 30th anniversary of The Joshua Tree album.
Together with the band, Corbijn returned to the California desert locations to capture a set of emotionally charged films that echo the album's original themes, which examine different social, political and environmental aspects of American life.
"Going out into the desert again in 2017 and 2018 was beautiful but less of an adventure than it had been in 1986," Corbijn told TimeOut.
"There are so many more tourists now and, of course, the actual Joshua tree I had used is dead so I didn't redo the album sleeve for the films [commissioned for The Joshua Tree Tour in 2017], but I did shoot one segment at Zabriskie Point, which is actually the location on the front cover of the record.
"My initial idea (in 1987) was to shoot it in Afghanistan, but (former U2 manager) Paul McGuinness was not fond of that idea, to put it mildly, and obviously he had a point.
"So after exploring North Africa, we settled for a Californian desert. This made absolute sense, of course, as one of the album's working titles was The Two Americas."
While the new tour celebrates the past, Williams insists the band and Corbijn worked together to ensure the show has a contemporary feel.
"The genius of revisiting The Joshua Tree is that they've managed to tour this 30-year-old album without it being nostalgic," he says.
"Anton's films, even though he revisited the places where they'd done the original photoshoot, it's all new work, and what he came back with are films about America now.
"And it's still a very American album. It is their most American album and the visuals that Anton made, they are of America.
"And so all of that will stand as a piece, the central setting of the show - we are bringing this piece of America to New Zealand."
With The Joshua Tree album clocking in at just over 50 minutes and forming the core of the show, the band will look to begin their set with some earlier material from their first four records, Boy, October, War and The Unforgettable Fire.
The "third act" also promises to include some of their other big hits, with time also given to showcasing songs from their two most recent albums, Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience.
"You need an appetiser before going into the main course and it seemed to make sense to play songs from before The Joshua Tree in the lead-up," says Williams.
"As well as obviously there being tons of hits, there's some of that new material which we definitely want to include. So we will deliver as promised and then there are some surprises too."
Make sure to pack a hanky or tissues, as Williams warns this tour has shown an ability to stir up feelings and emotions among the audience.
Of course, The Joshua Tree album has always resonated strongly with Kiwis, particularly given it and the track One Tree Hill were dedicated to the band's late Kiwi roadie and friend Greg Carroll.
"There's a lot of crying and I've particularly noticed that men cry at this show.
"I don't know why, whether it's about memories of the time or reflecting on how their lives are now but it's very, very emotional.
"That's the wonderful thing about working with a band like this, there are songs that mark the milestones in people's lives.
"But having the actual people that made that music come and play it to you now, it's really a remarkable thing. And very, very few bands can pull it off the way that U2 do.
"That's what makes it a very special show and of course it has a ton of hits. It's the ideal rock show in a way."
• U2's first Auckland show has sold out, but tickets are still available for the second show on Saturday, November 9 at livenation.co.nz