U2 loves the United States, its melting-pot history and the power of its people — particularly when they collaborate for the greater good, lead singer Bono told Pittsburgh concertgoers on Wednesday night.
“This country does incredible things when people come together, when people who wouldn’t normally hang out start hanging out — left and right, punk rockers and priests, soccer players, soccer moms, you know what I’m talking about,” Bono told the tens of thousands of people packed into Heinz Field to see the iconic Irish rock band resurrect a spate of decades-old hits.
“We can disagree on almost everything, if the one thing we agree on is important enough,” continued Bono, just before he launched into U2’s 1992 single “One” — which also happens to be the name for Bono’s global campaign to fight extreme poverty .
Longtime fans flocked to the high-octane show from across Western Pennsylvania and around the country for a chance to experience a modern reprise of “The Joshua Tree,” the Grammy award-winning album that has sold more than 25 million copies and propelled U2 into mega-stardom 30 years ago.
“Here we still are,” Bono declared to roaring applause. “There you still are. What a blessing.”
Many in the crowd seemed to embrace Bono’s goals of togetherness and bridging America’s divides.
“He’s for humanity, not for political purposes,” Dan Adley, of South Strabane, Washington County, said shortly before the concert while tailgating with a few friends and his wife, Joan.
Former Westmoreland County Judge David Regoli said that when Bono gets political, he’s “OK with it because I happen to agree with what he says.”
“I agree with social justice,” said Regoli, 52, who recalled watching U2 perform the original Joshua Tree show from the parking lot of Sun Devils Stadium in Tempe, Ariz., as a college student in 1987. “I agree with giving people a hand and helping them up.”
Not every concertgoer was a fan of the night’s more politically charged moments between and during songs — such as not-so-subtle social criticisms of the Trump administration’s policies toward immigrants and refugees.
“Not another one,” groaned one Trump supporter complaining of a “liberal agenda” as Bono began to discuss the role of taxpayers in overcoming the AIDS epidemic.
During the song “Miss Sarajevo,” renamed “Miss Syria,” a 15-year-old Syrian girl appeared on the massive screen anchoring the stage to explain why she dreams of escaping the refugee slums. The song was accompanied by footage of the bleak conditions of the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan, which has grown to house nearly 80,000 Syrians forced from their homes.
In another instance, the screen plays a snippet from a 1950s western TV show, “Trackdown,” which features a character named Walter Trump who’s branded a liar after suggesting that building a wall will save his town.
Bono made a point to remind the audience that U2 is made up of outsiders graciously welcomed by America.
“The Irishmen would like to thank you for giving us safety and sanctuary over the years. Until today,” Bono said. “And this band, do not forget, we are the guests of your great nation. All right? Thank you for letting us sing songs about your country.”
Linda O’Kane, 56, a Natrona Heights native who flew in for the concert from California, said she can appreciate Bono’s devotion to philanthropy and social causes.
“But it doesn’t have to be a part of my evening and my venue,” O’Kane said. “I could do without the politics.”
Marc Bellora, 50, of Monessen said that by now, U2 fans should expect politically charged messages to be part of the show. He noted that exposure to opposing viewpoints shouldn’t be seen as a negative experience.
“I mean, that’s what our democracy is about, right?” Bellora said. “That’s how we become better.”
Bono challenged the audience to brainstorm ways to improve communities from the ground up, rather than merely swallowing orders from Washington.
“Let me tell you, nothing scares the (expletive) out of politicians like millions getting organized,” Bono said. “That’s how it should be — the government should fear its citizens, not the other way around.”
Bono added, “We don’t agonize; we organize. That’s how change comes about.”
Natasha Lindstrom is Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 412-380-8514, [email protected] or on Twitter @NewsNatasha.