The first of U2’s two sold-out The Joshua Tree 30th anniversary concerts at Pasadena’s Rose Bowl, which took place Saturday, was packed with powerful moments. But one of the most memorable and moving occurred before the show even started or the band members even picked up their instruments, when U2 paid homage to Soundgarden/Audioslave singer Chris Cornell, who tragically committed suicide last week at age 52.
Minutes before the band was set to take the Rose Bowl stage, the PA system blasted Soundgarden’s most massive and instantly recognizable smash, “Black Hole Sun,” and the nearly 100,000 fans in attendance immediately leapt to their feet — whooping, cheering, and lighting up their cell phones for the duration of the six-minute psychedelic power ballad.
Later, during the Joshua Tree portion of their set, U2 addressed Cornell’s death directly. As the Edge sat solemnly at his piano for the drug/depression-themed track “Running to Stand Still,” frontman Bono declared, “For the lion that was Chris Cornell, we send a prayer to his lioness [Cornell’s widow] Vicky, and [Cornell’s children] Christopher and Toni and Lilli — the whole family. A beautiful, sweet soul, Chris Cornell.”
As Bono sang, “You got to cry without weeping/Talk without speaking/Scream without raising your voice,” the Rose Bowl masses were silent and reverent, swaying as one, their illuminated cell phones held aloft once more.
“Running to Stand Still” was not U2’s only poignant dedication Saturday. They played “One” for late artist and AIDS activist David Wojnarowicz; mashed up their fiery Martin Luther King Jr. anthem “Pride (In the Name of Love)” with an a cappella snippet of Simon & Garfunkel’s “America”; and gave a shout-out to “the great women in our life” (including Bono’s two daughters, sitting in the audience) and called for women to “persist and resist” before performing “Ultraviolet (Light My Way)” against a bold backdrop of images of Hillary Rodham Clinton, Michelle Obama, Patti Smith, Poly Styrene, Pussy Riot, Maya Angelou, Rosa Parks, Ellen DeGeneres, Grace Jones, Malala Yousafzai, and other strong female icons.
Elsewhere in Los Angeles Saturday, at the weekend’s other major alt-rock event, the annual KROQ Weenie Roast y Fiesta at Carson’s StubHub Center, Soundgarden’s peers Incubus also paid touching tribute to Cornell.
“All night tonight, my thoughts with my brother Chris Cornell. He is one of three people that made me want to be a singer. He taught me how to be heavy and look for beauty at the same time. He was a huge influence on me, and he was a huge influence on our band and so many other bands here tonight. So, I just wanted to say to Chris, I love you wherever you are. We will never forget you,” Incubus frontman Brandon Boyd told the KROQ crowd, before he and Cage the Elephant’s Matthew Schultz performed an intense duet of “Black Hole Sun.”