u2-the-joshua-tree-tour-2017A cynic could say the reprise of a rock band’s signature album and tour – in this case, U2’s The Joshua Tree, a youthful exhortation of hope, love and activism – is merely an exercise in hubris and greed.

Cynics are often wrong.

It’s been 30 years since U2 launched The Joshua Tree, and if Tuesday night’s D.C. show proved nothing else, it proved that those soaring, sometimes pleading, songs are just as rich and righteous today as they were in 1987, when U2 was only an Irish punk(like) band with a loudmouth lead singer with a propensity for onstage political statements. Back when the only way to see U2 was to, you know, go to a concert – not wait for someone else to post a video and a ton of pictures on Facebook. (In 1987, you would have gotten arrested for trying to record any part of a live concert, provided you could sneak in a video or audio camera the size of a small suitcase). Back then, Bono couldn’t create a universe of “the real stars” with tens of thousands of glowing cell phones – Bic lighters held aloft don’t have the same effect.

I first heard the album in the desert, of all places. And not very far from Joshua Tree National Monument – I was a young Marine Corps officer stationed at the Twentynine Palms Marine Corps base in the Mojave Desert. By 1987, I’d been listening to U2 for four years, since War (ironically, one of the most popular albums among the Marines deployed to Beirut in the days leading up to the obscene terror bombing of the barracks). The first video I ever saw on MTV (back when MTV lived up to its name) was “New Year’s Day.”

I always felt some of the above-mentioned irony of being a man in uniform with a pretty clear idea of what my job was and where my loyalties lay while being touched by this music that, at its most basic level, represents pretty much the opposite of what I thought I stood for. And at times (“Bullet the Blue Sky”) it was hard to listen to the loudmouth who says he loves America but also castigates it. Or so I thought. I was young. And had a lot to learn.

The D.C. show was my fifth U2 concert, the first being in Memphis 20 years ago. After I’d left the Marine Corps, after I’d had lived some – deployments, combat, children, loss, and grief – but before disappearing into a wilderness of which it would take years to find an exit, and while I was, at 35, only beginning to figure out exactly who and what I was.

U2’s fan base is almost embarrassingly loyal – nearly everyone in attendance Tuesday was more or less my age – and I’m one of the faithful. It’s not over the top to say that a U2 concert is something akin to a spiritual experience (at least for me). There’s something going on in the building when the house lights go down and four short Irish guys appear on their latest outrageously large and showy stage. There’s a connection and a kinship, the linking together of thousands of people with nothing in common with each other except the desire to connect. To hope. To believe it can, or even might, be better, and that maybe we can “kick the darkness ‘til it bleeds daylight.”

The band’s opening set reminded us of that. Opening on a small B-stage in a sea of upraised arms, the opening martial drumbeat of “Sunday Bloody Sunday” evoked a roar and seemed to at least answer the question of “how long must we sing this song?” as the band played like the band they used to be and, at their essence, still are: four determined musicians in a crowded room, with a few loud amps and a couple of spotlights. No massive video screens or laser shows, none of the flash and kitsch they made famous in the 80s and 90s. Just Larry, Adam, the Edge and –with his “three chords and the truth” – Bono.

“New Year’s Day” – the ode to Poland’s Solidarity movement – followed, then “Pride,” which reminded us that the dream is still alive, if only because it hasn’t yet come true. “Bad” – a performance of which became U2’s electrifying moment at Live Aid all those years ago – rounded out the first set, its lingering refrain of “I’m not sleeping” still speaking to the heartbreaking alienation of addiction, perhaps made more powerful today more than ever.

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The show then shifted to the main stage, with its 150-foot megascreen backdrop, which dazzled, awed and moved the audience all night. The Joshua Tree set opened in order, with the atmospheric keening of the Edge’s guitar throwing the crowd into the now-familiar bounce that always happens when the crowd hears “Where the Streets Have No Name.” Granted, at our age, we don’t bounce as high or as long, but we still want to tear down the walls that hold us inside.

U2 played these songs with as much heart Tuesday night as they did in 1987 and ’88, and many of us listened to them the same way. Having heard many of the songs in other variations on other tours, I was pleased to hear – and see, after all, this is U2 – them in a stripped down, near-original incantation that reminded me why I bought this album (and two cassette versions, once on CD, and lastly – I hope – digitally) in the first place. No gospel choirs, no slow-dancing girls on stage, no bombast. Just music with soul, heart, and hope.

And a few of the songs I’d never heard live. Bono gave thanks for “allowing us to keep coming to your country,” speaking not just for the band but, presumably, every Irish immigrant ever, and launched into “In God’s Country” in front of an oversized landscape of a Joshua tree with the colors of the Irish flag superimposed over it. “Red Hill Mining Town” included a clever inclusion of a brass section of Salvation Army musicians projected on the screen behind the stage. “Trip Through Your Wires” featured an incongruous (and odd) color video montage of one woman twirling a lasso while another painted an American Flag on a desert building. Stark black and white camera work haunted the audience as the band played “Running to Stand Still,” “One Tree Hill” and the disturbing “Exit.” “Mothers of the Disappeared” (“hear their heartbeats”) featured a poignant backdrop of women motionlessly holding candles.

If the first set represented the simplicity of U2 before JT, the encore definitely brought the flash and splash of the decades after. This is a band that knows who they are and doesn’t dare let you forget it. With a video of a young Jordanian girl explaining her life as a refugee in the Middle East, the band played “Miss Sarajevo” as a massive photo of the girl passed around the entire ring of the stadium, passed hand to hand to the strains of Luciano Pavarotti’s vocals.

After Bono’s longwinded admiration of women the world over, “Ultraviolet” marked the Achtung Baby era along with what has become, possibly, U2’s signature song, “One.” For years, U2 ended its shows with this tune, but not this night. From All That You Can’t Leave Behind, they broke out “Beautiful Day,” then a rousing version of “Elevation” before hitting a crescendo with “Vertigo” (“just give me what I want, and no one gets hurt”) from How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb.

Best show ever? Hard to say. After 30 years, no show is going to feature every song I’d like to hear. And even Bono has slowed down a step or two. But not enough to prevent it from being a truly awesome experience, another grand exposition and, more importantly, a moment, sublime at times, to realize we still are able to dream out loud.

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N@TB RichmondLast night’s Noir at the Bar in Richmond, Va., turned out to be a great success and evening of writerly camaraderie.  Organized by Marietta Miles (Route 12) and hosted by Eryk Pruitt (Dirtbags) at McCormack’s Irish Pub, the night gave nine crime fiction writers an opportunity to read some of their writing and meet other crime writers over a few cold drinks and a lot of laughs.

And a special shout out to reviewer David Nemeth for visiting, all the way from Delaware.

Photos of the evening below (courtesy of Shawn Reilly, and if you want to see/hear what a Noir at the Bar is really like, here’s a link of me reading a chapter from Outside the Law. Enjoy!

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Our host and organizer, Marietta Miles, reads.

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MC Eryk Pruitt (in the white shirt way in the back)

 

 

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Yours truly, reading a chapter from Outside the Law.

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Group photo! From left, Shawn Reilly Simmons, Ward Howarth, Phillip Thompson, Eryk Pruitt, SA Cosby, LynDee Walker, Jamie Mason, Marietta Miles

U2 during the opening concert of the global The Joshua Tree Tour 2017 in Vancouver… and so does one of the most durable rock bands ever … U2 has kicked off its Joshua Tree 2017 tour with a packed house in Seattle, and the first photos and set list have been released. And I couldn’t be stoked about that. I’ve made no bones about the depth of my fandom for the band whose music and live performances rise to the level of a spiritual experience at times and whose songs are as enduring as the joshua tree itself. I’ll be at next month’s Washington, D.C., show for my fifth U2 concert.

I’m sure the set list will change from show to show a little bit, but the Seattle show list certainly rocked for any real fan:

Bono during the opening concert of the global The Joshua Tree Tour 2017 in Vancouver

B-Stage Open
Sunday Bloody Sunday
New Years Day
A Sort of Homecoming
Bad
Pride (In the Name of Love)

Main stage
Where The Streets Have No Name
I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking ForU2
With or Without You
Bullet the Blue Sky
Running to Stand Still
Red Hill Mining Town
In God’s Country
Trip Through Your Wires
One Tree Hill
Exit

Encore
Beautiful Day
Elevation
Ultraviolet
One

Encore 2
Miss Sarajevo
The Little Things That Give You Away
I Will Follow

In another era, when we were all younger, Bono and U2 asked us “How long must we sing this song?” Looks like the answer may be: as long as we can hear their heartbeat.

(Photos: www.independent.ie)

Outside-02-215x330Well, that’s been awesome…Outside the Law made the Amazon Best Seller this Brash-Booksweek, reaching #40 in the United States, and #15 in Canada, as well as #1 in the Mystery/Hardboiled category. That’s a first for me — one that could not have been accomplished without the great crew at Brash Books.

So, what’s next?

First, my third Noir at the Bar happens Friday, 19 May, in Richmond, Va., at McCormack’s Irish Pub. If you’re in the area, and in the mood to hear some scruffy, sometimes manic crime writers read from their works, come on out. My first N@TB happened  couple of years ago in Durham, N.C.; I read at another in Baltimore not long after. I love the N@TB atmosphere…just a bunch of writers in the corner of a bar holding forth on some of the best crime fiction you’ll ever hear.

Next, I’m back to writing … the next Colt Harper story is now well underway. Not giving much away yet, but the working title (which will inevitably change) is “A Gun in My Hand.”

N@TB Richmond

 

Outside-02-215x330Pleased to report that beginning TODAY and continuing for only 48 hours, Outside the Law is available for a reduced price via a Bookbub promotion. That means you can get the e-book version of Outside the Law for only 99 cents — a savings of $4. You can download a copy from any platform (Amazon, B&N, iTunes, etc.).  So, if you haven’t already, get on it. This deal ends on the 17th.

And stay tuned for another promotion later this week …

Audio book fans, Outside the Law is now available on audio: Mystery Scene Audio Ad

As promised, the second (Kindle) version of Deep Blood is now available via Amazon. Click here for more info on this expanded version of the first Colt Harper novel.

And after you’ve read it, get the next one, Outside the Law, from Brash Books.

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It’s taken a while, but I have managed to regain my rights to Deep Blood, the first Colt Harper DIGITAL_BOOK_THUMBNAILstory. Even better, an expanded edition (with a new cover) will soon be available for download on Amazon — for less than half the price of the first edition. This new edition contains material from the original manuscript that did not make it into the first edition as well as material written after. So, stay tuned for updates as to availability

The Los Angeles Times Festival of the Book recently concluded, and it was my pleasure to attend and spend some time with fellow writers from Brash Books. If you’re a West Coaster and have never checked out this enormous book festival, and sat in on some of the seminars by the country’s best authors., you definitely should put it on your calendar.

 

It’s been a busy start to February for me. Outside the Law is finally a reality and doing really well so far. And though I’ve tried to keep up with all the goings on, for a variety of reasons I haven’t really had time to digest the reaction to the book and post daily here, or any social media for that matter.

cropped-cropped-deadmulelogo-1But two items of note today. The first is the very generous review by the irrepressible Val MacEwan at The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature, as good a journal of authentic Southern fiction as you’re going to find (if I do say so myself). I was fortunate enough to have a story published at the Mule  a few years ago, and it’s really a cool thing to be reviewed there. If you like your Southern fiction real, get over there and check it out. To read the review, click here.

Here’s an excerpt: “Outside the Law needs to be savored and enjoyed. Read it for the action but also read it for the sense of place. Thompson’s writing is sparse and brilliant, no flowery speeches, no unnecessary actions.”

Next, another great review from crime fiction reviewer David Nemeth. You can read the whole thing here, but here’s a preview: “If you like your Southern justice with a side of revenge and lots of good writing, then Outside the Law is just the book for you.”

Next up: the Los Angeles Times Festival of the Book, April 22-23. I’ll be heading to the West Coast to attend this event as one of Brash Books’ authors, and I’m really looking forward to my first trip to L.A. in about 10 years.

Today’s links

Boyce’s new book, ‘Old Bones’ crime fiction at its best“Old Bones” by highly acclaimed author Trudy Nan Boyce (Putnam, $27) is a superior crime novel scheduled for release on Tuesday.

The Dry by Jane Harper: The surprising roots of hot new crime thrillerWhat has Hull got to do with a critically acclaimed new crime thriller novel set in Australia? It is set in hot, dusty and arid rural Australia, so you might well be forgiven for wondering what East Yorkshire has to do with one of the hottest new crime thrillers.The Dry by Jane Harper has received rave reviews since it was published in the UK last week, mirroring similar critical acclaim back in Australia and in the US.

Outside-02-215x330Today is pub day for Outside the Law, and, as I did yesterday, I have to again say thanks to the crew at Brash Books (Lee Goldberg & Joel Goldman) for taking the time to read the manuscript, see something in it, and then have the patience and insight to help shape it into what I think is a damn good Southern crime story. Go ahead, buy a copy, read it and agree with me. You know you want to.

Also, please take the time to leave a review on Amazon. Believe it or not, every little bit helps. Then tell all your friends.

And just to whet your appetite (if it isn’t already), check out the first of three trailers for the book here. And read reviews on the “Books” link at the top of the page. Here’s the Publisher’s Weekly review to get you started:

“Sheriff Colt Harper, as the title of Thompson’s tough, fast-paced sequel to 2013’s Deep Blood suggests, takes a Dirty Harry approach to law enforcement. In his first term as sheriff of Mississippi’s rural Lowndes County, Colt has shot several people, and his office stands accused of using excessive violence. He’s unsure whether he should run for reelection. At the scene of a convenience store robbery, a teenage boy, whom Colt places under arrest, tells him that somebody has been taking down drug dealers. When drug dealers start turning up dead, Colt suspects that a serial killer is at work. Molly McDonough, an ATF special agent, helps him investigate. Colt and Molly, who have each become disillusioned with their jobs, are seeking redemption for past mistakes. Meanwhile, a Memphis crime lord has ordered Hack, a hit man, to stop Colt. Hack, too, expresses a desire for redemption. Fueled by either remorse or revenge (or a combination of both), Thompson’s convincing characters race toward an inevitable and explosive showdown.”