By Christopher Floch and Catherine Bauknight

Celebrating the 30th anniversary of “The Joshua Tree,” U2 took to the stage at the Rose Bowl last weekend with a sense of optimism and purpose that energized the more than 92,000 people in attendance.

Released in 1987, “The Joshua Tree” is the album that catapulted Irish band to superstardom. It went on to sell more than 25 million copies around the world and won several Grammy Awards in 1988, including Album of the Year.

But these were no greatest hits shows on Saturday and Sunday, with the band playing “Where the Streets Have No Name,” a ferocious, “Bullet the Blue Sky,” “With or Without You” and the rarely performed “Red Hill Mining Town.” These songs not only resonated with a new generation, but also served as a reminder to older audience members of the current political strife in both the United States and abroad.

Last weekend’s shows were part of a world tour in which U2 will play before an estimated 1.7 million people at 33 venues around the United States and Europe.

After four songs of warming up the crowd, the band appeared on a stage more befitting U2. The Irish rockers moved to a much larger main stage, where a giant screen displayed striking high-definition landscape scenes by photographer Anton Corbijn, who’s managed U2’s visual approach for decades.

One dark cloud hanging over the otherwise gorgeous Pasadena evening was the tragic suicide of Soundgarden frontman Chris Cornell. “Running to Stand Still” was dedicated to the late singer. Minutes before the concert began. The haunting signature Soundgarden track “Blackhole Sun” blared from public address speakers as people in the crowd sang along and hugged one another.

After the final “Joshua Tree” song was complete, U2 delivered an electrifying encore. Bono used the introduction to “One” as an opportunity  to congratulate America on doing the lion’s share of work in developing AIDS drugs, saying citizens should be pleased their tax dollars are at work saving lives.

Throughout the performance, there seemed more of a sense of urgency in the messages revealed by Bono between songs on the original album and how they relate to such issues as the environment, immigration and war.

“The concert was a definite message of action for change to better our society and politics,” Ryan McPhee of Pasadena said after Saturday’s show. 

As part of an encore beginning with “Beautiful Day,” Bono paid tribute to “great women” in our lives and those who have contributed to society, displaying photos on the screen of Mother Theresa, Rosa Parks, Michelle Obama, Patti Smith and Hillary Clinton.

“It was a message with a point because at this point in their career they can do what they want to empower their career,” said Bradley Keys of Santa Monica.