San Francisco

'Save The Yuppies:' U2's Free 1987 Concert In Justin Herman Plaza

Nearly thirty years ago, Irish rock band U2 decided that the Bay Area's yuppies needed to be saved, and that a free performance in Justin Herman Plaza would be their contribution to the effort.

The band was touring to promote its Joshua Tree album when a global financial crisis unfolded on ‘Black Monday,’ October 19, 1987. The Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped 22.6 percent in one session, which remains the largest one-day stock market loss in history.

The band had two sold-out shows at Oakland Coliseum on November 14th and 15th, but prior to those concerts, it worked with promoter Bill Graham to host a free performance on the Embarcadero that drew around 20,000 people, even though fans only received two hours' notice.

“People in the Financial District need cheering up,” U2 manager Paul McGuiness told The Chronicle.

News reports suggest more than 20,000 people attended the free show.

“Seeing that the business sector has been having such big problems, we decided to have a ‘Save the Yuppies’ concert,” Bono told the lunchtime crowd.

"But we had to find a cool city to do it in."

A reporter on the scene noted “office workers in suits mingled with a regulation T-shirt and Levi’s rock show audience.” Some fans climbed trees and utility poles for a better view. Fans swarmed the plaza at the foot of Market Street, some packing into stairwells at the Hyatt Embarcadero.

Although the Fire Department had to “rescue a few concert-goers from their precarious perches,” the 50-minute show proceeded without any arrests or injuries, although a crime was committed.

Full footage of the impromptu concert.

Footage of the offense is featured in Rattle and Hum, a 1988 concert film.

In the movie, during the band’s cover of All Along The Watchtower, the first song in their impromptu set, Bono is depicted spray-painting the plaza's Vaillancourt fountain. In reality, his violation of state Penal Code 594 PC happened during the finale, Pride (In The Name Of Love).

His message:

Stop The Traffic/Rock N Roll
Footage from Rattle and Hum shows the spray-painting incident.

Given that the city was contending with a widespread graffiti problem, then-Mayor Dianne Feinstein wasn’t feeling Bono’s spontaneity, describing it as “an unfortunate incident that marred an otherwise wonderful rock concert enjoyed by 20,000 people.”

Promoter Graham defended Bono's gesture as "an act of prankesterism by someone who’s not 90 years old yet—they’re still very much alive and very much given to the free spirit of the moment,” he said.

According to ABC7 reporter Carol Ivy, Feinstein “said that the Bill Graham organization has assured her that they will have this entire fountain drained and sandblasted and that they will then send the bill to U2.”

Concert promoter Bill Graham. | Via ABC7

Bono was slapped with a citation, and the band is said to have ultimately paid for the graffiti removal. "Oops! U2 would like to apologize for any upset it caused," it said in a statement. "We got carried away by what was a great day and a great gig."

But the fountain’s sculptor, Armand Vaillancourt, supported Bono’s act. Vaillancourt, a supporter of the Quebec sovereignty movement, spray-painted his preferred title, Quebec Libre!, in red on the fountain the day before it was dedicated in 1971. 

U2 is currently on a thirty-year Joshua Tree commemorative tour, and performed in Santa Clara back in May. Fans have one more chance to see the band in California: they play Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego on September 22nd with Beck before heading into Mexico for the tour’s last leg.

Never miss a story.

Subscribe today to get Hoodline delivered straight to your inbox.