Sometimes you have to wait two years to see what was always coming to you, too: U2.
And so it has been for the Australian run of U2's The Joshua Tree world tour, that first began in 2017. Having already played this tour to over 2.5 million fans, U2 finally made it to the breaking waves of Aussie shores for the first time since 2010, kicking off last night (12 November) at Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane.
Obviously, the first thing you notice is the size of the screen; 1,040 video panels make up the 200x45 ft screen that is flat on the sides and delves inwards for the centre of stage where drummer, Larry Mullen Jr makes his nest.
But before that, Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds populate the space with their own breed of Bowie-inspired dancing and a fistful of Oasis covers. “Stop enjoying yourselves,” Noel says, later quipping (it helps if you use the accent when reading): “Not long to go. We’ll only do another 14 songs before U2.”
Tell you what, though: that vocal sustain on “maybehhhh...” (you know the one). “Please don’t put your life in the hands, of a rock & roll band”. . . too late, mate - that’s exactly what we’re here for.
Between acts the screen displays incredible poetry that paints the scene for the themes explored in ‘The Joshua Tree’ album, about America and how Americans feel about America, until ‘The Whole Of The Moon’ (by The Waterboys) signals the entrance of a band that frontman Bono self-describes as “the greatest band on the north side of Dublin”.
U2 at Suncorp Stadium 12 November, 2019 - image © Dara Munnis
It’s ‘The Joshua Tree’ tour, so you know that album’s coming in full, but U2 begins by feathering a welcoming cushion with a few other timely numbers: ‘Sunday Bloody Sunday’, ‘New Year’s Day’ and a version of ‘Bad’ wedged with the chorus of ‘Beds Are Burning’ by our own Midnight Oil.
Bono petitions us to join with him: sending love, appreciation and prayer to the firefighters around Australia while bushfires currently rage.
I start to wonder if rock & roll is really just some kind of vivacious incarnation of love, and to my sheer amazement the next riff is for ‘Pride (In The Name Of Love)’, answering a question barely asked.
“Thank you, Noel”. . . an ever-gracious Bono showed his gratitude to Mr Gallagher for opening the show. “It’s good to be around such greatness.”
Then came the petition for us, the feeble audience. “What we want from you tonight, are prayers for an epic night of rock & roll. . . that might stay with us forever.” Bono’s voice echoes from the back of the stadium, matched by the heavy delay of the instruments that crafted their signature sound many moons ago.
“This is a gospel song,” laughing from behind his sunglasses, “for people who don’t like gospel music.” It’s ‘I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For’. A few more songs into the set Bono announces the arrival at side B of the album – if you were listening on cassette it would be "the point where you ejected us and flipped us over," and he invites us to do that again.
Irish jokes, historical facts about mostly maritime things make an appearance, and ‘One Tree Hill’ remains a tribute to their one-time Kiwi roadie and friend Greg Carroll. “He stayed on long after we lost him in 1986. Some wounds you don’t wanna heal over.”
Following the eleven tracks from ‘The Joshua Tree’, the show closes with an eight-track ‘encore’ in fresh attire that looks more like the rock band we’ve grown to expect, including the colossal hits ‘Elevation’ and ‘Vertigo’ segued with a ‘Devil Inside’ (INXS). Whoever you are, these guys know how to speak your language.
Bono introduces Larry on drums, Adam Clayton (the first manager of U2) on bass, and The Edge on guitar and keys, and asks if it’s okay that he needs his band; if it’s okay that we all need each other? “Our drug of choice has been alcohol, chemicals, the Holy Spirit. . . but tonight, our drug of choice is you,” he explains, washing the black contours from his eyes as The Edge constructs a stripped-back ‘Every Breaking Wave’ on keyboard.
“When where you live becomes where you want to belong, that’s a beautiful day. . . When women can rewrite history as ‘herstory’, that’s a beautiful day.”
‘Ultra Violet (Light My Way)’ plays with a visual roll-call of women pioneers and trailblazers across a multitude of fields, to highlight ONE organisation’s ‘Poverty is Sexist’ campaign, and the understanding that extreme poverty won’t end until barriers holding back women and girls globally, are broken.
Here is a man, and a band, who thanked us for our Australianness; who thanked Mr Personality-Plus Gallagher for his greatness; who just thanked us for ‘being’, by very act of turning up to give us everything he, and they, had - in 24 songs.
Here is a man, and a band, dispensing love (read: rock & roll?) like it’s immortal, irrefutable and infinite. And they’re recruiting.
The Joshua Tree Tour 2019 continues later this week in Melbourne at Marvel Stadium on Friday, and will see U2 also perform in Adelaide, Sydney and Perth.