U2 @ Marvel Stadium

The Joshua Tree tour finally landed in Melbourne! I danced, I sang, I lost my voice, I had an absolute ball finally watching my favourite band live again.

To be honest, before the show I felt kinda ambivalent about the concept behind this tour, and not just because I’m not that fond of listening to an entire album played live in its original order. For a band who’ve always stubbornly maintained that their best work is ahead of them (even if naysayers would dismiss such claims as delusional), touring to support a 30-year-old album sounded as if U2 finally admitted defeat. But then again, with the band members pushing 60s, you can’t really blame them for getting reflective and looking back I guess. In the end, I decided to look at the tour with a positive mindset, as a chance to hear U2 songs that I’ve never seen performed live before and probably never will again.

My friend and I arrived at the stadium just before the warm-up act and made our way across the General Admission floor, ending up a good few rows away from the main stage but still relatively close. Compared to the previous openers like PJ Harvey, Kanye West and Jay-Z, Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds was a pretty tame and conservative pick, but to give the older Gallagher brother his due, he and his band put up a fun and energetic show (he also managed to drop more f-bombs during the in-between banter than anyone I’ve seen before). I wondered if Noel would avoid playing Oasis songs on principle, but of course he was smart enough to know what people really want, ending the set with a string of Oasis classics including Don’t Look Back in Anger, then launching into The Beatles’ All You Need Is Love for a grand finale. Back in the days I missed out on not one but two chances to see Oasis live thanks to Ticketek’s crash-prone website, so this was the closest thing to the Oasis gig.

I deliberately avoided reading up anything on this tour, so the beginning took me completely by surprise: against all expectations, the band opened on the secondary mini-stage, with no frills or backdrop visuals, just four men, spotlights and the music. The “entree” part of the show drew on the early U2 era, with classics like Sunday Bloody Sunday, I Will Follow, New Year’s Day, Bad and Pride (In the Name of Love). Bono dedicated Bad to the firefighters dealing with the current terrible bushfires, and worked in snippets from Nick Cave’s Into My Arms – maybe not the most elegant musical marriage ever but I’m sure that everybody appreciated the gesture.

Then, the enormous LED screen finally came to life, glowing vivid red to the spine-tingling sounds of the chiming intro to Where The Streets Have No Name. Despite my reservations, it was great to see more of The Joshua Tree performed live outside of its big hits; I was especially thrilled to finally hear Running to Stand Still, which hovers somewhere near the top of my personal favourite U2 songs list. I couldn’t say if this was my favourite U2 concert ever since the fresh impressions have the unfair advantage over the old ones; I can easily say though that the videos accompanying The Joshua Tree songs, shot by the frequent U2 collaborator Anton Corbijn, were the most beautiful and artistic visuals I’ve seen at a U2 concert. Utterly gorgeous and pristine shots of desert ranges, including Death Valley, and general Americana imagery that supported the themes of the album.

The band are of course older now, but man they’ve still got it, working together like a perfect well-oiled machine. Bono’s charisma still burns bright and he remains an irresistible showman who knows how to work the crowd (and occasionally veers off into more preachy moments, but as a long-term U2 fan you just roll with it). Though he can’t belt out the old songs with the same power as when he was a young man, he did well adjusting them to his current vocals.

After The Joshua Tree section was wrapped up, it was pure party time with the hits from the 90s and 00s, brighter flashier neon visuals and even a glamtastic costume change for the band. Elevation and Vertigo, the two huge live crowd pleasers, had everyone around me jumping up and down, and Bono’s lovely introductions for the band segued into a sexy remix of Even Better Than the Real Thing. Every Breaking Wave was probably the best surprise of the night: a solid enough album track, it was transformed into a stripped-down piano-led showcase for Bono’s impassioned vocals. The only dud for me was a bland new track from U2’s latest album, which I’m sorry to say didn’t connect with me at all, but then they made things right again closing the show with One.

I lost most of my voice some time around a fifth song into the show, and my ears are still ringing on the next day, but I’m so so happy I can look forward to re-living the show again next week in Adelaide.

P.S. The weather forecast has threatened rain throughout the day, and sure enough it started drizzling about a third into the concert. At first it prompted nothing more than Bono playfully namechecking Singing in the Rain (damn you Clockwork Orange for ruining this song forever), but when the drizzle intensified they finally decided to close the roof. A stadium gig with a closed roof was an interesting experience: I missed the open sky, but the closed roof also somehow created a more intimate feeling in the venue.

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