Pics by David Harris
They haven’t lost the magic.
For a passing U2 fan under the age of 30, memories of the band are likely to be relegated to mornings watching the ‘Beautiful Day’ and ‘Vertigo’ music videos on Rage or Video Hits, or their parents’ CD collection where undoubtedly, there existed a copy of The Joshua Tree.
A staple of rock and pop music, whether you like them or not, U2’s permanence in contemporary music cannot be denied. Which is why this month, as they unveil the 30th anniversary of The Joshua Tree on thousands upon thousands of Australian fans, the Bono-led group is ensuring their legacy is showed off with force.
But, to begin. Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds had the rather unenviable task of opening up the show at Marvel Stadium. Regardless of who you are, playing to a half-empty football stadium while the sun still burns brightly early on a Friday evening is going to be a toughie. Still, if anyone’s going to handle it with humour and confidence, it’s going to be a Gallagher.
The Oasis legend performed with an ease that reminded you that even though in an hour’s time, you were going to witness Bono – the Bono – do his thing, you were still getting a set from another iconic name of British music and pop culture. And let’s be honest, Gallagher’s newer material is solid in its own right. Balancing self-awareness with banter and the ego everyone is secretly – or not so secretly – there for, Gallagher’s opening set was evenly split between High Flying Birds material and the Oasis classics. Wrapping up with a cover of The Beatles’ ‘All You Need Is Love’ (because what else can you follow up ‘Don’t Look Back in Anger’ with?), Gallagher had the crowd well warmed up for what was to come.
The sun set on Marvel Stadium as the massive screen that would project the Anton Corbijn visuals began screening quotes from classic literature. With enough time having passed for punters – Aussie, ex-pat Irish and British alike – to befriend each other in the exceedingly long bar lines, a packed out stadium had no chance to ease into U2’s headline set. The opening of ‘Sunday Bloody Sunday’ ringing out loud as The Edge strutted his way down the catwalk was an immediate sign that this show was most definitely underway.
A mighty gauntlet to throw down early, U2 rolled through a flurry of songs (‘Pride (In The Name of Love)’, ‘New Year’s Day’) before getting stuck into The Joshua Tree in its entirety. A band who has been used to playing these sorts of venues for decades now, it’s glaringly obvious that the concept of playing to 50 odd thousand on a weeknight is water off a duck’s back. The hits kept on coming for the first half of the show, testament to how impactful The Joshua Tree was – the front end of the album stacked with huge moments (‘Where The Streets Have No Name’, ‘With Or Without You’, ‘I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For’).
The visuals were striking, yet stripped back when compared to past U2 productions (yes, The Claw) – the stage set up isn’t overblown, there are no massive stacks, they’re just one of the biggest bands playing to a crowd hanging on every single word. Upon wrapping up the album with a performance of ‘Mothers Of The Disappeared’, Bono introduced ‘Angel of Harlem’ simply by stating, “This is what happened next”. Quite right, too.
Entering the third and final chapter of the show, U2 showed they had no signs of slowing down. Drummer Larry Mullen Jr. lost no steam at all, proving to be one of the highlights of the show; watching a rhythm section as well versed and charted as U2’s was a real treat. The final bout on stage included a mix of newer material and older favourites, with ‘Elevation’, ‘Vertigo’ and ‘Beautiful Day’ being mixed in with ‘Every Breaking Wave’, ‘Ultra Violet (Light My Way)’ and ‘Love Is Bigger Than Anything In Its Way’.
Finishing with an emphatic rendition of ‘One’, U2 bid Melbourne fans goodnight and soon, thousands of fans poured out of the stadium, many singing ‘Never Tear Us Apart’ by INXS into the Friday night (it was that sort of mood).
Highlight: ‘Where The Streets Have No Name’, complete with resounding Ohh-Ohhh-Ohh’s filling the stadium sent chills up my spine.
Lowlight: Marvel Stadium was never going to be great for all-round sound – before the roof shut, the wind cut much of the top end of the mix, dulling the audio.
Crowd favourite: There were many, but the show’s first 20 minutes had to have some of the strongest responses of the night.