As we snake through queue management towards Door 3, a crew of diehard U2 fans discuss Bono’s various alter-egos – “There was Mr. MacPhisto, The Fly – what else was there?”
U2’s Joshua Tree 2019 Boeing 757 tour jet touched down in Melbourne yesterday, and it’s just under nine years since the Irish rockers last toured our shores when they brought their 360° Tour Down Under in December, 2010.
“Welcome to the biggest show on earth!” – Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds’ intro tape is fittingly cocky. Opener Holy Mountain evokes Bryan Ferry’s Let’s Stick Together and incorporates some Beach Boys-inspired “Ooh-WOOH-ooh-ooh!” harmonies plus three-piece brass section. On top of the brass trio, Gallagher fronts a seven-piece backing band that includes scissors player Charlotte Marionneau (who also supplies tin whistle, spoken French, tambourine and backing vocals, and is spotted using an old-school telephone receiver as a prop while performing her part in It’s a Beautiful World).
Some of the 1,040 individual video panels malfunction during Gallagher and co’s set, but he certainly looks the part: rail thin with good hair, sporting black leather jacket and dark shades. With its sleigh bell intro, Wandering Star – released today – could be Gallagher’s cosmic Christmas single. “The first half of the set was for me, ’cause I’m fookin’ amazin’,” Gallagher explains, “and the second half of the set is for you, ‘cause you’re fookin’ amazin’, too.” It’s time for the Oasis section (we score a generous four songs from his previous band’s catalog this evening).
Gallagher’s banter is hilarious as always. He addresses one fan: “Where are you from? North Korea? How’d you get out of there? Am I big in North Korea?” And Gallagher is spot on when he proposes that Wonderwall will sort out those among the crowd who are currently wondering, “Who’s that f-cker?” As this Oasis karaoke favourite kicks in there are definitely ‘Aha’ moments of recognition all around the stadium. His guitar solo during Don’t Look Back in Anger is boss. Gallagher admits that only a song like The Beatles’ All You Need Is Love could follow that particular Oasis classic and his cover, complete with bombastic brass, warms our hearts.
As U2’s intro tape – The Waterboys’ The Whole of the Moon – plays, we prepare ourselves to be blown away as Bono, The Edge, Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen Jr. walk down the long catwalk, one at a time to soak up individual accolades, as we cheer and applaud wildly.
The band’s first act is performed on a B-stage that extends out into the audience. As Mullen Jr.’s stop-start drum pattern is recognised, a roar goes up for opener Sunday Bloody Sunday and Bono sure is in fine voice! “How long? How long must we sing this song?” The melancholy New Year’s Day keys part preps us for The Edge’s incendiary guitar playing (had actually forgotten just how great he is!) and a gentle breeze accompanies his epic solo, as if the guitar gods are fanning him with giant (invisible) palm fronds.
“Our plan for the evening is for an epic night of rock’n’roll,” Bono declares, coaxing us to “think of the firefighters” before Bad and, given the electric vibes inside Marvel Stadium, we feel as if our collective positive thinking has the potential to manifest – bushfires, begone! During this song, Bono incorporates a snippet of Nick Cave’s Into My Arms – which is a memorable demonstration of local knowledge – as we sing along, proud to claim Sir Nick as our own. Another moment of national pride comes later on in the set, during Vertigo, when Bono incorporates a snippet of INXS’s Devil Inside to pay tribute to his late buddy, Michael Hutchence (RIP). Then Pride (In the Name of Love) tests out the limits of our upper registers.
“Our plan for the evening is for an epic night of rock’n’roll.”
U2’s transition into The Joshua Tree segment of the show won’t be forgotten in a hurry as the band move from the B-stage to the main stage as the ginormous custom-built screen illuminates with a series of Anton Corbijn shorts filmed specifically for this tour. As The Edge’s shimmering riff ushers in Where the Streets Have No Name, visuals take us down a long and winding, endless desert road – all people featuring on screen match the scale of U2 members, which is effective.
We feel a few drops of rain during I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For, which inspires Bono to sing snatches from Eurythmics’ Here Comes the Rain Again and Singin’ in the Rain as stage crew race around trying to protect equipment. We’re so engaged by what’s happening on stage that it’s not until much later on in the night that we notice the stadium roof is now closed. With or Without You brings back memories of a university mate’s misheard lyric (she thought it was ‘With or Without Shoes’).
Given that the song was inspired by Greg Carroll, Bono pays tribute to the former U2 roadie/friend before One Tree Hill. A tree prop up on stage resembles a Hills Hoist. After The Joshua Tree-in–full section of the evening, U2 return to the B-stage to perform Angel of Harlem, which shines brightly.
Bono returns to the stage as Mr. MacPhisto (we think) for Elevation as a camera pans around him in closeup mode so that we get an up close and personal look at his makeup. Mullen Jr.’s punchy drumming elevates Even Better Than the Real Thing and we score the Fish Out of Water remix this evening – “Take me HIGHER!” Beautiful Day is an aural blissbomb and then a collage of trailblazing women – featuring Cathy Freeman, Hannah Gadsby and, of course, Greta Thunberg – grace the visuals that accompany Ultra Violet (Light My Way) to rally up support for the ONE organization’s ongoing Poverty Is Sexist campaign.
Experiencing One as one of 60,000 revellers, most of whom sway their smartphone torches aloft, is unifying (especially that “love is temple” section). Arms around our loved ones, it’s a moment of mass gratitude – U2 sure know how to wrap their arms around the world!
Geeking out about The Edge with a guitarist post-show, he has this to say: “What Jimi Hendrix did for the wah pedal, The Edge did for the delay pedal. Every time you hear delay, it always harks back to The Edge. It’s iconic. It’s the best.”