Review: U2, The Joshua Tree Tour, Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds, Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane, November 12, 2019

After skipping Australia on their Innocence + Experience tour, U2 made a triumphant return to Brisbane last night, playing to an almost-capacity crowd at Suncorp Stadium for the first time in nine years.

Check out ‘With Or Without You’ by U2:

It was always going to be a difficult feat to top the visual spectacle of the 360 tour, during which U2 performed on a circular stage beneath a giant four-legged “claw” supporting rig, so rather than again attempt to rewrite the stadium concert rule book for the belated Australian leg of their Joshua Tree 30th anniversary tour, the band have gone back to basics. 

Of course, restraint has never been U2’s strong point, so their version of back to basics includes the largest unobscured and highest-resolution LED screen ever used for a touring show, comprised of 1040 individual screens and measuring more than 60m long and 12m high.

Image: Ashley Mar

Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds kicked off proceedings, baiting the crowd with a “What’s going in Brisbane apart from fuck all?” greeting.

The thinking person’s Liam opens his set with ‘Holy Mountain’ and ‘It’s A Beautiful World’, from 2017’s Who Built The Moon?, before airing a couple of new numbers from his recent EPs, including ‘Black Star Dancing’ and “another one you don’t know,” ‘Rattling Rose’.

But it’s the set’s four Oasis numbers – starting with ‘Little By Little’ and including ‘Wonderwall’ and ‘Don’t Look Back In Anger’ – that predictably garner the most enthusiastic response, before he leads his band through a rapturously received and faithfully delivered cover of The Beatles’ ‘All You Need Is Love’ to close the set.

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Check out ‘Black Star Dancing’ by Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds:

With the stage lights still out, Larry Mullen Jr takes his place behind the stool at the front of “Stage B” and starts the familiar snare shuffle of ‘Sunday Bloody Sunday’ as the Edge, Bono, and Adam Clayton make their way down the catwalk to the Joshua Tree-shaped platform jutting out from the main stage.

Considering they’re playing to a stadium of 40,000 people, it feels disarmingly intimate, and as the band transition straight into ‘New Year’s Day’, Bono ably proves he can hold the crowd in the palm of his hand without the assistance of the massive screen behind the stage proper.

“Will you hold these up?”, the singer asks rhetorically with his arms outstretched, effortlessly willing the crowd to clap along.

Image: Ashley Mar

“Thank you, Brisbane, for letting us back into your lives; thank you, Australia for letting us back into your country,” Bono says as the band launch into an extended version of The Unforgettable Fire track ‘Bad’.

A highlight, the performance sees the singer poignantly incorporates lyrics from the refrain of Midnight Oil’s ‘Beds Are Burning’ and dedicates the song to Australian firefighters, before leading the band through a visceral rendition of ‘Pride (In The Name Of Love)’, replete with call-and-response “whoa-oh-ohs” from the audience.

The band then make their way back to beneath the giant video screen to launch into The Joshua Tree’s opening track, ‘Where The Streets Have No Name’.

It’s difficult to offer anything unpredictable when delivering an album from start to finish in its original track order, but the creative direction of long-time collaborator Willie Williams is breathtaking.

‘Where The Streets Have No Name’ is accompanied by fresh videography of spectacularly stark, monochrome roadscapes in California’s Death Valley and Zabriskie Point, filmed by Dutch filmmaker Anton Corbijn and presented in 8K resolution. 

Bono introduces ‘I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For’ as “a gospel song for people who don’t like gospel songs”, and despite a slightly muddy and distorted sound mix, he proves he’s lost none of his vocal prowess, hitting the high notes in ‘With Or Without You’ with aplomb.

Check out U2’s ‘I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For’:

Elsewhere, ‘Bullet The Blue Sky’ features striking video of myriad Americans of all races and ages staring solemnly from the screen; ‘One Tree Hill’ serves as a tribute to the band’s former roadie, New Zealander Greg Carroll; and Exit is accompanied by video of two outstretched hands, tattooed with the words “love” and “hate”, before becoming fists and withdrawing.  It’s as arresting as it is unsubtle.

The band wrap up the Joshua Tree portion of their set with the comparatively meandering ‘Mothers Of The Disappeared’, which is complemented by a haunting video backdrop of a row of women holding flickering candles.

The eight-song encore opens with a dusty version of ‘Elevation’ and features some of the band’s most popular numbers, including ‘Vertigo’, which corporates part of INXS’s ‘Devil Inside’ in tribute to Michael Hutchence in the form ‘Even Better Than The Real Thing’ and ‘Beautiful Day’.

But the most touching moment comes during an extended version of Achtung Baby’sUltraviolet (Light My Way)’, during which the screen highlights a visual roll call of trailblazing women – and in a parochial touch, Magda Szubanski, Hannah Gadsby, Cathy Freeman, and Merle Thornton are among those featured.

Check out U2’s ‘Elevation’:

Before closing the set with a heart-rending take on the evergreen ‘One’, Bono tells the crowd that “(from) rising sea levels to fires in your part of the world … We can put out these fires if we act together … as one.”

More than 35 years since the band first hit Australia for their Unforgettable Fire tour, U2 have proven why they remain one of the most popular and bankable stadium acts touring today.

U2 continue their The Joshua Tree 2019 tour in Melbourne on Friday, before dates in Adelaide, Sydney and Perth. 

U2 The Joshua Tree Australian Tour

With Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds

Remaining Dates

Friday, November 15th
Melbourne, Marvel Stadium, VIC

Tuesday, November 19th
Adelaide, Adelaide Oval, SA

Friday, November 22nd (Sold Out)
Sydney, Sydney Cricket Ground, NSW

Saturday, November 23rd
Sydney, Sydney Cricket Ground, NSW

Wednesday, November 27th
Perth, Optus Stadium, WA

Tickets on sale now via Live Nation