Review: U2 at Adelaide Oval

U2 bring their seminal 1987 album The Joshua Tree back to Adelaide for a crowd pleasing night of nostalgic stadium rock – even if some of the record’s more athletic moments are decidedly a young man’s game.

Have you ever wondered whether U2 support Port Power or the Crows? If so, good news – tonight we got a definitive answer.

All of Adelaide was at this gig, it appeared – certainly, it seemed that way when trying to get an Uber or when queuing for the bar. Most were yet to turn up for Noel Gallagher, accompanied by his High Flying Birds: a band and set that are each about 45 per cent Oasis.

Wisely, the set opens with the solo stuff people don’t especially know and then goes full karaoke hits ‘n’ memories as the crowd begins to pour in. Wonderwall and Don’t Look Back In Anger are rapturously received, before ending with an unnecessary cover of All You Need Is Love (although the cheeky Rutles nod at the end is cute).

But let’s be honest, if there was ever a night that was very cool with celebrating past glories, this was it. U2, after all, were presenting their best loved album bookended with classics from before and after.

So the set begins on the smaller in-the-round stage in the middle of the GA section with the martial drum intro of ‘Sunday Bloody Sunday’, straight into I Will Follow, New Year’s Day and the first Bono Speech of the night in the midst of Pride (In The Name Of Love).

And then it’s Tree Time.

Classic album tours generally suffer from the fact that albums tend to be frontloaded with singles and leave the less immediately appealing stuff for the end, which is the opposite of a good setlist. The Joshua Tree, for example, starts with three of the band’s biggest hits: Where The Streets Have No Name, I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For and With Or Without You. That’s a power trio that’s hard to follow and not every song on the album makes for a great live performance.

The snarling versions of Bullet The Blue Sky and Exit sound better than on record, but a brass-led version of Red Hill Mining Town falls a bit flat, as does the gentle Running To Stand Still which makes clear that 26-year-old Bono was not thinking of his 60-year-old self when he came up with those falsetto-heavy vocal lines.

Perhaps acknowledging that the haunting Mothers of the Disappeared wasn’t exactly a banger with which to end the set, the quartet scamper down to the smaller stage for a run through Angel of Harlem before taking a little break.

And this is probably time to acknowledge the real star of the night: the world’s largest LED screen, which played accompanying visuals throughout the performance while also capturing some of the album’s sense of American vastness by making the band look like tiny, tiny insects by comparison. For those down in the GA section where the band was almost close enough to to touch it seemed like a transcendent experience, but for us in the stands it verged on overwhelming.

Then it was the post-Tree era proper, with Bono pulling on a sequinned jacket and top hat to evoke his old Mephisto days, and seemingly that was enough to bring his voice back. Or maybe it was just that they’re better suited to the mature Bono range: cue Vertigo, Elevation, Beautiful Day (which includes a mid-song shout out to Iranian writer and refugee Behrouz Boochani) and an especially spirited Even Better Than The Real Thing.

However, the performance of Ultraviolet (Light My Way) is the set’s emotional highlight with the screen filling with feminist icons of the past 150-odd years, even more than the singalong performance of One which closes the evening.

And then, as the crowd file out, the strains of INXS floated over the stadium with the anthemic Never Tear Us Apart. So now we have an answer: U2 clearly support the Power. Who knew?

U2 performed at Adelaide Oval on Tuesday 19 October

Adelaide Review/Andrew P Street

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