Gloriously re-packaging their career-shaping 1987 album was the impressive sweeping art and photography from Dutchman Anton Corbijn, whose film work almost stole the show.
The Joshua Tree was the album where the Irish band dipped its toes into the roots music of Americana; the country’s blues, soul and country music, its working class soul and its popular culture, even though the album was recorded in Dublin.
The album – U2 ‘s fifth – still featured the driving, chiming, rhythmic rock – built on Larry Mullen Jnr’s drum patterns and Adam Clayton’s bass – but The Edge and Bono explored new themes and new spaces in their songs, catapulting the album and U2 into the rock mainstream.
Before Tuesday’s show began, hundreds of verses from various American poems, picking out themes of African Americans, farming, work, mountains, roads and endless plains, ran down the right hand side of the huge, open stage.
The Waterboys’ joyous The Whole of the Moon then finished through the PA and U2 suddenly opened with Sunday Bloody Sunday, Larry Mullen playing the song’s opening drum pattern on the low-slung smaller stage down among the crowd on the Suncorp Stadium playing field. To thunderous applause, the rest of U2 joined in to deliver an excellent, crystal-clear set opener.
That was followed by a crunching version New Year’s Day with Bono telling the crowd the group was happy to be the “house band for such a glorious evening”, before Bad, which included a few lines of Midnight Oil’s classic Beds Are Burning, and Pride, when almost everyone sang the chorus (“In the name of love”) as Bono worked the crowd.
Then the lights went black and the band moved back to the big main stage dwarfed beneath the huge 15-metre-tall, 60-metre-wide cinema screen, which ran almost the width of Suncorp Stadium.
Suddenly, Where the Streets Have No Name chimed out with absolutely mesmerism as a new black and white film from Corbijn, of a car travelling along a road through a desert valley with brooding black clouds and mountains shrouded in mist, appeared on the screen.
This merged effortlessly into I Still Haven’t Found What Im Looking For with high-definition black and white photos of the still mystic Joshua trees on the huge screen.
The imagery was so powerful you could almost forget U2 were playing right in front of you. The imagery was a genuine focus, sometimes an alternative to “watching the band”.
Then, With or Without You was delivered as a huge orange and red mountain scape appeared behind the band. It changed colour as the day passed and finished in sunset.
It was simply breathtaking, but that was immediately followed by the growling version of Bullet the Blue Sky in which The Edge’s distorted guitar built and built like a menaced dog chained to a fence.
The tension dropped for the piano ballad Running to Stand Still, Bono now singing strongly after some earlier problems, then into a beautiful version of Red Hill Mining Town (with film of a Salvation Army Band playing outside a country shack) and the countrified In God’s Country, where Bono told the crowd that, while the Irish did not invent country music, it did invent the submarine for the US Navy.
The gorgeous One Tree Hill featured a storming guitar piece from The Edge, but my favourite from side two of The Joshua Tree on the night was the haunting Mothers of the Disappeared, which featured grainy film images of a line of mothers who, one by one, blow out the candles they hold.
Then – with The Joshua Tree album done – Bono brought out the band back to the smaller stage, told the crowd “this is what happened next”, and began Angel of Harlem from 1988’s Rattle and Hum album.
Then it was a race to the concert close with some of U2’s biggest singles and Bono asking: “Are you ready to be updated, to be infatuated?”
Then came Elevation, Vertigo (with its Kinks-ish guitar crunch), Even Better than the Real Thing and Beautiful Day with the band in killer form.
Images of Australian athletes Cathy Freeman and Nova Peris appeared on the screen during Ultra Violent from 1991’s Achtung Baby album, in addition to youthful climate change campaigner Greta Thurnburg, as a roll-call of influential women.
The close is, suitably, One.
There were no stage lights and the band played almost in blackness as the audience sang “One life, but we’re not the same. We get to carry each other, carry each other.”
Slowly the lights from tens of thousands of mobile phones lit upthe stadium and U2 almost melted from the stage.
From Brisbane, U2 shift to Melbourne before shows in other mainland capital cities.
15 November – Marvel Stadium, Melbourne
19 November – Adelaide Oval, Adelaide
22 November – Sydney Cricket Ground, Sydney
23 November – Sydney Cricket Ground, Sydney
27 November – Optus Stadium, Perth
For more information, tickets and VIP Experiences, visit: livenation.com.au
Tony Moore is a senior reporter at the Brisbane Times