When I saw U2 at the Tennis Centre in Melbourne in 1989, it never occurred to me that 30 years later I would see them again singing the same songs from the same legendary album.

So it was on 15th November, after a wait of nine years since they were last here, that I attended the Melbourne show of the Joshua Tree tour.

Bono Melbourne concert

Bono at the Melbourne concert. PICTURE: U2start (licensed under CC BY 2.0)

 

"I believe great rock ‘n’ roll is never just about the music. So when you have music as good and as raw as U2’s, and it is backed up with intelligent, heartfelt lyrics and a live performance that leaves the crowd singing their hearts out as they leave the show, as they did on this night, then you know you have experienced something special."

U2 have always been a special band for me. They touch something deeper than any other musicians can; they speak to the human condition in a way that makes you feel known. And they do it with a passion that comes from an unshakeable conviction about the power of love to transform.

This tour seemed to transpire in several ways that intersected for this time in the band’s history. Apart from celebrating the 30th anniversary of The Joshua Tree album (which was from 1987; this tour started two years ago), the band realised that in today’s global political climate, the songs were suddenly relevant again. Hence this epic tour, in which they would play every song on the album, plus some other famous anthems and a few of the more recent hits.

I reckon it’s almost humanly impossible to be bored at a U2 show, such is their passion, and Bono’s unique ability to keep the crowd in the palm of his hand. So, when they came out and started with the opening drum beats of Sunday Bloody Sunday, the 60,000 strong crowd just went off. Following it up with I Will Follow and New Year’s Day, there was quickly not a still body in the house. Approaching their 60s, these guys have still got the magic.

U2 never do things by halves. So if the opening wasn’t enough, then came the feature, started, of course, with Where The Streets Have No Name (has there ever been a more spine-tingling, hair-standing-on-end song done live?).

Set against an enormous screen showing black and white footage from a car driving on a long highway past wandering refugees, Bono’s voice soared off into the night, Edge’s guitar rattled and hummed as only his guitar can, and Larry and Adam completed the scene with thumping drums and heart-pounding bass.

Bono has always been the master of creating connection and intimacy with a crowd. The huge screen and a stadium full of 60,000 screaming fans didn’t obscure that at all. With his usual ability to engage you as if he’s having a conversation with you, he made sure that tonight was going to be, in his words, an epic night of rock ‘n’ roll.

Part of it is to always give, to uphold and affirm. We are made to feel special, like we are giving something special to him and the band rather than the other way around.

Adding to the personal touch was a beautiful gesture during I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For in which a shout-out was given to the late John Smith and his widow, Glena. John had a significant influence on the band, encouraging their prophetic critique of the status quo. The band also took the time to visit Glena during this Melbourne leg of their tour.

I believe great rock ‘n’ roll is never just about the music. So when you have music as good and as raw as U2’s, and it is backed up with intelligent, heartfelt lyrics and a live performance that leaves the crowd singing their hearts out as they leave the show, as they did on this night, then you know you have experienced something special.

On top of that of course is the band’s passion for justice which comes out of their strong Christian commitment. Interspersed throughout the show were tributes to women who have changed the world, to the memory of Greg Carroll, their roadie who died in a car accident in 1986, and ultimately to the power of love in the world.

So it was that this epic show ended with their tribute to the LGBTQI community, Love Is Bigger Than Anything In Its Way. It is a song that celebrates the power and strength of love in any situation, and it was fittingly followed up with the beautiful One as the lights came on and 60,000 fans exited what was something akin to a spiritual experience.

As I walked back to the train, I had a sense from the crowd that the Spirit of God was at this show. I’ve been to the Docklands stadium many times to see football, but the atmosphere on leaving was never like this. It’s normally a glorying in victory or the bitterness of defeat. This night there was a deeper emotion. There was a joy in the air. This was a U2 show, the Spirit was present and it was a rhapsody to love on a night that took us to a higher place.