(As it happens, we also got something similar from Noel Gallagher earlier – he started his support slot with his more challenging but sometimes wonderful High Flying Birds material, before knocking us out with a handful of mighty Oasis tunes. But back to the main event.)
U2’s first smart move was to open the show with all four members performing on a runway deep into the crowd, without using the enormous screen behind them – so we were at first made to watch the band rather than the spectacle.
Here’s Larry Mullen jnr, pounding out the righteous march of Sunday Bloody Sunday. There’s Adam Clayton with the first of many simple but iconic bass lines (New Year’s Day). And then Bad, with its aching heart given added poignancy as singer Bono points out this day was the anniversary of his friend Michael Hutchence’s death, and so tries to fit INXS’s Never Tear Us Apart to its melody.
The spectacle soon followed, inevitably, with The Joshua Tree beautifully mounted with Anton Corbijn’s evocative visuals providing the backdrop as the band played it in order in its entirety.
The highlights might not be what you expected. While The Edge showed he can still be a thrillingly creative guitarist on the likes of Bullet the Blue Sky and In God’s Country, Bono refused to sing With or Without You properly, despite the fact he proved throughout the night he could still hit the high notes.
At least he pleasantly surprised us with a blast of his harmonica on Running to Standstill, which most of us didn’t expect to hear until (a sublime) Trip Through Your Wires.
The shadow of Hutchence reappeared when we got to the last rush of career highlights via a chorus from INXS’s Devil Inside during Vertigo, and U2’s own affecting tribute Stuck in a Moment You Can’t Get Out Of.
But it was three songs from 1991’s Achtung Baby album that ultimately confirmed this show’s main point. Even Better Than the Real Thing set to a disco beat with yet more Edge heroics, Ultraviolet’s celebration of womanhood and an inevitably powerful and emotional One all showed that despite the occasional earlier flaw, U2 remain the world’s reigning kings of stadium rock.
U2 play the Sydney Cricket Ground on Saturday, November 23, before their final show of The Joshua Tree tour at Perth’s Optus Stadium on November 27.
George Palathingal joined The Sydney Morning Herald in 2001. He writes about most fields of entertainment but has always specialised in music, most notably as a live reviewer.