U2 @ Optus Stadium gets 8.5/10

U2 play The Joshua Tree @ Optus Stadium

w/ Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds
Wednesday, November 27, 2019


Some bands head to a ‘B’ stage halfway through their show. U2, on the other hand, kicked off Wednesday night with a greatest hits set amongst their fans on a smaller B stage at the end of the catwalk.

Built to be a perfect shadow of the ‘Joshua Tree’ design extending high above a bespoke 61m x 14m hi res LED screen (the largest in touring history), behind them was a 61m x 12m stage almost the width of an entire stadium. And yet U2 opted for the more intimate, smaller option to reacquaint themselves with Perth.

It was the kind of bold play we’ve come to expect from Bono and co., but even then this felt different. In a top heavy set that saw U2 play nearly all their 80s classics inside the opening hour, the ultimate stadium rock band reinforced their legacy as a four-piece whose performances fill out arenas, but in unlikely fashion, began with an intimate, low production start that honoured their roots prior to Zoo TV et al. It was jaw dropping even before the spectacular bits kicked in (there were plenty of those to come).

But just as fans might have listened to The Joshua Tree back in 1987, there were two sides to this show. While they couldn’t quite capture the energy of the opening hour or so for the entirety of the night’s 2.5 hour running time, it was nonetheless a dazzling display no one there will forget in a hurry.

Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds

Interestingly, support act Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds also gave us a set in two halves. In no time Gallagher, in his usual shit-stirring fashion, was  giving stick to a bloke wearing a baseball cap, just because he wasn’t in America. It’s likely his target was yelling something to the affect of “play something we fookin know, Noel.” Because for six straight tracks Noel gave us a run of solo career ‘highlights’ such as Holy Mountain and latest single Wandering Star, and frankly, the stadium crowd couldn’t have cared less.

He then addressed the issue: “The first part of our set was for me, because I’m in charge. The next part is for you.” Cue Oasis tunes Little By Little and Stop Crying Your Heart Out, but even then they were lifted from unheralded fifth album Heathen Chemestry, while nine tracks in Wonderwall finally started to get the crowd onside. Then, just as it felt like too little too late, the sun disappeared, he wheeled out Don’t Look Back in Anger and it was spine-tingling.

Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds

All was forgiven as Gallagher had the audience singing the choruses for him, while a closing cover of The Beatles’ All You Need Is Love complete with three-piece horn section was a nice, if obvious, touch (an Oasis classic might have gone down better – remember Definitely Maybe, Noel?) It was the kind of setlist that worked on his last trip here to Crown Theatre down the road, but in a stadium he fell short.


U2 seemed to go the opposite route. Walking one at a time down the catwalk they began with Sunday Bloody Sunday – a surprise for those expecting The Joshua Tree straight up. But it was a welcome one, as they powered through I Will Follow and the mighty New Year’s Day in quick succession, The Edge in particular shining as his blistering electric guitar filled out the entire stadium, still finding time to play the piano parts in between. Bono summed it up best: “He may be a scientist but we are all happy to be part of his experiment, are we not?”

Bad was a welcome addition and marked the first of two David Bowie covers when Bono segued into Heroes, dedicating the song to everyday Australian heroes such as our firefighters battling insurmountable odds and our school children fighting for climate change. A typical emotion play from Bono, nonetheless it was very moving. Returning to Bad‘s chorus, they merged both tracks successfully to finish: “I’m wide awake!/ I’m not sleeping… just for one day.” It’s the sort of stuff U2’s legendary live shows are famous for.


Then came the night’s most unforgettable moment, a one-two punch as good as any knockout U2 have ever landed. During Pride (In The Name of Love), the enormous screen finally lit up as parts of Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream…” speech appeared. Suddenly the massive, state of the art screen went red, the band left the end of the catwalk for the main stage, and the synth and keys of Where the Streets Have No Name began to ring out. It was time for The Joshua Tree.

The wonder didn’t stop there. With or Without You scored perhaps the biggest singalong of the night after Bono declared: “We’re gonna do what lovers do, and sing!” Bullet the Blue Sky featured literally the biggest guitar solo of all time as The Edge’s slide guitar took up the entire screen. In fact, everything up until at least Running to Stand Still was nothing short of spellbinding, and this review was on target for a rare 10/10.


Then something unexpected happened. As U2 traversed further into the deep cuts of Joshua Tree‘s side two, they lost the famously fickle Perth audience, who perhaps needed something more than Optus Stadium’s mid-strength beer to keep them awake. There’s nothing wrong with the record’s back half, and the eye-popping production for Exit in particular was quite impressive, but once momentum was lost it never quite returned. A change of direction into Angel of Harlem to close the main set failed. Even Bono seemed confused.

While the generous eight-song encore offered plenty of theatrics, with Even Better Than the Real Thing and Vertigo (complete with Rebel Rebel interlude) delivering particularly mind-blowing visuals, Wednesday-itis seemed to have invariably struck. That said, Ultra Violet (Light My Way) and finale One did revive the signature U2 emotional attack on the heartstrings, the former very moving as it detailed U2’s ‘HERSTORY’ project. Emerging onscreen from the word ‘history’, it highlighted amazing women ranging suffragettes to Pussy Riot to Greta Thunberg. Australia’s own Cathy Freeman, Miles Franklin, Magda Szubanski and Hannah Gadsby also got a nod. Tasteful and poignant, it was a highlight.


As on their previous 360 and PopMart tours, U2 left us awestruck by sheer spectacle. Along with the likes of Roger Waters and Taylor Swift they continue to be world leaders in state of the art production, and to that end The Joshua Tree tour was nearly faultless. But you can’t argue with momentum, and unlike previous visits, due to the show’s unevenness they may just fall short of gig of the year status… this time.


Photos by Stu McKay

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