- 09 Nov 19
U2 kicked off the Australasian leg of The Joshua Tree Tour in New Zealand on Friday night, performing to a sold-out audience at Auckland’s Mt Smart Stadium. For Kiwi fans of the band, it was a hugely emotional occasion. Reuben Raj reports for Hot Press...
It was Noel Gallagher's unenviable task to warm up the crowd in the Mt. Smart Stadium, before the arrival of U2 for the opening of the Australasian leg of The Joshua Tree Tour. Gallagher sang and performed in his typical laconic style, allowing his ex-Oasis bandmate Gem Archer (guitars), Mike Rowe (keyboards), Chris Sharrock (drums) and Russell Pritchard from The Zutons (bass) to build each tune perfectly with the aid of a three-piece brass section. They played familiar Gallagher solo favourites ‘Holy Mountain’, ‘This Is The Place’ and ‘Black Star Rising’ and a new song, ‘Wandering Star’. The backing vocals of YSEE, Jessica Greenfield and Charlotte Marionneau weree a particular highlight, significantly lifting each song.
The crowd’s lust for Oasis material was quenched with ‘Wonderwall’, ‘Stop Crying Your Heart Out’ and ‘Don’t Look Back In Anger’. They finished with a rousing version of the Beatles’ ‘All You Need Is Love’, before Noel Gallagher and his ’exotic’ (Bono’s word, not mine) High Flying Birds took a bow.
The 200 x 45 ft custom-built screen on the main stage of The Joshua Tree Tour set is a towering mammoth of tech wizardry, made up of 1,040 individual video panels. It's been painted to look like a golden piece of cardboard with a silver Joshua Tree on top. The tree extends above the screen and becomes the visual centrepiece of the show. The B-stage that extends into the audience from the main stage is a perfect shadow of the tree.
Larry Mullen Jr. started up the familiar drum intro to ‘Sunday Bloody Sunday’, as Bono, The Edge and Adam Clayton walked over to join him at the B-stage for the start of the show. The packed audience surrounding the stage was turned into a bloody red sea by the stage lights, before the band powered into ‘New Year’s Day’ and ‘Bad’. The Edge’s signature guitar sound – underpinned by Clayton’s basslines and Mullen’s precise drumbeats – rang out loud and clear across the horizon and into the angry night sky. Bono sounded even better than when I heard him 10 years ago, during the 360° Tour in Houston, Texas.
“We worry about you, America… and that’s why we’re doing The Joshua Tree Tour,” shared Bono, before launching into ‘Pride (In The Name of Love)’, an anthem for equality that matters now more than ever. Moving words and provocative messages began to stream across the gigantic screen, as if to question our own actions (or inaction) in addressing social injustice.
The band ascended to the main stage to perform The Joshua Tree album in sequence, as the giant screen exploded into life. Dutch photographer and long-time U2 collaborator Anton Corbijn revisited Death Valley, Zabriskie Point and other locations to produce a brand new set of glorious and haunting films to accompany the band’s performance.
An endless road into the desert, a female cowboy with a lasso and a Salvation Army band were just some of the many striking images that visually complemented – and in most cases, heightened – the expressions and themes of each song. Some amazing real-time video effects were also employed, when Bono used a hand-held video-cam and a mini-spotlight to project images of the band and himself on the screen. Thick plumes of smoke coupled with a cold South-Easterly wind added to the apocalyptic mood of certain tracks, notably ‘Bullet the Blue Sky’ and ‘Exit’.
U2’s bond with New Zealand can be attributed in a special way to the late Greg Carroll, a man from Auckland, who was part of the U2 crew in the 1980s, and also a personal friend of the band. U2 paid their respects by visiting the One Tree Hill domain near Auckland’s Cornwall Park and also proudly sang the heart-rending ballad of the same name, ending with Greg Carroll’s handsome and happy face on screen. (See main photo).
They ended the main set with ‘Angel of Harlem’. But with the sense of anticipation still running high, U2 returned for a brilliant eight-song encore. Bono, adorned with face-paint and teasing his megalomaniacal side, took the energy in the stadium up a few notches with ‘Elevation’ and ‘Vertigo’. A mirror disco-ball, right on top of the towering cranes, shone brightly as the band led everyone on their feet throughout ‘Even Better Than The Real Thing’.
It was now time for a change of pace as Bono, sans make-up, sang ‘Every Breaking Wave’, from Songs of Innocence, with The Edge on electric piano. It is striking that something of such recent vintage was nonetheless one of the most powerful tracks of the night, showcasing Bono’s bold and versatile vocals. There was another special moment during the encore when photos of female pioneers and trailblazers filled the screen in sensational colours, while U2 performed ‘Ultra Violet (Light My Way)’ to support the One organisation’s Poverty Is Sexist campaign.
Saving the best (and perhaps the most memorable for many Kiwis) for last, U2 dedicated the incredibly moving ballad ‘One’ to the victims of the Christchurch Mosque Shootings, on 15 March 2019 – and to New Zealanders for responding to the horrific act in such a gracious and exemplary manner. With some of those victims having travelled up, to be at the concert in Auckland, it was a moment of unique solidarity and power.
Without a doubt, U2 continue to reign supreme with their dedication to peace, love and music: straight-up rock music that has it roots firmly planted in a commitment to justice and equality. The Joshua Tree Tour 2019 will see the band head to their first Tokyo shows since the Vertigo Tour in 2006 and also to Australia, Singapore, Seoul, Manila and Mumbai.
By the time it reaches Mumbai on 15 December 2019, The Joshua Tree Tour will have played to almost 3 million fans at just 66 shows, across Europe, North & South America, Mexico, New Zealand and Asia. In truth, however, it is a show that the whole world should see.
- Photo by Dara Munnis