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Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane
World's biggest band bring Joshua Tree tour to Australia for first time, but the music shines brighter without added spectacle
by Ben Smee, The Guardian
It is hard to imagine a time when U2 was not a rock and roll monolith; even harder to recall the last time the band performed their music without the giant screens and props that have for decades turned its concerts into extroverted performance pieces.
The 2019 Joshua Tree tour - the third time U2 has toured the American-inspired 1987 album but the first in Australia - seems to present a romanticised version of the band's various reinventions. The first four songs at the Brisbane opening night of the Australian leg are early-career standards, performed on a small secondary stage with room for just four musicians and a smoke machine.
This is U2 stripped of the sort of pomp that has, in their most overblown moments, managed to relegate the music to the role of circus soundtrack. There is nowhere to look but the stage. Bono even has to resort to analogue stagecraft, looking and pointing to the front row more often than the twinkling lights at the back, engaging directly with punters in a way they likely haven't since the band's first decade.
Without the distraction of a spectacle, the music shines. Who knew stadium rock didn't need constant reinvention? The key ingredients seem to be a bass drum set to the level of a Napoleonic cannon and familiar galloping tunes the crowd can screech into the Suncorp Stadium void.
October the 7th, 2018. It's been only 14 months since U2 played in Amsterdam as part of their Joshua Tree tour. Their studio reputation, damaged by 2014's Songs of Innocence, was fully repaired in The Netherlands with a great new album that was well received by Dutch critics. Yet, in terms of live performances, the band never lost their credibility as the Dutch press has always been praising U2 for their live shows. Last night, U2 blew away their audience with a stunning first night in Amsterdam.
The Blackout kicks in together with overwhelming video content presented on the big screen in the middle of the arena. Directly following the beautiful Lights of Home, "There is more": I Will Follow, Gloria, Beautiful Day.
The first thing Bono said after the opening songs of the show was: "The sun is shining. Friday, Saturday, Sunday. The sun is shining in Amsterdam!".
Bono had clearly recovered from his loss of voice in Berlin a few weeks earlier. He also looked fresh and energized. The frontman talked about their innocence when they started their career here in Amsterdam at the Melkweg:
"Tonight we return as men daring to believe that at the far end of experience with some wisdom and good company we can again recover that innocence that we had when we came here to the Melkweg in the port of Amsterdam".
By Dave McKenna, Washington Post
Recent U2 roadshows had the feel of overbudgeted Broadway musicals, where tunes were subservient to pyrotechnics and it was clear that singer, frontman and resident speechifier Bono had to hit the same stage mark at the same point in the same song in every city because the props compelled him to.
The legendary Irish rockers are taking a different tack these days. For its Sunday appearance at Capital One Arena, U2's main stage had only microphones, instruments, band members and enough stomp boxes to make the Edge's guitars as reverb-y and echo-y as expected. There wasn't a confetti cannon or balloon drop anywhere on the premises. Yet from beginning to end of a joyous, two-hour-plus set, less sure seemed like more.
The band ranged far and wide when picking the set list. The only thing off limits this time around was material from "The Joshua Tree," the 1987 multiplatinum monster LP that band members decided has provided too much material to U2 shows for too long. (Plus it got its due just last year on a tour devoted to the album's 30th anniversary.) That pronouncement meant more time for tunes from the band's 14th and latest studio album, 2017's "Songs of Experience," as the set opened with a trio of newish numbers: The somber if overly Coldplayish dirge, "Love Is All We Have Left," the rocky funk of "The Blackout" and fuzzfest "Lights of Home."
By Greg Kot, Chicago Tribune
There was beauty and bombast, tenderness and ham-fistedness, and a tale of "innocence" and "experience." It was the best and sometimes the worst of U2 in an ambitious multi-media show Tuesday, the first of two concerts at the United Center.
The Irish quartet -- Bono, still in fine voice; The Edge and his armada of guitar foot pedals; the rock-ribbed rhythm section of bassist Adam Clayton and drummer Larry Mullen Jr. -- isn't phoning it in, even though it just came off the type of tour that is typical of heritage bands with several decades of hits. Last year's 30th anniversary stadium jaunt for its most popular album, "The Joshua Tree," raked in nearly $317 million on three continents.
By Jason Bracelin, Las Vegas Review-Journal
Star-spangled bullhorn pressed to his lips, his voice boomed as torches blazed.
"This is not America," Bono declared as footage of white supremacists marching in Charlottesville, Virginia, last August aired on the football-field-long video screen, displayed with a crispness that captured their anger down to their pores.
"This is America," the U2 frontman said, then pivoted as the scene shifted to an equal rights gathering, the faces changed, the passions similarly palpable.
A couple of numbers later, a three-story America flag was unfurled from the rafters of T-Mobile Arena as Bono brandished his bullhorn once more, this time in the service of "American Soul," a propulsive rallying cry with a bullying bass line and flecks of wah-wah guitar.
During the song's verses, Bono sought to articulate what America means to him.
"It's not a place," he sang. "This country is, to me, a sound."
The rock icons come to grips with the future - with flashes of their past - on 'Songs of Experience'
**** 1/2 (four and a half stars out of 5)
By David Fricke, Rolling Stone
It is nearly business as usual. "Nothing to stop this being the best day ever," Bono declares in "Love Is All We Have Left," at the start of U2's sequel to 2014's Songs of Innocence. But the singer's delivery is striking in its restraint: like cautious prayer or a fragile wish, suspended over the rippled-sea strum of the Edge's guitar and Adam Clayton's bass-guitar gravity. Bono quickly straps on his bravado in "Lights of Home": "One more push and I'll be born again," he crows, framed by the Edge's skidding-blues licks and drummer Larry Mullen Jr.'s rock-grip twist on hip-hop stride.
You hear near-fatal reckoning too. "I shouldn't be here 'cause I should be dead," Bono admits in that song's first line, alluding to his recent "brush with mortality" (as the Edge put it in a recent interview). If Songs of Innocence was rock's most persistently hopeful band looking back in wonder at its punk-rock origins and unlimited dreaming in late-Seventies Dublin, Songs of Experience is U2 in late-middle age coming to grips with an inevitable reality: They no longer have all the time in the world.
**** (Four stars out of 5)
By Neil McCormick, music critic, The Telegraph
U2's 14th studio album opens with one of the most vulnerable and fragile songs of their 41-year-career. Love Is All We Have Left swells on trembling strings and synths, with Bono's close, cracked vocal blending into digital auto-tune as he conjures a space age lullaby for an impending apocalypse. "This is no time not to be alive," he sings.
It's a short, strange, sparse vignette, its spectral beauty interrupted by a gnarly distorted guitar riff as the veteran band turn on the power, and roll exultantly into Lights of Home, a chunky anthem brushing off near-death experience ("I shouldn't be here cos I should be dead") to reach for the light at the end of the tunnel. "Free yourself to be yourself," choral voices command in a coda purpose built for mass singalongs. This is surely closer to the idea that most listeners have of U2 as an upbeat, inspirational, anthemic rock band. And Songs of Experience is full of such moments: big meaty hooks matched by singalong aphorisms ("Get out of your own way!" "Love is bigger than anything in its way"). But the sound of a man in conflict and crisis also runs through the centre of this highly personal collection of songs, undercutting and ultimately deepening the spirit of can do positivity.