Review: U2's The Joshua Tree 2019 an electrifying experience

Confession: I am not a huge U2 fan. It's never been my cup of tea. Yet after their Friday show at Mt Smart Stadium, I could just be a convert.

I decided to enlist my muso father (who has a personal connection with Noel Gallagher after bumping into his shoulder in a guitar shop) for help. With a long journey on public transport ahead of us, I donned long-wear concealer, Dad donned a back brace, and off we went.  

Our first port of call was U2's soundcheck, an electrifying experience which confirmed that yes, it is normal to feel the bass in your chest and no, I am not having a heart attack. Yet it was Dad who almost suffered the medical event when Bono stood a mere metre away.

Yes, we met Bono, and despite my cynical presumption that anyone worth $700 million must be a certified wanker, Bono was gracious, humble and effortlessly cool. All 5'5" of him (plus two inches of perfectly coiffed quiff) radiated good energy. Maybe it's his lavender-tinted glasses, but he seemed to view everyone with genuine warmth. 

After Dad got overly excited by Fritz's Wieners, we sat down (in the wrong row, twice) to watch Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds. The former Oasis guitarist may be a lot of things, but bothered isn't one of them. So unbothered in fact, he had the audacity to barb Kiwi fans over the All Blacks' Rugby World Cup loss to England without a glimmer of fear.

Having swapped his selection of anoraks for a white T-shirt, Gallagher launched into a fairly inoffensive string of middle-of-the-road alt-rock. The High Flying Birds' cacophony of sounds largely overshadowed his vocal and lyrical ability, making it difficult for the songs to resonate with new listeners such as myself.

Half-an-hour of passable tunes later, Gallagher bridged into welcome throwbacks ("the first half was for me, the second half is for you"), with fan favourite 'Wonderwall', Britpop banger 'Don’t Look Back in Anger' and the Beatles' 'All You Need is Love'. They were well-received, yet failed to soar to the same heights as Oasis's former glory.

"It's time for you to go to the bar because we've come to an end," Gallagher announced. 

"Good," Dad huffed.

After a long wait, Edge, Bono, Larry Mullen and Adam Clayton took the stage and the audience's breath away with the post-punk powerhouse, 'Sunday Bloody Sunday'. With the stadium swathed in a red glow, the political banger made a rallying call to revellers: buckle up, baby, this is just the beginning.

With Mullen's impeccable drumming and Edge's minimalistic yet distinctive sound, the megaband effortlessly transitioned from hit to hit. Enhanced by stunning imagery on the largest high-res LED screen in a touring show, the band performed The Joshua Tree with vitality and passion, sounding as strong as they did 30 years ago (Dad confirmed).

Full disclosure - I'm 22. The Joshua Tree is a bit before my time. Yet I still knew the majority of the setlist - I could even mumble my way through 'Where the Streets Have No Name', 'I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For' and 'With or Without You'. For me, that shows the magnitude of the U2 phenomenon. Their music is omnipresent, crossing decades and generations. Their songs remain relevant even thirty-two years on. That's the stuff icons are made of.

An absolute highlight was 'One Tree Hill', penned in memory of U2's beloved friend and roadie, Greg Carroll. "He was taken from us far too soon, but in many ways he is still present," Bono told the crowd. The poignant message preceded an emotionally-charged performance, both haunting and hopeful in equal measure. 

With the Whanganui boy's smiling face emblazoned behind them, U2 ended their benediction to fervent applause. One visibly overcome woman tripped down the stairs. Although I didn't face-plant (or wear pink neon), any vestiges of dignity were robbed as the final strains brought a tear (or five) to my eye. 

Review: U2's The Joshua Tree 2019 an electrifying experience
Photo credit: Supplied / Dara Munnis

A brief interlude was followed by newer material, a suddenly top-hatted Bono belting his way through the likes of 'Vertigo', 'Ultra Violet (Light My Way)' and 'Every Breaking Wave' to an ecstatic crowd.

We left early (to ensure seats on the bus, but also to ensure I didn't suffer an anxiety attack escaping Mt Smart's bottlenecked maze). As we walked to the upbeat refrain of 'Beautiful Day', Bono's uplifting messages had seemingly served their purpose as two boozy blokes, arm-in-arm, exchanged an impassioned "I love you, bro". 

And that my friends, was the end of a beautiful day.