As the Irish four-piece play the songs from the album, the screen fills with a series of short films made by Anton Corbijn, the Dutch photographer who shot album pictures 32 years ago, before going on to make the superb Joy Division feature Control and the intriguing James Dean film Life.
When they first come onstage, though, they ignore the screen entirely, walking one by one out to a B stage, to play a short set of songs – I Will Follow, New Year’s Day, Bad, Pride – under simple spotlights. Except for the fact they start the whow with Sunday Bloody Sunday rather than end with it, we could almost be back in 1984, when they first toured here.
But then the screen comes to life, a vivid red with the silhouette of a Joshua tree picked out in black, and the band take their places on the main stage. Where the Streets Have No Name unfolds to a black-and-white Corbijn movie of an endless road dotted with refugees, With or Without You to a gorgeous time-lapse sequence of desert ranges, possibly the high point of a night filled with astonishing imagery.
As they play Red Hill Mining Town, a Salvation Army brass band fills every pixel of the screen, their horns providing musical accompaniment. As they rip through Bullet the Blue Sky, a series of ordinary Americans – of various ages and ethnicities – stands in front of a shed painted with the stars and stripes, donning the helmet of a GI.
Throughout, Bono’s voice soars, The Edge’s guitar sweeps and fuzzes and loops, and Adam Clayton on bass and Larry Mullen Jr on drums power this machine along on its familiar path. There’s no sense of them phoning it in, but nor is there a hint of anything having been left to chance. This is polished stadium rock at its finest.
They finished the 24-song set – eight of those in the encore – with the masterful One, a song built for the stadium singalong. As the crowd wandered off into the night, many of them were still singing. “We’re one, but we’re not the same. We get to carry each other, and we’re doing it again.”
For four decades, U2 have been one of the most successful touring acts in the world precisely because of their unique ability to unify a crowd through the act of live performance. And on the evidence of this show, they’ve lost none of that power.
It’s a gift. Long may they share it.