And yes, it was only rock and roll. But according to the band’s legendary frontman even Jagger understands the art form has much more in its armoury: it’s about the “magic and alchemy”.
U2 get it, as well. That’s what they brought to Optus Stadium on Wednesday night, something more than just the classics you half heard on the radio in the 1980s. If you didn’t know, Bono spelled it out: “We’re in church now, Perth.”
“Will you hold us up this evening?” he asked the crowd.
The band started with Sunday Bloody Sunday, New Year’s Day, Bad and Pride (In the Name of Love).
Bono had something of an apology to the West Australians who had waited a decade to see the “greatest band ever from the north side of Dublin”.
“The only thing we can do to make up for the last 10 years is to make this the best show we’ve ever played in this city of yours,” he said.
This show, like most U2 gigs, was there to lift you up and out of your everyday world. The band brings something of a spiritual experience.
Its centerpiece, the band’s re-imagining of The Joshua Tree, was always meant to do exactly that. Often appearing on lists of the greatest gospel records of all time, the album is transformative, just like its performance in front of 50 odd thousand Perth fans.
The band named their album after the tree which only grows in the most arid conditions and is a symbol of faith. It was named by American settlers after the prophet Joshua raising his arms in prayer.
Bono’s lyrics – the frontman is a devout Christian – have always been peppered with religious symbolism. He introduced I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For as a “gospel song, for people who aren’t sure”.
He fell to his knees in prayer at the beggining of Mothers of the Disappeared – the last track on the album, about woman whose children had been disappeared during Argentine and Chilean dictatorships – and cried out to the Lord.
At one point, when he was off on one of his longer monologues, had asked himself about the bands drugs of choice.
“Alcohol? Sometimes. Chemicals? Have been. The Holy Spirit? I hope so.”
He even offered a “prayer in the dark” to the volunteer firefighters tackling bushfire emergencies in in the eastern states and David Bowie fans would have loved the phrases of Heroes worked into a U2 song in their honour.
Some of the less woke punters no doubt found some of the politics irritating, especially when climate protesters got a plug. Even Bono admitted some find it “grating” when he “bangs on”. But you can rationalise that by thinking of it like an airline’s “corporate responsibility goals”. Sure, they’re trying to reduce single use plastic or whatever, but really we’re just trying to get from A to B.
None of any this distracted from the music. Political or apolitical, religious or irreligious, it was a great show.
If you’ve always loved them, you would’ve loved it. If not, who knows? Maybe the Optus Stadium echo was bad, maybe the band didn’t have the energy they had years ago, maybe they didn’t play that one particular top 10 song you were looking for.
But that didn’t matter. We were carried away, to somewhere better.
Wednesday was the final concert on U2’s Australia/New Zealand leg of “The Joshua Tree Tour 2019”. The band now move onto Asia, beginning in Singapore this Saturday, November 30 – this will see U2 perform their first ever concerts in Singapore, Seoul, Manila and Mumbai.
Nathan is WAtoday’s political reporter.