Four decades and many milestones on, U2 wrote a stirring new chapter in the unforgettable fire of their story with a first Southeast Asian concert on Saturday (Nov 30).
The seventh stop of the third Joshua Tree Tour finally read "Singapore"; and from start to finish the celebrated quartet went helter-skelter for a mesmerised, almost disbelieving crowd at the National Stadium.
With the tour now several weeks in, and the setlist from their Australasian leg widely circulated, there was still a raw thrill to be had when Larry Mullen’s iconic drum intro for Sunday Bloody Sunday thundered the evening open.
The revolutionary theme continued with another War classic New Year’s Day for their third song of the night, before their sing-along live favourite Bad as Bono raced into … well … full Bono mode.
The frontman, 59, was engaging right from the get-go, interacting playfully with the crowd – fully aware of the historic nature of the occasion.
"Thank you for your patience," he told the sell-out crowd. "It only took us 42 years."
This was U2 in their element, an outfit whose identity was forged on the road – in snug venues in the UK and in open arenas in North America – in the years preceding The Joshua Tree.
Stripped of previous excesses from the ZOO TV, PopMart and 360° eras, the sparse set with a stunning near 50-metre screen allowed for intimacy in a setting that held about 40,000 people. With fierce flashes of red and gold, and black and white, this felt reminiscent of U2’s Live at Red Rocks: Under a Blood Red Sky – their classic concert film from more than 35 years ago.
As images of Joshua trees hung on screen, the evening continued with a progression of epochal tunes from The Joshua Tree and Rattle and Hum. Where the Streets Have No Name; Bullet the Blue Sky; I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking; Pride (In The Name of Love); all performed with trademark exuberance.
The songs were written at a time when the band was confronting an America in the throes of change. Unfortunately, the resonance of those lyrics is just as relevant today.
Seeing how this was their debut Singapore date, it would have been nice to have deviated from the tour setlist.
Crowds in Sydney, Perth and Tokyo have had hits from Achtung Baby and Zooropa on previous tours – so no biggie if faves like Zoo Station and Mysterious Ways were left out this time.
But we hadn’t yet heard them live. And as far as U2 albums go, the above pair has to be near the very top.
How cool if we had gotten to hear Stay (Faraway, So Close!); would’ve loved to have heard “Singapore” alongside Miami, New Orleans, London, Belfast and Berlin.
Alas, what we got: The radio-friendly schmaltz, Beautiful Day.
U2, for all their grizzled anti-hero, we’re-here-for-the people charm, have this questionable reserve for spontaneity. Not solely their fault: It’s a trait quasi-manufactured mega-bands have.
But this is merely nitpicking.
It was a night of very few gripes: Bono’s voice held, the acoustics were decent and The Edge made his guitar bleed. And Adam Clayton, the so-called "local boy"? What a legend; the heartbeat of it all.
Speaking of Achtung Baby, there was a moving "Women of the World" video tribute set to Ultraviolet (Light My Way), which featured female trailblazers including Singapore's Elizabeth Choy, Margaret Thomas and the Singapore Women's Everest Team.
Also, to this full-throated crowd, any collection of U2 numbers would’ve done. They sang and swayed, and for the most part kept their phones away and drank in the moment.
Together with U2, they killed it in Kallang.