U2’s 360˚ Tour is immense in many ways. The number of dates around the world it’ll play, the size of the stadia, the massive ‘claw’ stage, the number of people that will see it. No matter if you’re the biggest band in the world, have put in several years of planning in to a world tour which has no doubt cost tens of millions before it’s even started, it can still be a challenge to be intimate with your crowd.

After the somewhat lukewarm reception previous Australian tour support Kanye West received at the same stadium several years ago, U2’s refusal to be supported by a generic white by rock band pays off in spades today as Jay-Z proves he is not only a master businessman, but a master entertainer. Even in daylight under overcast skies the crowd increasingly becomes enthralled by his prowling presence on the stage, with the field erupting for ’99 Problems’. Any sceptics who had come solely for U2 are soon converted and during a rapturously received ‘Empire State of Mind’ a group of grey haired men well in to their fifties or sixties are spotted pumping their fists into the air.

As darkness descend and the ‘claw’ stage lights up, it more resembles one of Louise Bourgeois’ elegant Spider sculptures than a robot claw, with walkways around the periphery and out in to the crowd and a ‘360 degree’ video screen that descends toward the stage. U2 have been used to being dwarved by their stage setups for more than 25 years, but for all the criticisms this setup has received from some sectors it does bring them a lot closer to their audience. Opening with the previously unreleased number ‘Return of the Stingray Guitar’, latterday FM staple ‘Beautiful Day’, rouses the crowd, while the whirring guitar opening of ‘I Will Follow’ off Boy still conveys the passion of a teenage call to arms. ‘Mysterious Ways’ off Achtung Baby is a welcome set inclusion and still sounds as innovative as it did almost 20 years ago. ‘Elevation’ and ‘I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For’ fill the stadium in the manner in which it seems they were written to do, but it’s a quieter number like ‘Bad’ off 1984’s The Unforgettable Fire in which you can see everyone mouthing the words verbatim. You realise that even if Bono is not the Messiah, many of the band’s songs are almost entries in a modern hymn book, and we know many of them off by heart, like choristers worshiping at the altar of rock n’ roll. One female fan certainly feels this way as Bono uses his old trick of dragging a girl out of the crowd to dance with him on stage – the stadium is captivated by the moment and she lies on the stage in ecstasy with Bono singing to her – a fan at one with her idol.

Bono is still one of the greatest showmen of the last 50 years, and it shows with the little things like referencing local suburbs Fitzroy, St Kilda and Richmond; while those listening attentively would have caught deft snatches of Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds’ ‘Into My Arms’ and INXS’ ‘Devil Inside’. ‘Miss Sarajevo’ is a surprise inclusion from the band’s Passengers project with the late Luciano Pavarotti, while they are joined by Jay-Z for a rousing ‘Sunday Bloody Sunday’. With Kanye West and Beyoncé in town it’s not the all star collaboration that some had hoped for, but Jay-Z gives the song a universal and contemporary appeal rather than remaining a ‘battle song’ of the early 1980s decrying violence in Ireland’s sectarian ‘Troubles’.

Set closer ‘Walk On’ is dedicated to the recently released Burmese political prisoner Aung San Suu-Kyi, and the Amnesty International lanterns that appear on stage are moving.  Encores roll out the anthems ‘One’, ‘Where The Streets Have No Name’ and ‘With Or Without You’, while ‘Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me’ from the Batman Returns soundtrack is another surprise inclusion. ‘Moment of Surrender’ is a subdued finale, but also renders the stadium reflective, demonstrating that the biggest band in the world can still remain intimate in its interaction with 60,000 people at once.

Reviewed by Jim Murray
Photo by Carbie Warbie

Exclusive footage on Tone Deaf TV
Interview with U2’s set designer
Talking about recycling the set
Talking about Bono’s health and back problems

Photos on Tone Deaf
Official U2 360 Media Launch
Jay-Z performs in Melbourne for the U2 360 tour
U2 performs in Melbourne for the U2 360 tour