When love came to town: U2's Queensland history

 

"IT SEEMS strange that we have never played here before," frontman Bono told the audience at the start of U2's first ever Brisbane show in 1984.

"After last night it will be strange if they never play here again," The Courier-Mail mused the next day.

Sure enough, the River City has witnessed every stage of the band's chameleonic evolution in the 35 years since.

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The Unforgettable Fire 1984 (Festival Hall): U2's humble beginnings in Brisbane, playing to a Festival Hall crowd of 4000, are reminiscent of Taylor Swift's 2009 gig at the Tivoli. Within five years they would be the biggest band in the world, drawing 10 times that audience to their Brisbane shows.

Lovetown 1989 (Brisbane Entertainment Centre): Australia was never graced with the original Joshua Tree tour, whose American leg was the basis for the movie and album Rattle and Hum. But we did get the follow-up Lovetown tour, which had the legendary B.B. King in tow after he collaborated with the band for When Love Comes to Town on the latter album.

Their three dates in Brisbane were tinged with tragedy when two students were killed in a single-vehicle accident returning to Toowoomba after the second show. A third later died in hospital. "This song is dedicated to two young people who were killed going home from here last night," Bono said before the band played Love Rescue Me. "Make sure you all make it back safe tonight."

A bug-eyed Bono in action on the 1993 Zoomerang tour in Brisbane
A bug-eyed Bono in action on the 1993 Zoomerang tour in Brisbane

 

Zoomerang 1993 (the then ANZ Stadium): The Achtung Baby and Zooropa albums marked a radical departure for U2, not only in the studio but on stage. With the world on the cusp of the information revolution, the band took aim at mass media's role in shaping our worldview and making false gods out of rock stars.

The Zoo TV tour (titled Zoomerang in Australia) was like a multimedia Nuremberg rally, with TV channels and a barrage of subliminal words and images flashed on the giant screen.

A pair of East German cars gyrated above the stage, and Bono's demonic alter ego MacPhisto phoned Allan Border to discuss the origins of cricket. "Are you in a bar?" Border asked. "Yes, a very large bar!" MacPhisto chuckled.

PopMart 1998 (the then ANZ Stadium): Despite being plagued by poor ticket sales - only 17,000 turned out in Brisbane - the PopMart tour took the Zoo TV experience and amped it up to the next level. With the theme shifting to mass consumption and consumer culture, there was the world's then-largest video screen, a giant lemon from which the band emerged for their second act, and a single golden arch towering overhead.

There were also humorous references to an incident at Noosa a couple of nights prior, when the band had been turned away from a nightclub for wearing sandals. For the final encore they dedicated One to the recently departed Michael Hutchence, whose brother Rhett was in the audience - and visibly moved.

Bono dazzles the crowd at the Brisbane PopMart show in 1998
Bono dazzles the crowd at the Brisbane PopMart show in 1998

 

Vertigo 2006 (QSAC): After the relatively poor reception to PopMart It would be eight years before U2 again ventured on to Australian shores - their longest hiatus before the current one. As fans of Brisbane's Go-Betweens, they paid tribute to co-founder Grant McLennan who had died earlier that year. Lines from Streets of Your Town were slipped into Elevation and With or Without You.

360° 2010 (Suncorp Stadium): U2's last Brisbane appearance cemented their reputation as the godfathers of stadium rock.

In a far cry from the PopMart tour, they warranted two nights at Suncorp. And in their most ambitious stage show yet, they brought The Claw, a towering contraption that took up half the football field, almost reaching the roof, and enabled a stadium-size "in the round" performance.

The audience surrounded the stage and The Claw ensured cameras captured the show from every angle.

U2 set an astonishing new standard with their 360° tour at Suncorp Stadium in 2010
U2 set an astonishing new standard with their 360° tour at Suncorp Stadium in 2010