You may have noticed a sudden increase in Bono bashing in recent weeks as the spectre of U2’s ‘Joshua Tree Tour’ homecoming show approached; bouncing pointless pseudo-celebrities from the gossip columns in favour of a multitude of anti-U2 stories – tax, hair-plugs, height, pox etc, etc, etc.

As Dave Fanning jokingly warned us a few weeks back, “If you don’t like U2 now’s a good time to leave the country.” Indeed, many people who don’t like U2 made money out of it by writing about it, but Bono’s usefulness to them in this regard never makes the papers.

Now, there are plenty of valid criticisms which can be laid at Bono/U2’s door, but most of those probably wouldn’t sell papers. For instance, it would’ve been nice if U2 had given a support slot to an Irish act, after all a quarter-full Croke Park at 6PM is a larger captive audience than the 3Arena. What would that opportunity mean to the profile of a fledgling Irish rock act such as Bitch Falcon, Touts, Otherkin, Thumper or (add personal preference here)? Surely they could’ve squeezed one in before Noel Gallagher.

Speaking of which, Gallagher is looking extra trim these days and has clearly been looking after himself. Obviously, the spotlight has been on Liam recently with a well-received show in The Olympia Theatre and a forthcoming sold-out Weston Airport date to come at Halloween, but there was more than enough on display at Croke Park to indicate that Noel will be back with a vengeance in the near future, with his third solo album produced by Northern Ireland’s David Holmes. There was a heightened sense of swagger around Gallagher as he dispatched songs from his previous albums – and several Oasis classics such as Champagne Supernova – with aplomb.

U2 deliver a 22-song set in three parts, including ‘The Joshua Tree’ in its entirety and two hit-laden sections, commencing with the opening salvo of Sunday Bloody Sunday, New Year’s Day, Bad and Pride (In The Name Of Love). Not many acts can lay claim to four such well-known songs that they can effectively use as warm up material, but for U2 such luxuries exist, so why not use them?

The band emerge one by one, with The Edge casually starting the riff to Sunday Bloody Sunday as he walks down the catwalk towards the second stage, where Larry Mullen Jnr has already taken up residency. Bono and Clayton follow quickly behind. These opening four tracks are dispatched with vigour, the sound of each instrument and Bono’s voice crisp and pristine.

U2 return to the mainstage for ‘The Joshua Tree’s 30th birthday party celebrations. While the opening salvo gives us a look at showmanship and the sound of Ireland’s biggest ever band, ‘The Joshua Tree’ section displays the production value their live shows are famed for, with stunning visuals from Anton Corbjin, displayed on a massive curved screen that resemble a flag blowing in the breeze.

It’s easy to see why ‘The Joshua Tree’ broke America for U2. The first four songs are stellar (Where The Streets Have No Name, I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For, With Or Without You, Bullet The Blue Sky), and still resonate with the power they did upon their original release. Anton Corbjin’s stunning barren desert landscape visuals for Where The Streets Have No Name are a feast for the eyes.

As the show progresses Bono is clearly very emotional, struggling to hold back tears between songs at several points. The lesser-known material that follows the opening wall of singles holds up surprisingly well, with God’s Own Country, One Tree Hill – dedicated to a U2 roadie that died in a road traffic accident – and Exit shining, whilst Corbjin’s simple imagery of a line of women holding candles makes the sentiment of Mothers of the Disappeared palpable.

Despite this being a Joshua Tree concert, section three of the show provides the most indelible moment as U2 mixed Passenger’s Miss Sarajevo with breath-taking visuals of Syria. The mix of beauty and abhorrence on screen was compelling and no doubt this will be the song which stays on lips for days rather than the hits.

Ultraviolet (Light my Way) continued to punch the eyes and the soul as U2 pay homage to the women of the world; the everyday and the extraordinary. The crowd cheer as a procession of faces appear on the screen, from Marie Curie to Mary Robinson. The appearance of search & rescue pilot Dara Fitzpatrick who recently died in the line of duty is particularly poignant, as is the inclusion of the first African-American woman to sell a million records, the often neglected Sister Rosetta Tharpe.

Vertigo and Beautiful Day provide the expected stadium rock bravado, and One the universal singalong. It’s unfortunate then that the show finishes on a lull as U2 run through a song from their next chapter, The Little Things That Give You Away.

Overall, a triumphant homecoming.

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