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Review of Melbourne, 19/11

In the three days between between the second and third Saitama gigs, I aim to offer a concert review a day. These reviews were intended to be online much earlier, but computer issues and poor Internet access led to delays, for which I apologise. These three reviews will cover the last shows of the Vertigo Tour in the Southern Hemisphere, and today's review is of the second show in Melbourne, U2's last in Australia. I also feel it was their best. This show was very eventful, so this review is accordingly more lengthy than prior ones. If you are in a hurry, I feel the most interesting passages are those about Edge's guitar troubles around Beautiful Day and Angel Of Harlem, and the last few paragraphs, which deal with the second encore.

As I mentioned in my review of the first Melbourne show, I was ill and did not arrive until 7pm, thus missing U2's soundcheck. For the second concert, I arrived in the morning and hoped that U2 would perform another soundcheck in the afternoon. This was not to be, but the queue was the best-organised of any in Australia and I met up with many friendly fans. When the queue was let in, I found my wait paid off; myself and two other guys staked out a very nice position in front of Edge's spot on stage, just three or four rows back from the rail.

This Melbourne crowd gave Kanye West his most apathetic response since Brisbane. Very few people actively participated in his songs, and most seemed to be thoroughly ignoring him or just watching him due to a lack of anything else to do. When he announced that his next album was not likely to be out until Christmas and thus he would not be in Australia again for at least a year, an audible cheer rose from the crowd. It was apparent that Kanye's style of music did not suit the tastes of much of the audience.

U2, in contrast, received a thoroughly emphatic reception when they took the stage. City Of Blinding Lights was, as always, a rousing sing-along, and in the next two songs, Bono made nods to famous Australians: Vertigo contained a brief snippet of Midnight Oil's Beds Are Burning at the end, which was surprising for me in the sense that I expected a snippet of the Oils much sooner due to Bono's friendship with Peter Garrett, and Elevation contained a Kylie Minogue snippet, a usual feature of the Australian concerts.

After featuring I Will Follow after Elevation at the previous three concerts, U2 returned to Until The End Of The World, the song which had held down the fourth spot of the set at the initial three Australian shows. It was played to its usual high rocking standard, and as it drew to a close, I expected it to be followed by its traditional concert partner, New Year's Day. I was thus unsurprised to hear Bono say "we can always begin again", seemingly in reference to New Year's Day, but then he asked "where are we now?" and Edge began playing the opening notes of I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For. Bono dedicated it to a South African Archbishop attending his first rock concert that night, but I regretfully failed to note the Archbishop's name and do not recall it.

I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For proved to be an emphatic crowd pleaser, and it was followed by two other songs whose popularity was clearly on the same level. Beautiful Day soared majestically; I feel it has never sounded better than it has on this leg of the tour, and Bono's habit of altering the "see the world in green and blue" verse to reference the location of the concert has always gone down a treat.

However, at the end, it seemed Edge was having significant guitar problems, and some unwanted feedback came from his amps after the Blackbird snippet. The band paused as Edge swapped Gibson Explorers and consulted with guitar technician Dallas Schoo. As this pause began to drag, Bono turned and asked "is Edgeworld blowing up?" Soon, Edge was back in business and strummed the opening notes of Angel Of Harlem to the crowd's delight, although Bono remarked that the sound was "a little furry sounding". Angel Of Harlem nonetheless would have lifted the Telstra Dome's roof had it been shut, as the crowd sung along exuberantly.

At the end of Angel Of Harlem, Edge was handed an acoustic guitar and I wondered what was to come. It obviously could not be a repeat of the previous night's Stuck In A Moment, and my guess was that Yahweh, which hasn't been played since the first Sydney concert, was about to return to the setlist. I am very glad to say that I was quite wrong! Much to my elation, Edge began strumming the opening of The First Time, a song that I thought U2 were not going to play on this leg (after reading Willie Williams' diary, it appears U2 chose to play it upon Willie's suggestion). The song had not been performed since 2 March 2006 and likely not rehearsed much beforehand, and Bono asked the crowd not to clap because "it makes it harder" for him to concentrate. The crowd politely obliged and received a moving rendition of what is undoubtedly a gorgeous song. It worked better in the stadium environment than I expected too; everyone around me joined in when Bono urged the crowd to follow him in singing "love" and the venue suddenly felt a whole lot smaller.

The remainder of the main set was predictable but no less enjoyable. U2 performed the same songs that they've played at almost all other Vertigo Tour concerts but they have clearly not lost their passion for the songs. Bono's vocals during Sometimes You Can't Make It On Your Own and Miss Sarajevo were stunning, especially during the latter. I would consider it to be the best of the seven performances of Miss Sarajevo that I have heard as Bono thoroughly nailed the operatic portion. On a different note, the energy in the fiery political songs was almost tangible; Where The Streets Have No Name worked its usual magic, igniting the crowd like nothing else; and One had a magical snippet of its former standard closing snippet, Unchained Melody, to end the main set.

As the previous night's setlist had been opened by The Fly, I expected that at this show, U2 would revert to Zoo Station. However, as with my New Year's Day expectation earlier in the set, this one was also wrong. The band again performed the Fly/Mysterious Ways/With Or Without You encore, and I do feel the usage of Mysterious Ways makes the transition from The Fly to With Or Without You more seamless and cohesive. Progressing straight from one song to another without a tune like Mysterious Ways in between seemed like too sudden a transition to my ears. In my opinion, the best of the three songs was The Fly; I have thoroughly enjoyed it every time I have heard it live and I hope U2 keep it in their future setlists as it's very enjoyable to rock out and headbang to - I would know, I've lost earplugs from being a bit too keen! On that note, I would highly recommend a pair of good quality plugs: even if you aren't concerned about your hearing, I feel a good pair provide a much better quality of sound. I initially removed them for The Fly to savour the song in all its electrifying glory, but I quickly returned to using the plugs when I realised the sound was more crisp and distinct with them in.

The second encore began in its usual style with The Saints Are Coming. It seems to me that its reception has been even more positive and excited with every show, as the song's exposure on the radio has increased, and I may have said this in an earlier review, but despite the fact it's merely a cover, it is more enjoyable and attracts more crowd involvement than All Because Of You. During the song, Bono noted that it was on U218 Singles, which according to him had come out that day - in fact, it had come out the previous day! On both nights, I noted trucks with advertising for U218 Singles traversing the streets around the Telstra Dome (and on 22 November, saw one getting a parking ticket just off Spencer Street!).

When The Saints Are Coming concluded, I wondered just what would follow it, as Desire had already been used the night before.And then, of course, it should have been obvious! Party Girl, celebrating the last of seven very successful concerts in Australia. Bono made reference to the technically dire performance at the third Sydney show, but - to my amusement - pinned it on the Adelaide show instead! This performance of the song was much better and revealed that the band must have rehearsed it. Near the end, Bono took a bottle of champagne and sprayed it over the crowd.

I was under the impression that the next song, Kite, would be the last. The band performed it stunningly well; although my friend remarked that he felt it sounded better the night before, it struck me as possibly the best performance of the song that I have heard. As it drew to a close, I felt on a high, as if I had seen arguably the best concert of the seven in Australia. And then U2 went and took the matter beyond doubt. Edge did not just take off his guitar; he also received a Stratocaster, and a familiar synth began playing. I looked at my friend in shock. Edge then struck Bad's beautiful chiming notes and we leapt up and down, screaming in delight as the song made its fifth leg debut.

Bad was absolutely transcendent. The First Time was no longer the highlight of the night as U2 worked their way through one of their greatest, most powerful songs. Bono nailed the vocals and perfectly rounded out the song with snippets of Ruby Tuesday and a fitting 40. After the song concluded, the band gave their thank yous, and at this point, the concert turned hilarious. Edge approached the microphone, and I'm not sure if he was joking, mistaken, or what, but he proclaimed "Thank you Sydney!" The rest of U2 looked on in great amusement as a chorus of both boos and laughter rose from the audience. Edge then re-approached the microphone: "Thank you Melbourne, Brisbane, Sydney, but especially MELBOURNE!" This time, the crowd roared their approval. Personally, I couldn't help but feel amused that not only had the substandard Party Girl been pinned on Adelaide, but it had been forgotten in the thank yous! Poor Adelaide. And with these flawed but amusing thank yous, U2's Australian trek came to an end. The band met with enthusiastic, appreciative crowds and I think I speak for all who live in this country when I say that I hope the band return sooner rather than later. The quality of the shows this time around was, in a word, stunning.

Posted on by Axver

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