REVIEW: Hits and 'Bono-isms' aplenty at U2's first Singapore show

(From left) Larry Mullen Jr, The Edge, Bono and Adam Clayton of U2 performing at the National Stadium on Saturday (30 Nov) night. (PHOTO: Getty Images)

SINGAPORE — U2’s first-ever concert in Singapore on Saturday (30 November) was certainly a night to remember – and not just for the impossibly long queues at the beer stands.

Catching the legendary rock band in concert was a bucket-list level event for many among the 40,000 people in attendance. And the band was well aware of this too.

“It’s only taken us 42 years to get here,” said frontman Bono at one point as the National Stadium erupted in response.

The show began with a touch of Irish pride as the band took the stage during the closing bars of The Waterboys’ 1985 hit “The Whole Of The Moon”. While the choice of song may have left some a bit confused, all doubts were dispelled as drummer Larry Mullen Jr and guitarist The Edge launched into the sparse, gritty intro of “Sunday Bloody Sunday”.

Long-time fans of the band would have loved their opening numbers, which included “Bad” and “New Year’s Day”. Ending their five-song “warm-up” with the sing-along friendly “Pride (In The Name Of Love)”, the band then shifted to a bigger stage set-up to kick off the “Joshua Tree” portion of the show.

For me, the first goosebumps-inducing moment came with the ghostly notes of “Where The Streets Have No Name”. Set against a massive video screen display of a wide open desert road, you could almost feel the wind in your face amid the wall of sound from The Edge’s guitar playing (although, in truth, it was probably just the Kallang River breeze).

Next was the gospel-inflected “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For”, which took the audience to church with its thumping drum beat and sing-along chorus, followed by the heart-break ballad “With Or Without You”.

With their best-known tracks from the album out of the way, I did wonder how the audience would take to the less popular “Joshua Tree” numbers. To their credit, the band did an admirable job of keeping the crowd hooked with a combination of energetic performances, engaging crowd banter (who knew bassist Adam Clayton had lived in Singapore for a bit of his childhood?) and stunning visuals.

Stand-out moments included the snarling “Bullet The Blue Sky” – set against a video backdrop of people donning army helmets in front of an American flag – and the haunting “Mothers Of The Disappeared”, which was accompanied by a video showing a line of sombre women of blowing out candles one by one.

For a band whose members are all pushing 60, I was also impressed by how they went on to play another nine songs – including crowd-pleasers like “Vertigo”, “Beautiful Day” and “Elevation” – even after closing the “Joshua Tree” segment of the show. And while Bono’s voice felt somewhat strained at times on the high notes, the audience was always there to fill in the gaps.

While I would have loved to hear them play “All I Want Is You” and “Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me” it was still a treat to watch them break out their Billie Holiday homage “Angel Of Harlem” – off one of my all-time favourite albums “Rattle And Hum” – and close with the soaring “One”.

Ever the supporter of social and political causes throughout the band’s four-decade history, the 59-year-old singer peppered the show with little shout-outs to the importance of democracy and human rights. (PHOTO: Getty Images)

‘Woke’ icon

And what’s a U2 concert without a few Bono-isms? Ever the supporter of social and political causes throughout the band’s four-decade history, the 59-year-old singer peppered the show with little shout-outs to the importance of democracy and human rights.

During “Ultraviolet (Light My Way)”, the band also paid tribute to strong women around the world by displaying their faces on-screen. Local fans were delighted to see Singapore’s very own war-time heroine Elizabeth Choy and the Women’s Everest Team included among figures like pioneering 18th-century feminist Mary Wollstonecraft and teenage environmental advocate Greta Thunberg.

Bono’s messages largely resonated with the crowd, although I was confused at one point when he said, “(Singapore) didn’t just reclaim land from the sea... You reclaimed religious tolerance!” Still, I would have expected nothing less from an artist who has been “woke” from even before the term was popularised.

While it would have been unfair to expect U2’s first-ever show here to represent its peak, I’m certain that few walked away from the night disappointed. For me, it was definitely a concert to scratch off my bucket list.

Now to cross my fingers and hope Pearl Jam start touring again.