After three studio albums, one live album and four years of pent up demand, U2 finally made their first appearance in Australia and New Zealand in August and September of 1984. Plans to visit this area of the world were discussed in previous years but did not come to fruition due to band exhaustion. The huge demand for tickets was in large part due to the highly successful "Under A Blood Red Sky" release the previous year, which showed U2 as a live force to be reckoned with. Music television channels in Australia played their videos and had the Red Rocks performance of "Sunday Bloody Sunday" on high rotation.
U2 started out in sports arenas in this part of the world and the initial batch of shows sold out instantly. Several more dates were added, resulting in a staggering five each in Sydney and Melbourne, unheard of for a debut visit. The tour's timing was rather strange, with it being squeezed in between finishing the new album "The Unforgettable Fire" and its release. In fact, the band had been so focused on finishing the album that Edge had forgotten how to play a lot of their back catalogue and had to buy copies of U2 albums to learn the songs again.
The shows were met with rave reviews, and audiences were very enthusiastic. Perhaps TOO enthusiatic at some shows, with several audience scuffles and several stage crashers. However, for one of the Melbourne shows Bono allowed a huge bald man to crash the stage and pick him up bodily before dancing with him. Whilst in Auckland for the first shows of the tour, the band met a stage hand by the name of Greg Carroll, who would go on to be a great friend of theirs, Bono in particular. After Carroll tragically died in a motorcycle accident in 1986, Bono wrote "One Tree Hill" for him, and the band would perform this song on each subsequent visit to New Zealand.
With The Joshua Tree catapulting U2 the top of the music world, U2 originally planned to visit Australia in the first few months of 1988. Due to exhaustion caused by touring most of 1987, recording new songs and also working on the film for Rattle And Hum, it was decided to postpone the shows to a later date. The Australian and New Zealand ultimately visit didn't happen until September 1989, after a well-earned break following the movie's release. With B.B. King recruited as their support act, the tour was a separate entity from The Joshua Tree tour, entitled Lovetown, and was mostly exclusive to the Pacific. For Australia the shows were played in arenas, with stadiums used for New Zealand. Adam almost put the tour in jeopardy when he had to appear in court on drug charges and nearly had his travel visa revoked. Thankfully, Adam kept his travel visa and the tour could continue.
The hype surrounding the tour was insane. After the massive success of both The Joshua Tree and Rattle And Hum (which is to date the band's highest selling studio album in Australia) U2 fever was at an all-time high, more so than anywhere else in the world. Shows sold out instantly, with demand so great that eventually 27 shows were booked for Australian and New Zealand, including 7 in Melbourne and 8 in Sydney. To this day a large percentage of fans claim Lovetown to be U2 at their live peak, but despite the high calibre of the shows performed, the band have mentioned that during this tour they began to feel like a traveling jukebox. The shows were met with unanimous acclaim from fans and the setlists did in fact vary quite a lot from night to night, in contrast to subsequent tours.
Everything did not go smoothly, though. Part way through the Australian shows, and after suffering some vocal problems, Bono was diagnosed with laryngitis. He described the experience as catching "psychadelic germs". This resulted in the final 3 Sydney shows being postponed until the next month. Footage from the return visit to Sydney was broadcast in an Australian television special, but to date there has been no official Lovetown concert video release, which has baffled fans. A highlight of the tour for many was a reconfigured "Hawkmoon 269", which has not been played since. This version included some haunting slide guitar work by the Edge. The tour finished at the beginning of 1990 after more vocal issues caused shows in Europe to be postponed.
The Australasian and Japanese leg of ZOO TV took place in November and December of 1993, after a two and a half month break. The tour was given a different name for each country - Zoomerang, New Zooland and Zoo TV Japan, respectively. It was their first stadium tour of Australia and the rave reviews from the US and Europe did not go unnoticed. Tickets sold well, with second shows being added in Melbourne and Sydney, and the Zooropa album was a huge success, spending four months in the top ten. The setlist for the Pacific leg partially changed from Europe due to the introduction of more songs from Zooropa (Daddy's Gonna Pay, Lemon, and Dirty Day in place of Desire, Ultra Violet and Bad). Fans attending these shows were lucky in that respect, as these songs would subsequently disappear from future setlists, either forever, or in Dirty Day's case not reappearing until 25 years later.
The first Sydney show remains the only time ever that U2 has played without one of its members, Adam Clayton being - as Bono announced from the stage - "very sick". The exact details surrounding his absence have never exactly been clarified - nor should they be - but it is believed Adam reacted badly to issues regarding his personal life. This debacle couldn't have come at a worse time, with the show being a practice run for a worldwide broadcast the next night for show number two. The band considered a few contingency plans. One was having Edge play bass and guitar tech Dallas Schoo play guitar, but that was quickly vetoed. Another option was canceling the show, but it was too late for that, with the audience already in the venue. At the last moment, Adam's bass tech Stuart Morgan stepped in for him and played the gig, hanging in the shadows for most of the show. Rumours began to circulate that Adam was leaving the band. However this was all just nonsense - the second night went ahead as originally planned, with Adam back on stage and the broadcast going out to the world.
With the southern hemisphere once again being visited at the end of a tour, the Australian leg of the Popmart tour was announced in October 1997, with only four shows on the itinerary and the band surprisingly skipping New Zealand altogether. Similar to some other shows around the world, ticket sales were a bit sluggish, with only a single show in each city. The Pop album and its promotion had seemingly confused or alienated fans as much in Australia as the United States. Maybe it was the choice of Discotheque as first single, and it's accompanying wacky video, or maybe people just didn't take to the more experimental tone of the album, but either way there was a less hysterical rush to see the band live. Taking place in February 1998 at the tail end of summer, the shows themselves were very good, the band playing at their best after nearly a year on the road. By the end of the American leg the previous year they had been feeling a bit down about the whole tour but after visiting South America just before Australia they had rediscovered the thrill of playing live.
Kicking off the leg, Perth was the only show of the entire Popmart tour to be performed indoors, at the 14,000 capacity Burswood Dome. The gigantic stage nearly filled the venue, and the 30 metre high cocktail stick and olive were unable to be set up inside the building! This led to audience members getting their own miniature cocktail stick to hold in front of their eyes as a substitute! Bono noted at a press conference after this show that the front rows were full of corporate people who had bought the seats through the casino and were very lackluster during the concert. He also became visibly deflated when the very first question asked by a reporter was about the show's tribute to the recently deceased Michael Hutchence, and he struggled to talk about it. With the death of his great friend still fresh, Bono would dedicate "One" to Hutchence, and the outro music after U2 left the stage was INXS's "Never Tear Us Apart".
The Melbourne show was notable for the fact that the band soundchecked new music for an hour before the gig. Unsurprisingly, this was recorded and quickly made the rounds online, but it's not known if any of the new music ended up being a part of future albums. It was also the last concert to ever be performed at Waverley Park, which was an odd choice for a venue, being far out in the suburbs. A few days after unidentified members of U2 were refused entry to a club in Noosa for inappropriate footwear, the Australian leg finished with a rainy show in Sydney. Humorously, the mirrorball lemon from which the band usually emerged for the encore was not working for this show. During "One", Bono ordered the lights off and the band performed in complete darkness with lightning flashing around the stadium. Family of Michael Hutchence were at this show.
By late 2005, after two very commercially successful new albums, lots of radio play, and eight years since their last visit of Australia, the demand to see U2 in concert had once again reached staggering heights. Originally scheduled to begin in March 2006, ticket sales for U2's return to Australia were impressive, selling more than ZOO TV and Popmart combined. The Adelaide show was the biggest ever concert to be held in that city, and all other cities also sold out too. And then something rather bad happened at the eleventh hour. With less than two weeks before the Australian leg was to commence, it was postponed. Rumours had leaked a few weeks earlier that a close family member of one the band members was seriously ill with the tour being in jeopardy, and the band confirmed this as the reason. With no immediate word regarding a rescheduled timeframe, fans began to fear that the tour would just be canceled.
Bono, who had already reached Australia at the time of the postponement, was interviewed on television by Andrew Denton the following week and declared the band would likely be back in November. This turned out to be accurate - the rescheduled dates were eventually announced in July, and a third Sydney show was added. This show took the total Sydney attendance to well over 200,000, a staggering result. The shows went off without a hitch, the band in fine form after a break of 8 months, and Bono in particular seemed to be performing the best he had in a very long time. By this point of the tour there were only four regular songs from HTDAAB still in the setlist (it was two years old by this point). Otherwise, the show was largely unchanged from the earlier legs but included a special version of Kite, performed with an extra musician onstage playing an Aboriginal Australian instrument called a didgeridoo. It also contained an extended guitar solo during which Bono would fly a kite from one of the satellite stages. A Sydney performance of this song was included on the "Window In The Skies" CD single.
The compilation U2 18 Singles was released during the Australian tour, and one of the new tracks "The Saints Are Coming" (recorded as a joint effort with Green Day) was played through this leg. "Window In The Skies" would not appear until the Japanese shows a few weeks later, and to date has never been played since. Bono made a guest appearance onstage at Kylie Minogue's concert in Sydney to sing the duet "Kids", and the band briefly combined with Pearl Jam to become what Bono refered to as "U-Jam" for a "Make Poverty History" concert in Melbourne, performing "Rockin' In The Free World". The Vertigo tour finished the following month in Hawaii, with U2 again teaming up with Pearl Jam.
The Australasian leg of the gargantuan 360 tour was announced in August 2010 for the following December, Bono back to being healthy again after severely injuring his back earlier in the year. Kicking off in Auckland and finishing in Sydney, the shows sold quite well, with second shows added for each city. Despite cheap prices for general admission and for "behind" the stage, Redzone and some seated tickets were in the range of AUS $300. This was very expensive for a stadium show, but given the size and cost of the stage and production the high prices were hardly surprising, and the band did turn a profit. With the band skipping Adelaide this tour, the city of Perth was played again after a 12 year absence. Fans showed up in force, outselling the much larger cities of Melbourne and Sydney and ending the tour on a high note with great shows.
The addition of famous rapper Jay-Z as support act no doubt helped boost sales, and he was received far better by audiences than Kanye West on the previous tour. He also joined U2 on stage to perform Sunday Bloody Sunday with them for a few shows. With the start of the tour now eighteen months in the past, the setlist had changed quite a lot from earlier shows, particular in the first half. The band were no longer opening with a barrage of songs from No Line On The Horizon - in fact there were only 3 regular songs from that album still in the setlist. By this point U2 had begun to realise that the album had not been quite the hit they had hoped for. They did not play greatest hits shows, however. Instead they walked onstage with the lights on performing "Return Of The Stingray Guitar", a song never released but whose guitar riff ended up in the song Lucifer's Hands 4 years later. Other unreleased songs performed were "Mercy" and "North Star".
While in Melbourne U2 make a surprise appearance at the farewell show by Australian radio hosts Hamish & Andy and perform Vertigo and Desire. They walk on stage while Hamish & Andy are playing a humorous song boasting that they are better than U2. A few interesting setlist notes on the Australian shows: the second Brisbane show was one of only two times Moment of Surrender was cut from the setlist during the whole 360 tour, on this occasion due to time constraints, and the second Sydney show saw the tour debut of "Love Rescue Me". Reappearing after an absence of over 20 years, it would only be played very sparingly for the rest of the 360 tour. Also in Sydney, Bono was interviewed at the Opera House by Oprah Winfrey for her show. The 360 tour finished in mid-2011 with another run through North America, then the band disappeared for a few years before embarking on three world tours that would not visit Australia and New Zealand.
I spoke to Bono when I was in London for the I+E tour in 2015. Acting as a conduit for my fellow fans down under I asked the expected question: "When are you coming to Australia again?" Bono looked up from the CD booklet he was signing for me, held my gaze and declared "We're working on it. We love playing Australia." He gestured with his hands while looking off into the distance, trying to find the right words to say. "It's something about the people there. They get us and we love them.". Unfortunately, band members and crew members have been making a lot of promises of coming to Australia for the last four years, a recurring thing that has tested the patience of many fans Down Under. How long must we wait, many Australian fans kept wondering. Fortunately, the long wait is now over, fans are ready for The Joshua Tree anniversary tour to (finally) hit Australia and New Zealand. And if we look at U2's history with Australia, this tour promises once again to be something special.