Ahead of U2's return to New Zealand for their Joshua Tree 2019 Tour next month, we take a look back at the band's previous visits Downunder and how their once modest stage set-up has evolved into one of the greatest spectacles in modern rock.

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1984 - The Unforgettable Fire Tour

U2's first tour of New Zealand saw them arrive after just three days of rehearsals to play Christchurch, Wellington and two shows in Auckland.

The stage set-up was minimal, judging by grainy black and white photos – a far cry from the elaborate shows they would become famous for.

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While in Auckland, the band first hired local Kiwi soundman Greg Carroll, who went on to join U2's road crew full time.

"An unrehearsed set can be very exciting for the audience as it's never pat, it's never slick, you never know what's going to happen," Bono said in a television interview. "And I think this will be true in New Zealand. I have no idea what's going to happen."

1989 - Lovetown Tour

The Wellington crowd at the U2 concert at Athletic Park during their 1989 Lovetown Tour. Photo / NZ Herald.
The Wellington crowd at the U2 concert at Athletic Park during their 1989 Lovetown Tour. Photo / NZ Herald.

U2's booming international profile saw them play outdoor stadium venues on their second visit, filling Christchurch's Lancaster Park, Wellington's Athletic Park, and two Auckland shows at Western Springs.

The stage show was unremarkable by modern standards with the band still relying almost solely on the power of their music alone to entertain the masses. The setlist included many tracks from the previous Joshua Tree Tour and new songs from the Rattle and Hum album, including a cover of All Along the Watchtower. BB King joined the tour as the opening act.

The single One Tree Hill, dedicated to Carroll, was performed within sight of the Auckland landmark for the first time.

1993 - ZOO TV Tour

Touring "New Zooland" in support of 1991's Achtung Baby, U2's stage show had evolved into a multimedia extravaganza featuring dozens of large screens that showed visual effects, video clips, and flashing text phrases, along with a lighting system partially made of Trabant cars.

The band made a conscious effort to embrace a more light-hearted image, with Bono fronting shows at Lancaster Park and Western Springs in his many ironic guises (The Fly, MacPhisto).

Dunedin band The 3Ds were handpicked by Bono as the opening act but when an associate of the group pilfered a bottle of wine from U2's dressing room, they were threatened with not getting paid. Bono was in the room at the time and insisted they be paid double and sent them another bottle.

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2006 - Vertigo Tour

U2 perform at Mt Smart Stadium during their 2006 Vertigo tour. Photo / NZ Herald.
U2 perform at Mt Smart Stadium during their 2006 Vertigo tour. Photo / NZ Herald.

After a 13-year absence, U2 returned Downunder – with Kanye West in tow – for two Auckland concerts at Mt Smart Stadium.

The stage show featured an ellipse-shaped ramp connected to the stage, which housed some of the audience, while a huge screen featured various light displays including glowing koru patterns.

Bono even paid tribute to the Warriors, wearing a black jacket with the NRL club's Tiki logo emblazoned on the back.

"A performance that managed to do the impossible of a stadium show - marry real emotional punch to extravagant gesture. Brilliant," said the Herald's review.

2010 - 360 Tour

The huge stage set for the U2 360 degree Tour at Mt Smart Stadium. Photo / NZ Herald.
The huge stage set for the U2 360 degree Tour at Mt Smart Stadium. Photo / NZ Herald.

U2 again raised the bar in terms of stage production with the band playing "in the round" on a circular stage that allowed the audience to surround them on all sides during two shows at – you guessed it, Mt Smart Stadium.

A towering four-legged structure nicknamed The Claw was built above the stage, with the PA and an expanding 50-metre high video screen mounted on top.

During One Tree Hill, the names of the 29 victims of the Pike River mine disaster were displayed on screen. American rapper Jay-Z was the opening act and joined U2 for renditions of Sunday Bloody Sunday and Scarlet.

U2's first Auckland show has sold out, but tickets are still available for the second show on Saturday, November 9 at livenation.co.nz