It's not every day that the biggest rock band in the world play a hometown show, and the accents and languages audible around Croke Park on Saturday are testament to both how far the tentacles of Bono and co.'s gospel have stretched, and their longevity.
This was a very different proposition to Coldplay's gig at the same venue just a few weeks ago. For starters, this is obviously an older crowd, many of them proudly wearing tattered t-shirts that probably got an airing on The Joshua Tree's original tour. And while Chris Martin and co. may have been all about fireworks, ticker-tape and creating an outlandish spectacle from the first song, Bono, Larry, Edge and Adam go for a more understated intro. As the stoic Mullen hammers the stark military beat of 'Sunday Bloody Sunday', his bandmates follow him onto a sub-stage situated a third of the way through the crowd, running through a few 'warmer-uppers' to get the juices flowing. 'Pride', 'Bad' and 'New Year's Day' all sound tremendous, although their lower key suggests that those higher notes aren't as easy to reach as they once were for the frontman.
Despite the fanfare, that's not to say that there's no sense of occasion. Actor Colin Farrell is one of several famous faces spotted in the crowd; Bono points out Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and President Michael D. Higgins – "our chieftains" – and the buzz in the air suggests that it's going to be a big night. Indeed, the band come good on whispers of a 'special surprise' for Joshua Tree opener 'Where the Streets Have No Name' when a truly impressive and perfectly-timed flyover by the Irish Air Corps leaves jaws agape and trails of tricoloured vapour in its wake. (Meanwhile, we were just glad that 'surprise' had nothing to do with the ubiquitous Conor McGregor).
Much has been made of The Joshua Tree's lyrical relevance amidst today's political and social climate, but at the end of the day, it's still simply a great rock album. Played in sequence, the first four songs are golden; 'Streets' leads into 'I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For', 'With or Without You' and a propulsive 'Bullet the Blue Sky'. The later tracks might send more casual fans running to the bar or the toilet, but 'One Tree Hill' is superb and 'Mothers of the Disappeared' is especially evocative, with images of women holding candles emblazoned on the screen.
Oh yes – then there's the visuals. It would have been tough for U2 to follow-up the remarkable staging of their 'Innocence + Experience' tour, but when Anton Corbjin's stark rolling highway vista kicks in on the enormous screen it is truly breathtaking, while seeing the quartet silhouetted against a blood red screen is simply iconic. Later, during 'Ultraviolet (Light My Way)', Bono pays tribute to the women both in the band's personal lives and on their crew, as images of everyone from Katie Taylor to Angela Merkel to Rosie Hackett and Mary Robinson flicker on screen.
It wouldn't be a U2 gig without a sermon from Bono, but he manages to keep the preachiness to a minimum. In any case, images speak louder than words in this instance – as seen on the first song of the encore, Miss Sarajevo, which is accompanied by footage of Syrian refugees. 'Beautiful Day', 'Vertigo' and 'Elevation' get Croke Park bouncing before 'One' provides what should have been the soaring climax and final song of the night, the darkened stadium becoming a sky of twinkling phone lights. Instead, it's left to new song 'The Little Things That Give You Away', leading many to beat the crowds and head for the exits early.
There are no fireworks, no fancy coloured wristbands, no real gimmicks; U2 have been there, done that and there is a generation of younger bands that they would probably willingly concede to on that front. When it comes to providing an eminently satisfying evening of live music, however, they've lost none of their magic.