BUSY, busy, busy. Under a giant claw/spaceship/kid’s-toy-on-steroids stage set, in a stadium filled to the nosebleed seats and the inner circle pulsating with energised fans, empty seconds rarely appeared.

Across two hours and 24 of their own songs, U2 managed to slip in lyrical, musical or visual references to the Beatles and David Bowie, AIDS and Sarajevo, INXS and Frankie Goes To Hollywood, family death and African debt, Bob Geldof and Aung San Suu Kyi, Kanye West and Amazing Grace, Oprah Winfrey and Amnesty International. Oh yes, and office Christmas parties.

Too much? Now it is true that total stimulation has been the U2 method since their early ’90s reinvention of the stadium show as audio-visual immersion. Sometimes it has been a treat, sometimes it has been a distraction and sometimes, as in the first of their Sydney shows four years ago, it has been the saving grace in an unbalanced set. But what is striking this time around is how, despite the fixed-to-mega settings of everything, they have balanced the message and the medium so well.

Most of the extracurricular material was fleeting or lightly handled, earnestness was kept to a minimum (though that’s hardly the worst sin a band can commit) and the in-the-round nature of the stage meant that there was at least an illusion of some intimacy.

Of course intimacy is relative when 80 per cent of us had to watch with one eye on the stage and one eye on the screens, but a charged Bono and the only slightly less sparky Edge seemed more engaged with the songs and in turn the audience than they have been in years.

Even Larry Mullen jnr (who took a walk around the split stage playing congas) and Adam Clayton (wearing more sparkle than a bogan school formal dress) were giving out, not just looking in.

In a show roughly broken up into half-hour segments surprises came with both the old, the return of a neatly thrilling I Will Follow early in the first 30 minutes of guitar rock power and drive, and the new, the reinvention of the weakest song from their most recent album, I’ll Go Crazy If I Don’t Go Crazy Tonight. This song was done as some kind of house-infused disco number which, in the third rock-as-dance section, segued neatly into bursts of Relax and Two Tribes.

There was not as much time for contemplation or variation (I would have liked to hear superior new tracks such as Cedars of Lebanon and Fez and cheekier old ones such as Lemon and The Fly) and Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me still doesn’t sustain attention no matter what flashing doodads are deployed, but this was U2 in form. Fine form.

U2's Monster 2nd Downunder Show

Last night two of pop music’s superpowers came together for a pulsating night at Docklands.

Just over 60,000 fans crammed into an expanded-capacity Etihad Stadium to witness U2 360, the Irish superstar band’s bold achievement in stadium rock.

But before Bono and co landed, the American hip-hop superstar Jay-Z was entrusted with opening the monster double-bill.

He provided U2 with a winning mix of pop-cultural prestige and commercial supremacy few acts could, and he undoubtedly widened the night’s demographic. His wife, singer-actress Beyonce, however, was not to be seen.

Jay-Z also delivered pop hits, none better than last year’s epic Empire State of Mind, which drew the night’s first big singalong.

Still, much of his set was a little jarring for this rock-loving crowd and last night was unequivocally about U2.

It’s not difficult to get caught up in the logistics of the U2 production - the ”claw” is 50 metres high and carries 590 tonnes of equipment. But the stage, while vast, feels uncluttered and gives the band access to the crowd on all sides.

Almost miraculously, U2 delivers a sense of intimacy.

The sight of the four mates from Dublin, who have endured for more than 30 years together, entering the packed stadium by walking through the crowd as David Bowie’s Space Oddity blasts out is genuinely thrilling. It’s a nod of gratitude to fans, an acknowledgment that the quartet and their followers have stuck tight for so long.

Yet Bono was the irrepressible star last night. He used the elongated catwalks to strut, shadow box and spider dance through early parts of the set.

The U2 classics - With or Without You, I Will Follow, Where the Streets Have No Name, Sunday Bloody Sunday, Beautiful Day and One - were delivered in elaborate fashion.

Recent tracks Get On Your Boots and Magnificent were helped in part by Bono namechecking in the intro St Kilda, Richmond and Fitzroy. The gesture to Melbourne was lapped up.

City of Blinding Lights and Vertigo were also given fresh energy.

Songs regularly segued into others in almost mash-up style. Bad borrowed from All I Want Is You. And even the rain held off despite dire forecasts.

As for the sound, it was excellent to fair depending on where you were in the stadium.

”We’ve been doing this a while,” Bono said. ”But we’re still figuring out so much about music … Keep coming to see us, we’re still pilgrims.”

He then spoke of a strong connection the band has with Melbourne and launched into I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.

The band also played two new, unreleased tracks.

Both were strident efforts demonstrating that these rock veterans retain their hunger.

Bono Comments on PM AU World Aids Day

THE rock singer and activist Bono took some time out from his tour schedule to meet the Foreign Minister, Kevin Rudd, at the Sydney Opera House yesterday.

The pair had a 45-minute meeting with the co-chairmen of Make Poverty History, Andrew Hewett and Tim Costello, where they discussed Australia’s aid program and the challenge of global development.

A spokesman for Mr Rudd said Bono praised Australia’s bipartisan support to reduce poverty globally.