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U2 takes the Philippines to church on first Manila gig

The road to U2's 2019 Joshua Tree tour in Manila was long.

Getting stuck in traffic even with the humongous Philippine Arena beckoning you to make it to the 8 p.m. show really gives you that devastating "so near, yet so far" feeling.

Still, what's a few more hours?

We've waited four decades for the Irish rock band's transcendental music to enlighten our Filipino souls and on Wednesday night, they did just that.

Manila is U2's 2050th show, and this one got exhilaratingly political before the lights went out.

As venue became thick with excitement and exhilaration, Filipino-American poet and novelist Bino A. Realuyo’s poem flashed on the massive screen, allowing the waiting audience to reflect on the plight of Filipino maids in Europe, “Filipineza,"

And at 9:15pm, the show began.

Bono, The Edge, Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen came out raging with "Sunday, Bloody Sunday," their 1983 hit about the death of 28 unarmed civilians shot  by British soldiers at a protest in Northern Ireland.

From a lower-box view, the Joshua tree stage looked as innocent as a cut-out of a giant tree that cast a shadow, which served as the aisle and the stage.

After the first three songs, Bono greeted his live Filipino audience for the first time: “Mabuhay! Thank you Manila for your patience. I know it's taken a while getting everybody into the Arena tonight. It took us four decades but we feel very loved!”

He also promises "This is for sure gonna be the best show we'll ever play in Manila."

Likening the show to a church service, Bono made known his prayers: “For an epic night of rock n’ roll transcendence. Anything can happen,” he said and as though to promise, he said again: “Anything can happen.”

The backdrop then dramatically transformed into a mindblowing widescreen display that just kept getting more and more stunning (and powerfully emblematic) as the show progressed.

Aside from giving the audience a spectacular eyeful, U2 used the visuals to take the crowd on a journey through each of Joshua Tree's memorable anthems.

The band had prepared jaw-dropping graphics and mini-movies, with soldiers, human rights and natural landscapes — mountains, desserts, rivers — being the stars.

Imagine witnessing U2 perform "With or Without You" while gazing upon a desert which was not unlike the album cover’s  stunning artwork.

"This country is a miracle of a place! (I love) what you've done with your archipelago, its an incredible thing to witness, the excitement and kinetic energy of this country, thank you for letting us be guests of the nation a great nation," Bono said, quickly using the opportunity to remind us that “even the most beautiful landscapes can turn ugly if we don’t watch out.

“Let’s stay awake,” he said as the band launched “God’s country.”

Fans who missed the show would be pleased to know that Bono is still Bono:

The glasses-wearing, harmonica-playing jitterbug on stage whose voice is kept staggeringly golden even at 59.

He paid tribute to some heroes, including the country's Red Cross volunteers, activists, and journalists for whom he prayed for a better, safer world and managed to wiggle in a few lines of the David Bowie song "Heroes." 

He was also an ultimate gentleman.

After sending a "soft message" to Philippine President Rodrogo Duterte a day before the show, Bono made headlines again when the band played "Ultra Violet" with a gallant  backdrop of feminist icons including some of the Philippines' own.

RELATED: U2 dedicates song to ‘women who rewrite history,’ cites Cory, Ressa and more

The Irish superstar and stark human rights defender made special mention — three times to be exact — of Rappler's embattled CEO, Maria Ressa.

"Women who light up history, your own Maria Ressa is an incredible woman,” Bono said into the microphone.



“But even Maria will say it's not about individuals. It's about collective action. It's about social movement, so that all of you will grow up to be the President or Maria Ressa."

Also highlighted on the screen were other Filipino women who "came together to rewrite history:" The late president Cory Aquino, national hero Melchora Aquino, singer Lea Salonga, Senator Pia Cayetano, activist Lidy Nacpil, climate activist Marinel Ubaldo, and contemporary feminist movements Grrrl Gang Manila, #BabaeAko, and #OneBillionRising.

It got pretty heavy but U2 knew: They were a rock band performing a rock show. And so they bounced back with an electric encore set that had hits like "Elevation" and "Vertigo" accompanied with incredibly trippy visuals. 

In the show presented by Smart Music Live, U2 reminded everyone what a "Beautiful Day" their first show in Manila was. It made watching the band take a bow after 21 songs, really hard — almost as hard as getting out of the Philippine Arena's parking lot after the show.

But as Bono said during the show: "It doesn’t matter how long it takes to get where you wanna go, as long as you get there in the end." — LA, GMA News