U2's Set List Conundrum
As U2 was about to perform the final number of their Chicago stadium show in July of 2011, Bono dedicated "Moment of Surrender" to former friend and personal assistant Greg Carroll who passed away twenty-five years that week. As the band finished the song Bono sang a snippet of "One Tree Hill", a song from 1987's The Joshua Tree written specifically for Carroll. The song has only been performed sporadically since being written and considering the level of perfectionism the band employs, I wasn't expecting them to do a full blown band version of the song; but they did. U2 is often maligned for their over-the-top spectacle and arena rock audaciousness but as the band dexterously made its way through "One Tree Hill", you couldn't help but be overcome with a sense of wonderment. It was off-the-cuff yet fueled by bristling emotion and four years later, it's still the moment that is crystal clear in my memory bank from that show. When U2 announced their Innocence and Experience tour in December 2014, pairs of show went on around the world with the promise of two different and unique shows. Upon hearing this news, many U2 fans were excited because moments like the one I experienced with "One Tree Hill" seemed to be quite possible with this inventive and brave choice. However, somewhere between the announcement in December and a feature in the New York Times in late April, U2 threw this idea out the window with a focus on a tightly knit storyline featuring several songs from Songs of Innocence during the first set and a more free-flowing second set.
The overall consensus of the tour during its first month is the staging is not just stunning, but Earth-shattering. However, many fans who bought tickets to multiple shows (including this writer) feel a bit disillusioned. Now, I want to state for the record that it's my opinion U2 are one of the greatest live bands on the planet with very few rivals (Bruce Springsteen, The Rolling Stones, Muse, Radiohead) and the reason they've ascended is because of their relationship with their audience. They have always walked the tightrope of being artists while also being entertainers. Their stages have often been a tool to grab the audience's attention and make the music become more visceral to them in ways they hadn't been aware of before. There's a lot of revisionist history around Achtung Baby, because when it was released in November 1991, few could truly grapple the u-turn the band took their fans on and it wasn't until the Zoo TV tour launched in February of 1992 that navigation of the U-turn came to light. One could argue the vastness of the outdoor stadium treks behind Pop and No LIne On The Horizon may have alienated fans from those records even more but I always gave U2 credit for pushing the envelope and trying to take their audiences along for a musical journey. Good or bad, they tried which is something that can't be said of every stadium or arena act which leads me to my issues with the current tour; the setlist.
Yes, you could consider me a die-hard U2 fan, but I've closely been following the tour and those promised change-ups in the second set have mostly been non-existent with less than forty different songs being performed to date. It's peculiar to me because they appear to be rehashing the same songs from the last few tours and yet there are several definitive numbers such as "Bad", "One" and "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" being rotated without a lot of rhyme and reason. I am heading into four straight Chicago shows and based on shows in Los Angeles and Montreal recently, it feels as if one show would have done the job. It's confounding to see "Bullet the Blue Sky" performed every night while songs like "One" and "Bad" are not. Further, as good as songs like "Mysterious Ways" and "Even Better Than The Real Thing" are they don't need to be performed every night. Maybe it's just me, but there was false advertising in filling these seats and to not see a song like "Bad" performed nightly is criminal while lesser songs fill up the second set. In short, I want U2 to be more like Bruce Springsteen and Pearl Jam and less like Bon Jovi, who always talk a big game in regards to setlists prior to a tour launch but often make head-scratching choices that please few.
I fully grasp that a arena tour is not designed for my own personal whims, but U2 wants the message of this tour and their latest album, Songs of Innocence to be not just heard but felt. In reviewing the main set the band has meticulously crafted a set to drive home the message of the new album and specifically how it ties back to their roots, which is why songs like "I Will Follow" and "Out of Control" are so integral to the main set. However, one has to wonder how the band plans to keep the message flowing to the press throughout the course of the tour? The raves for the screen and staging will continue, but how do they keep the press,fans and on-the-fence fans engaged? In an interview with Billboard last month, Live Nation representative Arthur Fogel kept pointing to the fact that close to 99% of the seats have been sold, which is true. However, what he seems to be overlooking is buyer's remorse of which I include myself in that category. I love this band and their catalog and to see them playing so safe every night and often ignoring touchstones of their legendary catalog breaks my heart and I am not the only one. Fellow fans I know who went to every show within a 300-mile radius of their home on previous tours have been unloading their tickets on the secondary market and several fans who never missed a tour are sitting this one out. This is not something that bodes well for future treks, which will most likely include stadiums.
While their five sold-out shows in Chicago is wildly impressive, it should be noted that this will be the fewest people who have seen the band in Chicago since The Joshua Tree tour in 1987, for which the band underplayed with a mere four shows. The five shows will be viewed by an estimated 90,000-100,000 fans (I'm not sure how the United Center configuration will work) but considering this is a band who played to 195,000 on the 2009-11 trek and 120,000 on both the 2001 and 2005 stops, it's a steep drop. Not to mention that the 2001 and 2005 stops had separate shows in Milwaukee, St. Louis, Indianapolis and other Midwest markets, whereas this time around there are no other shows within an 8-hour drive taking place. While someone with a saavy business sense will laugh off this article because the tour will be a wild financial success, what this ultimately means is there are at least 20,000 fewer peoplewho will get a chance to revisit Songs of Innocence or have the songs sporut in front of them the way they did on the Zoo TV tour. Even in 2009, a close friend dismissed No Line On The Horizon upon release but was drawn back to the moody melodies by seeing "Magnificent" and "Unknown Caller" under the lights of a stadium.
U2 are vital artists still trying to find a way to not so much be relevant as understood. It infuriates me to no extent to see people slag them off without understanding their drive which has always been based around the art so to see them alienating much of their core audience with static setlists. Is Rolling Stone, NME and other trade publications going to be highlighting the stage and screen, or the chances the band take every night with the second half of the setlist? Bruce Springsteen's legend and lore has only grown in recent years with some of the most adventurous sets ever done in the history of rock n' roll and more than anything, it makes fans want to ensure they don't miss the next show under any circumstances, which I am not sure if U2 has right at this moment. Stages and screens change tour-to-tour but the music, that's forever and if a casual fans see's that they are willing to unearth a never-performed song from Achtung Baby or a Rattle & Hum rarity, it will make them wish they were there and yearn to be there the next time under any circumstances.
As the band enters their Chicago and New York residencies, I am listing a number of songs that I believe would compliment the show without losing their message or vision for the tour, but would also jolt the press and non-attending fans to life with an awareness that will not come from performing the same songs every night. So without further adieu here are twenty-songs that can keep the public engaged as the tour moves on while also appeasing those fans who will be attending multiple nights. I've purposely steered clear of their post-2000 records because those songs have been played extensively since then whereas the ones below haven't been performed as much and would help accentuate the story and message of this tour. Eighteen of the songs have yet to be performed
While "Bad" has been performed on this tour, it has not been done with the sort of regularity it deserves and the truth is it has been overlooked ever since the last leg of the Zoo TV tour where it was replaced with "Dirty Day". I am highlighting "Bad" because I would dare say it's their preeminent live song, possibly even surpassing "Where the Streets Have No Name". It's the song that showed the world what they were made of at Live Aid and each and every tour that I have seen it performed, it still has all the punch it had from back then. Seeing songs like "Bullet" and "Mysterious Ways" performed nightly is maddening when they're allowing this one to sit on the bench. If Guy Oseary is reading this, please talk some sense to them and have them find a way to make this a staple each and every night? Please? Pretty please?
Pop is the band's most maligned effort but it's also their most misunderstood. While they did those songs justice on the 1997-98 tour, the songs have rarely made appearances since but this pensive pseudo-sequel to "Sunday Bloody Sunday" was a worthy successor and the acoustic performances in the fall of 2001 were nothing short of devastating. Why not switch up this song with "Sunday Bloody Sunday" in the first set especially when you have eight shows in the same city?
"In God's Country"
A treasure of a song from The Joshua Tree, it hasn't been performed with any regularity since 1989. Further, the performances have always appeared out west and often done acoustically. This is a sure-fire barn burner and it clocks in at under three-minutes and would make a great encore opener.
"Window In The Skies"
Tacked on the end of U218 in 2006, the song has never had a proper tour performance on American soil and it would work wonderfully as the show closer. There is a magic, mystery and wonder to the song highlighted by some poignant lyrics that will leave the crowd wanting more.
"Love Rescue Me"
It's been great to see more Rattle & Hum performances on this tour on the "Experience" stage but why not play this forgotten gem co-written by Bob Dylan? It has made a few rare appearances in the last decade but what better way of take back these songs and this album than by reintroducing this one to the crowd?
"A Sort of Homecoming"
The opener on The Unforgettable Fire is amongst the band's best so why not take it out for a spin here and there. Those opening chords set the stage, the throbbing Adam Clayton bass line will get the audience clapping in-sync and the wailing vocal by Bono ("I'll be there, I'll be there…tonight!" would set the stage for an incredible show where it could potentially take the place of "The Miracle (of Joey Ramone) at shows deep into a run.
How has this forgotten War number never been performed? The haunting echo of guitars raises ghosts from their sleep. It wouldn't involve severe strain on the band the way "Like A Song" would (see below), but it would prove to the audience that their catalog is worth seeking out even the deep cuts lost at the end of side-one.
This song has always sent chills down my spine and while I've always felt October songs are a stretch, why can't Bono do a few line a cappella as an intro to "Iris (Hold Me Close"? There's an emotional connection in the subject matter and once again, compliments the band's agenda for this tour and the opening set.
"Slow Dancing" / "She's A Mystery"
I'll fully admit that these two are selfish requests on my part. Both songs were given to legendary American voices (Willie Nelson and Roy Orbison) and were composed during the Rattle & Hum timeframe. Either song can be pulled off on the "Experience" stage and would show that U2 is capable to tapping into the roots of rock n' roll. Also, from a wholly selfish perspective, I want to see official releases for both songs. The b-side of "Slow Dancing" from 1992 was inexplicably left off the anniversary box set for Achtung Baby and my gut tells me the rights for a proper Rattle & Hum box set are still being sorted out (notice how every U2 album is available for free streaming on Amazon Prime, but not Rattle & Hum?)
Issued as a new song on their 2002 hits package, it was performed a mere three times in 2009 before being abandoned altogether. The song has always had a saccharine and sweet element to it and would shine indoors.
"Another Time, Another Place"
This is a long shot, but the single wouldn't be out of place early in the show or even as an encore opener. It deserves to be dusted off after thirty-four years.
"LIke A Song"
The driving drums define this song and would grip the audience's jugular if the band was up for tackling it. The issue is this song was performed once in Scotland in 1983. If they were unable to wrestle with this one in their early twenties, I am not sure they could pull it off today, but I'd love to see them try.
Another criminally underrated song from War (notice a pattern emerging) that would work wonderfully in rotation with "Sunday Bloody Sunday". The song has not been performed since 1984 deserves to be reintroduced.
The die-hard contingent will hate me for recommending this golden nugget over "Acrobat" from Achtung Baby. "So Cruel" was only performed a handful of times and none were captured by bootleg recordings, and for me, it's a better song than "Acrobat" and could work wonders on the "Experience" stage as it rotates with other songs. As far as "Acrobat" goes, I'd be stunned to see it, but there's a part of me that think that after all this build up, there's no way a live performance will ever live up to what we have in our heads.
"The First Time / Hawkmoon 269"
In 2005 U2 debuted the first proper live version of this Zooropa treasure in Chicago and then the next night, they intertwined it in the middle of "Bad" which still stands as one of the best live performances I've ever seen. The cut was good enough for Wim Wenders and the band shouldn't forget this one and the 2005 performances had snippets of "Hawkmoon 269" which served the song brilliantly.
The second set opens with "Invisible which the band gave away as a free download seventeen-months ago. It's a song that captures the best of U2 while bringing the audience together but a few friends who have seen shows felt it would be better served as a rotating opener for the second set. So why not open that second set with the tour de force "Mercy" which first appeared as a Japan bonus track on How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb and then later on the live record store day EP Wide Awake In Europe, where it was performed with regularity in 2010. The song has yet to make its American debut and what better way to make this (hopefully) future album cut a bridge to the future?
"Two Hearts Beat As One"
Everyone made a big deal about "Volcano" from Songs and Innocence for the punctuating bass riff that opens the song flexing the immense and very underrated talents of Adam Clayton. It's an underrated track and one I'd like to see, but how many new songs can you do in one show before fatigue sets in? For a better example of a song Clayton owns would be this single from War which hasn't been performed since 1989 which would leap off the stage.
"Who's Gonna Run Your Wild Horses"
The band performed this song a handful of times in 2005 with a full band performance in Boston that was quite excellent. It's one of the most adventurous and melodic on Achtung Baby and it deserves a prominent slot to rev the audience up, possibly as an encore opener.
"Red Hill Mining Town"
I know there's a better chance of U2 covering a Daughtry or Bon Jovi song before this one gets played despite the fact there's a video in existence and it was initially slated to be the second single off The Joshua Tree but the song has always been rumored as difficult to sing live so I'm not holding my breath, but it is still the only song from this classic album to not be performed live and even one performance would be major news.
Anthony Kuzminski is a Chicago based writer and Special Features Editor for the antiMUSIC Network. He has covered hundreds of concerts for antiMUSIC for the last several years. His daily writings can be read at The Screen Door. He can be contacted at tonyk AT antiMUSIC DOT com and can be followed on Twitter
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