I’ve heard it said that great rock bands all need one really good live album. I’m not sure I agree with that, since a lot of bands like the Beatles never really had one, and because live performance is becoming a little less relevant as a way to gain notoriety. But U2 is the sort of band whose live shows are even enjoyed by people who don’t like them, so it seems like a very strange oversight that they don’t have a proper live collection. They have released DVDs of their last several tours, several live EPs, and a sort-of-live album in Rattle And Hum. There’s also a little known album called Hasta La Vista Baby, which is an edited portion of the Mexico City live show from the Popmart tour, itself already on DVD. But that one is mostly a fan club offering, so the closest we have to a proper U2 live album is Under A Blood Red Sky, and even it’s just an EP.
Under A Blood Red Sky is a live collection pulled from three shows from the War Tour, recorded in Colorado, Boston, and Germany. It was accompanied by a live video release of the Colorado show, played at the Red Rocks Amphitheatre. That particular performance is one of the bands more legendary sets, though only two songs were pulled from that show for this recording. At the time it served as kind of an opening salvo for U2 as a live band. When compared to later tours like Zoo TV and Elevation, this one feels much more direct.
A live setting is no place to go for atmospheric effects, so it’s unsurprising that the songs exhibited here go for the gut and get a lot of mileage out of just being intense. As such it’s weighted heavily toward releases from War, with three of the eight songs coming from their classic album. This is a pretty great live offering all the way through, but the performance of “Sunday Bloody Sunday” might be the best version of the song ever put to tape. Without the electric violin, they double down on the Larry Mullen’s martial drumbeat to great effect. It’s a forceful performance, and it’s indicative of everything else here. Even the moodier pieces, like “40” and the anthemic but airy “Gloria” are much more muscular than they ever were in the studio.
This was before U2 was a band whose classic songs were too numerous for one set, and as such it shows us a rare chance to see some deep cuts. Modern U2 setlists favor classic songs almost entirely, and it’s rare to hear something like “Gloria” or “The Electric Co.,” which these days qualify as a deep cuts. Even more exciting is the presence of two songs that aren’t even from albums releases, the worthy “11 O’Clock Tick Tock” and the somewhat less impressive “Party Girl.” The former especially is a delight, a song that was never actually released on any other proper U2 album. (It appeared on U2’s original Three EP that preceded the release of Boy,)
Those more obscure songs all appear before any of the War tracks, which are all buried on side two of the original vinyl release. As such Under A Blood Red Sky actually serves today as something of a victory lap, a bookend on the band’s early energetic days. On the following album they would branch out into far more textured territory under Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois, but there is something pure and unadulterated about the performances here. U2 would go on to bigger and more impressive tours, but all of the energy and passion they pour into their music is in full effect right here.
Into The Heart
In which Nate explores his personal connection to each U2 album
Sometime in college a friend found a cassette version of Under a Blood Red Sky at a thrift store and bought it for me. I had totally forgotten about it until just this past summer, when we were preparing to move to Dallas. I found it along with a cassette version of Weird Al’s Bad Hair Day. Both would have probably gone directly in the trash, except we had recently purchased a minivan that only had a tape deck. So now they both sit in that van, and I’ve listened to them more in the last three months than I had in the previous ten years.
From The Sky Down
In which Nate ranks all of U2’s albums in order of his favorite.
3. Under A Blood Red Sky