To appreciate our first video, there are a few things for U2 know. The video is from U2’s performance at Abbey Road Studio for BBC One’s 50 minute documentary to mark the release of Songs of Experience (2017). The documentary comprised short interview snippets between the band playing songs from their new album, as well as a few oldies. For U2, this was one of their more intimate performances. To compensate for the smaller than usual audience, the band arranged for an orchestra to back them.
In the interludes, Bono acknowledged that having an orchestra and a choir was “a little self-indulgent,” but, hey, this was U2’s way of toning down the stadium rock bombast. The Irish Times wrote that guitarist Edge found “the rare intimacy” of the Abbey Road performance daunting. It quotes him: “We’ve been playing to 70,000 people since our 20s.” The attempt to “tone down” follows through onto U2’s latest LP, Songs of Surrender (2023). In the video, note the segue into Joy Division at the end.
Neither the fan comments on YouTube nor the reviews of the BBC special mention the last minute of the song when With or Without You becomes Joy Division’s Love Will Tear Us Apart. I did a little search. It turns out that U2 has been ending With or Without You like this at concerts more or less consistently since 4 April 1987, on the US leg of The Joshua Tree tour – the Joshua Tree (1987) being the parent album of With or Without You. For some, no doubt, the Joy Division bit is part of the song.
U2 fans gush about the BBC video (above), which for many features their favourite song from their favourite album. Mike C writes, “Unreal. The Joshua Tree represents the pinnacle of music and this track is all time. This live version is stunning.” Davila states: “I love what this music makes me feel, a desire that transcends my soul, a spirit that jumps from the inside out. Don’t just listen, feel. It’s magnificent.” Our next video is from a recording for a BBC Radio 2 special on 16 March 2023
Abba have a tendency to be strict about their copyrights, so let’s hope that the video stays up. For U2, the inclusion of S.O.S in their concert for BBC Radio 2’s Piano Room to promote 2023’s Songs of Surrender was a bit of a lark. (The song is an acronym of the album’s title).
Predominantly crafted by Bono and Edge, Songs of Surrender is a re-recording and reinterpretation of 40 of the band’s key songs. Explaining the album, Edge notes that U2’s songs were written for live performances, resulting in their music having intensity, “particularly in Bono singing at the top of his range”. Edge said that there was a “gladiatorial” dimension to their live performances. “The material has got to be pretty bold and even strident at times,” Edge said. In contrast, he continued, the overarching goal for Songs of Surrender was “to make intimacy the new version of punk rock for us”. Work on album was most intense from early 2021, during Covid restrictions. The band members decided that it was not necessary to be faithful to prior versions of the songs. “We gave ourselves permission to disregard any sense of reverence for the originals,” Edge said.
Reviews of the album were mixed. Meanwhile U2’s current run of concerts, billed as Achtung Baby Live at the Sphere, Las Vegas, has been extended. The venue, and the visuals for the show, are super high-tech, and worth a Music Man story of their own. Suffice to say that both the inside and the outside domes of the sphere are covered in LED screens and that Brian Eno was part of U2’s production team.
The Guardian’s Alexis Petridis was impressed, despite the Las Vegas shows representing “a hitherto-unimagined degree of grandiosity for U2”. “This cocktail of eye-popping visuals and slightly unruly performances absolutely works, allaying any concerns that a band from the post-punk era and the old showbiz connotations of a residency in Las Vegas constitute a slightly uncomfortable fit, regardless of how many millions of records the band has sold, or how mainstream an audience they’ve attracted in the interim,” Petridis wrote. He suggests that, like Abba’s Voyage show, the U2 Sphere residency will set a precedent: “Clearly other rock bands are going to turn up to the Sphere in the future, bearing performances big on dazzling technology. Whether they’ll be as dazzling, or indeed as charming as this, time will show.”
One more thing. This is for the U2 fans who think that Joy Division’s classic song Love Will Tear Us Apart is the end section of With Or Without You. Enjoy: