Under A Blood Red Sky


Universal, 1983


REVIEW BY: Benjamin Ray


Although there is no lack of U2 concert DVDs, including seemingly one for every tour from 1988 forward, there are precious few live CDs, which seems unusual for such a globally popular and huge band with 37 years of touring under its belt. To be sure, part of the band’s appeal is seeing the show, not just whatever the props for the show are but in Bono and The Edge working the crowd while Adam “Coat Rack” Clayton stands off to the side. So perhaps the band feels a little of this is lost in the translation to CD and hasn’t thought to release a lot of shows over the years; pretty much all that exists are the documents from the band’s ‘80s period.

The first of those is the strong yet brief eight-track Under A Blood Red Sky, which was the point post-War where the Irish quartet began to conquer America. Ridiculous mullet and political agitprop already in place, Bono worked the stage at Red Rocks in Colorado on that night and the band won the crowd with its energetic post-punk set. Listening to it with fresh ears reveals the moody beating heart of this band; stripped of pretensions and the weight of history and expectation, this is startlingly raw, just four young dudes and a brace of raw post-punk classics. And yes, the songs here were taken from shows in Colorado, Boston, and Germany, but the indelible image associated with the show (and the accompanying VHS) is the Red Rocks amphitheater.

And sure, we all love the stadium-size stagecraft of Rattle And Hum, the overkill of the ‘90s with giant lemons, makeup-infested characters like Macphisto, enormous screens and claws, gigantic ballads that tens of thousands people at once can sing along to, and that’s all part of the Globally Popular and Beloved/Hated Band saga. But sometimes you just want the music, the basics, and on these eight powerful songs, U2 delivers. To some fans, this is the band’s peak era (1980-83) simply because it’s so free of bullshit.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

To be sure, this is the definitive live version of “Sunday Bloody Sunday.” Larry Mullen’s staccato military drums take on desperate new life in the live setting, Bono’s impassioned vocals sound more authentic than even the studio version (his chorus lead-in “I’m so sick of it” sounds scarily genuine), and The Edge provides fine backup vocals. You forget just how important he was as the harmony vocalist to Bono sometimes given the latter’s stature in the following years, but on all the songs here that voice is a necessary counterweight that gives the songs depth. Witness also the “Wipe your tears away” bridge portion of the song, which Mullen turns into a military march, led by Bono’s cadence and the crowd singalong. It’s one of the band’s finest moments in all 37 years. Not for nothing did Rolling Stone name this as one of the 50 moments that changed rock and roll.

The song selection is inspired as well, touching on both early crowd-pleasers (“New Year’s Day,” “Gloria,” “I Will Follow”) and a couple of lesser-known album/single cuts (“The Electric Co.,” “Party Girl,” “11 O’Clock Tick Tock”). There’s a certain visceral thrill as the album barrels along, especially on the second side/half. It reaches a climax with a wised-up, forever-reaching-but-not-arriving “New Year’s Day” and then a sober, sweet singalong take on “40” to close out the disc.

If there’s any gripe, it’s the brevity of the disc, particularly in 2017. The original VHS that came out at the time had 12 songs on it; the upgraded concert DVD had all 17 tracks, yet the eight-song disc is still the only one that exists. Nitpicking the song choice is something for the fans, I suppose, but I have to think dropping “11 O’Clock Tick Tock” in favor of “Seconds” or “I Threw A Brick Through A Window” would have strengthened this a little more. That said, if you enjoy the disc as is, seek out the DVD to get the rest of the show.

I read a review of the Popmart concert DVD a while back wherein the writer decried the audacity of the show and said the most moving moment was on “Please,” which dialed back the histrionics in favor of a relatively simple song sung by men asking for peace. Imagine that sentiment throughout a whole concert and you’ve got the feel of Under A Blood Red Sky: a raw, tough, and exhilarating document of a band rising to power but not yet succumbing to it.

Rating: A-

User Rating: Not Yet Rated


© 2017 Benjamin Ray and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Universal, and is used for informational purposes only.