Having found commercial success in the States at last with the release of the War album and embarking on a US tour to back the record, U2 quickly built a reputation among concert goers as one of the best live acts in the business. With punk never really taking a foot hold in America (that would take another ten years, it seems) and old guard bands giving way to a new wave pop bands, new wave synth bands, new wave rock bands, and simply a new wave in general that made anything and everything seem possible, if not exactly commercially viable, U2 emerged as a leader of a small group of bands such as Big Country and The Alarm which played guitars with a new kind of sound and in a somewhat new kind of way. The common denominator of all these bands was that they were idealistic, came from somewhere in the British Isles, and were earnest to a fault while wearing a perfectly straight face. Serious young men wearing their hearts on their sleeves forming serious young bands and taking their message to the world, they would soon find fans that were likeminded and as passionate about this new music as they were. With metal being too decadent for many, punk being too violent, and arena rock with it's emerging power ballad/hair metal bands simply being too boring, U2 and a small handful of contemporaries would unintentionally (or some would say not so unintentionally) change the rules of what an arena rock band was and could be. And 'Under A Blood Red Sky Live" is the very sound of the musical tide changing.
Recorded on a rainy, fog draped night at the Red Rocks Amphitheater in Morrison, Colorado, this is the album that would launch a seemingly endless flow of "at Red Rocks" albums by everyone from Dave Matthews to John Tesh wishing to recapture the magic U2 found on the night they performed there amidst several thousand young and enthusiastic fans. With the band inspired by the rain, cold, fog, and brightly lit torches of the natural outdoor theater and the crowd equally inspired by the thunderous and purpose driven music coming from the stage, this recording captures U2 at the height of their young career and would indeed shut the door on the first chapter of the band before seeing several more open and close in the years to come.
Technically an EP as this is an eight song sampler of a much longer show ( the complete 19 song set is available on VHS only) this tight set of songs kicks off with a thunderous and rousing version of the single 'Gloria" from U2's second studio album "October'. And if some today question the appeal of this band, from the very first song this record answers those question. U2 simply sound like no other band, then or now. With Dave "The Edge" Evan's harmonic, echo laden guitar leading the charge and the traditional hard rock 'guitar solo" nowhere to be heard, big drums played for the song and not the drummer, and a thundering, upfront bass, "Gloria" simply rocks hard and inspires while rewriting the rules of what is hard rocking and inspiring in an arena rock band. And you can actually hear
the crowd on record riding the wave for all it's worth. The atmospheric "11 'O Clock Tick Tock' follows from the "Boy" LP and reveals Bono as a strong frontman who knows how to lead a crowd in a sing along as well as any veteran of the stage as the band kick up a small storm behind him, before bringing it down and then up again for a strong finish. The minor hit "I Will Follow" comes rocking along next with Edge's unique riffing and chiming guitar leading the charge once again as Bono shouts his lyrics of youthful idealism and boyhood confusion while drummer Larry Mullen Jr. and bassist Adam Clayton anchor it all down. An exhilarating start to be sure, until the acoustic flavored crowd favorite "Party Girl" comes along and quiets things for a moment before the band gets ready to blast off once again.
"There has been a lot of talk about this next song. Maybe too much talk. This song is not a rebel song. This song is Sunday, Bloody Sunday" And with that the second half of this live EP get's started with perhaps the most rousing version of this song ever recorded. The band plays it straight here, staying true to the original found on the War LP while infusing it with a newfound urgency and giving it it's now common reprise at the end. Reaching back to the Boy album once more for the next track (U2 had but three albums at the time) and "The Electric Co' comes blaring out of the speakers next, all hard charging guitar riffs, crashing cymbals, and pounding bass lines as Bono takes pause to remind the band to "crank it up' and let's the audience know 'why should I hide from myself when I need a crowd/bring on the crowd/I love this
crowd". And it's this kind of musical and lyrical earnestness that would be one of the bands biggest strengths in the '80's as they set out to take their music to the world, and ironically also be the root of their near demise as they out grew the little band from Ireland toward the end of the decade, and everyone seemed to know it except for them. The album wraps up with a by now familiar live version of "New Years Day" (a song that never changes onstage) and the prayer song and popular U2 closer "40' that was retired from performance after the "Unforgettable Fire" tour, and resurrected for the recent Vertigo series of shows. This version comes complete with the audience sing along at the end that continues to this day.
An excellent glimpse of a band really just being born and alive with optimism and hope for the future, U2 Live At Red Rocks is a small near classic that misses the mark only because of it's abbreviated length. Why the band (or record company) chose to put out a sampler of such a great gig rather then the full performance may simply be because this is an album that wasn't supposed to happen and wasn't planned. Surprised by their success the band simply set up the mic's, cameras, and lights one night and let it rip. If you want the full impact of this stunning show you will need to hunt down a VHS copy of the performance online or elsewhere, and I assure you it would be well worth your while, as it is one of the best live performance recordings of any band released in the past twenty five years in it's 19 song complete form. But as it is on CD, U2 - Under A Blood Red Sky can nonetheless hold it's own against just about any other live album you can name, and then some. Infused with passion, purpose, youthful hearts, and a lofty ambition to turn the rock n roll world on it's ear and steer it onto a brave new course, it does indeed shake the windows and rattle the walls. And it's a glorious thing to behold, eight songs or nineteen.