Live: Under a Blood Red Sky / Live at Red Rocks
First Appeared in The Music Box, October 2008, Volume 15, #10
Written by John Metzger
Thu October 2, 2008, 06:30 AM CDT
Manager Paul McGuinness certainly believed in U2, even if the world outside Britain and Ireland had yet to discover the reason why it should care. McGuinness also knew that if the group was ever to become an international sensation, it needed to find its focus, refine its approach, and clearly demonstrate its full potential. Featuring a streamlined message, U2’s triumphant 1983 album War set the wheels in motion, erasing the youthful missteps that had marred October and Boy and setting the stage for the better things to come. The second step toward propelling U2 forward was accomplished when McGuinness’ longstanding vision to shoot a concert film at Denver’s Red Rocks Amphitheatre was brought to fruition on June 5, 1983.
Of course, McGuinness’ proposal wasn’t without risk. After all, most outfits have a tendency to become lost within the horrible acoustics and wide-open expanses of outdoor sheds and amphitheaters. Although Red Rocks is smaller and more intimate than most of its counterparts across the U.S., it still poses problems for groups who haven’t yet learned how to connect with the rowdy, oversized crowds that tend to assemble. Everything about the Denver shoot was further complicated, too, by the rain and fog that had settled upon Red Rocks over the course of the day, threatening to cancel the proceedings entirely.
From this undesirable outlook, U2’s career improbably took flight. Only its most devoted followers were willing to persevere in the hope that the concert actually would take place. With its spirit bolstered by the adoring audience, U2 was determined to make the show work to its advantage, if only for its faithful fans. Unwilling to submit to the less than ideal weather conditions and refusing to be dwarfed by the towering rock formations that surrounded the stage, U2 turned its confidence into conviction. Plucking highlights from each of its first three studio efforts, the band never faltered for a moment as it stormed through the thrashing funk of Two Hearts Beat as One, the militaristic theatrics of Sunday Bloody Sunday, the full-throttled roar of Gloria, and the stampeding forcefulness of I Will Follow. Overall, the collective acted as if it owned the venue, and at least for one night, it did.
At this stage of its career, U2 was just beginning to find its collective voice. Although it was fueled primarily by its love of the Rolling Stones and The Clash — for proof, one needs to look no further than the interplay between Larry Mullen, Jr. and Adam Clayton or how Bono appropriated Mick Jagger’s strut — U2 simultaneously was struggling to create its own niche within the new wave scene that also had spawned The Cure. War provided U2 with room to maneuver, while its subsequent tour — and the show at Red Rocks in particular — charted its rapidly developing maturity.
Although the underlying message that U2 was trying to convey wasn’t nearly as well defined as it would be on the outfit’s later sojourns — the group, of course, had considerably less material with which to work — there is no way to mistake how much of its template was defined by its forays in 1983. The concepts of love, war, and spirituality ultimately became the forces that drove the band’s recordings as well as its set lists, and ever since, it has spent its time exploring these ideas from a variety of perspectives. In the end, what U2’s concert at Red Rocks lacked in lyrical cohesion was countered by the raw edginess and unwavering urgency of its performance.
U2 didn’t drastically alter its material from night to night — or even from studio to stage. This allowed McGuinness and producer Jimmy Iovine to hedge their bets slightly by combining material from Red Rocks with songs from a concert in Germany for the Live: "Under a Blood Red Sky" EP. Nevertheless, they ought not to have worried. The album combined with the video Live at Red Rocks: "Under a Blood Red Sky" successfully fostered U2’s reputation as a band that thrived in a concert setting. The rest, of course, is history.
Of Further Interest...
Live: Under a Blood Red Sky [Deluxe Edition CD/DVD Set] is
available from Barnes & Noble. To order, Click Here!
Live at Red Rocks [DVD Only] is available
from Barnes & Noble. To order, Click Here!
Live: Under a Blood Red Sky [CD Only] is available
from Barnes & Noble. To order, Click Here!
1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2008 The Music Box