I had forgotten about this live album till it was reissued in 2008. It’s something of a punctuation mark in the U2 ouvre, a snapshot of a band at the apex of its youthful vigor. I never got around to listening to Under a Blood Red Sky when I was first exploring the U2 discography 20 years ago, and a remastered release was the perfect opportunity.
It has since revised my perspective about the band.
As previously explained, I didn’t get into U2 till far into its career, and my remembrances of the band aren’t as linear as anyone who’s been a fan since day 1 or day 3. I couldn’t take anyone who seriously who couldn’t take The Joshua Tree seriously. But after listening to Under a Blood Red Sky, I can totally understand, if not agree on some level.
Producer Steve Lillywhite does an admirable job capturing the vitality of the then-young rockers in the studio, but Under a Blood Red Sky finds U2 in its best element — on stage. If staples such as "I Will Follow", "Sunday Bloody Sunday" and "The Electric Co." felt urgent on record, they became blisteringly so in the arena.
The early setlist isn’t encumbered by the grand gestures the band would employ after War. None of the bombast of Achtung Baby, the over earnestness of The Joshua Tree, the misguided experimentalism of Pop. "11 O’Clock Tick Tock" and "Party Girl" are crude next to the latter day sophistication of "One" or "Mysterious Ways", but that simplicity is far more direct.
Under a Blood Red Sky made me miss an era of U2 for which I never developed an emotional attachment in the first place.
The 2008 reissue campaign may just shoot the band in its collective proverbial foot for the newly-release No Line on the Horizon — the most recent track record isn’t holding up very well. Both How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb and All That You Can’t Leave Behind come across now as efforts by a band grasping at the few remaining straws in the creative ether.
I listened to them again in preparation for the new album, and that initial resonance is pretty much dissipated.
For that, I can peg it on Under a Blood Red Sky. Live albums usually get a bad rap, but in this case, it makes you wish you were there.