“Sunday Bloody Sunday” is one of those songs that a lot of U2 fans seem to have mixed feelings about. I hear a lot of talk about how it’s one of those “warhorse” songs, like “One” or “Pride” that the band’s been playing regularly for too long, and how it’s time for the song to be dropped from the live set-lists. What I find to be most interesting about this school of thought is that there was a time, not too terribly long ago, that the band had indeed stopped playing “Sunday Bloody Sunday” live, and fans were ravenously campaigning for the song to make its triumphant return.
“Sunday Bloody Sunday”, as you likely are already aware, is the opening track on U2’s first number one album in the UK, 1983’s War. As the story famously goes, the song was premiered in late 1982 on the mini-tour that preceded the release of the War album, at a show in Glasgow, Scotland. Seeing as how Scotland is itself no stranger to the kind of violence that the song decries, Bono made the statement that if the audience at that show objected to the song, the band would never play it again. As you can guess, the song was welcomed with open ears and hearts, and in short order became a staple of U2’s live shows.
Occasionally at these early shows, the band would be joined on stage by Steve Wickham, who would reprise the electric violin contribution that he’d made to the studio version. One of the most famous performances of Sunday Bloody Sunday – in fact, one of the band’s most famous performances of any song – occurred at the June, 1983, Red Rocks concert, the subject of the band’s first home video. MTV placed the Red Rocks performance of Sunday Bloody Sunday, with Bono’s white flag demonstration, in heavy rotation, helping grow the band’s fan base at this crucial formative stage of their career. The song continued to be performed at nearly every show for the next several years, encompassing the War, Unforgettable Fire, Conspiracy of Hope, and Joshua Tree tours. Starting on the Lovetown tour, though, the song was conspicuously absent, and went on to make only a few appearances on the paradigm shifting ZooTV tour of the early ’90s.
Early indications on the Pop*Mart tour were that the song would again be absent from the majority of the tour’s shows, but, in the words of Edge, the band “rediscovered” the song in their 1997 show in Sarajevo, in a truly lovely, contemplative arrangement comprised solely Edge and his guitar. This arrangement became an audience favorite for the remainder of the 90s last tour, and was immortalized by inclusion on the Live from Mexico Pop*Mart DVD.
Starting with the Elevation tour of 2001, Sunday Bloody was back to its regular rockin’ self, and has appeared at nearly every show since. One more interesting arrangement to consider is the occasional performance from the latter portions of the 360 tour at which rapper Jay-Z would join the band on stage for the song. I will concede that the song has made a lot of appearances, with over 700 performances to date, but I have yet to attend a U2 show at which it wasn’t a powerful highlight, and I’d be surprised if the band drop the song again.
1983-08-14 (with Steve Wickham)
1997-09-23 (Edge solo)
2009-11-05 (with Jay-Z)