I was managing a record store back in late 2000 when All That You Can’t Leave Behind was released, and I remember being really excited with the way the album was being received by music buyers. One shopper, in particular, whose comments have stayed with me told me that he liked “the one that sounds like their old stuff.”. After a thorough process of elimination, we decided, jointly, that he was talking about “Walk On.” If I am pressed, I’d have to admit that “Walk On” didn’t jump on me as immediately as “Beautiful Day” or “Elevation”, or even “Kite”. In fact, upon the first few listenings, the song sounded kind of clunky to my ears, and although its got an undeniably uplifting chorus, which I always love, it wasn’t until the aftermath of the 9-11 tragedy, which changed a lot of things for a lot of people, that I truly came to appreciate the power of the song, when U2 performed Walk On at the “Tribute to Heroes” charity. Since then, “Walk On” has surprised me by growing into a song with a surprising amount of longevity which is easily adaptable to a variety of causes.
“Walk On” made it’s live debut at the start of the Elevation tour back in March of 2001, and was accompanied by a neat visual effect where lights, in the shape of the album’s suitcase logo as well as the song’s lyrics, played over the audience during the song, which served as the closing number for shows on that tour. When played live, the song frequently included variations on the “Hallelujah coda” from a few of the song’s many remixes and edits.
Even though the song was well-received by fans, and even won a Grammy (the song was given the honor of opening the TV broadcast of the 44th annual Grammy Awards, at which it was received the “Record of the Year” award.) I was surprised when the song was resurrected for a handful of acoustic performances during the third leg of the Vertigo tour, and positively blown away when it was played once again in a key position of the band’s 360° tour shows. At these most recent performances, the song was played in honor of Aun San Suu Kyi, for whom it was originally written, and volunteers from the audience would join the band on stage, wearing masks made in the likeness of the Burmese politician’s face. It was a moving tribute, and one of the highlights of the shows that I attended.
The final performance of the show to date, and I think probably my favorite version of the song ever, came in June of 2012 at the Electric Burma concert in Dublin, which celebrated the release of Aung San Suu Kyi from her decades-long imprisonment. The song was performed by Bono and Damien Rice – Edge was mourning the passing of his mother – and can be viewed on the Amnesty International DVD collection entitled Released! This particular performance was somewhat more sedate than how “Walk On” is normally played, and still serves to remind me that as great as it is that Aung San Suu Kyi was released – and it is a big victory for those of us who love freedom, one that should be celebrated – we’ve still got a long way to go. Damien’s backing vocals are tender and moving, and the harmonies between himself and our beloved Mr. Hewson give a new dimension to the song.