I thought that for our U2101 chat this week, we might do something a little different, and talk about a few of the songs that U2 have played live but which have never seen an official release. It hasn’t happened too often in their long career – it seems that the band prefer to rely on material that’s been tried and tested in the studio, as opposed to trying new material in the live arena and then gleaning their faves for release on the next record.
The most well-documented occurrence of U2 playing unreleased material came during the 360 tour on the third leg of the tour. It seems that the band were, at one time, fairly serious about some of the material from what was touted to be No Line on the Horizon‘s sister record, Songs of Ascent, and they allowed themselves to be convinced by Willie Williams to add a few of the songs that were being prepared for that release in Europe. The band played a total of six songs which have never seen an official studio release from the band – “Every Breaking Wave“, a somber reflective piece which was, at one time, intended for inclusion on No Line…, and was later planned as the first single from Songs of Ascent; “Glastonbury“, a rocking, high energy number, which seems to have been written for the band’s planned appearance at the Glastonbury Festival in 2010; “Mercy“, a song which was once described as “U2 at its most U2-ish”, and which was recorded and set for release on How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb before being cut at the last minute. A studio version of this song did leak on the internet, and a live version of “Mercy” was later released on the Wide Awake in Europe EP; “Return of the Stingray Guitar“, which was played as the opener at 33 shows altogether, making it the unreleased song with the most appearances, and one which was also offered up as a possibility for inclusion on the U22 fan-club release (It didn’t make the cut, which absolutely broke my heart.); “A Boy Falls From the Sky“, a song originally written by the full band, apparently during 2006’s Rick Rubin sessions, which was then recorded by the cast of the Spider-man: Turn Off the Dark musical for inclusion on that show’s soundtrack; and “North Star“, a beautiful ballad which was apparently recorded in the studio and offered to the producers of the live-action film, Transformers 3: Dark of the Moon. A very short snip of the song was used in the film, but the full-length song was, unfortunately, not included on the film’s soundtrack album. Recent interviews with the band have revealed that some (or all) of these song may have been recorded for inclusion on the band’s forthcoming 13th LP, and the thought makes my tremble with delight. Words cannot express the intensity with which I covet full-band studio recordings of these tracks – especially “North Star”, if the snip in the Transformers film was any indication, and Return of the “Stingray Guitar”, which I find to contain one of the best musical hooks that the band has ever written.
Prior to the third leg of the 360 tour, the last time that the band played a “new”, unreleased song live occurred back in August of 2001, in Belgium, when the band performed a song which has been named “We Love You” by the fan community, in reference to some of the band’s lyrics. In truth, “We Love You” might be better described as a jam than an actual song, and I doubt that the band ever seriously considered the song for work in the studio, but the somewhat bluesy feeling of the guitar-heavy song, does evoke a great feeling every time I listen to it.
Another famous incident of U2 playing an unreleased song before a live audience came in January of 1986, when U2 premiered a song which is popularly known as “Womanfish“, due to Bono’s remarking that the song was about a mermaid. If you’ve ever heard folks discussing “Womanfish” before, you’ve probably heard some pretty strongly negative comments about the song. In truth, it’s not that bad; it does have some great drum-work from Larry along with a propulsive bass-line that gives the song a strong feeling of urgency and momentum, two essential elements for any great piece of rock. It also contains some drunkenly impassioned lyrics from Bono that are powerfully moving, and yet cringe-inducing at the same time. The band never half-ass anything, and this performance is no exception, so the typical U2 intensity is on full display here, and that helps a lot. It’s just a weird song, full of some genuinely good ideas that probably weren’t developed enough to deserve a live performance on TV. The crowd that the band were playing for seemed to like it, anyway.
I hope you’ve enjoyed our little trip down memory lane with some little known live gems that the band have blessed (or cursed, depending on your perspective) us with over the years. It’ll be interesting to see if any of these cuts surface as official releases from the band in the future.
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