Some songs in U2’s catalog just sound better live. Songs like “Bad” and “Until the End of the World” have a quality when performed on-stage that, as good as the studio recordings are, just can’t be matched. I am starting to think that “One Tree Hill” belongs on this list as well. As evidence, I present the video for the song that was included on 1998’s Best of 1980-1990 video release.
The raw emotion in this performance takes it to another level entirely–not just from Bono, although he is, as the group’s frontman, the center of our attention for most of the video. I have always been fascinated with the way that emotion can be transmitted across the simple actions of, say, playing the guitar. Two different performances can have entirely different emotional weights, despite the fact that Edge is making almost exactly the same motions with his hands and his body.
There is an intrinsic significance that is added to the sound that comes out of Edge’s guitar when he feels the power of the song. The same is true with Adam and Larry. I can’t explain it except to say that you know when you hear it and feel it. I think that “One Tree Hill” must be a very heavy song for the members of U2 to play live because I have never heard a performance that did not resonate, even when the performance was not technically as good as it might have been.
This emotional power is captured magnificently in Phil Joanou’s video, which is really an outtake from Rattle and Hum. The members of U2 must have been very much caught in the magic of this song on the night that this video was filmed, because it, as I said above, fantastic. Watching Bono sing and the others ply their individual trades, hearing the band mourning their friend through music, is a powerful and moving experience. I am grateful to the band that they had the wisdom to allow the magnitude of this song to shine through a live performance as opposed to trying to tell a story with the video.
Instead, they allowed the music and their performance of that music to tell the story for them, and it resonates in a way that fiction rarely manages to. Because of the meaning of the song “One Tree Hill” — the true story of Greg Carroll, and his tragic death at a young age while working for the band–“One Tree Hill” is one of the most powerful and special songs in all of the band’s repertoire.
The knowledge of that story makes the song hit home with U2 fans, but I believe that the song itself, and the performance captured in this video are strong enough that even those viewers who are not familiar with the song’s origins can feel that something special is going on here. That’s the magic of U2’s music and that is what I want to see from music videos.