Under a Blood Red Sky

I’ve stated before elsewhere the impact U2 had on me as an adolescent, the coalescing of their political idealism and my naivety, their strident pop and my need for greater impact in my listening. Following close on the heels of the reissues of the band’s first three records, is a remastered deluxe version of Under a Blood Red Sky. This recording, released as an EP that could be had back in the day for about $5 and as a VHS video tape but here as a CD and DVD packaged together, might be the definitive document of U2. Captured on a inclimate night at the famous Red Rocks amphitheater in Colorado on the band’s tour for War, this is U2 at its peak, a merging of newfound popularity and the artistic integrity that would dissipate in the not too far future.

As a kid, there was something about this live record that meant so much more than the obstacles the band overcame to produce it, or simply the music it contained. As someone who had been to only a couple rock shows when I first saw this video, the iconic imagery, the political resonance and the eventfulness of this show embodied what I envisioned a concert to be. Add to this the everyman imagery U2 presents—the Edge’s black and red plaid shirt that might have been worn by any of my neighbors in Ohio or Bono’s wide-eyed stares into the crowd—and the film and corresponding recording provide something transcendent, even though I didn’t know it at the time. It is here that Bono proclaims, “This is not a rebel song,” before the band launches into “Sunday Bloody Sunday.” Here he says that it’s only on special nights that they play “Party Girl.”

I’m not sure that there are nights like the one here with U2 at Red Rocks anymore. If there are, they are certainly not caught on film. This is the stuff of legend. The material from which they drew was powerful enough, but one gets a sense that U2 couldn’t help but fully invest themselves in every performance at this point. When Bono waves a white flag, it’s hard to imagine the bug-eyed megalomaniac he is today. Here he is ernest, and so to here each note the Edge plays means the world. In some ways, this reissue makes it hard not to yearn for those lost times, when U2 was a band and not a trademarked entity of sorts, and when I was a less jaded young man and needed to hear “Stories for Boys,” “New Year’s Day” and “Out of Control.” It’s hard to distinguish whether I’ve simply become more familiar with the world or U2 has grown distant from what they once were. It’s surely some of both to different varying degrees. Now I can only yearn for the time when something like Under a Blood Red Sky meant so much.
Stephen Slaybaugh