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U2 – Thirty Years And I Still Can’t Play Harmonica (Empress Valley Supreme Disk – 989/990)

U2, ‘Thirty Years And I Still Can’t Play Harmonica’ (Empress Valley Supreme Disk – 989/990)

Disk 1; Opening – A Rainy Night In Soho / Sunday Bloody Sunday / New Years Day / A Sort Of Homecoming / MLK / Pride / Where The Streets Have No Name / I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For / With Or Without You / Bullet The Blue Sky / Running To Stand Still / Red Hill Mining Town

Disk 2; In Gods Country / Trip Through Your Wires / One Tree Hill / Exit / Mothers Of The Disappeared / Beautiful Day / Elevation / Ultraviolet (Light my Way) / One / Miss Sarajevo / The Little Things That Give You Away

Recorded live at the BC Place Stadium, Vancouver, BC, Canada, 12th May, 2017.

30 years on from arguably U2’s most pivotal album, the band still stand as one of those last hot tickets, the bucket list band who people clamber to say they’ve seen. On the other hand – mainly due to Bono’s political proclivities while chumming up to media companies and having their album ‘appear’ overnight in digital music libraries, they are one of the most derided bands but despite that, their sound is still vital, effortlessly dodging the marker which left most bands from the era ones to avoid as they begin to sound like they’re really just doing it for the money.

The ‘Joshua Tree’ tour was, in essence, what the lesser bands were doing – playing the classics (Or ‘Classics’) for paying punters with a mixture of singles – there are not that many who share this cashe, for sure – and presenting it in the way that the band could be proud of – with one of the most hi-tech video screens seen this side of the Californian tech expos and one of their most assured albums from when they were fledgling. The setlist itself presented a few problems for U2, as outlawed in the August 2017 copy of Mojo magazine has Adam Clayton stating, “People react a little differently when they know what’s coming next .. and they also react a little differently when they’re having an internal relationship with that particular running order” so the band have cleverly decided to split the set three ways and, from formative beginnings as they shattered the rock world with their influence, waited until twilight to begin playing the album (Which they do, straight through and without diversion, neatly coinciding their more anthemic tracks from the album with phones aloft darkness) and out again to the best of millennial U2 to end the show.

This exclusive audience / IEM matrix is superb and so good, you might almost make your ears believe that you’ve just picked up the official recording that annexes the deluxe boxed set. If it were not for the slightly annoying count-ins from Bono’s IEM source and the ever so slightly too-loud-for-an-official-recording-crowd, you’d trust you have a new product from Island. A concert that relies on pace rather than it’s visuals (Which is handy for us) and uses the standards that the band began with – Don’t use empty space, roll on quickly.

The set begins with a moderately low recording of the extraneous whistles and chatter that precede the show along with the lead in music from the theatre ( The Pogues, fittingly enough, and it is pretty much the entire song), that slowly fades down as the house lights dim, before the urgent, jittery drumming of ’Sunday Bloody Sunday’ brings the fans to the front.

“Pride” has it’s lyrics changed slightly to reflect current events (Were we ever to believe that we might get to this point, that lyric would still have been written no doubt but that it was so perfectly placed, shows either the genius in writing such a linear lyric or that the world can still sometimes be a little bit shit.)

The album itself slots right in the middle of the set to little fanfare, “Where The Streets Have No Name” would obviously catch the attention of anyone in a stadium dwelling distance, ‘I Still Haven’t Found What i’m looking For’ and ‘With Or Without You’ are as emotive as they ever were, Bono’s voice cracking steadily beneath both, “Bullet The Blue Sky” one of the night’s musically and brutally deep tracks, The Edges subversive and bold guitar fills staring down the audience. The plaintive ‘Running To Stand Still’ makes the choice of playing the album right in the middle of the set, the correct one, a song that is this emotionally arresting but slowly paced, works brilliantly as a chance for the audience to breathe or take a break for the bigger rockers to come. The same should be the same for ‘Red Hill Mining Town’ were it not for the frequent count in’s through Bono’s IEM which turns another brilliant ballad to an annoying tic.

The second disk begins with the grandiose, ‘In God’s Country’ pretty much straight in to the white hot, ‘Trip Through Your Wires’ (Preceded by Bono’s announcement which gives the set it’s title) and doesn’t let up from there for the next few songs, “Exit’s” proto-grunge style especially, building to a rampant ending of furious power. The album comes to an end on ‘Mothers Of The Disappeared’, again as relevant as it was all those 30 years ago, it ends the second part of the set in a rousing climax.

After a long break for a rest, the band return to the stage for a reiteration of some of their other early and latter greatest hits beginning with an extended vamp on “Beautiful Day”, the right reflex to play towards after the ending to the Joshua Tree album and no doubt, one of the very hits that some of the crowd would have expected to hear, as is “Elevation” which follows – the tracks spacy, power-pop affectations making it a brilliant song to tease out some of the last energy from the crowd.

‘One’, ‘Miss Sarajevo’ and ‘The Little Things That Give You Away’, play out for the final section of the concert. Sometimes a little slower than one might expect at the end of such a bands gigs, and while you’d obviously want to leave with the lyrics in your head, it’s a very downplayed coda that completes the show apart from ‘The Little Things ..’ faster but almost a little uninspiring crescendo, I, personally, would have appreciated something a little more grandiose.

The packaging for this release is one of EV’s glossy bifold covers using the tree imagery that fronts the brand new deluxe edition of the album, the back cover and inside are colour photos featuring audience photos of that video screen, the two CDs identifiable by the difference in colours to mark them out.

An incredible package from an incredible tour. Get over the prompts from the IEM and this may just be the recording to have from the current tour, thus far at least.

If you liked this review, buy me a cup of joe. (Suggested: $3 a shot or $7.5 for a double)

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5 comments

  1. I didn’t know EV is about to release other titles from this current tour. I have also grabbed their second release (TTFRO) but haven’t the chance to listen to it yet. BTW Xavel – who have released great IEM+AUD titles from various artists, have also released a set containing the 2 shows performed in Rome, italy. I’ve heard they sound great as well, but too bad that the set list hasn’t been rotating as in previous tours so the titles end up being very much alike.

  2. Hi again Stuart! I finally managed to grab this title and now I fully understand and agree with your point here. I think most of the count ins could have been edited out and no one would ever know they were previously there. If you EV people are reading this tremendous web site, please, pay attention on this. It’s highly recommended you to remove those infamous count ins in future releases. Other than that, I also agree that the crowd could be a little higher in the final mix. It would give more liveness to the sound and would make it more appreciateable. Anyway, the item is highly recommended. Superb addition to any collector. If you ever have the chance, don’t miss it!!

    • Hi Chambau, Glad you had the chance to hear what I heard. EV did do a better job with ‘Take The Fucking Roof Off’ by getting rid of more of the count – ins (Or as many as they possibly could!) and I’ve heard, that’s the way they intend to carry on. If you’re interested .. Keep your ear to the ground as I suspect theres’s more to come from this tour very soon.

  3. Hey Chambau, I was very excited about this release but because of those count ins, I was just a little put off. I assume that these were in place because of the video screen behind or the fact that band seemed to approach the b-stage at some many different times. (I haven’t seen that much footage from these shows) but I was still disappointed to hear 1-2-3-4 counted out so many times in so many songs. The audience levels not so much of an issue but I wish a little more care could have been made clipping some of these count ins out to be just a little less disruptive.

  4. Hey Stuart, I was expecting more excitement of yours on this new set and it looks like there is a bit of desappointment about how the sound was mixed. Should EV had removed the count-ins and lowered the crowd noise to have a better outcome? I would appreciate to have more details. Not on the show itself, but about the final product delivered by EV. Cheers!

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