This Irish band’s incantatory power is no more vividly demonstrated than in concert, and this eight-song minialbum, culled from their last tour, gives ample evidence why people have been calling U2 the best live band of 1983. Producer Jimmy Iovine and his chief engineer, Shelly Yakus, have toned down the distorted guitar-and-drums sound of the band’s previous boardman, Steve Lillywhite, without sacrificing the sheer rock & roll energy and slashing attack that have already made U2 popular.
Iovine’s approach uncovers U2’s secret weapon: the versatile, elastic playing of bassist Adam Clayton. Clayton’s steady bottom creates the space for guitarist the Edge’s dazzling fretboard wails throughout the record. “Gloria,” which in its studio version sank under the weight of its overwrought piety, here turns into a blazing rocker, while the Edge’s lonesome keyboards bring forth a “New Year’s Day” that outstrips its original. But the high point is “Sunday Bloody Sunday.” It may not be a rebel song, as Bono tells a presumably baffled German audience, but it is practically everything else: an anguished, thoughtful synthesis of religious and political beliefs, backed by the bone-crushing arena-rock riff of the decade. This is “Stairway to Heaven” for smart people — even if it is played a tad too fast — and it kicks Under a Blood Red Sky over the rainbow.
Through it all, Bono is his ineluctable self, whether he’s getting carried away (the “Send in the Clowns” interlude in the otherwise admirable “The Electric Co.”) or carrying us away, as on the sweetly elegiac “40.” I once saw U2 play “I Will Follow” three times in one set, establishing a never-to-be-broken major-band record for repetition. If I can still enjoy the version on this album, imagine how much you’ll like it.