On Tuesday, U2 announced that they’re going to take a one-night-only break from their ongoing arena tour to play a special gig for SiriusXM subscribers at New York’s Apollo Theater on June 11th. “The band will be playing material from current release Songs of Experience alongside classics from the storied U2 catalogue,” reads a press release announcing the show. “The special concert will be the first time the band, who paid homage to Harlem’s Billie Holiday on their 1988 song ‘Angel of Harlem,’ has played the legendary venue.”
It will also mark their first concert at a New York venue smaller than Madison Square Garden since their 2000 show at Irving Plaza weeks after the release of All That You Can’t Leave Behind. That show was a very rare departure from the stadiums and arenas they’d favored over the past 15 years, and the band decided to make it special by playing early single “11 O’clock Tick Tock” for the first time since 1990. They also honored their heroes the Ramones by playing their 1977 classic “I Remember You.”
Rolling Stone’s Chris Heath was reporting a cover story about the band when they rehearsed for the show. “Though they know they will play the four songs from the new record that they have rehearsed for TV appearances, they must decide what else,” he wrote. “Bono addresses his fellow band members. ‘I have an idea,’ he says.” He wanted them to play “Won’t Get Fooled Again” by the Who to end the the show. He got the thought in his head during the “Walk On” video shoot in Rio when the Edge spontaneously played the riff between takes.
“When I arrive at Irving Plaza, U2 are on the small stage, not playing but listening to the Who’s version of ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again,’ through the monitor,” Heath wrote. “The Edge fingers his guitar, checking the chords. After only two or three minutes he gestures for the Who to be switched off, and they launch straight into their own pared-down version … ‘How did the Who end it?’ the Edge wonders. ‘I don’t know – we didn’t get that far on the album,’ Bono points out. ‘I just want to warn you, Lenny Kravitz will be out there, and he’ll know all the chords.'”
Here’s video of the big moment from the show, by which point they’d learned all the chords even though Bono changed around some of the lyrics, skipped the bridge and all of the third verse. He also added in a few lines at the end about the “Coke Generation” and “Pepsi Generation” instead of the primal scream and the final “meet the new boss/same as the old boss” coda. Lenny Kravitz was still probably impressed.
It’s unclear what sort of show U2 will present at the Apollo next month. Guns N’ Roses simply did a squeezed-down version of their arena/stadium set when they played the Apollo last year. U2 will probably be a bit more ambitious, partially because many elements of their elaborate stage simply cannot fit into the Apollo. Only a lucky handful of SiriusXM subscribers will be able to see the show live, but it will be broadcast on the satellite radio service.
“New York City and the U2 band have a unique history,” Bono said in a statement. “From the songs of Lou Reed, Billie Holiday and the Ramones that taught us how to listen, to the New Yorkers at our earliest U.S. shows who taught us how to play, the souls of New York and U2 have always been intertwined. The Apollo Theater is the heart of New York’s musical soul, and to finally be playing our songs on the same stage where James Brown begged Please Please Please is not only a bucket list moment, it’s an incredible honor.”