U2 knew they had to make some drastic changes as the 1990s came to an end. Their 1997/98 tour in support of Pop played to stadiums all around the globe, but the disc received mixed reviews and failed to generate a huge hit. And in a few American markets U2 faced something they hadn’t seen in years: rows of empty seats.
For their follow-up album they reunited with their old production team of Daniel Lanois and Brian Eno. It was a return to simpler songs that, for lack of a better word, sounded like U2. They called the disc All That You Can’t Leave Behind and the first single was “Beautiful Day,” which became a smash all across the world. Bono repeatedly said they were “reapplying for the job of best band in the world.” It was a bold statement, but they seemed to live up to it.
When it came time for a tour they could have easily returned to stadiums, but they opted for a stripped-down arena show instead. A few months before it kicked off, they stripped things down even further by booking a gig at New York’s Irving Plaza (capacity: 1,025). It was a free show for their fans, and it was broadcast on the radio and the Internet.
The band was in rare form that night, mixing classics like “Bad” and “One” with songs off the new album and covers by their greatest influences, including The Who’s “Won’t Get Fooled Again” and The Ramones’ “I Remember You.” For many hardcore fans, the highlight came when they dusted off “11 O’Clock Tick Tock” for the first time in a decade. They released the song as their second single in 1980 and played it during every single one of their early club gigs, sometimes even twice when the crowd demanded an encore and they had nothing left to play.
Here’s video of “11 O’Clock Tick Tock” from that glorious night. Here’s hoping the band does something like this before their next tour.