Ron Rosenbaum, Writer

March 6, 2009

The Greatest U-2 Performance

Filed under: Uncategorized — ronrosenbaumwriter @ 11:28 am

Notice that I didn’t say the greatest U-2 song. i could go with “Still Haven’t Found”, or “Pride (in the Name of Love)” or maybe it would have to be the solo Bono “One”.

But greatest performance? I raise the question of course because there’s a new album out and the boys are trying to recapture the magic they consciously disclaimed when they tried to make a themselves oh-so-contempo with that lame Zoo Station album or whatever its called (okay it had “One” on it but only by accident I suspect).

And there are moments on the new one when they come close (“Moment of Surrender”). But it’s a little too much back to the future, back to and Joshua Tre, their amazing anthemic moment when they captured the pulse of the whole world in a way few bands ever have. But it’s gone. Too late. Unforgettable Fire was replaced by unforgivable pap like “It’s a Beautiful Day” (how could they live with themselves after releasing something that calculated and awful?).

But still I’m grateful to them for some moments, hours, days of ecstatic binge-playing apreciation. And though I’ve never attended a performance (I hate live perforances; hell is othe people) I’ve sure watched

Part of it was the symbolism of doing it at Sun Studios one of the genuine worthy shrines of rock ‘n’ roll. You know about Sun Studios right? It was the magical hole in the wall on Union Avenue in Memhis presided over by the legendary Sam Phillips, the man who discovered Elvis, no more than that, made Elvis .

It was also the place where Ike Turner recorded what most consider the first ever rock ‘n’ rolll song, that one with Buick in the title. Excuse me rock history geeks, for the temporary memory lapse, rather than stop and google it, I want to tell you about another moment in the history of rock and roll (and Sun Studios) that is less well known: the time I recorded at Sun Studios.

I was down in Memhis doing a piece for the New York Times magazine about the Elvis “Death Week” festivities (you can find the story–“Elvis: Healer”–in The Secret Parts of Fortune), and I got a chance to spend some time at Sam Phillips’ Memphis manse (he’s dead now) and hear him talk about the time Elvis got a boil and thought it was syphillis, a piece of Elvis lore that is not repeated on the Graceland tours.

Anyway, Sam Phillips will someday be recognized as one of the great American musical geniuses, the auteur who brought us Jerry Lee Lewis and Johnny Cash as well as Elvis. And there’s an aura of imortality about Sun Studios, the residue of so much greatness that echoed within its walls.

And if you go to Memphis to visit Graceland, a horrid place with profoundly depressing death-vibes, you have to go to Sun studios to purge them. Which I did and–here’s the great part–I dont’ know if they do it any more, but at the time for fifty bucks they’d let you lay down a vocal track to the backing of a favorite Elvis song using the very same mike Elvis used for his Sun sessions! And that famous echp-delay that Sam hillis ade famous thru Elvis.

Amazing. I couldn’t resist. I did “Heartbreak Hotel”–to me the quintessential Elvis song, and I totally rocked out (translation: “made a fool of myself”) on the chorus (“make me so lonely, baby…”etc, that when the engineer handed me the tape he squinted at me trying to think of something to say. It would have stumed me. But he came up with something good, that made me feel there was a rationale for the..whatever it was I did.

“You were doin’ a kind of beatnick thing there, huh? he said trying, I think, hard not to laugh.

Yeah, that’s right. I was doin’ a kind of beatnick thing. That’s myt story and I’m sticking to it.

Anyway this self serving digression may explain why I love “Angel of Harlem” to death: it had that raw Sun Studio sound, it’s an insanely beautiful song, sung with love, a tribute to the way Sam Phillips mixed black and white at Sun and came up with something that transcended a mere mixture. Echoed that joyful alchemy, captured the band’s love of America, for the spirit of rock ‘n’ roll. The video has the vibe of the illicit rooftop concert at the end of Let It Be. Spector had his Wall of Sound. “Angel of Harlem” is a cathedral of sound. A cathedral built in a hole in the wall on Union Avenue called Sun Studios. (Did I mention Irecorded there?)

It’s just magnificient. It must be on Youtube. If anyone finds it I’ll add it to this post. But just check it out and tell me I’m wrong. Or tell me what your U-2 fave is. And forgive them for trying to recapture ast glory in the new album because there isn’t that much as glorious as that past.



  1. Okay, A Beautiful Day sort of sucks. But I like that album a lot. Stuck in a Moment, NY, Grace. I think those are good songs. And Zooropa, which I was listening to the other day, is infinitely better than Pop. Speaking of music, I’ve recently come to the conclusion that Bruce Springsteen is unlistentoable. that includes the “classic” stuff. Yuck.

    Comment by Chris H. — March 6, 2009 @ 12:35 pm | Reply

  2. “Who’s Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses?” written about Naomi Campbell

    Comment by charlie finch — March 6, 2009 @ 5:51 pm | Reply

  3. “Achtung Baby” is a perfect album, cam listen to it endlessly. How someone who loves Tom Petty can resist the pure hooks in that album and”It’s a Beautiful Day” is beyond me. Anyway, as far as Sun is concerned, I give you the greatest Sun sides of all, to wit, Charlie Rich. Try “Who Will the Next Fool Be” and, for hooks, “Lonely Weekends”.

    Comment by charlie finch — March 6, 2009 @ 7:07 pm | Reply

  4. More perfect albums: Sinead O’Connor “I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got”; Van Morrison “Veedon Fleece”; “Songs of Leonard Cohen”, Tim Buckley “Blue Afternoon”, Tim Hardin 3 (Live at Town Hall), Rod Stewart’s First Album, “Velvet Underground”, “Revolver”, “Highway 61”, Joni Mitchell “Songs to a Seagull”, Laura Nyro “New York Tendaberry”, Aretha “Spirit in the Dark”, the Kinks “Live at Kelvin Hall”, the Who “Live at Leeds”, “Sticky Fingers”, John Mayall “Hard Road”, “Beach Boys Today”, “Axis: Bold As Love”, “Patti Smith”, Neil Young “Times Fades Away” and “Achtung Baby”, seamless all

    Comment by charlie finch — March 6, 2009 @ 7:18 pm | Reply

  5. “Who’s Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses?” was not written about Naomi Campbell. That song, the 5th track on Achtung Baby, came out in 1991. Adam Clayton didn’t meet Naomi Campbell until 1993, durting the Zoo TV tour.

    Achtung Baby and The Joshua Tree are both masterpieces. How anyone could call the former “lame” is baffling, and indicative of a tin ear. 1997’s Pop is a much underrated album. I don’t get how Mr. Rosenbaum thinks the new album is an attempt to get back to The Joshua Tree. It doesn’t strike me as at all similar. After over a week of listening, I think the new album is great – their best overall since Pop. However, the first single is the worst song on the album and is unrepresentative of the album as a whole.

    Oh, and the name of the song people keep referring to above is “Beautiful Day” not “It’s a Beautiful Day”. Not a bad song (certainly not “pap”), but not their best by a longshot. Good verses, but could use a better chorus.

    As for their “best performance” (a curious headline, given that no performance is ever nominated as best in the article): The epic, nearly 15 minute version of “Bad” (from The Unforgettable Fire) at Live Aid in 1985 is unquestionably their single greatest performance ever.

    Comment by Dennis — March 6, 2009 @ 11:35 pm | Reply

  6. We loved it when U2 came to Sun and would love to have them back anytime! Thanks for remembering our cool, little place. 🙂

    Comment by Jeff from Sun — March 7, 2009 @ 12:56 am | Reply

  7. Written about Naomi Campbell “avant la lettre”

    Comment by charlie finch — March 7, 2009 @ 2:49 am | Reply

  8. He didn’t get that tin ear from going to concerts, apparently, no tintinnitis!!

    Comment by charlie finch — March 7, 2009 @ 2:53 am | Reply

  9. “One Tree Hill” on Joshua. Slays me every time.

    Comment by ed devere — March 7, 2009 @ 12:57 pm | Reply

  10. Like Ed Devere, I like One Tree Hill alot. Also, like Red Hill Mining Town from the same album. Some of Boy, War, Oktober all excellent. That said, I’m not crazy about their later output. Nobody’s perfect. Though the Beatles came close, but breaking up so early…

    Comment by Ed Hawkes — March 7, 2009 @ 10:11 pm | Reply

  11. Wow, Charlie Finch has some cool taste in music. Tim Buckley is such an underrated musician and I miss Laura Nyro so much that I tear up when I play her music. Veedon Fleece is a great Van, Astral Weeks, too. The Healing Game is one of his underappreciated recent discs. I’d pick Something Else by the Kinks, Rubber Soul by the Beatles. Horses is hands down Patti’s best. Pick up something surprising and unexpectly moving: Pacific Ocean Blue by Dennis Wilson. So…U2s newest is its best since the Joshua Tree, contains hints of that album and some earlier stuff (the first 3 are still my favorites), but still sounds new and innovative. Sonically, it has some similarities to Coldplay’s newest, but it’s a far, far better disc. It helps that U2, unlike Coldplay, isn’t cynically calculating.

    Comment by joe — March 9, 2009 @ 12:54 pm | Reply

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