"This image of 'the unforgettable fire' applied not only to the nuclear winterscape of 'A Sort of Homecoming,' but also the unforgettable fire of a man like Martin Luther King, or the consuming fire which is heroin."
Like a Song: Where The Streets Have No Name (Live From Boston)
August 18, 2011
[Ed. note: This is the 59th in a series of personal essays by the @U2 staff about songs and/or albums that have had great meaning or impact in our lives.]
"Where The Streets Have No Name" is not just my favorite U2 song, but it's my all-time favorite song, period. Musically, I can think of few songs that sound more quintessentially U2 than "Streets," with Larry's propulsive drumming and Adam's thick bass line providing a solid bedrock upon which The Edge's echo-drenched guitar can shine while Bono sings of a mythical place where love is the only concern. It's an uplifting song, one that builds slowly then explodes into a joyous sonic texture that sweeps me away every time I listen to it.
My favorite live version of "Streets" is from the band's Elevation 2001 U2 Live From Boston DVD. It captivated me when I first watched it almost a decade ago (!!) and it continues to amaze and inspire me to this day. Hamish Hamilton's direction is superb, mixing close-ups with wide shots and horizontal pans in just the right ratio. The set is about as simple as it gets (especially when compared with the neon lightscape of the previous PopMart tour or The Claw from the 360 tour), and that simplicity lends a certain elegance to the show. Four video monitors – one for each member of the band – and a heart-shaped walkway frame the stage from above and in front, respectively. That's it. No frills, no hoopla. Just the band, the audience and the music. In other words, a perfect reflection of what the All That You Can't Leave Behind album represented: U2's back-to-basics renaissance. The boys from Dublin were back doing what they did best, and for me, it doesn't get any better than this version of "Where The Streets Have No Name."
0:00-0:13 - The crowd is still singing the snippet of "40" Bono inserted at the end of the previous song in the set, "Bad." What's most interesting to me is that the original studio versions of "Bad," "40" and "Streets" are all in different keys. Yet, in this live performance, one song is used to transition to another seamlessly. Three songs, two setlist slots, one smooth transition. Well done, boys. Well done.
0:13-0:23 - At this point, the audience knows another song is coming; they just don't know exactly which song. The only clues they're given is Bono singing an "oh" over a couple of Edge's echo-laden guitar notes. Much like the few moments before someone pops open a bottle of champagne, the anticipation is palpable. Wait for it....
0:24-0:35 - Edge starts with the unmistakable "Streets" intro, and the audience recognizes it immediately. You can see fans in the seats jumping up and down out of excitement and the crowd noise gets noticeably louder. Even Edge senses this performance is something special: His eyes are closed, perhaps preparing himself for liftoff. The energy is already at a fever pitch, and this song is about to blow the roof off the place. Well done, Edge. Well done.
0:43-1:14 - Bono kneels and says a little prayer during the song's intro. "What can I give back to God for the blessings he poured out on me? What can I give back to God for the blessings he poured out on me? I lift high the Cup of Salvation as a toast to our Father, to follow through on a promise I made to you from the heart." A prayer in the middle of a concert — in the middle of a song, even! — shows Bono's humility (which, admittedly, can be hard to spot at times) and that the band hasn't abandoned its religious roots, even after all its success and all its trials and tribulations. Well done, Bono. Well done.
1:15-1:30 - The camera pans above and around the crowd as Bono unleashes a primal scream and the lights behind him are glittering like fireworks in the night sky. It's at this point my eyes well up with tears of joy and my mind thinks, "Ho. Ly. S#@*. This is one for the record books." (I'm not ashamed to admit that I still cry every time I watch this.) Bono recognizes the specialness of the performance, too. His "Oh" morphs into an "Ah," perhaps reflecting an emotional catharsis. The summer of 2001 was a tough one for him, and one of his primary coping mechanisms is to let out his emotions on stage. His outburst ends with a perfectly timed cymbal crash accompanying lights up. And the crowd. Goes. Wild.
1:30-1:36 - Bono takes in the cheers of the crowd. What better way to help you through a tough time than your three best friends and 18,000 people providing the proverbial helping hand.
1:46-1:53, 2:24-2:26, 4:40-4:42, 4:47-4:48 - Shimmering lights over a heart-shaped walkway. U2: back to basics. It's amazing what well-coordinated lights can do for a concert.
1:53-2:18 - The crowd singing the first verse is very clear and intelligible. At this point, the line between the band and the audience is indistinguishable. They have fused into one huge ball of musical energy that can barely be contained. "I want to tear down the walls that hold me tonight." Mission: accomplished.
2:06-2:08, 2:44-2:46, 4:37 - Edge's face says it all, particularly at 4:37. "Oh my goodness. I can't believe this is happening right now. This is INCREDIBLE!!" U2 plays a great show just about every time they perform, but a select few cities always bring out the best in them. Boston is definitely one of them, and you can see on Edge's face that he knows the crowd is into it and that the band is playing really, really well.
2:36-2:39, 5:01-5:04 - Adam is having a great time on stage. He's feeling the energy of this performance for sure! Adam is perhaps the most underrated member of U2, and I love it when he gets into his groove. Well done, Adam. Well done.
3:40-3:43, 4:00-4:02 - Notice that the core of the inner circle hasn't stopped moving for the entire song. Now that I've experienced the inner circle myself, I can safely say that those who don't move, particularly during this song, are the minority.
4:14-4:16 - "I go there with you." A slight smirk comes across Bono's face as he sings those lyrics, probably because he knows U2 has just transported 18,000 lucky fans away from Boston to that mythical place where there's "no sorrow and there's no shame."
4:28-4:36 - Bono's arms are extended like he's flying. The band and the crowd know it and feel it: This version of "Streets" has taken off. Additionally, the camera work here is excellent. The zoom into Bono is perfectly coordinated to his voice fading in. Well done, Hamish. Well done.
4:46-4:49 - It's easy to miss, but Bono opens his jacket to the crowd as he's singing. He's opened himself up to the audience and made himself vulnerable. And in exchange for letting his guard down, the crowd repays him with thunderous applause. It's a give-and-take relationship between artist and fan, and Bono knows it. So, too, does the audience.
4:49-4:54 - Similar to the shot beginning at 1:15, the camera sweeps over the crowd as the lights are shimmering overhead, giving the viewer a taste of what it was like down on the floor during this performance. Oh, to have witnessed this in person ...
4:55-4:56 - Larry leans back, as if bracing himself for the stretch run of this magnificent performance. His drum part barrels through into the song's last chorus with the lights up and all four men on stage. Well done, Larry. Well done.
5:18-5:20 - "It's all I can do." Fantastic camera work and direction as Bono sings this line. The out-of-focus close-up sharpens on the long note, which could be symbolic of mainstream sentiment of U2 at the turn of the 21st century. Many fans and critics were of the opinion that the band had lost its way at the end of the 1990s (fuzzy close-up). The release of All That You Can't Leave Behind in late 2000, however, undoubtedly put the band back on track (close-up in focus).
5:24-5:50 - During the song's conclusion, the camera zooms in on Bono. Interestingly, The Edge is the only band member whose face is clearly visible, signifying the importance of the lead guitar part. The Edge's guitar lines and timbres are the most immediately recognizable characteristic of U2's sound, and certainly the distinct aspect of "Where The Streets Have No Name."
I love "Where The Streets Have No Name," and particularly this live version. The combination of the band playing well with the excellent camera work and direction makes for an amazing video. I think so highly of it, in fact, that I always carry a high-quality digital copy with me on my iPhone at all times, in case I need a quick pick-me-up or some inspiration.
Well done, gentlemen. Well done.
(c) @U2/Endrinal, 2011.