"I want my work to be both trashy and precious at the same time."
Like A Video: With Or Without You (Glasgow, Nov. 7, 2015)
November 11, 2015
[Ed. note: This is the 30th in a series of essays by the @U2 staff about U2-related visuals and videos. Some essays may be informational and educational, while others may be more personal.]
“With Or Without You” has been a staple in U2’s live shows for 28 years. It was U2’s first No. 1 song in the U.S., and for many was the first U2 song heard on the radio. As of Nov. 11, the song has been performed live 763 times since April 4, 1987. For a song that’s been performed so much, it’s next to impossible to identify a live version that encapsulates the heart and soul of the symbiotic relationships between the members of U2, as well as the band’s relationship with their fans. However, I am going to attempt the impossible and definitively state that the band’s performance in Glasgow on Nov. 7, 2015 is just that. (As the great Nelson Mandela once said “It is always impossible until it is done.”)
Admittedly, I was not present at this show. However, thanks to fans who were and shared their audio and video streams of the concert, I sort of was. Of the videos that surfaced afterwards, I believe Sandra’s video best articulates the power, conviction and vulnerability of U2, especially Bono. Sandra focuses almost completely on Bono for the five minutes. What is most noticeable is the intimacy within the performance. The subtle smile Bono gives as he points towards the family VIP area as he sings the lyric “sleight of hand and a twist of fate, on a bed of nails she makes me wait, and I wait without you.” In that moment, the audience all but vanishes to Bono. So much is being conveyed in such a simple point and smile.
(Video courtesy of Sandra, @talktonight27)
As that line passes, Bono continues down the main walkway to the e-stage where he is left on his own, surrounded by only the audience. As he begins the first “and you give yourself away,” he turns to face the other three band members. He is staring directly to the main stage as the illuminated yellow outline and the white lamps transform the stage into what the late Mark Fisher described a crucifix. Bono sings the rest of “With Or Without You” as if he’s in a confessional. You can see him wince as he brings his arms up as he sings “My hands are tied, my body bruised,” his range of motion isn’t what it should be after his bicycle accident a year ago.
As Bono sings “and you give yourself away,” he holds his hands out several times almost as if he’s lifting up an offering. A shift happens mid-stream as the performance transcends into a place of pure vulnerability. It happens at the 2:52 mark: Bono’s body language, facial expressions and posture change – he is singing as if his life depended on it. He’s also offering all that he has to his fellow band members, but I’d also argue that he’s offering all that he is to a higher power in that moment. While he goes through those motions most nights with the cupping of the hands, the raising of the arms and such, there appeared to be much more at play emotionally.
The audience joins him where he’s at lyrically. This is where the symbiotic relationship that fans feel with the band starts to take off. You can see when Bono acknowledges that spirit at the 3:08 mark as he turns to the illuminated audience and all are singing in unison the “oh oh oh oh’s.” After waving to the audience, he turns back to the microphone and hushes the audience before breaking into the “Love will tear us apart again” snippet from Joy Division.
For fans who follow U2 at a forensic level, the inclusion of the Joy Division snippet is significant. It’s been used only 75 times as a snippet in “With or Without You” since April 4, 1987. However, it’s been used only 21 times between the PopMart, Elevation, Vertigo, 360 and Innocence + Experience tours combined. When Bono sang the snippet, his ear piece was out and he was letting the spirit move him. When a song reaches that level, you can sense the shift in the room – even if you’re thousands of miles away listening in on a live stream on a cell phone.
As he concluded the Joy Division snippet and his good night’s to the audience, the audience continued singing the “oh oh oh oh’s” so loudly that Bono was moved to include the much beloved “Shine Like Stars” coda with references to the Barrowlands, where U2 performed 31 years to the day.
It should be noted that the live version of “With Or Without You” in Rattle And Hum forever preserved a performance that a generation of U2 fans were weened on. As a result those fans have come to expect the “Shine Like Stars” coda towards the end since it was included in 175 U2 shows from 1987-1993. In contrast, “Shine Like Stars” has been sung only 30 times from July 2, 1997 - Nov. 7, 2015. Recently, someone asked Bono about the coda, and his response was, “Sometimes people remind me, sometimes I just wait for it to come into my head and if it doesn’t come into my head, I just don’t do it.”
For the Glaswegian audience, “With Or Without You” delivered and then some. By the end of the performance, Bono is still only focusing on his bandmates as he rejoins them on the main stage, turning back to the audience for the last line of the song. As the closer to Act 2 of the show, it capped off a very emotional portion of the show, which didn’t stop there: The passionate version of “Bad” and “40” concluded the night. It was certainly a night U2’s audience will never forget.