The mystery of missing tracks - Part Two
This article has been updated.
The surprisingly short setlist of Paris1 caused some fans confusion. Of course in fairness we have to point out that 23 songs is hardly what most would consider to be "short". Thirteen out of thirty-six concerts on the first leg were the same length, and it was the average length of most 360 concerts. Going back further in time, 23 songs is a number that fans attending Elevation concerts would be lucky to reach. It is fair to point out that the addition of two songs on the second leg, the already short October and an abbreviated Zooropa, is what has elevated the first-leg standard 23 songs to a previous shortest 25 in Europe without actually increasing the runtime of the concerts by more than five minutes or so. So while the removal of two songs from the set initially strikes one as unusual, the total amount of U2 experienced is not substantially different from what fans experienced earlier in the tour or in years previous.
But still the question remains: why was this set, just before the HBO filming, shorter than any other so far this leg? Yesterday we looked at the most commonly touted theory on social media, that it was shorter because it was the night the band intended to use to film the special and debunked it. Today we look at historical reasons why tracks have been cut from U2's live concert releases, and what that might suggest about the way Paris1 went down.
In Part One we discussed why the band tend to film over multiple days. The biggest advantage of course is that if something goes wrong during the filming, there is another take they can fall back on to prevent the problem from marring the final product. Perhaps the most notorious example is Gone from Elevation Boston. Performed on both nights, The Edge became so angry at the way the first performance went down that he ended the song by smashing his guitar to the ground, kicking it under the stage, and turning to shout at a clearly surprised Larry Mullen Jr. As a result the majority of the performance comes from the much safer second night, with only the theatricalness of Edge's guitar smash making it into the final product. Not that this safety barrier is used all the time; it is well-discussed how during the first three songs in Boston, fans at the back of the heart were disheartened (pun not intended) that others had been allowed in earlier so the band had fresh faces to play to. Their sit-in can be seen on some of the wide-angle shots of Elevation and Beautiful Day, and it is a wonder that these parts were allowed to make the final product at all. But I digress.
It may surprise fans to realize that out of U2's many concert releases, only one contains the full set as performed the day that it was filmed. This release is the PopMart concert from Mexico City, and though some moments between the songs are edited out for flow and time reasons, every song that was performed that day is included on the release. The first concert video to look at is U2's first, Red Rocks. Fans may have complained when Breathe was cut as the opening song from the Pasadena release, but Red Rocks is the original offender when it comes to removing the concert opener; five of the first six tracks were cut from the VHS release including U2's first single, Out of Control. Indeed the song that opened the broadcast, Surrender, never actually opened a U2 concert. It is unclear why so much footage was cut from the film. Perhaps U2 were unhappy with the vibe of the audience for the first few songs, choosing to open it at a time when the crowd was fully amped up. Or maybe they considered the running time, a little over 80 minutes, too lengthy for what they wanted to present to the home market and edited it down to a more palatable 55 minutes for casual fans' enjoyment. Whatever the reasons a full six songs, almost a third of the entire concert, was removed; including one of the group's two most recent singles in the country, Two Hearts Beat as One. Five of these six songs were eventually reinstated on the DVD remaster in 2008; the final missing track, I Fall Down, is permanently lost due to a camera malfunction.
A little over a decade later and U2's next concert release, ZooTV Live from Sydney, is released. This video is infamous for the absence of Tryin' to Throw Your Arms Around the World, particularly as the concert was broadcast on television with no evident camera faults to account for the song's absence; search enough on YouTube and you can find the missing performance in all its grainy glory. The most common theory floated around for why the song was cut is that it contains a sequence where Bono pulls a young woman onstage and proceeds to drink champagne with her, an act he had done almost every night of the tour. A lot of speculation revolves around the age of the fan, with the thought being the song had to be cut because she was underage. Producer Ned O'Hanlon has disputed this, saying that the track was cut because the concert was too long; it simply could not fit on a VHS, and so something had to be removed. Two somethings actually as there is another sequence conspicuous by its absence, that being the ZooTV Confessional. The latter was of course reinstated on the eventual remastered DVD as a bonus feature, and though Tryin' is also included as a bonus song it is not the one from the main concert but a performance taken from New York, perhaps giving some credance to the age theory after all.
As we have already discussed, PopMart was released in full but the next release, Elevation from Boston, was not. This release actually features the most removed tracks after the original Red Rocks VHS, with a full four tracks cut from the final edit. Mysterious Ways, originally between Until the End of the World and Stuck in a Moment, Pride which ended the main set after Streets, and One which followed The Fly (the performance of Wake Up Dead Man listed a track on the DVD is really no more than a snippet; you can even see the One buffalo still running across the screen behind the band as Bono sings it). The final cut track, a cover of People Get Ready between Desire and Bad, was substituted with a version of Stay (Faraway, So Close!) from the previous night. It is very difficult to find reasons for why three of U2's biggest-ever hits were cut from the release. The only seemingly substantial speculation I have been able to find is that, like ZooTV before, the full release was too large to fit on a VHS and the band did not want to shortchange fans by including extra tracks for those who had DVD players. The only other speculation I have seen as to why those tracks in particular were chosen to be cut is that perhaps the flow of the concert was somehow affected by their placement in the set. If so it is most unfortunate for Mysterious Ways, as that is the exact reason why it was removed from the main Slane Castle release and only included as a bonus track. Edit: One of our readers, Josh, points out that Elevation Boston contains two audio formats, Dolby Digital 5.1 and PCM, the latter of which takes up an inordinate amount of space. He suggests that the size of the PCM stereo track is what led to the removal of the three tracks. Thanks Josh!
Flow is also a likely reason for the removal of Breathe from the Pasadena release. Like Out of Control from Red Rocks it was the opening track, and perhaps U2 felt that it was not as energetic as they hoped, not as likely to draw the attention of casual fans if it was the opening piece. Perhaps like Mysterious Ways it only disturbed the flow of the songs that followed and so they reasoned that the much faster Get on Your Boots would be a better opening choice. The footage obviously still exists as it was included (with a slight modification to Bono's "ten-inch cockatoo" lyric) as a bonus track. The quality is a bit of a head-scratcher, but this could perhaps be something as simple as an artistic choice by someone in the band; Bryan Adams' Live in Lisbon DVD is an excellent example of experimenting with the artistry of the shot over simply capturing it.
So what have we seen from looking at the historical cut tracks? In every case (with the possible exception of Tryin') it has been done for one of two reasons: something needed to be cut for the length of the release, and/or the placement of a particular song affected the flow of the concert on film. So with that understood, here is what I believe to be the reasoning for the "short" setlist at Paris1:
As we established yesterday, the first night of filming is usually used as a test run; figure out the best camera placements so the band can work with the film crew instead of against them. With the confirmation that Paris3 will be the concert broadcast for the HBO special, it gives U2 two chances to practice instead of three. And with an unprecedented average length of 25-26 songs this tour leg, perhaps even the once-mighty DVD is being stretched to maximum capacity if they choose to make this their release for this tour. So to me it seems entirely reasonable for the band to experiment on one of their two practice nights to see what effect the removal of songs may have on the flow of a concert days before the broadcast instead of just hours. The explanation may seem a little disappointing after two lengthy articles, but it really is as simple as that. Most of the fans attending the concert would not realize that their night is slightly shorter; historically, 23 songs would put them on the high-end of the spectrum. And if you want to see what effect the removal of songs might have on the flow of the concert, and the interest of fans, there is no better way than seeing it directly as it happens. The band feed on the crowd's energy, it powers them through each and every performance. They can tell instantly if it will have worked or not. And given what has been said in the days since, it seems that the band members believe those songs are nee in the set rather than removed for the special.
Then again, Bono apparently had a sore voice that night. Maybe it was just that.