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The mystery of missing tracks - Part One

There were more than a few curious and confused U2 fans at the close of the first concert in Paris. Viewing the concert updates periodically, my own first thoughts were that perhaps the band intended to play an extra song on the e-stage. Elevation and Sweetest Thing have both been first night staples, but perhaps U2 also want to showcase Volcano for the HBO special I reasoned. In recent years they have, after all, seemed to make an effort to showcase their new songs on the tour releases. Unknown Caller was dropped for period of time on the second leg of the 360 Tour before being revived in time for the Pasadena show with new visuals courtesy of fans across the globe. And before that the group had made an effort to include Original of the Species in the Vertigo release, the performance from Chicago being only the song's fifth of the tour with Bono fully admitting that they had not yet figured out how to play it. But the theory they wanted to showcase Volcano was soon cast aside as the e-stage songs were also a track shorter than usual. And so it was that once the concert concluded, fans began to speculate that the reason the set was shorter than usual was because this was the night U2 intended to film the majority of the footage for the HBO special and (presumably) tour release. As we'll see this would not only be unlikely but also unprecedented in the filming of U2 concerts.

This is the mystery of the missing tracks; not from the concert in Paris specifically (although we will touch briefly on why that may have happened), but in the history of U2 concert releases.

First though, we need to look at why we can confidently say that filming is not the reason why Paris1 was shortened. There are two major reasons for this. The first is that U2 have never taken most of the footage from the opening night in the city. This is of course with the exceptions of when they are only performing a single concert in the chosen location, Red Rocks and Pasadena respectively (we can discount Paris 87 because it was only filmed for a television broadcast; a home video release was never intended). No matter what concert release you choose to look at filming on the first night is almost always used for test purposes in order for the crew to learn the best locations to place their cameras, and for the band and lighting crew to learn how to work with the cameras instead of around them. Anger from Bono in particular is well documented when the ill-positioned camera crew actively interfere with his attempts to interact with the audience, and much of the footage from the first night is frequently unusable as a result. The excellent print archive U2 Live by Pimm Jal de la Parra documents this in particular with regards to the filming for Rattle and Hum. Both the first Denver show for the indoor shots and the first Tempe concert for the outdoor colour portions suffered enormously, and fans may recall Bono expressing his displeasure regarding the camera crew in an outtake from the film that was included on From the Sky Down.

The habit of thus using the first night primarily for test footage for the real shooting the next concert is something that has become second-nature to the band. Not only are the camera positions better placed for the real filming, but the first night jitters are worked out by the time U2 are ready to record for real. This habit of using two nights, with the first night being primarily practice, has been fortuitous multiple times in the group's history. As is well documented, it became impossible to use any substantial amount of footage from the first night in Sydney on the ZooTV tour due to Adam Clayton's infamous absence on the night in question. On the flip-side, it meant that the footage from the second night was all the more special as the band performed together more tightly than ever in their relief at being a group once again. Though not as disastrous, the opening night in Mexico City for the PopMart concert featured an unfortunate clash between the concert security and bodyguards for high-profile attendees at the end of the night, an event which resulted in one member of the group's security team becoming a paraplegic and which Bono referenced the next night. The first filmed night in Boston featured more footage in the final release than is typical; the entire performance of Stay is taken from this night as it was not performed the next day, and the ending of Gone is a classic example of why U2 use the first night as practice. Slane and Chicago also take most of their footage from the second night. And so it is fairly safe to assume that, given the group's history, the majority of the footage for the HBO special will come from the second night (though perhaps not for One...).

The second reason why we can discount filming for the shortened set is that U2 have never before performed a concert deliberately shorter than others on the tour on the night that they intend to use for filming. Almost every concert release has at least one song cut from it - PopMart is, to date, the only U2 concert release to include every song performed on the night of the concert. But on every occasion where songs have been removed for the release, they have at least been performed on the night of filming; the set was not made shorter beforehand. We will look at why songs have been cut from releases in detail in Part Two tomorrow.

So why was Paris1 two songs shorter than typical this leg of the tour? It is doubtful that the reason why will ever actually be discussed or made known. One theory I have seen mentioned in social media is that perhaps someone in the band was under the weather on that date and so two songs were dropped as an accommodation; with a shorter set it obviously means less time on stage and more time to recover for the actual filming. Were any of the band members sick? Nothing has been said on that matter by those who actually attended the concert, so it is unlikely. What I personally think the more likely reason is a matter of length. More specifically, the capacity of a DVD. But this will be discussed in more detail tomorrow...

Posted on by Matkin

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