Another Time, Another Place: The Boy Tour Retrospective, Part II
Now we at last come to the part that, as a database of U2 performances, interests us the most: What did they play, when did they play it, and how did things evolve as the tour progressed?
Here is where we must remind you that much of U2’s early touring history has been forgotten or lost to time. In some cases what was played is known only because live tracks from that night have been released. Sets become more documented as the tour progressed but there are still large chunks missing where a page is either blank or incomplete. It is possible that even U2’s personal archives are incomplete. So how much do we know? Let’s break it down by leg:
Leg One: Europe had 57 concerts, one of them dubious. 31 are unknown, 12 are incomplete, and 14 are believed complete;
Leg Two: North America had 10 concerts, 5 are unknown, 1 is incomplete, and 4 are believed complete;
Leg Three: Europe had 26 concerts, 10 are unknown, 4 are incomplete, and 12 are believed complete;
Leg Four: North America had 59 concerts, 11 are unknown, 17 are incomplete, and 31 are believed complete;
Leg Five: Europe had 3 concerts, 0 are unknown, 1 is incomplete, and 2 are believed complete.
Many sets are taken from the written list that has survived in some form but these have two drawbacks. The first is that U2 are known for deviating from the written set and the second is that on the Boy Tour these written sets never included an encore as it wasn’t always guaranteed that they would play one. In some cases what we consider an incomplete or complete set can be somewhat interchangeable because of this. Nonetheless, in many cases they are the most reliable information we have.
Songs & Set Evolution
We give warning now that this section will probably be long and boring if you are not interested in the minutiae of U2’s set evolution. Don’t say that we didn’t warn you!
We know of 22 different songs U2 played during the Boy Tour; our database lists 24 but one of those, ‘Interview”, is included for technical reasons. Another song is the well-known “Happy Birthday”. While both are included in our database, in our actual setlists neither is numbered (see here and here). We also know of 11 different snippets. For the reasons described above the number of both songs and snippets actually played are almost certainly at least somewhat higher.
“I Will Follow” has the most known performances on tour at 131. This might initially seem unsurprising, but we only know of three renditions of the song prior to the Boy Tour. By the time the tour started it had fewer known performances than “11 O’Clock Tick Tock”, “An Cat Dubh”, “The Electric Co.”, “Stories For Boys”, “Out of Control”, “Twilight”, “Another Time, Another Place”, “Boy-Girl”, and “A Day Without Me”, and it was level with “Into the Heart”, and “Things to Make and Do”.
“11 O’Clock Tick Tock” is listed as the second-most performed song on the tour with 123 renditions. It is followed in turn by “The Ocean” with 89 known times played. All three are well-known for being played twice many nights of the tour, but in the case of “I Will Follow” (played twice 40x) this was largely concentrated on the back-half of the tour. “11 O’Clock” was played twice 43 times throughout the tour and we believe that in reality it was the group’s most played song on tour. “The Ocean” was played twice more sporadically than these other two, on just 25 occasions we know of, and so likely remains third in total play count.
So how did things evolve as the tour progressed? The first complete setlist that we know is from 12 September 1980 in Scarborough, the only time the group is known to have played there. The show opened with “11 O’Clock Tick Tock” and was followed by “I Will Follow” and “Touch”. A string of Boy tracks followed with “An Cat Dubh”, “Into the Heart”, “A Day Without Me”, “Twilight”, and “The Electric Co”. The instrumental B-side “Things to Make and Do” was next, with “Stories For Boys”, “Boy/Girl”, and “Out of Control” completing the main set. A single encore with a repeat of “11 O’Clock Tick Tock” closed out the night. The next substantial set is from four days later in Plymouth, where “The Ocean” debuted live by opening the show. It was followed by “11 O’Clock Tick Tock”, and the song order from that point on was identical to Scarborough with the main set once again ending with “Out of Control”. If there was an encore that night we do not know of it.
On a trivial note, the four songs we know of from their 22 September performance at the Marquee are only because said tracks have been released over the years as B-sides to various releases. Clearly the band know the set since they have it recorded, but for the rest of us it remains a virtual unknown.
The continuity of the set continued from Plymouth. Though the set in Aylesbury is incomplete, what we do know matches what had been played so far. In Birmingham the set was identical to Plymouth and was again without a known encore. On the 29th U2 were at the Marquee again and that set is complete with one known encore, a repeat of “11 O’Clock Tick Tock”. By the 2 October, with another identical main set from “The Ocean” to “Out of Control”, we have enough consistency that we can look through 40 years of future touring and confidently say that we know with almost certain precision what was played on the nights that have not had their set documented.
When U2 are on tour, one of the most common grouses we see on social media is that every night the set is nearly identical. With the exception of one or two spots where there may be a rotation of two or three songs the rest of the set is always the same. In a world where you can listen to a concert across the world as it happens, or watch it within an hour of it finishing, it seems a natural complaint. At times we have been guilty of it as well. But the reality we all often forget is that this era of live streaming concerts has really only been around for a little over a decade. U2 have 40 years of touring the world under their belts and the idea that people would follow them from venue to venue and country to country – during these early tours in particular – was laughable. When you only have one album under your belt and likely just one chance to get people to buy said album, why would you risk screwing things up by differing what you play each night?
At this point we can see an established set that U2 are comfortable with: a 13-song main set opening with “The Ocean” and ending with “Out of Control”. Any encores, when there are any, are when we see them repeat a song. The first minor change happens on 14 October at their first performance in continental Europe, as “Things to Make and Do” is not played. The following night in Amsterdam it is re-added in the usual position and “Out of Control” is skipped, the main set ending with “Boy/Girl” instead; it will appear just twice more before March 1981. The next night sees another change with “I Will Follow” being played twice for the first time, the second rendition joining “11 O’Clock” in the encore to close out the night. Our entry lists “Stories For Boys” as the end of the main set, but we add the caveat that it is likely both “Boy/Girl” and “Out of Control” were played after it as usual; we just don’t know for certain.
The next full set we know comes nearly a month later, and in the time in between Boy has been released. There have been some surprising changes to the set over the last 26 days, as “Stories For Boys” is the opener this night. It is followed by the normal lead duo of “The Ocean” and “11 O’Clock” but the latter is now followed directly by its B-side, “Touch”. “An Cat Dubh” and “Into the Heart” follow as usual, but they are now followed by “Another Time, Another Place” which makes its Boy Tour debut. Another surprise follows with the live premiere of the most iconic unreleased U2 song, “The Cry”. “Twilight” has been shuffled down the order after “Things to Make and Do” and it is followed by “I Will Follow”. The closing song is another surprise and the third debut of the night with the amazingly titled “Father is an Elephant”.
Two days later in Sheffield the set has reverted to the early standard, though “Out of Control” is notably missing. Another eight days after that in Scotland and U2 are back to the B-set, though we believe it is incomplete. Notably there is a possibility that “Shadows and Tall Trees” was played this night; if it was (and we aren’t certain of it because of the way the review in question is worded) this would be the second and final performance of the song on the tour, and the only time the song is known to have been played after the release of Boy. By 28 November it is the B-set that is still being played with “I Will Follow” closing the main set and an encore with repeats of “11 O’Clock”, “The Ocean”, and the final known performance of “Father is an Elephant”. Elements of this song would later make their way into the October track “Rejoice”.
It is not until U2’s first concert in the US that we see more changes in the set. We need to say here that while U2 often headlined on the first leg, on this second leg they were usually the support act and so their sets were somewhat shorter. This first night is closer in format to the A-set of the early tour with “11 O’Clock” opening, but we believe that this night’s entry is incomplete. That aside, “Another Time, Another Place” remains in the set over “A Day Without Me”, “The Ocean” now slots in between “Twilight” and “Stories For Boys” while “I Will Follow” closes the main set. “Out of Control” is documented for the first time in a while though it now opens the encore. 7 December is an unusual night in that U2 play a double-header at the same venue. Their two sets differ somewhat, but as we consider this rare event more of an aberration than a standard tour performance we won’t go into details and let you compare the two yourselves: Set One & Set Two.
On 18 December in Galway, “Boy/Girl” and “Stories For Boys” have joined “Out of Control” in the encore. U2’s next concert a month later in Belfast sees “A Day Without Me” return for just the fourth time since it was bumped by “Another Time, Another Place”, though it is now in the encore. It will remain absent from the set for another two months.
So to summarize the overall changes so far from the beginning of the first leg to the beginning of the third leg, “The Ocean” has been introduced as a regular concert opener and sometimes closer. “A Day Without Me” has been swapped out for “Another Time, Another Place”, and “The Cry” leads into “The Electric Co.” on a near-nightly basis. “Twilight” and “I Will Follow” have both moved to the tail end of the main set, “Boy/Girl” has been largely dropped, and the encore (when there is one) consists of the repeated songs and sometimes “Out of Control”, which does not have a permanent position in the set. Occasional experiments such as “Shadows and Tall Trees” and “Father is an Elephant” have seemingly not worked out and been dropped after a handful of renditions.
And this is the way it stays until mid-March 1981, partway through the fourth leg. Out of the sets we know in that time period only the second show in a doubleheader at the Paradise in Boston features anything different. But on 15 March there are several notable changes made to U2’s set. “Twilight” and “I Will Follow” both move from the end of the main set to the very beginning with only “The Ocean” appearing in front of them. “Touch” is dropped from the set and will not be played again for another two months near the end of the tour. This night also marks the return of both “Boy/Girl” and “A Day Without Me” to a permanent position in the set for the first time since October 1980, the latter being played in the encore. The end of the main set reverts to the earliest sequence of “Stories For Boys”, “Boy/Girl”, and “Out of Control”; so far as we can tell, it remains this way for the rest of the tour with “Control” finally being played regularly.
Occasionally the set has some minor differences with one song or another being dropped for a night or the encore having a different number of songs in it. As of early April, “11 O’Clock Tick Tock” moves back to second in the set while “Twilight” is dropped for several shows. The encore appears to have stabilized at four songs with “A Day Without Me” being the only non-repeated song to appear in it. By 11 April, “Twilight” has been re-added, this time closing the main set. And things stay that way for another week when U2 choose to debut a brand new unreleased song, “I Fall Down”.
It may seem strange for the band to debut a song from October on the Boy Tour, but the unique thing about this time in U2’s history is that they would sometimes bring material they were still working on to the stage and actively develop it during their concerts. “Father is an Elephant” may not have worked out for them, but “I Fall Down” seems to be something they are happy with as it remains in the set for the rest of the fourth leg. It is fascinating to hear how “I Fall Down” changed night-to-night and listen to the band creating a future album track in real time.
On to May and “I Fall Down” has been moved from mid-set to near the beginning, now being played fourth. “Touch” rejoins after a two-month gap and appears at most of the following concerts where we know the set. “Twilight” has now been moved to the encore, which fluctuates in the number and order of songs between concerts. Things remain that way until the 27 of that month when another new song is added: “Fire”. It closes the concert that first night but is moved to the main set the night after.
U2 return to Europe for June for three final concerts on the Boy Tour. To keep everyone guessing, the band open their 6 June Aylesbury performance with another new song, “Carry Me Home”, which will be played just one more time before being lost to history. At the Pinkpop Festival the band play a short set almost identical to their earliest of the tour with both October songs missing. They both return for the final night in London and the tour comes to an end quite aptly with the end notes of “I Will Follow”.
Part III coming soon