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Another Time, Another Place: The Boy Tour Retrospective, Part IV

Read from the start

So now we know what the complete concerts looked like and we’ve made some guesses based on that. But what does it look like when we add in the blanks from incomplete and unknown concerts? Time to see what we are up against in our attempt to fill them all in.


  • A C means that the set is complete;
  • An * means that we think the set is complete, but there may have been an encore;
  • An I means the set we know is incomplete;
  • A U means that the setlist is entirely unknown;


  • A green box means the song was definitely played that night;
  • A red box means we are certain the song was not played that night;
  • A white box means that we do not know if the song was played;
  • A solid box means that we know nothing about what was played

This legend probably seems a lot more confusing than it actually is; white boxes are only alongside incomplete sets and solid boxes are only along unknown sets. The rest is the same as the complete charts. With the full picture the patterns become clearer as the tour progresses and more sets are known/documented.

Click the images to enlarge.

Leg One (first half)

Leg One (second half)


Leg Two


Leg Three


Leg Four (first half)


Leg Four (second half)


Leg Five



Oof, that’s a lot of blank boxes. We weren’t kidding when we said the beginning of the tour had a lot of unknowns. What is really valuable here are the 38 incomplete setlists; adding them to our completed count means that we know 98 of the 155 Boy Tour concerts to at least some extent. That’s just over 63% - still well below the acceptable threshold for any data analysts reading this, but far better than the 38% we calculated earlier.

As an aside, 31 of the 57 unknown sets are from the first leg. 57 is also the number of concerts on the first leg, meaning that in an alternate universe the entire first leg is completely unknown and every concert after has at least some of the set known to their U2 fandom equivalent. Cool, huh?

Anyways, now we have two things left to do. First, let’s add in the patterns we’ve already established by comparing the complete sets. Second, as we said way back in the introduction, we’re going to make an assumption based on U2’s post-Boy Tour touring habits. To quote ourselves in Part II:  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… 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?

Let’s give this statement some context, starting from the first tour for which we know every set, The Joshua Tree Tour:



Set length

# songs played every night

# songs played 90%+

# songs played 75%+

Joshua Tree ’87



































i + e





Joshua Tree ’17





e + i*





Joshua Tree ’19





*Does not include the interrupted Berlin concert


Generally speaking, U2 develop a solid base set where designated rotational songs are added or subtracted as the tour progresses. The number of songs performed every night may not be especially high at first glance, but the real key columns are the set length and the number of songs played at 75% or more concerts. To use the lowest number: if you went to four Vertigo concerts you would likely see the same 12 songs at three of them, in a set between 20 and 26 songs long.

Now let’s go back to the Boy Tour. So far as we know, complete sets varied between 9 and 19 songs. This was generally weighted more towards the lower end of that range; taking the song count from every known complete set we get a rounded average of 15 songs a night.

Our tour page lists 24 different songs that we know were played. We’ve already dismissed “Interview” and “Happy Birthday” which reduces our count to 22. Now remove the covers, which were unlikely to be played at more than one or two concerts each, and “Carry Me Home”, which we are certain did not have more than two performances at the very end of the tour, and our count is down to 19. Then we’ll take out the October duo, which appeared only a handful of times near the end of the tour, and “Shadows and Tall Trees”, which was likely dropped within the first five concerts.

This gives us a count of 16 songs that U2 were likely to have chosen from to fill an average set length of 15 songs. Now let’s overlay our complete set chart, which establishes both the length of the set (shorter near the start, longer near the end) as well as the pattern of rotation that certain songs went through. Yellow boxes are the result of our analysis based on the band’s touring patterns, and illustrate our attempt to fill in the missing blanks in this portion of U2’s history.

Keep in mind that our goal is to try and fill in the blanks of what was played when; it is not to determine what sets were on specific nights. If you see “Shadows and Tall Trees” highlighted with a yellow box it does not mean we think it was played on that night specifically, but we do believe it was likely performed in the vicinity of that date. We aren’t looking to nail down nightly set changes, we are trying to come up with figures for the Boy Tour as a whole. As we’ve said several times, these are all estimates. But we’ve shown you our research and the groundwork we used to paint this portrait; here are our conclusions:


Leg One

We’ve probably already mentioned this but the first leg of the tour is the hardest to pin down because of the high number of unknown and incomplete concerts. “Out of Control” and “Boy/Girl” in particular are difficult to determine, especially in the second half of the leg where they both have a mix of green and red among a sea of unknowns. The first half is thankfully somewhat easier as there is only one complete set where each song is known to have not been played, and it happens to be the shortest concert of the tour at only nine songs. Taking U2’s concert trends into account, we believe that both songs were performed in all of the other sets in that first half. We think the same is true of “Touch” and “Things to Make and Do”.

We need to look back at our complete set chart to try and figure out the second half. Here we see a longish streak of red for “Out of Control” spanning from Amsterdam to Birmingham. The incomplete chart shows just two known performances in that same span. We think it is likely that it was played at more shows than it was not, but U2 may have hit a stumbling block in November when they experimented with “Stories For Boys” as the opener, as “Control” began missing more sets. The same seems true for “Boy/Girl”. Our best guess is that they both missed a handful of shows at this time, and “Boy/Girl” in particular was dropped towards the end of the leg.

“Another Time, Another Place” and “The Cry” both debuted on 11 November 1980 in Canterbury. However, the last (mostly) complete set we know of prior to this dates to almost a month earlier on 16 October. Between the two dates there are 6 completely blank slates and just one partially known set, so the number of renditions could vary by up to 7 counts each on that side of their debut. We think “Another Time” missed just three concerts after its tour debut; on all occasions “A Day Without Me” was performed instead. “The Cry” missed just one night that we know of, the set immediately after it debuted, and we think it was played at every subsequent concert for the duration of the tour.

“Father is an Elephant” is another difficult one to place. It could theoretically have debuted as early as Brussels, but we consider this unlikely. We mentioned (a long time ago) that we would be more conservative in our estimates where there is uncertainty, so we are retaining its first performance as Canterbury. U2 seem to have heard some promise in the song as it was played twice more that we know of over the next 17 days, and even recorded it for an (unaired) BBC Radio session. Factoring this session in, we think it may have been played in around half of the sets in that span.

The last song with some real uncertainty in the first leg is “Shadows and Tall Trees”. It is unlikely that it was played just once and dropped, especially with so few songs to pick from. It was clearly missing at Scarborough and we believe that was the point where the band dropped it. We’ve given it a total of four performances in that early stage before they decided it didn’t work in the set.


Leg Two

The second leg of the tour had some of the shortest complete sets we know of, between 10 and 12 songs. What we are looking for here is consistency which means we are looking at the New York and Boston nights (Washington was a double-header and so they could afford to play around a little more on that night).  “The Ocean” struggled to find a slot, which makes sense with the limited time U2 had to play with on a night. We think it was played perhaps once more after that first night. “Boy/Girl” was not performed at all and the only set containing “Touch” was that doubleheader.

“Out of Control” found a home in the encore and was played every night; it is possible it missed Toronto, as we know a John Lennon cover was performed that night, but we think it is more likely that “11 O’Clock Tick Tock” was performed just once that night instead of twice. “Twilight” only missed one set in the doubleheader, which leaves “Stories For Boys” and “Things to Make and Do” as the last two songs to figure out. We think U2 might have used this slot as a rotation, as on this leg when one was played the other was not and they had a similar location in the set.


Leg Three

Quite fortunately, the third leg is relatively easy to pin down. What really helps here is the string of four complete concerts from Belfast to Manchester. “Stories For Boys”, “Out of Control”, “Another Time Another Place”, and “Touch” all missed just one or two nights but the sea of green around them suggests they didn’t miss any others. The same can’t be said for “Boy/Girl” or “A Day Without Me”; although both returned to the set at the start of the leg the long column of red underneath each leads us to think that the band still couldn’t find a proper home for them.


Leg Four


You’ve probably noticed that our discussions of each tour leg are getting rather short. No, it’s not because we are being lazy. It’s partly because the first leg had to lay the groundwork but also because as the tour goes on sets are better documented, making it easier to fill in those blanks and patterns.

What first jumped out at us is that “Boy/Girl” and “Touch” swapped spots. After missing ten of the first eleven concerts this leg “Boy/Girl” finally got a permanent spot in the set and would not miss any other dates. “Touch” was the exact opposite, being dropped from the set entirely save a handful of nights at the end of the leg.

“Twilight” had two brief periods where it missed the set several nights running but was re-established when U2 elected to try it in the encore. The encore was also the saving grace for “A Day Without Me”, returning to a regular set position for the first time since the first leg. We also know the debuts for the October duo, and we think they were played every night after their introductions (save for Asbury Park). Aside from that “The Ocean” and “Things to Make and Do” both missed a single night each, and the rest is self-evident.


Leg Five

With only one incomplete concert (and even then it is just the encore we are unsure of) the fifth leg is by far the easiest to fill in. We think “The Ocean” and “Twilight” are likely to have joined the encore, an established position for both, but that “A Day Without Me” was not played.

Read Part V

Posted on by Matkin

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