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Axver's Tour Predictions: Songs of Innocence

Songs of Innocence has been out for less than a week and already discussion among fans has turned to which songs will be played live. Here, I am going to attempt to make some predictions of what we might see in concert. If I’m lucky these will make me look clever sometime next year but instead they will probably be wildly off-base. There are a couple of factors that make predictions particularly difficult:

1. Bono has alluded to a second album, Songs of Experience. If it actually comes out before the tour begins, that will complicate any predictions below as there will be even more new songs competing for very limited setlist space. U2 aren’t getting younger and their shows are unlikely to get any longer than the standard 22-24 song length. So if a new album appears, many of the predicted percentages below will be cut severely. (The fact Bono has mentioned Songs of Experience in an official U2.com announcement suggests he is quite serious and that maybe, just maybe, the rest of the band are cool with him blabbing about it, unlike past promises that have been downplayed by other members.)

2. Before the last three albums were released, U2 had played a number of songs live at promotional appearances, not just the lead single. That gave us some good insight into what other songs might become singles and/or live staples, even before we heard the whole album. This time? The situation is reversed – we have heard the whole album, but only one song has been played live.

So you are more than welcome to come back after the first show of the tour and say “hey Ax, you were soooo wrong”, but be nice and keep the above caveats in mind. I’m sure I will return to shake my head and wonder what I was thinking – or maybe to fistpump the air and proclaim myself a prophet.

The Miracle (Of Joey Ramone)
Likelihood: 100%
This song is guaranteed to be performed live, and often. The band are clearly confident in it, as evinced by its performance at the Apple launch. It also has history on its side. The opening track from every U2 album has been performed live – only Zooropa failed to become a regular. Furthermore, the lead single of every U2 album has been a live lock for that album’s tour. The last time a lead single missed a single show of its debut tour was when Desire was omitted from one Lovetown setlist on 28 September 1989.

Every Breaking Wave
Likelihood: 100%
This one has already been played live. I am in no doubt that it will be back, and will probably be a single. It can be done both in its new full arrangement, or in a more stripped down version if the band want a mid-show breather or struggle to nail the Songs of Innocence arrangement.

California (There Is No End to Love)
Likelihood: 70%
I’ll be honest here: I have a hard time being objective because I simply hate this song’s intro, the worst since “Red Light” (sorry, fans). However, the song improves from there. I’m not sure if it would be a tour-long staple of the setlists, but you just know it will probably be played in California and the rest of a North American leg.

Song For Someone
Likelihood: 75%
If U2 want to use a new song for a mid-set slower moment with sing-along potential, this is the track I’d back them to choose. It can't be as awkward as "Unknown Caller" was, can it?

Iris (Hold Me Close)
Likelihood: 50%
I’m really in two minds about this one. On the one hand, will Bono find it too personal to perform every night? On the other hand, will it be the intensely emotional mid-show moment that “Sometimes You Can’t Make It On Your Own” was on Vertigo? I’m hedging my bets with a 50% likelihood.

Likelihood: 95%
In a sense this song has already been played – it has some elements of “Glastonbury”. It seems impeccably suited to being early in the main set; some posters on Interference have made a good case for it as a potential opener. Playing it early would not only energise the crowd, but act as a good showpiece for the new material.

Raised By Wolves
Likelihood: 60%
I feel like this song has great potential to fit in with some of the band’s older, politically charged material late in the main set. Just imagine the crowd belting out “raised! by! wolves!” I’m sure it would get more audience participation than some of the aforementioned contrived attempts to conjure a singalong during “Unknown Caller”! I just worry the band will either fail to see the potential in the song for this role, or that it will simply get squeezed out by space constraints. After all, if it comes down to this song or “Sunday Bloody Sunday”, you know they’ll probably pick the big hit.

Cedarwood Road
Likelihood: 60%
I’m already a big champion for this song and Bono’s very passionate vocals at the end. However, I have to be realistic. If “The Miracle” and “Volcano” are already in the set, and space is at a premium, is there room for a third brand new rocker? This song could very effectively fill the role taken by “No Line on the Horizon” on the 360 Tour: the non-single new album rocker that really energises the audience within the first three or four tracks. If the tour is in arenas, I think it has a better chance of being included on a rotational basis.

Sleep Like a Baby Tonight
Likelihood: 20%
If U2 learnt anything from the poor reception that the No Line on the Horizon songs received in 2009-11, it is that new material needs to grab attention immediately. My suspicion is that “Sleep Like a Baby Tonight” will remain among serious fans a popular album track with a distinctive atmosphere, rather than a live feature. It’s just a bit too slow, a bit too hard to do properly (especially in a stadium), and can Bono nail the falsetto every night? On the other hand, this song’s one real chance at becoming a regular concert feature is that on recent tours, Bono has wanted to prove he’s still got it as a singer with a showstopping moment – usually “Sometimes You Can’t Make It On Your Own” and “Miss Sarajevo”. This song’s falsetto section could offer that.

This Is Where You Can Reach Me Now
Likelihood: 40%
This song may just get lost. The second halves of U2’s albums usually fail to get as much play as the first halves, and as solid as this song may be, it probably doesn’t do or offer anything distinctive enough to demand it receive a regular setlist spot. On an arena tour it could feature occasionally, especially in cities with multiple night stands. It could potentially rotate with “Cedarwood Road”.

The Troubles
Likelihood: 25%
I hate to predict this one so low. Basically I see only two options for this song. Option 1, which I perceive as most likely: the band decide that without Lykke Li it’s not the same and don’t play it, except for special appearances with Lykke Li or other guests. Option 2, which I hope is what actually happens: they find a solution to not having Lykke Li every night (her vocals via tape? Bono or Edge sing them? She tours with them as the opener a la BB King on Lovetown?) and this song becomes a centrepiece late in the set, with Edge extending it a la “Love Is Blindness”. Fingers crossed.

Yes, my likelihood predictions plummet for the second half. This should not be a surprise. The second half may be popular – it is certainly earning its keep on fan communities such as Interference – but U2 almost always draw more heavily from the first half of an album. For example, the songs from the first side of The Joshua Tree have been performed 3,029 times; the songs from the second side can only claim 372 performances. Closer to an even record is Achtung Baby, with 1,732 performances of songs from its first side and 1,307 from its second side. The solitary exception to this rule is Pop: 442 for the first side, 461 for the second (this is counting the 22 performances of an abbreviated, stripped down “If God Will Send His Angels” for the first side and 45 performances of an abbreviated, stripped down “Wake Up Dead Man”; remove them and the first side wins narrowly). I do not see this pattern changing, so get ready for the band to draw more heavily on the first side of Songs of Innocence.

Up next: over the coming days I will assess the likelihood of live performances from the rest of U2’s discography. That means you get even more chances to call me out as a false prophet!

Posted on by Axver

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