Finally on DVD: U2's "Under A Blood Red Sky, Live", one of the great rock shows of all time...
U2 Sets The Stage Ablaze at a Rainy Red Rocks Amphitheater Near Denver, 1983
I wasn't at the well-known Concert at Red Rocks, where U2 played on June 5, 1983, which was, coincidentally, my 23rd birthday.
I was at the show about a week later, in Dallas , where U2 played to an UNsold-out 1200 seat theater, located inside -- get this -- a bowling alley. Dallas had a really small "underground" rock scene then, and I saw REM twice, The Pretenders twice, and even Talking Heads at this unlikely venue. "The Bronco Bowl" in Big D's Oak Cliff section, was a small and intimate theater with great sound. The Irish Rockers had never been to Dallas , and had never even had any commercial radio-play there. If you were a North Texan who didn't have MTV by '83, and a lot of people didn't, it was quite likely that you'd still never have heard of U2 at all. Not me, though! Having recently been in college in Rochester , NY , I was very aware of U2, and a very big fan by this point. I had all three of their LPs, including the newly released "War". I would have seen them play at Rochester Institute of Technology in '82 if it hadn't been for a huge exam I had to study for the next day. (Interesting side-note here: That show at R.I.T. was panned in the next morning's Rochester paper, saying that Edge's guitar sounded like a "chainsaw" and Bono was "caterwauling". The reviewer hated them. However, I had one friend that went and said they were fantastic.)
So here was my first chance to see them live, on The War Tour, with 800 other hard-core believers.
Let me say they did not disappoint. In fact, Bono, Edge, Larry and Adam proceeded to perform the greatest rock concert I have ever seen, before or since. And I have seen everybody (including U2 in later years)! The kids ripped my head clean off! Their energy was electric. The sound, the songs, the stage itself, were all ablaze. Bono (with his spiky, blonde-tipped mullet) went as far to the back of the stage as he could get, and ran, full speed ahead, taking a leaping header into the crowd. That's right! Head first, arms out, like diving in to a pool, landing on the shoulders of astonished fans. I kept blinking my eyes, wondering if I had actually just seen it, or had hallucinated the dive. (On the Red Rocks video, by contrast, he falls backwards in to the crowd). At one point he marched up and down the ailses of the place, waving his white flag of Surrender. And surrender we did, to the 23 year old singer in the black t-shirt with the sleeves ripped off. Bono had not yet achieved the God-like and masterful showmanship he would very soon have. At this point, he was flying high on his own energy, like a kid with a brand new rocket-ship. He was always right on the edge of control, at times literally staggering and swaggering, as if drunk on his own power. By the time I saw them again in 1985, at a sold-out 20,000 seat Dallas Reunion Arena, he had learned to channel and control that spirit like a Shaman. At The Bronco Bowl in ‘83, it was already clear that Bono was an amazing and passionate performer, with the bright aura of a future Superstar.
Then there was The Edge! His guitar-playing, all shimmery and majestic, was a total rock revelation for me, myself a young guitarist. Not only was it a completely unique and fresh style, it was huge-sounding. His one guitar filled the theater like a guitar-chestra. I soon went out and bought an analog delay effect like the one he used. Of course my attempts to emulate his sound proved futile.
The girl I took with me was one of those Texans who had never even heard of U2 before that night. On the way out of the show, she thanked me profusely for introducing her to the incredible Irish Band. I haven't seen her since that night, nor do I remember her name, but I'll bet all these years later she's still telling people, "I saw U2 before they were famous!"
So, why do I post this review of "Under a Blood Red Sky", being that I was not at Red Rocks? Well, it's very fortunate for the world of rock music, and U2 fans especially, that it was filmed. Back in '83, I was really excited when I heard the film was coming out, and that indeed it was shot within days of the show I saw. It captures U2 on the rise to stardom, and why they deservedly became among the greatest bands in history. Back then I bought the 12" record and the VHS video as soon as they came out.
Is Red Rocks as good as the Dallas show I saw? No. It's actually tamer by comparison. (Too bad they didn't film THAT one!). But will Red Rocks mesmerize you? Will it thrill you? Will it inspire you?
Might it be the best rock show you've ever seen?
Under A Blood Red Sky, U2 Live at Red Rocks CD and DVD Set at Amazon.com
U2's official web-site features the long-awaited DVD Release of "Under A Blood Red Sky"
Dallas Business Journal, 2003: Bronco Bowl site sold to Home Depot, facility to be razed
Bronco Bowl Memories Web-Site