U2 wrapped up their Experience + Innocence tour on Tuesday with a makeup show in Berlin, Germany. Like every other night of the tour, they didn’t play a single song from The Joshua Tree and instead focused on material from Songs of Experience and lesser-known cuts from the Nineties along with a tiny smattering of Eighties hits. “This is for the fans of our more recent work, the more committed fans who really listen to everything and go to everything,” The Edge told Rolling Stone shortly after the tour began. “We feel OK about that.”
Now that it’s done, here’s a look back at 10 great moments from the tour where they delighted the faithful by playing an unexpected song.
U2 set the tone for the entire tour at the opening show in Tulsa, Oklahoma, when they broke out the Achtung Baby deep cut “Acrobat,” a song they’d never done live before despite years of pleading by the fans. They went on to play it every single night of the tour, always preceded by a speech by Bono’s devilish alter-ego Mr. Macphisto. “It is a difficult song to play,” Adam Clayton told Rolling Stone. “It’s an even more difficult song to move to. I think it’s a 6/8 time. There’s a couple of different options for how you count it. I think that sort of, intuitively, we’ve switched between those time signatures a bit, but because we’re not schooled musicians we manage to get away with that. It is unusual, but it really, really works and there’s some great guitar playing by Edge.”
“Staring at the Sun”
Pop may have not generated great reviews when it came out in 1997 and the tour may have played to a few empty seats at stadiums in America, but the album has gained an enormous cult following in recent years even though the band rarely plays the songs in concert. That changed on the American leg of the Experience + Innocence tour when they played a stripped-down “Staring at the Sun” along with images of white supremacists marching in Charlottesville, Virginia. “‘Staring at the Sun’ was always a bit of a personal favorite,” Clayton told Rolling Stone. “It fits into this somewhat dark cloud that is sitting over the world at the moment. Again, in that context it’s less of a hopeful pop song and more of a commentary on where we are.”
“Who’s Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses”
On the opening night of the tour, U2 broke out “Who’s Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses” for the first time in 12 years and then promptly put it away (discounting the special Apollo Theater gig) until the tour landed in Europe four months later. It’s a shame that so few Americans got to hear it since, like every single song from Achtung Baby, it works incredibly well in a live context. The problem seemed to be that they tried it as an encore song in Tulsa, when they discovered later that it makes a bigger impact much better earlier in the show.
“Stay (Faraway, So Close!)”
The most dramatic change to the Experience + Innocence set list came on September 30th at a show in Copenhagen when they suddenly dropped the long Songs of Innocence segment, freeing them up to play a wide cross-section of older material in that slot. That night, they stunned fans by breaking out the Zooropa favorite “Stay (Faraway, So Close!).” Bono and the Edge had played the song acoustically as recently as 2011, but the full band hadn’t touched it since Zoo TV ended in 1993.
By the final shows of the Experience + Innocence tour, it wasn’t uncommon to see U2 play six songs a night from Achtung Baby. That’s half the album. “Zoo Station” was such a pivotal part of the Zoo TV tour that for years it felt like they’d never do it again, but it returned to the mix in 2005 and then came back again this year when the tour came to Germany, the birthplace of Achtung Baby. It worked so well they gave it a permanent spot in the set.
When they ruled out many of their Eighties hits and everything from The Joshua Tree, U2 had to reach deep to find new songs to sprinkle into the show. They found one with “Dirty Day,” a random Zooropa song they did 10 times at the end of Zoo TV and then never touched again. They played it during two Dublin shows and then again at the grand finale in Berlin. Hopefully we’ll see it again at a big Zooropa 30th-anniversary tour in 2023.
“The Unforgettable Fire”
The title track to 1984’s The Unforgettable Fire made a lone appearance on the tour. It was the first show after they dropped the Songs of Innocence material and they were trying to figure out what could plug the hole. As you can see here, “The Unforgettable Fire” worked pretty well, but they quickly decided to devote the entire segment to songs from Achtung Baby and Zooropa.
“The Electric Co.”
Adam Clayton promised Rolling Stone that their SiriusXM show at New York’s Apollo Theater would be a “proper old-school theater show.” That meant breaking out Boy-era tunes like “The Electric Co.” To prep for that, they played the song at Long Island’s Nassau Coliseum days before the Apollo gig and then never did it again. Their instincts seemed to tell them to cut back on the Eighties stuff whenever possible.
“The Fly” was the least successful single off Achtung Baby, probably because it was the first one and people weren’t quite ready for a change that dramatic. They were still thinking they’d get a song like “With or Without You.” But it’s become a mainstay of their live show, making a very welcome return on the European leg of Experience + Innocence. We were joking earlier about a Zooropa 30 tour, but an Achtung Baby 30 tour in 2021 sorta feels like something that might actually happen and then we can finally hear “Love Is Blindness,” “So Cruel” and “Tryin’ to Throw Your Arms Around the World” again. They’re the three holdouts they haven’t done since Zoo TV.
The closest that U2 came to breaking their “No Joshua Tree in 2018″ pledge came on September 21st when they broke out the Joshua Tree B side “Spanish Eyes” at a show in Madrid. It was just the fifth time they’d done it since the Joshua Tree tour in 1987. Four of them came in Spain and one came in Mexico City just last year. Bono seemed a little unsure about doing it this time. “The Edge says he thinks we can pull it off,” Bono said. “We haven’t played it in a very, very long time. [Note: It had actually just been 11 months.] We rehearsed it in the dressing room. The Edge says we can do this. I think. Maybe. OK.”