It always interests me when U2 play a cover song or a snippet. After all, they have a few hundred songs of their own, and they have to practice all those to get going again on a tour. Even a song as simple as October, which they have been playing this tour, but they’re playing it for the first time in a couple of decades. How do they remember how to play the song, does it just come back to them when they start? Or is Bono sitting there listening to a tape, reading the lyrics and slowly getting back into it? Let alone all the little differences in the instrumentation, how to remember which part of the song has what, which instrument, the timing, and so on. And yet they do all that, and then they add in some snippets, and then they do some cover songs. A lot of work.
Snippets may be easy or difficult, depending on how it is done. I go back to Bad in Boston 3 this year, one of my favorites, which had extended sections to honor Lou Reed. Bad is a fairly easy song to snippet in, to speechify in, because it’s possibly for the band to vamp for a long time while Bono talks, and then switch back into song mode. Some of the other songs they add in a little bit at the end, sometimes one of their own songs like Moment Of Surrender, sometimes something completely different. And that’s interesting to me, because I don’t know if Bono practices those, finds them or thinks of them and they rehearse them, or if he is making them up on the spot. The fact that he uses them so regularly in the same spot suggests a lot of pre-thought, or that he is being triggered by the moment.
Then I think about songs that they play seemingly on the spur of the moment, like for example People Have The Power. It was the intro song for the entire tour, but they only played it when Patti Smith was in town. How much practice did they have before that, how much did they already know the song? Remember during Rattle And Hum they were trying to play All Along The Watchtower, and learning it in the van just before the show. I presume they did better than that for Patti Smith, that was much more planned.
But it’s interesting to go down the list and see how many different songs they have played. I think Send In The Clowns has been played the most, but all snippets. Satellite Of Love would win the race for most played song, followed closely by Stand By Me (it gets a little complicated when you’re counting full songs and snippets). But maybe the most interesting thing is that they have played 846 different songs, meaning that three quarters of what they play is not their own. Yes, like I said, a lot of snippets of songs, but still. I don’t know if I could sing a single line from 846 different songs, let alone a whole song. And to be fair, from the listings there are maybe 300 songs that they’ve only played once as a snippet, which maybe I could do that. My mind comes up with a lot of weird stuff.