The Greatest U-2 Performance

Notice that I didn’t say the greatest U-2 song. i could go with “Still Haven’t Found”, or “Pride (in the Name of Love)” or maybe it would have to be the solo Bono “One”.

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But greatest performance? I raise the question of course because there’s a new album out and the boys are trying to recapture the magic they consciously disclaimed when they tried to make a themselves oh-so-contempo with that lame Zoo Station album or whatever its called (okay it had “One” on it but only by accident I suspect).

And there are moments on the new one when they come close (“Moment of Surrender”). But it’s a little too much back to the future, back to and Joshua Tre, their amazing anthemic moment when they captured the pulse of the whole world in a way few bands ever have. But it’s gone. Too late. Unforgettable Fire was replaced by unforgivable pap like “It’s a Beautiful Day” (how could they live with themselves after releasing something that calculated and awful?).

But still I’m grateful to them for some moments, hours, days of ecstatic binge-playing apreciation. And though I’ve never attended a performance (I hate live perforances; hell is othe people) I’ve sure watched

Part of it was the symbolism of doing it at Sun Studios one of the genuine worthy shrines of rock ‘n’ roll. You know about Sun Studios right? It was the magical hole in the wall on Union Avenue in Memhis presided over by the legendary Sam Phillips, the man who discovered Elvis, no more than that, made Elvis .

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It was also the place where Ike Turner recorded what most consider the first ever rock ‘n’ rolll song, that one with Buick in the title. Excuse me rock history geeks, for the temporary memory lapse, rather than stop and google it, I want to tell you about another moment in the history of rock and roll (and Sun Studios) that is less well known: the time I recorded at Sun Studios.

I was down in Memhis doing a piece for the New York Times magazine about the Elvis “Death Week” festivities (you can find the story–“Elvis: Healer”–in The Secret Parts of Fortune), and I got a chance to spend some time at Sam Phillips’ Memphis manse (he’s dead now) and hear him talk about the time Elvis got a boil and thought it was syphillis, a piece of Elvis lore that is not repeated on the Graceland tours.

Anyway, Sam Phillips will someday be recognized as one of the great American musical geniuses, the auteur who brought us Jerry Lee Lewis and Johnny Cash as well as Elvis. And there’s an aura of imortality about Sun Studios, the residue of so much greatness that echoed within its walls.

And if you go to Memphis to visit Graceland, a horrid place with profoundly depressing death-vibes, you have to go to Sun studios to purge them. Which I did and–here’s the great part–I dont’ know if they do it any more, but at the time for fifty bucks they’d let you lay down a vocal track to the backing of a favorite Elvis song using the very same mike Elvis used for his Sun sessions! And that famous echp-delay that Sam hillis ade famous thru Elvis.

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Amazing. I couldn’t resist. I did “Heartbreak Hotel”–to me the quintessential Elvis song, and I totally rocked out (translation: “made a fool of myself”) on the chorus (“make me so lonely, baby…”etc, that when the engineer handed me the tape he squinted at me trying to think of something to say. It would have stumed me. But he came up with something good, that made me feel there was a rationale for the..whatever it was I did.

“You were doin’ a kind of beatnick thing there, huh? he said trying, I think, hard not to laugh.

Yeah, that’s right. I was doin’ a kind of beatnick thing. That’s myt story and I’m sticking to it.

Anyway this self serving digression may explain why I love “Angel of Harlem” to death: it had that raw Sun Studio sound, it’s an insanely beautiful song, sung with love, a tribute to the way Sam Phillips mixed black and white at Sun and came up with something that transcended a mere mixture. Echoed that joyful alchemy, captured the band’s love of America, for the spirit of rock ‘n’ roll. The video has the vibe of the illicit rooftop concert at the end of Let It Be. Spector had his Wall of Sound. “Angel of Harlem” is a cathedral of sound. A cathedral built in a hole in the wall on Union Avenue called Sun Studios. (Did I mention Irecorded there?)

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It’s just magnificient. It must be on Youtube. If anyone finds it I’ll add it to this post. But just check it out and tell me I’m wrong. Or tell me what your U-2 fave is. And forgive them for trying to recapture ast glory in the new album because there isn’t that much as glorious as that past.

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