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By the time of their third album, 1983's War, U2 had honed their chops as a live band to the point of being a damned formidable one. I saw U2 that year for the first time on back to back nights during their US tour in support of War. The shows took place in two venues that couldn't have been more different in size, shape, and scope.
The first of these was a blistering performance before a capacity crowd at Seattle's 3000 seat Paramount Theatre. This was also where I first became aware of Bono's unique ability to connect with a crowd on a personal level. That night, Bono effectively erased any barriers between audience and performer, allowing the crowd to carry him through on their collective backs.
Later that night, I hopped a plane to catch U2 the next day at California's 1983 US Festival, where the young band stole the show on a day where no less than David Bowie, The Pretenders, and Stevie Nicks also performed before something like half a million people. The set was much the same as the one they had performed the previous night at the Paramount, although they threw in cover versions of the Beatles' "Dear Prudence" and Echo & The Bunnymen's "The Cutter" in the encores.
Bono didn't steal his way into the audience for any crowd-surfing on this night. Instead, he chose to scale the huge lighting towers on the massive festival stage all the way to the very top, waving a victory flag once he made it. It was an amazing, death-defying sort of sight to behold. I've also heard that it scared the living shit out of his fellow band members, especially the Edge. The thing is, back then U2 were still first and foremost a rock band, and were rapidly turning into a great one at that.
Surprisingly, the deluxe treatment of 1983's War is the least satisfying of the three remastered U2 reissues. I say surprising, because in my opinion War was really U2's first big breakout record. No, it didn't have quite the same impact as the mega-selling Joshua Tree did, but it certainly helped to pave the way for that breakthrough, being responsible for first moving the band out of theatres and into arenas as it was. Of the entire U2 catalog, War is also arguably the band's best out and out rock album.
If Boy introduced the world to these angry and hungry young men, and October seemed to be a somewhat tentative sounding follow-up, War showed U2 as a newly energized band armed and ready to take on the world. The first time I heard "New Years Day" and "Sunday Bloody Sunday," there was absolutely no question in my mind that U2 was here to stay.
The band hadn't just polished its sound, but refined its message as well. On this album, U2 was, for the first time really, operating as a finely tuned, well greased machine, with a little something extra in the engine.
So don’t get me wrong. All of those songs – “New Years Day, ”Sunday Bloody Sunday” and the rest – sound just as good, if not better than on the original War album here. Where the deluxe edition falters is in the extras. More than half of the bonus disc is taken up by the 12" dance remixes of songs like "New Years Day" and "Two Hearts Beat As One." Extended dance versions were of course all the rage at the time. Hearing them now, it's easy to see how they would have worked in an eighties New Wave sort of disco setting, but for that same reason they just sound terribly dated here.
The only thing that really saves the bonus disc is the inclusion of live versions of "Fire" and "I Threw A Brick Through A Window/A Day Without Me" and a couple of rarities like "Treasure (Whatever Happened To Pete The Chop)" and "Endless Deep."
The packaging here also once again gets an A+. The digital remastering job on the War album proper likewise gets high marks, as it beautifully captures what might be U2’s last moments as merely a great rock band, before morphing into, well you know, U2.
I just wish the bonus disc was a little less heavy on the dance remixes, where rare studio or even live tracks would have been much so more satisfying and revealing.
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