The History Mix: Live Streams of U2 Concerts
Original Story by Aaron J. Sams (2016-02-22)
Over the years, U2 has dabbled with streaming full length audio concerts in a variety of formats. Sticking their toe in the water to see what works and what does not perhaps, but it has given us a few things to catalog which don’t have a proper home in the discography at this time. The current tour saw U2 streaming a small portion of each show using the Meerkat platform. But these were just individual songs. And U2 fans still long for the day we could listen along, or even watch along at home, every night of the tour.
Looking back, the first full length stream that we were able to identify was the July 2, 1997 concert in Foxboro, just outside of Boston. This first stream was a stretch for the band, as they hopped right over streaming audio and attempted to stream video to the internet through their popmart.msn.com website that preceded u2.com. Logging in viewers were able to see multiple camera choices that they could watch, adding an interactive element to the whole stream. The press release for the concert suggested that fans would be able to control the camera angles and to zoom in and out. The webcast was fraught with difficulties as most users connections at home were not robust enough to keep up with the streaming video, and most reported difficulty connecting to anything after “Pride (In the Name of Love)” was performed, eight songs in. The concert was the closing night of the first leg of the PopMart tour. They would use similar technology again for their homecoming show in Dublin on August 31, 1997, with video cams that could zoom in and out on the request of users.
September 23, 1997 was a special show for the band. They kept their promise, and took their tour to Sarajevo. The entire show was broadcast on Radio worldwide on Westwood One, and also was streamed online for those who would want to listen. Users of Real Audio were able to tune in and listen to the band perform in Sarajevo from half a world away. Not only did U2 keep their promise to return to Sarajevo, they brought the world with them. The Sarajevo broadcast was an audio stream, and no video was streamed.
In 2000, still interested in the streaming technology, and perhaps looking to try out ideas for their upcoming tour, used a platform at burst.com to stream the PopMart Mexico video. The band was given their own access point at u2.burst.com, and on June 8th, 2000 visitors to that site were able to stream the Mexico video that had previously been released on VHS. The Edge during promotion of this event spoke about streaming and claimed, “there was technology available that could match the tour’s cutting-edge visual staging and audio dynamic.”
In 2001, U2 would revisit live streaming during their Notre Dame concert that opened the third leg of the Elevation tour. The concert on October 10, 2001 saw U2 playing one of the smaller venues on the Elevation tour at Notre Dame University in South Bend, Indiana, and once again the focus was on streaming video from the concert. This time U2 partnered with Real Audio and Tiscali to broadcast the webcast. The entire webcast was produced by Sebastian Clayton, better known as Adam’s brother. U2.com in the days following the broadcast claimed a global audience of 5 million viewers. The concert was archived, and was made available on demand to members of U2.com who registered prior to the webcast, subscribers to the Tiscali internet service, and holders of the Real Gold Pass on the Real Audio software. The concert was available both at real.com and at U2.com, as well as through u2.tiscali.com. The rebroadcasts of the event were available for 21 days after the initial broadcast.
The next flurry of activity on the streaming front came during the U2360° tour. A number of streaming ventures were undertaken during and after that tour. The first was just days after they had streamed their London appearances on radio, when they did an audio stream from Sheffield UK on August 18, 2009. This was the last night of the first leg of the U2360° tour, and was streamed in conjunction with Bauer Radio Network. There was no video component to this stream. A few months later, U2 would again try video, when they teamed with YouTube to broadcast their October 25, 2009 concert from Pasadena California. That stream broke records according to U2.com with 10 million streams being viewed in 188 countries. At the time it was listed as the largest streaming event in YouTube’s history. For a number of days after the broadcast, the streams were available to view through YouTube. This was the concert that was eventually released on home video from the U2360° tour.
On February 18, 2011, U2.com hosted another audio streaming session, this time live audio from U2’s performance in Cape Town. The announcement on U2.com was simple, “People across Africa can listen in to a live audio stream of the band’s show in Cape Town – and on U2.com we’ll be hosting the live audio for our subscribers across the world.” The broadcast was streamed through various African internet providers and radio stations. On April 13, 2011, another concert was streamed, this time the final show in Brazil. Again, the streaming was done to local radio websites, as well as to subscribers of U2.com. This Brazilian show was not just streamed live, U2.com also repeated the ability to listen to this show later on as a special listening session for U2.com members.
One final show was streamed live from the U2360° tour, bringing the total number of streamed shows to five. This time out they streamed the concert from Montreal on July 9, 2011. This stream featured three songs streamed for any registered user of U2.com, and the full concert streamed for subscribers of U2.com. Again, it was an audio stream, and no video was broadcast to the internet from this concert. A petition by fans to have the final U2360° show from Moncton, NB streamed fell on deaf ears, and the stream of Montreal was the final one for that tour.
After many streaming shows at the U2360° tour, fans looked forward to the newest tour, hoping to have some similar experiences. However it seems that U2 chose to focus on streaming individual songs through Meerkat, tying into their own video screen in the arena for a part of the performance, rather than streaming entire concerts online. The sole exception through U2.com was on December 19, 2015, when U2.com streamed the audio from the concert filmed for HBO. This was a recording of the December 9, 2015 concert, and it was not streamed live, but instead aired ten days later. In this case the stream was just for U2.com subscribers. Although that was the only full stream through U2.com, a smaller stream was done with part of the opening show in Vancouver, BC being streamed through websites of radio stations associated with iHeart Radio. Only a few songs were broadcast, but it was one of the few official streams of multiple songs from the entire tour.
A number of other performances have streamed over the years, featuring a member or two of U2 doing their own solo stuff. Bono was a main participant and organizer of NetAid in 1999 which was streamed online. Both Bono and The Edge participated in the 46664 concerts in South Africa in 2003 which were later released. And in 2011 yahoo.com streamed Bono and The Edge performing at the Hollywood Bowl in California for the Decade of Difference concert for the William J. Clinton foundation.
The demand to follow along with a live performance from home is there. Fans have streamed entire shows using Mixlr, Periscope, Meerkat and other apps. And one just needs to join the social streams associated with this streaming activity to see how popular it is and how some look forward to logging in each night of the tour. We’ve come a long way since the days when your only way to hear a concert was to hope a friend would phone you from inside, or waiting for one of these not so frequent streams.
(Many thanks to Tim aka u2expert for his help with this article. If anyone has any further information on streams we may have missed, we have a topic in our forum to discuss, or you can contact us directly.)