The Virtual Road: Red Rocks

Original Story by Aaron J. Sams (2021-03-26)

Yesterday was the second episode of U2’s The Virtual Road, a four part series of concerts being streamed on YouTube as part of an ongoing project between YouTube and Universal to refresh U2’s online video properties.

For those who didn’t watch, things started later yesterday. While the Slane Castle show kicked off at 7:30pm GMT, the Red Rocks show started didn’t air until 1:40am GMT. This change in timing meant that many in Europe would be in bed when the show aired live.

The performance started with a short twenty minute performance by Fontaines DC. The band is a Dublin band that formed in 2017. Their performance last night was pre-recorded last November in Dublin’s Kilmainham Gaol. The jail is known to many U2 fans as the location where U2 filmed their music video for “A Celebration” and it was also used in the movie In The Name of the Father. The band has also been recently nominated for the Grammy Award for “Best Rock Album.” U2 used their song “Boys in the Better Land” as one of the pre-show songs throughout the dates on The Joshua Tree Tour 2019 tour. The set here finished with that song. Unlike the previous week, the band was not interviewed, and no member of U2 was part of the festivities yesterday.

At the end of the “opening act” users were directed to a new URL. For many this happened automatically, but there were a number of mentions that this didn’t happen smoothly, and some report having to go back to U2’s YouTube channel to connect to the U2 video. Live At Red Rocks started at 2:00am GMT.

The U2 performance was the “Live At Red Rocks” performance that was released on DVD in 2008. The performance omits “I Fall Down” which was played between “The Electric Co.” and “October” in the original concert. That song has never been released on video, and it has been suggested that the video footage of that song has been damaged. Like the 2008 DVD release, the snippet of “Send in the Clowns” during “The Electric Co.” has been removed. The video maintains it’s original introduction with scenes from Red Rocks the day of the show. Shot for shot, this stream appears to be identical to the 2008 release.

The broadcast was at 1080p, and many viewers commented on how well done the upscaling was done on this particular video. Throughout the live premiere last night, the viewer count hovered just under 8,000 people at any one time. This was well under the 20,000 viewers that the Slane broadcast brought in last week during the premiere. (Slane received just under a half million views by the time the streaming window had ended.) This drop may be partially because of an expected drop off for later shows, but also the time zone chosen means that many viewers from Europe will likely chose to watch the video on repeat instead as it was in the middle of the night. In North America, it was late for viewers on the East Coast, and in Australia and Asia, viewers would have been at work the following morning. The video can be watched for at least 48 hours after the end of the initial airing, and is available now for anyone who wants to watch who were unable to join during the debut of the video:

As well as the live debut of the Live At Red Rocks video, a few items went on sale to support the performance.

A four track EP of live songs, taken from the performance at Red Rocks was released in audio format to streaming services and digital stores such as iTunes and Amazon. The tracks released included “New Year’s Day,” “I Will Follow,” “Sunday Bloody Sunday” and “40.” Of the four tracks, it is the first time that three of these performances have been released in an audio only format. The versions released on the Under A Blood Red Sky album are all taken from a performance in Germany at St Goarhausen. (Only “Party Girl” and “Gloria” were from Denver on the original album.)

The EP was released in high resolution audio at 24-bits and 96 kHz, which is a better sound quality than CD for those who are interested. All four tracks are edited so that they flow together, with no break between songs. However on Qobuz, there is an annoying 0.05s silence at the start of each track, which breaks the illusion of a continuous live feel to the tracks. This silence is not present on other compressed versions of the songs such as those found at iTunes.

Our discography entry for the EP is available here.

Merchandise for the show was also available. These items were available through U2’s USA and UK stores. Two T-shirts are available, one in black which features the image of Bono silhouetted against a red background on the front of the shirt. The other T-shirt is white and features the ‘white flag’ over the title of the video. Also available was a limited screen print which featured the silhouette of Bono which was used on the video cover.

All three items are available now via U2’s website. Last week with the Slane related items, some items were marked unavailable in the US store the day after the video aired, but currently these are now available again, so that looks like an error rather than an actual sell out. Expect some of this merchandise to be limited. When the band streamed the Elevation Live from Boston video last fall, merchandise was only available on the shop for about a week before being removed from the store.

These items are likely pre-orders, but are not marked as such. The Slane related merchandise had been clearly marked as a pre-order and suggested items would ship in early April, although some who have ordered from the UK shop have already started receiving items. With the last streaming offer in October of last year there were numerous reports of delays on items, and some items took months to start shipping, and some fans still have not received those orders. Like the Slane merchandise last week, these new items are not available in U2’s Japan store, and fans in Japan are no longer able to order from the UK and USA store.

Although the full performance will be available on YouTube for only a couple of days, U2 have also added some videos to their YouTube channel permanently. Both “Gloria“ and “11 O’Clock Tick Tock“ can be viewed as standalone videos on the YouTube channel, and these will remain there after the full performance is removed. Later today it is expected that the videos for “Sunday Bloody Sunday” and “I Will Follow” will also be made available at the higher resolution, at the current time the versions available are the previous lower resolution options.

The video refresh project that U2 had been working on for their commercial video clips for songs is taking a break while these live performances are done. That project will resume in mid-April. In the meantime each week the band will add some live videos from these The Virtual Road showings.

The next show will be next Thursday, April 1, 2021. The band will be showing U2’s “PopMart: Live from Mexico City“ that day. “U2 iNNOCENCE + eXPERIENCE“ will be the last video shown ten days later on Saturday, April 10. You can view the upcoming shows via U2’s YouTube account. The times for these upcoming shows have not yet been announced.

We are keeping a summary of these videos in our Video section for those who want more information about each performance.

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