A chronology of U2's Bad, an iconic live song
Ask a U2 fan to name U2's most iconic live songs and chances are that Bad will feature heavily. I went back through time and listened to nearly every live performance of Bad to try to understand how this song became so special. Along the way I kept a list of the best performances, speeches, snippets, collaborations and much more. This article is my journey in writing. Enjoy!
Listening to the same song hundreds of times
Friends called me crazy when I shared my intention of listening to every live performance of Bad, knowing there are about 500 of them. They predicted that I would get sick of the song along the way. But I did not. I still listen to Bad every few days and still I would have the song top my list of requests for the next U2 show. The song got to me and will probably never let me go. For me this song is on another level and the most iconic live song any artist has ever performed. Since I realise that this chronology is as subjective as it can get let me list the elements that for me make a great live performance of Bad so you understand my decision making: speech, snippets, emotion, energy.
TL;DR - The essential package
My personal top five in chronological order:
1985-04-15 - East Rutherford ("18 min, Springsteen speech, sing-along, wow")
1987-05-27 - Rome ("Crazy emotions, hitting all high notes, great speech")
2005-11-26 - Montreal ("With Daniel Lanois, great VERY long The Maker snippet")
2017-07-15 - Rome ("Amazing speech, best vocal and emotional Heroes")
2017-10-21 - Sao Paulo ("Incredibly powerful Waters of March snippet, 2 min!")
Read on for a longer list of each category and a list of must-hear performances per tour along with videos and audio.
The Unforgettable Fire Tour (1984-1985)
To date Bad has been performed 549 times. It all started on 18 October 1984 in Lyon, France. About 3 weeks later Bono started the song singing Time is on my side, the very first snippet on record. The first of many to come.
"I wrote this song for a friend of mine and then I found out I wrote it for myself, because you can be addicted to anything" - Bono, 1984
"Bad fails to start, so Bono starts telling jokes: 'A sandwich walked into a bar', even inviting fans in the audience to tell jokes as he ran out of them"
The list of key performances for The Unforgettable Fire tour ends with the key career performance of Bad, the one played at Live Aid. Not only was it one of the key moments for U2 but it also was the start of the live journey of Bad, the start of it becoming an epic live song.
1984-11-05 - Edinburgh ("Wonderful introduction of 2 minutes, take your time Edge")
1984-11-15 - London ("Emotional ending")
1985-02-05 - Bologna ("Snippet extravaganza, song lasting 12 minutes")
1985-03-04 - Los Angeles ("Four snippets, Norwegian Wood to start, 11 minutes")
1985-03-08 - Daly City ("Long singalong at the end, 'let it go'")
1985-03-27 - Montreal ("Long musical intro, takes a minute to start")
1985-04-15 - East Rutherford ("18 min, Springsteen speech, sing-along, wow")
1985-04-23 - Hartford ("15 minutes, great Candle In The Wind snippet")
1985-05-26 - Stuttgart ("15 minutes, Bono kept on singing snippets")
1985-06-22 - Millton Keynes ("Technical failures, Bono telling jokes, crazy")
1985-07-13 - London - Live Aid 🎥 ("key career performance")
Conspiracy Of Hope Tour (1986)
Bad on the Conspiracy of Hope tour was very similar to The Unforgettable Fire tour. The only real addition for this tour was playing a snippet Biko, a song by Peter Gabriel snippeted at 5 shows. A highlight performance took place (again) in East Rutherford on 15 June 1986.
1986-06-15 - East Rutherford ("Superb vocal performance, high energy")
The Joshua Tree Tour (1987)
Bad remained a setlist regular during The Joshua Tree tour, played at 108 of the 109 shows in 1987. In general Bad versions in 1987 were a little shorter in duration than before, clocking in at 7 to 9 minutes. There were also very few speeches or song introductions. If at all Bono mentioned something along the lines of "song about drugs, song about our city". Speeches during Bad on this tour were made part of the musical intro of the song rather than before the song and without music as done prior to The Joshua Tree tour.
One of my favourite snippets sung in Bad is Candle In The Wind, only snippeted at 21 shows of which 7 were during The Joshua Tree tour. It was hard for me to not include a performance in the list of key performances with Candle In The Wind.
1987-04-04 - Tempe ("11 minutes, 5 snippets, Candle In The Wind, great audio")
1987-04-22 - Los Angeles ("Powerful snippets, energy, chanting at the end")
1987-05-09 - Hartford ("10 min, improv. Shine Like Stars Hollywood snippet")
1987-05-27 - Rome ("Crazy emotions, hitting all high notes, great speech")
1987-07-01 - Leeds ("Bono kept on singing 'Wide awake.. wide awake!!')
1987-10-25 - St. Louis ("Lots of improvisation, great Wild Side snippet")
Bad was played 36 times during the 47 shows of the Lovetown tour. The length of the live performance was similar to the versions played in 1987 albeit a little shorter generally running 7 to 8 minutes. Musically the versions were very similar along with similar snippets. There was no speech part of the Bad performances in 1989 and 1990. One new thing introduced during Lovetown was a (improvised) snippet of "Wanna dance with you" or something similar to invite the audience to dance along, occasionally even inviting a fan on stage to dance with Bono.
1989-10-02 - Brisbane ("Improv. about Australia, girl dancing on stage")
1989-10-27 - Adelaide ("Struggling with voice, lots of improvisations")
1989-11-08 - Wellington ("Great AIWIY & Norwegian Wood snippets")
1989-12-11 - Paris ("Great Sweetest Thing snippet, intro & high energy")
1990-01-10 - Rotterdam ("Superb singalongs, AIWIY snippet, great quality")
Zoo TV Tour (1992-1993)
While not played as a regular each night, Bad was still played at 104 of the 156 Zoo TV concerts, a respectable two-third of all shows. The duration of each performance was generally 5 to 7 minutes, further shortened from previous tours. Usually the song would segue into Bullet The Blue Sky, a practice repeated (with Streets) on the Elevation Tour. The 1992 performances had a regular snippet of Fool To Cry, while other performances often included a snippet (or rather more a medley) of All I Want Is You. Another thing that was telling for the Bad's during Zoo TV is that Bono often let the crowd sing along to the "let it go" parts.
In 1993 the famous uplink with Sarajevo started preceding the performances of Bad before the song was winded down for the tour with two performances in Dublin in 1993 during the Zooropa leg.
1992-02-29 - Lakeland ("Great sing-along to the 'oh oh oh' part")
1992-03-30 - Minneapolis ("Superb vocal performance & sing-along, high energy")
1992-05-09 - Gent ("Great unidentified snippet, pre-birthday mood, fade awaaaay")
1992-05-22 - Milan ("Best crowd singalong to Bad ever, rare So Cruel snippet")
1992-06-11 - Stockholm ("Bono's voice is top notch, hitting all the notes")
1992-06-13 - Kiel ("Short but powerful, highlight of Walk To The Water snippet")
1992-08-23 - Foxboro ("Unidentified snippets, tempo changes, improv. lyrics & end")
1992-11-14 - Anaheim ("First 40, awesome Fool To Cry/Irish Heartbeat & AIWIY")
1993-08-11 - London ("First Time snippet, Bono's voice is superb")
1993-08-12 - London ("Violinist Jo Shankar adds another dimension to the song")
1993-08-28 - Dublin ("Soundboard. First Time snippet. Voice. A classic")
Popmart Tour (1997-1998)
The first tour without regular performances of Bad was the Popmart tour (it didn’t feature at all in 1997). However the song did not go entirely unnoticed as it was snippeted 3 times during All I Want Is You. Near the end Bono would snippet the "I'm wide awake, I'm wide awake, I'm not sleeping" part of the song.
In 1998 Bad returned to the setlists, with 9 performances lasting 6 to 7 minutes in South America, Australia and South Africa.
1997-09-13 - Barcelona ("Starts as a snippet, turns into a long medley, amazing")
Elevation Tour (2001)
Bad became a tour staple again for the Elevation tour, being performed at 81 of the 113 shows played in 2001. Similar to Zoo TV the song was used to segue into another song, being Streets. On average the song lasted a little longer than in the nineties clocking 7 to 9 minutes.
"I have ordinary addictions" is a line Bono often uses to introduce Bad and its theme on the Elevation Tour
Snippets were more like a phase in the Elevation tour, with Bono using a particular snippet for a few shows and then switch to another for a few. Snippets like Ruby Tuesday, Wild Horses, Fool To Cry and U2's own Who's Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses all were sung at a few consecutive shows.
2001-03-26 - Sunrise ("Energetic tour start, performance and snippet")
2001-04-06 - Denver ("Just has that bit of extra to it, also lasted long")
2001-04-28 - Phoenix ("Bono puts everything he has into it, amazing 40 snippet")
2001-06-02 - Albany ("Lovely Drugs Don't Work snippet, 40 crowd sing-along")
2001-07-31 - Arnhem ("Girl and dad on stage, improv lyrics. Powerful")
2001-08-14 - Birmingham ("Improvised lyrics, great Drugs Don't Work snippet")
2001-10-27 - New York ("Great sing-along, lots of energy from Bono")
Vertigo Tour (2005-2006)
The first tour to feature Bad as a special performance for selected shows was the Vertigo Tour, with just 28 performances during 131 shows. Bad made its debut at the 10th show and was played with quite a lot of variation as it was only played so often. Performances were between 7 and 10 minutes on average and generally did not include any speech. More than half of the performances were the final performances of the night, where the band most likely decided to play Bad as an extra treat for the fans. The Vertigo Tour was the tour where Bad took another sling at becoming one of U2's most iconic live songs as it scarce performance making it all the more special.
The Vertigo Tour was the tour where Bad took another step at becoming one of U2's most iconic live songs, the scarce performances made it all the more special
2005-05-07 - Chicago ("Great speech, awesome In The Garden snippet, 9 min")
2005-09-14 - Toronto ("With Daniel Lanois, ending the night")
2005-11-26 - Montreal ("With Daniel Lanois, great VERY long The Maker snippet")
360 Tour (2009-2011)
What was started during the Vertigo Tour continued on the 360 Tour: Bad made an appearance only at special occasions as a treat for the fans on a particular night. It was only played at 13 of the 110 shows spanning 3 years.
The performances were again very varied and lasted around 7 to 8 minutes. It showed up first during the first month of the tour in Amsterdam in July 2009 and last in July 2011 in Pittsburgh. We also include here the performance that took place in June 2011 at the Glastonbury Festival.
2009-07-21 - Amsterdam 🎥 ("Bono raps his way through parts, different cool vibe")
2009-08-15 - London 🎥 ("Great into the light part, improv. verses, Bono on guitar")
2010-09-23 - Brussels ("Awesome guitar play by Bono, great vocal performance")
2011-06-24 - Glastonbury 🎥 ("Nice singalong, lovely Jerusalem snippet")
Innocence & Experience tour (2015)
Bad made a more regular return to U2's setlists during the Innocence & Experience tour, appearing in 25 of the 76 shows. The performances lasted 7 to 9 minutes and were often preceded by the cover of Paul Simon's Mother and Child Reunion.
The performances during the first leg had a real "letting go" theme in them, often with a snippet of another song about letting go: Moment of Surrender, some of which were very long. The second leg performances often ended the show, with an ending snippet of 40.
2015-07-02 - Chicago 🎥 ("Long Moment of Surrender snippet makes the song")
2015-07-11 - Boston 🎥 ("Live Aid anniversary: great speech, snippets & powerful")
2015-11-27 - Dublin 🎥 ("Touching intro speech, emotional version, singalong")
2015-12-07 - Paris 🎥 ("Long powerful version, Vive le France!")
The Joshua Tree 2017 Tour (2017)
Despite not being played during the opening night, Bad made a triumphant return to U2's setlists on the Joshua Tree anniversary tour, appearing in 45 of the 51 shows. Almost always played as early as slot 3, it was used for the opening speech of the night and became one of the strongest tour performances.
The versions played varied in length between 6 to 10 minutes and on the first leg of the tour in North America Bono always included a snippet of America by Simon & Garfunkel ("Let me tell you why we've come this evening.. all come to look for America"). The second and third leg often included a snippet of Bowie's Heroes, generally ranked as one of U2's best Bad snippets by fans.
The Heroes snippet is generally ranked as one of U2's best and favourite Bad snippets of all time by fans
Interestingly, this tour is the first tour where Bono is not only adding in new lines or snippets but actually is changing some of the original Bad lyrics on a nightly basis. The line "bruised silken sky and burning flag", was often changed to "blue as your eyes, now closing too" or "blue as your eyes, now a closing bruise".
2017-06-23 - Toronto 🎥 ("Wonderful Cohen tribute, perfect long Suzanne snippet")
2017-07-12 - Berlin 🎥 ("10-min version in the rain, unique German Heroes snippet")
2017-07-15 - Rome 🎥 ("Amazing speech, best vocal and emotional Heroes")
2017-10-11 - La Plata 🎥 ("Great ending, Gracias A La Vida part really good")
2017-10-21 - Sao Paulo 🎥 ("Incredibly powerful Waters of March snippet, 2 min!")
Key snippets, speeches and collaborations
Often performances with great snippets, speeches or even guest performers make a great performance in general. But not all of those are included in the list of key performances per tour. So here is a separate list I kept track of with key snippets, speeches and also collaborations.
1989-11-17 - Sydney ("Great snippets, no idea which song")
1989-11-26 - Tokyo ("Snippet of Help to open the song")
1992-06-13 - Kiel ("Very long Walk To The Water snippet")
1992-09-06 - Toronto ("Great snippet of Irish Heartbeat")
1998-03-16 - Cape Town ("Very funny snippet of The Lion Sleeps Tonight")
2001-10-10 - South Bend ("Very long Molly Malone snippet")
2001-11-18 - Las Vegas ("Great Wild Horses snippet")
2001-11-27 - Kansas City ("2,5 minute(!) When I Look At The World snippet")
2005-10-10 - New York ("Emotional and long People Got The Power w/singalong")
1985-04-15 - East Rutherford ("Long speech about Springsteen")
1987-09-23 - New Haven ("This is a song from our last album Thriller, this is Bad")
1985-02-06 - Bologna ("Dedicated to working girls")
2005-10-10 - New York ("This will be a 40-minute version of Bad")
2015-07-11 - Boston 🎥 ("Live Aid anniversary, about Bad, Lou Reed, Live Aid etc.")
2015-11-27 - Dublin 🎥 ("About Andrew Rowan of Raised By Wolves, long speech")
2017-07-15 - Rome 🎥 ("Rome as pelgrims, visited grave of Keaths, his hero")
2017-07-18 - Barcelona 🎥 ("Went to the Bowie exhibition, about Bowie friendship")
2017-07-25 - Paris 🎥 ("About meeting his idol David Bowie 30 years ago in Paris")
2017-07-29 - Amsterdam 🎥 ("About owing their lives to each other")
2017-10-04 - Mexico City 🎥 ("Relieving the pain of the recent earthquake impact")
The guest performers:
1987-06-28 - Dublin (with Lou Reed)
1993-08-12 - London (with violinist Jo Shankar)
2005-09-14 - Toronto (with Daniel Lanois)
2005-11-26 - Montreal (with Daniel Lanois)
2015-10-29 - London 🎥 (with Patti Smith)
2015-12-06 - Paris 🎥 (with Patti Smith)
A musical evolution
Bad has had quite the evolution over the years, it has evolved itself into one of U2's most iconic live songs and a highlight for most fans. Aside from snippets, lyrics and positions in the setlist Bad also has had quite the musical evolution over the years.
A very prominent feature of Bad live, which is not present in the album version at all, is the backing synth track. Based upon a synthesizer loop played and recorded by Brian Eno, it is featured on all live performances of Bad, and has often been responsible for some funny moments. Back in the mid 80s, U2 were just starting to use backing tracks and were not as used to them as they are today. The synth loop had to be "launched" from the sound desk, and it often failed, forcing Bono to start telling jokes, stories or improvise something a capella. In recent times, an additional whistle-like synth has been played occasionally during the “so let it go” pre-choruses.
Back in the mid 80s, U2 were just starting to use backing tracks and were not as used to them as they are today. The synth loop of Bad had to be "launched" from the sound desk, and often failed.
The speed it is played at has also evolved over the years. On the album, Bad plays at 96.5 beats per minute (bpm), which was increased to around 103 bpm during the Unforgettable Fire Tour and then has undergone several changes throughout the years. Nowadays it's played at around 107 bpm.
An iconic live song
A song that started out as a song about drugs, drug addictions (in Dublin) in the eighties became a song about addictions in general in the 2000s but evolved itself eventually into one of U2's most iconic live songs with a general theme of letting go about things, persons, lovers and holding on to others. A spiritual live song unlike no other song with a special meaning for many U2 fans.
One thing that demonstrates this is that particularly during its performances after the Elevation Tour (2001), you can hear the crowd roar and going wild on a lot of the audio recordings as soon as the opening notes of Bad are played.
On many recordings after 2001 you can hear the crowd roar and going wild as soon as the opening notes of Bad are played
As to the title of song, the word Bad, Bono finally came disclosed (after 33 years!) where it came from: "As teenagers trying to “feel arty,” they went to go see an Andy Warhol film entitled Bad. Afterward, Bono had an argument about the film with a friend who was a heroin addict. The title of the song references that friend, that movie, and the argument that ensued."
Join the Bad talks
Bad has a prominent place on our forums with several discussions. One of the most interesting ones might be the topic where I listed snippets I heard but are yet unidentified. Are these lyrics made up, or are they songs which are not identified yet? Help us out!
Bad - identify unknown snippets
Bad - the best live performances
Mystery Bad - which performance is it?
Snippets that would sound great in Bad
The stats of Bad
Played in full at 549 shows.
Played as a snippet at 4 shows.
80 different snippets are played during Bad.
(Stats via U2gigs)
Performances per tour:
The Unforgettable Fire Tour - 88 times
Conspiracy of Hope Tour - 6 times
The Joshua Tree Tour - 108 times
Lovetown - 35 times
Zoo TV Tour - 104 times
Popmart Tour - 13 times (4 as a snippet)
Elevation Tour - 81 times
Vertigo Tour - 28 times
360 Tour - 13 times
Innocence and Experience Tour - 25 times
The Joshua Tree 2017 Tour - 45 times
Other appearances - 7 times
This article is the result of 5 months of research, the result of listening to hundreds of live performances (some up to 20 times). Most of what's listed here is based on the opinion of one individual with some input from a small group of other fans on the U2start forums who suggested additions and performances not to exclude. The musical evolution is in full written by U2start crew member Sergio (LikeASong). Thanks to those who helped review and provided valuable input. And finally, thanks to U2gigs for offering me a convenient way to listen to all these performances. Hope you enjoy some of these gems. - Remy
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The article A chronology of U2's Bad, an iconic live song was first published on U2start.com by Remy.
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They removed "If I could, through myself, set your spirit free" in either 2001 or 2005. All versions after that are tainted.
Great article! However, I’ve always thought the synth loop actually IS in the original album version, albeit buried fairly deep in the mix. It’s most apparent around the 3 minute mark during the “I’m wide awake... I’m not sleeping.” It took me years before I finally heard it.
Another amazing moment in Bad, that I still haven't been able to find a recording for, is from Denver 21 April 2005. Only a youtube clip exists ..I think?
A special moment when he brings a young boy on stage to do some magic tricks and then the lift off after he leaves the stage is phenomenal. "I am you and you are me !!"
Fantastic artcile. Enjoyed reading it. I must have listened to the version from New Jersey 85 a couple hundred times over the years.
Thanks for the research I will definitely search out some of the other highlights you have found.
Bad is and will always be my favourite U2 song.
Bad has always been my favorite song in concert. So cool that a pair of performances I saw back in the ‘80s made this list, 3/8/85 & 5/9/87.
An amazing feat! Well done. Many years ago I made myself a compliation cassette of my favourite versions of Bad which took a good deal of time so I can imagine the hours you put into this article! A permanent favourite I will never tire of this phenomenal song. Big thanks!
Not bad! Whenever my Family tells me I am being too meticulous I shall keep this great chronology in mind!
Great article. Never tired of Bad live.
This is an amazing original content... To many special live performances... But I would add 1986-06-08 - Denver (not good sound, but special snippets, Amazing Grace snippeted only time in Bad), 1987-04-14 San Diego (Best Ruby Tuesday snippet ever) and 1998-03-05 - Tokyo (So better than Santiago, and good snippets)
Outstanding, Remy. Thank you!! Still MY standout song, if it's not part of a gig, that gig's not complete......
Thank you all! Here is the article in Italian for our Italian fans: http://passengers.altervista.org/blog/la-nascita-levoluzione-ed-segreti-bad-un-articolo-unico-nel-suo-genere/
Awesome article, great job!
Outstanding work. Loved it all. Thank you very much.
Absolutely my favorite song since Live Aid performance. This is an incredible and compelling piece. Thanks.
This is fantastic - well done
Thank you thank you thank you! Wow what a labour of love this article is! Bravo!
Great article. So, which one would be the worst performance out of those 500 for you?
Great article Remy. Always one of my favorites live and never gets old.
Phenomenal piece of work, well done, thank you !
Wow, great article!! I definitely need to listen to some of these shows! After hearing Bad at my first show in the summer, I was surprised by just how moving it was - of course it's a classic, it's special - but actually being there for it was something I just wasn't prepared for.