Thematically Acrobat contains elements of hypocrisy, alienation, and moral confusion. It's a fitting song for the ZooTV era, characterising Bono's views about being a rockstar in the post-Joshua Tree days, realising that he and maybe everyone can be and have been a hypocrite. Bono himself says it's in keeping with the theme of Achtung Baby-- that is, how do you go out and taste and touch and feel as much as a man can before he repents, and then come back and sleep with your wife and play with your kids and pretend it all never happened? How do you put your relationships back together?
Achtung Baby consists of 12 songs, some of which have become staples in the band’s repertoire (such as One, Until The End Of The World or Mysterious Ways), while many others were performed regularly on the ZooTV Tour and then never or rarely again (like Tryin’ To Throw Your Arms or Love Is Blindness). So Cruel was also played although just 4 times during the whole tour. That leaves us with just one song not being performed: Acrobat. The ZooTV was the obvious chance for the band to dig it up and play it, but they never did it – and so started the mythical status of Acrobat as the only unplayed song from their widely-recognised best album.
U2 spent about a week in the Hershey, Pennsylvania, area doing rehearsals for the Zoo TV Outside Broadcast Tour in August, 1992. These rehearsals included Acrobat, U2's first real attempt of trying to find a place for it in the setlist. It was rehearsed extensively in an acoustic form. The end of the song segued into the beginning of "Zoo Station", leading concert historian Pimm Jal de la Parra to speculate that it was being considered to open the set. An almost 4-minute recording of such a rehearsal can be listened to here.
Before a new U2 tour, many fans make lists of songs they would like U2 to perform live that tour. Acrobat is often the first song mentioned when fans talk about songs they want to hear live for the first time. In April 2015 U2 fans organised "#U2Request", a full day where fans all over the world could tweet the names of the songs they would like to hear/request on U2's upcoming Innocence and Experience tour. After counting the almost 40,000 tweets Acrobat was the top vote-getter by a landslide, with almost three times as many votes as the No. 2 song, A Sort Of Homecoming, and more votes than the next three songs combined. This further contributed to the status that Acrobat has amongst U2 fans. Making it one of those songs that people are dying to hear so much that many started to think it will probably never happen. Some fans shared the popularity of Acrobat with Bono around the Innocence and Experience tour, making also sure the band became aware.
"It never became a live favourite... I don't think that is what people come to U2 for." - The Edge, 2006
Acrobat is a song in 6/8 time, an unusual time signature for U2 (although they have some other songs with the same time signature - Window In The Skies, Love Is Blindness, Breathe). This could make it relatively difficult for the band to play. Acrobat is also a somewhat obscure track in the musical sense, with multiple guitar layers and an unresolved A minor key. This might also be the reason why U2 aimed for an acoustic version in 1992, as the song could be rather complex to perform full band. Some fans also argued the song might be difficult for Bono to sing. Another reason might be that the song just thematically did not or does not fit in U2's livesets.
Many bands have played and recorded thumping versions of Acrobat. Most notably, Dutch band Kane recorded a version and included it on their live album With Or Without You (2000). You can listen to this great version here. Glasvegas more recently reinterpreted Acrobat for the Ăhk-to͝ong Ba͞y-bi tribute album (2011), which you can find here. Both versions were quite similar to U2’s original, so both bands kind of proved that the song could be performed successfully. Also, many tribute bands around the world play the song regularly in their tribute shows, with Lemon and Achtung Babies both having killer versions. These bands all prove that it can be done from a musical and vocal point of view, and that it could really work in a live setting.
Acrobat is one of the most personal songs on Achtung Baby with Bono acknowledging personal weakness, contradictions and inadequacy. It's a song where an older more experienced Bono is looking back on his previous years, some could say his "innocence" years. It makes him realise certain aspects of life and time, it makes him vulnerable. It's a song also very much written from the role that Bono has on stage, the one from a rockstar. Realising what being a rockstar is doing to people and to relationships. It could be a Song of Experience. Written by someone who is becoming Experience, looking back on Innocence. There might have never been a better moment to give Acrobat a chance on the live stage than in 2018, and U2 agreed to that.