Expecting great things from Bono and The Edge in the lead-up to and following the release of Songs of Surrender is a risk. But the kindness that spills over from this half of U2 is a real joy to watch. Taking their tracks to that acoustic intimacy like Songs of Surrender tried and failed to do marks this Tiny Desk Concert as an important one. Bono relies on off-the-cuff improvisation that he feeds toward a group of backing vocalists and the acoustic workings of The Edge. They find themselves in synchronisation with one another on a level that was sincerely lacking from their other recent appearances and recordings. Finding themselves behind a cluttered desk, paired with the Duke Ellington School of Arts choir, is a beautiful awakening for four classic tracks.
Beautiful Day sounds, well, beautiful. Nicely moved and flickering moments of spontaneity on a track so delicate and defiant are welcome embraces of a new styling. Bono and The Edge construct these tracks with all the usual charm and spirit, but their unguarded approach to some of their greatest tracks provides an example of how rediscovery can come through old work. It is what Songs of Surrender failed to do, yet here is evidence of how and why it should work. Stripped back to the absolute essentials shows that U2 did not need to go backward to head forward. They would find themselves in the same place anyway had Songs of Surrender been anywhere close to what they had hoped it would be. Instead, their floundering ways are cast aside with this Tiny Desk concert.
An implementation of In a Little While gives their post-1990s experience the intimate edge that it was never crying out for. But it is through convincing diction that Bono and The Edge make it a tremendous exploration of a wonderful song. Bono and The Edge are open about how they feel their intolerance has gotten the better of them as they age, but this brief twenty-minute focus on their careers provides a nice ballast to prove otherwise. Their interplay between tracks is delightful, engaging and responsive to an intimate audience. It feels as though the pretence of U2 as a concept is stripped back and moved away from whatever that Disney documentary was attempting. Thankfully, Bono and The Edge still feel like people when they find themselves behind a tiny desk.
Intimacy flows along that tiny desk, the likes of Stuck in a Moment You Can’t Get Out Of lend themselves to that openness and relaxed appeal. It is such a shame to see that these songs do work as collected, thoughtful acoustic numbers considering how tightly wound and unmoved Songs of Surrender is. Dedications to Michael Hutchence and Ukraine see Bono flick that necessary, public image charm on once more as he rattles through Walk On. He still has the range, The Edge still has the playing style, and no amount of conversation will ever come to a relatively conclusive reason for Songs of Surrender wasting both of those talents. Tiny Desk proves a rewarding viewing because of how much more it achieves in four songs than U2 did in forty for their latest release.