Wednesday, March 06, 2013
From the Ground Up: U2 360 degree tour photobook
This beautiful, colour, hardcover (U2 music) edition of From the Ground Up: U2360° Tour Official Photobook, arrived recently. At 250 pages, it covers what is the largest rock tour in history, from start to end, from Bono’s first use of forks and a grapefruit to visualise a 360 stage, through to the tours’ end, 110 shows, playing to over 7 million people. It proceeds by way of interviews, with the band and those close to them.
It allows some fascinating insights on creativity, on the rate of change in technology and the inner world of U2.
“Occasionally ideas would come to [Willie] in a moment of blinding creative inspiration, but far more usually they tended to seep into his consciousness gradually, in a sort of artistic osmosis. Often ideas come about as a result of something he’d seen and liked or been temporarily fascinated with. An image or a concept might sit in his head for years until eventually it met another notion lurking in there somewhere and between them they formed a complete idea.” (131-2)
So nourishing creativity is about the space of let things seep, mixed with the deeps wells we dig for ourselves – the galleries we visit, music we listen to, books we read, children we play with.
The pace of technology
A creative, interactive highlight of the show is when all the show lights go out during Moment of Surrender, and the audience are invited to turn on their cell phones. But it made more impact as the tour progressed, simply because technology was changing.
“This cell-phone ‘star-field’ section of the set got brighter the longer the tour went on, as each generation of cell phones was released, and it became increasingly effective as a piece of stage craft.” (132-3)
The place of faith
The pre-show ritual never changed either. Each night, before they go on stage, U2 do exactly the same thing … ‘We always have half an hour before we go on stage,’ said Bono. “It’s a hard thing to describe, but we sort of pray. We tell each other how lucky we are. In that way that one shouldn’t be public about private matters of faith, where we say is secret, but it’s important. We are grateful for what our music has given us, and above all, what God has given us … This is the only time that it’s just us together, heads together, praying, and we do it every gig.” (158)
So this is what is happening when I, as a fan, am screaming for the band to arrive. They’re praying!
This then moves into a delightful story (160), of the time Paul McCartney knocked just before Live 8 in 2005 and was ignored by the band, left standing. After the waiting, the embarrassment, the apology, he was invited to join them in prayer.
Because it draws mainly on interviews, which are based on the privilege of access, these books always run the risk of becoming more like groupie books. The critical voice can get drowned out once you are let into the sound. For example, there is no mention of protestors at Glastonbury, nor little exploration of the environmental impact of the tour.
Not that insider narratives are a bad thing. First, it is an important market. I mean there are a lot of groupies! Second, viewed through the lens of ethnography (a methodology I’m currently engaged in research wise, seeking entry to the “inner” worlds of Fresh expressions and new forms of church, it is thus an helpful illustration of some of the complexities outsiders need to negotiate in seeking entry. A critic? A fan? A critical friend? Each require a complex set of negotiations, especially when the words said and written become public property.
From the Ground Up: U2360° Tour Official Photobook will cause fans to remember fondly. And for those conducting U2 research, it is a valuable “insider” resource, that, as in any research process, needs to be placed alongside a range of voices.