"A performance must be larger than life, but to be worthwhile you must have an element of humanity."
Book Review: From The Ground Up
November 08, 2012
From The Ground Up is the new official photobook of the 360 tour, with words by Dylan Jones and featuring photographs by Ralph Larmann. The book was recently published in hardcover in the U.K., and is 256 pages in length. The photographs do a good job of documenting the tour, and many of them are gorgeous. There are interesting stories told by the band, crew and creators of the 360 tour. The book is not without some flaws, but overall, I think it is a good book that will bring fans of the tour enjoyment. For those looking for something to read about the band outside of the 360 tour, this is probably not the book for you. However, for those looking for tour tidbits, it's full of interesting stories, such as Adam revealing, "'Walk On' is a tune that I just dread, and I can see it coming with real horror. I've kind of got there now, but I just keep forgetting a block of notes."
The book is smaller in size than other official releases, such as U2 By U2 or U2 Show, and similar in size to U2 A Diary. This smaller size perhaps does not show off photography as well as the larger dimensions of U2 Show, but there is still plenty of room to make looking at the photographs very enjoyable.
My first surprise in flipping through the book was the photographs themselves. I expected material exclusively from photographer Ralph Larmann, whose name graces the cover. A quick look at the back of the book shows that a variety of sources were used, and photographs are included by Eoin McLouglin, Diana Scrimgeour, Peter Rowen and other photographers whose work had been seen throughout the tour. In fact, the front and back photographs on the cover of the book are by McLouglin, not Larmann. While a list of the various photographers can be found in the end of the book, individual photographs are not labeled. It was nice to have some variation in the photographs and some of my favorites from other photographers are included.
Photographs taken live in concert are mixed with photographs from behind the scenes, and often with sketches of the stage in development. As someone who saw a number of concerts on the tour, I was able to see the stage from different perspectives, and this collection of photographs gives a great look into the entire tour, whether seen from inside the pit, behind the stage or at the far back of the stadiums. My favorite photographs are those that show the stage, and the size of the whole structure in relation to what is around it, whether it be the Chicago and St. Louis skylines, the overhead arc of Wembley Arena or the CN Tower in Toronto.
I just wish that the photographs in this book were individually labeled to allow the reader to know where the photographs were taken. Only a handful of photos are labeled in this manner; the rest you are left to guess at where they were taken. There is a wonderful photo of someone in a skateboard park, and you can see the spire of the claw poking up in the distance. It would have been nice to know in which city this was taken.
One issue I had with the photographs themselves, specifically the ones taken by Larmann, is that they seem to have been highly processed, whether by some special effect setting on the camera, or in post-production. This gives many of the photographs an interesting effect in lights and darks, and creates an almost watercolor effect, but that reduces details in the image and creates highly defined outlines. On a book of this scale, I would like to see some of the details that were lost in the processing of these photos, and found myself wishing at several occasions that they had been less processed. They just look unnatural to my eye upon close examination.
The text of the book opens with a short foreword by Paul McGuinness, an introduction to the formation of the tour, then five chapters delving into the detail of the tour. The book starts with the final days of the Vertigo tour, as discussions of the next tour begin. It ends with the final days of the 360 tour, as discussions for what comes next have once again started. It uses a number of quotes from The Edge, Adam and Bono throughout the book to discuss the tour, but few quotes from Larry, and those used were used pulled from other sources. It appears that while the writer had access to the band, he had little contact with Larry. Not only does the band give extensive information, considerable time is also spent with Joe O'Herlihy, Willie Williams, Jake Berry, Paul McGuinness and others integral to the U2 tour.
The focus of the first chapter is the genesis of the tour, followed by two chapters dealing with the tour itself, including a look at individual parts of the show such as the evolution of the Aung San Suu Kyi piece throughout the tour. The fourth chapter deals with the Glastonbury show exclusively. The final chapter of the book, although titled "The Long Run: From Montreal Until The End" is focused on two shows in Montreal near the end of the tour. The latter part of the final chapter covers what comes next, with thoughts about what the next set of shows will be, and where the next tour may take the band.
I felt the overall coverage of the tour was too heavily weighed toward only a handful of shows in From The Ground Up. There is a lot of focus on the early leg of the tour, and discussion of Barcelona. The book dedicates an entire chapter to the Glastonbury stop, which was outside the scope of the 360 tour itself, and it wraps up with that focus on the shows in Montreal. There is little coverage of other shows. In reading the book it is almost as if the 2010 shows did not happen except for Moscow, and that the band skipped from the back injury that canceled the North America tour dates in 2010 right to the rescheduled tour dates in 2011. Only brief mentions can be found of shows held in Africa, Europe, Australia and South America in between these events. After extensive coverage of Glastonbury and the two shows in Montreal, almost nothing is said of the tour after the Montreal dates, as if the tour had ended in Montreal. In the question put to the band and crew on what their favorite moments are, we are reminded that some of these dates did happen. I understand the inability to cover every tour date in the space here, but there seems to be much focus on certain dates to the detriment of coverage of the entire tour. A nice way to touch on the remainder of tour dates would have been the inclusion of a tour itinerary somewhere in the book.
I was fascinated by the stories told in the text. Many things were new to me, especially the focus on the ritual that U2 go through prior to a show. I do not recall reading about that in another source. Other stories taught me new things about the tour, such as Camp Nou Stadium in Barcelona receiving a new paving job in areas to make getting the claw out a little easier after struggling over cobblestones on the way in, or that Joe O'Herlihy likes to tour around the stadium looking for "soft spots" in the sound while the opening acts are performing. Who knew that a celebrity would be chosen to press a button that started the smoke machine at the start of the show? There are a number of these small revelations about how the tour worked, and I loved these little insights. The focus on Williams and O'Herlihy, added to my knowledge of the tour and made for an enjoyable read. Thank you, Willie, for calling the tour structure the "claw" whether or not others may have approved.
The book has a few factual problems:
These errors were small and not numerous, but did throw me out of the reading for a moment while I would stop to check the facts myself. Also distracting my attention was the author's name-dropping at several locations in the text. He mentions a name, then continues on with no explanation about who these people are. While the names may be familiar to an audience from the U.K., I had to stop to look up the reference. I was also a little annoyed at times because the author tended to overglorify the tour in places, and indeed almost seemed to be taking swipes at other bands along the way. Finally, I really could have done without McGuinness being given a platform to discuss his issues with Internet service providers. It wasn't necessary in a book documenting the U2 tour.
From The Ground Up is a stunning book, and a great addition to my U2 library. The photographs document the tour from the earliest stage of development to the actual beautiful performances. The text documents U2 from late 2006 to 2011, making it the natural continuation to U2 By U2. I would have been happier with an even larger canvas to showcase the tour photographs, but the book does make good use of the space, and some of the double-page spreads of photographs are truly beautiful. I was a fan of the 360 tour from the start, when I saw my first show in Barcelona, and the three hours I spent with this book brought back a ton of memories, and reminded me of many moments I had forgotten.
From The Ground Up is available now in the U.K. and some parts of Europe. It is expected in late November in North America.
(c) @U2/Sams, 2012.