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U2 Show
By Diana Scrimgeour
308 pages
Riverhead Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., New York, 2004.
ISBN 1-57322-296-8
What originally tries to pass itself off as a classic coffee table book; oversized, thick, on acid-free paper and stuffed with glamour shots of the Irish band U2; quickly reveals its true nature: a definitive examination of all aspects of what Spin Magazine just dubbed “the biggest band in the world.” In order for journalist/photographer Diana Scrimgeour to adequately capture the Elevation Tour, during which she traveled across America with the band, she wisely chose to present it as part of the continuum that is U2. Beyond the front and back-of-the-stage photos, U2 Show gives voice to over sixty-seven past and present key contributors to the U2 concert experience who reveal the surprising secrets that make the tours and new CD’s so highly anticipated.
The structure of U2 Show is thoughtfully laid out by Diana Scrimgoeur in three parts. The first is introductory and includes the essay “U2 and Rock Music as Spectacle” by novelist Michael Bracewell that paints U2s place in the larger picture of popular entertainment. “Art, Commerce and Logistics; Designing a U2 Show” by the band’s principal set designer Willie Williams presents an overview of what a U2 show comprises, why they are driven to be so far ahead of the pack technically and what it takes to pull that off. An extensive interview with Paul McGuinness, the first and only manager of U2, delves into the determination and vision that have pulled this enterprise through the decades to their current place of preeminence. (“I had always been aware of managers, even when I was a kid. . . . It was definitely a clear objective of mine to be one of them.”
Having set the stage, the book presents the touring of the band in a series of five chapters with big pictures, overwhelming photo montages, and minimal introductions. These and the not-to-be-overlooked preface are where Diana Scrimgeour speaks most clearly in her own voice as she encapsulates the tours U2 undertakes in support of every album they’ve ever released, primarily from a front-of-the-house (audience) viewpoint. The 150 pages making up the “Pictures” section are divided chronologically. 1979-1985 (Boy, War, Under a Blood Red Sky: Live at Red Rocks, The Unforgettable Fire); 1986 ­ 1990 (Joshua Tree, Rattle and Hum, Love Town); 1991-1993 (ZooTV); 1996-1998 (PopMart); 2000-2002 (Elevation, 2002 Superbowl Half-time Show). Longtime U2 concert-goers will enjoy revisiting each pivotal event while newer fans will be brought up to speed on this important aspect of the group’s persona.
The final section, “Words,” the last 100 pages of U2 Shows, is the most enlightening. It starts off with “A Short History of Rock Touring” by Mark Cunningham, co-founder of industry magazine Tour Production launching the reader on a deep journey into the heart of the very best of live contemporary rock’n’roll. Subsections on management, agents, tour management, sound, production, design and staging, lighting, show video production, show video content, show filming, wardrobe, band crew, recording, graphics, promotion, media, charity shows, and friends create a  clear picture that U2 has from its earliest beginnings known exactly what it wanted to be, and consistently built upon earlier laid groundwork to get there in an atmosphere of supportive collaboration. Challenges overcome, bleeding edge technology pioneered and standardized, equipment failures, artistic triumphs all contribute to meeting the primary concern: to reach the audience with U2s  message of caring and action on as many levels as possible through live performance. 
Beyond the sound, production, lighting, costume, front house people, Scrimgeour expands her examination to include key figures in the band’s growth such as Island Records Founder Chris Blackwell, Interscope co-founder Jimmy Lovine, and Tom Freston MTV’s chairman. Bill Flanagan, vice-president of MTV Networks International and author of the telling book U2 at the End of the World even has his say. Artists who have appeared at fundraising concerts such as  Peter Gabriel and Steven Van Zandt weigh in as well.   
U2 is not an evangelical organization and nothing in U2 Show changes that perception. There are no mentions of the accoutrements Protestant evangelicals consider essential to large media events: no pre-show chapels or even prayers, no special arrangements for church on the multi-year tours. But Dennis Sheehan, tour manager since 1982 clearly lays out the values of this organization: “I feel that Christianity is the basis of all that they do. I don’t mean that in respect of religion. I mean in all that they do, say and act.” It shouldn’t come as a surprise that a band whose watchword is innovation, who is ever pushing the limits of the possible, would go about expressing their faith in a different way, as chronicled by so many other journalists throughout their career.
This book could be an over-priced memento of a fan’s concert experiences, but to allow copies to gather dust unread on the English-speaking world’s coffee tables would be a crime.  Better to make it required reading by anyone who aspires to a career in entertainment, to make it a pivotal text in college music business introductory classes. If she were so inclined, Scrimgeour probably has more than enough material to put out an entire series of business books on the U2 way to reach the masses and change the world but this single is a transparent explanation of virtually everything that makes U2 popular laid out for those who have eyes to see. It’s also a good argument for lining up to get tickets NOW for the next tour.
Linda LaFianza   1/9/2005


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