July 2009 Issue 119
At the end of June, Mark Cunningham & photographer Diana Scrimgeour flew out to Barcelona’s esteemed Camp Nou stadium to meet the U2 entourage as they prepared for the opening dates of the band’s most innovative tour ever...
Catalonia, says Bono, is the capital of surrealism. And with Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia scraping the Barcelona sky like some distant, hallucinogenic effigy, this would appear to be the perfect location in which to reveal the bizarre sci-fi creation that, for the next year, will accompany U2 on the most ambitious tour of their illustrious career: 360°
Since the early ’90s, each U2 tour has been identified by such scenic icons as Zoo TV’s Trabants and PopMart’s Lemon. In 2009, the words ‘Space Station’, ‘Cigar’ and ‘Polyp’ join the rich lexicon of U2 road-speak as the band embark on their first world tour in three years — one that is believed will cost around $150 million to keep on the road for the next 18 months.
After its launch at Barcelona’s legendary Camp Nou Stadium, U2 360° is visiting 14 cities across Europe including dates in Milan, Gothenburg, Amsterdam, Paris, Nice, Dublin, Chorzow, Berlin, Gelsenkirchen, London, Sheffield and Glasgow before finishing at Millennium Stadium in Cardiff on August 22.
The European tour will be followed by dates in North America beginning at Chicago’s Soldier Field on September 12, with plans for South America, other destinations and repeat visits currently in the pipeline.
Previous U2 tours have traditionally kicked off in the US, so why Barcelona this time? Craig Evans, tour director and Live Nation’s senior VP of global operations, explained: “Due to the extended rehearsal period, the band wanted to have easy access to their homes in Nice and Barcelona was the nearest major hub so we looked for availability out here. Plans later changed and they’ve ended up staying in Barcelona anyway!
“Starting in Europe was always a given because we wouldn’t be able to route a stadium tour in the States at this time of year, but they are available through the summer in Europe as it’s off season. It’s been a pleasure and we were so incredibly fortunate to have such a prestigious site as Camp Nou for an entire month prior to the first show and get the crew accustomed to the heat.”
It was indeed sizzling when TPi arrived in Spain two days before thefirst of two Barcelona shows, with enough time to witness band run-throughs and a full dress rehearsal in front of just 500 invited friends, family and people who have been involved in U2’s charitable efforts.
Sponsored by BlackBerry, 360° is naturally an in-the-round show that, in Bono’s words “is all about creating an intimacy with energy that completely envelops the audience”.
Tour producer Live Nation Global Touring and the band are also mindful of the current recession. For each show, 10,000 tickets are priced at a bargain basement €30 and yet unrestricted views are guaranteed to all.
The 360° design was conceived by the creative nuclear warhead that is the Willie Williams/Mark Fisher partnership. Williams, U2’s lighting/show designer since 1982, first teamed up with the already established set designer and architect for Zoo TV in ’92, and since then they have been responsible for U2’s exhaustive range of touring innovations.
For 360°, their combined vision has resulted in the giant Space Station, a sprawling, four-legged structure that spans the width of the stadium, underneath which Bono, Edge, Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen Jr perform on an elliptical main stage that is linked to a surrounding B-stage runway via two automated tracking bridges.
Contained within the eerily-clad superstructure is the biggest PA system on Earth, the most impressive video screen ever to grace a rock’n’roll stage, and a cigar-shaped obelisk, loaded with lighting fixtures, that spears the centre of the structure and takes its overall height to a vertigo-enducing 51.8m.
“I call it Star Trek because we’re going where no one’s ever been,” joked Jake Berry, the production director who has been putting U2 on the road since 2001, and is aided and abetted by production co-ordinators Helen Campbell and his daughter Jessica.
Nearly 200 trucks will be deployed over the course of the European leg — 50 for production, 38 for each of three leapfrogging steel systems (superstructure and towers), and nine truckloads of field protection. The permanent touring crew totals 127, not including vehicle drivers.
360° began to germinate three years ago at the end of the Vertigo tour, when Williams engaged the band about where to go next. “They already knew that they wanted their next tour to be stadium-based and the in-the-round format was favoured, having already done it to some degree in arenas,” explained Williams.
“The 360° show concept isn’t new — Rod Stewart, Foo Fighters and others have done it before — but you’ve always ended up with legs that make it look like a bandstand, along with the inevitable sightline issues.
“My breakthrough moment came when I realised that instead of making the set smaller, we should make it so big that it becomes part of the stadium, while the performance area is very small and completely disconnected from the feet. The aim was to design a structure that didn’t have any sightline kills.”
In his mind, Williams was visualising what turned out to be the futuristic Theme Building at L.A. International Airport and upon finding a photo of it, he was convinced that this was the shape on which to base a design.
Fortuitously, just as his thoughts were forming, Stageco’s Hedwig De Meyer arrived at a U2 show in Auckland on November 25 2006.
“I showed Hedwig this picture of the Theme Building and he said he’d seen it that day as he’d gone through LAX on the way to New Zealand. So I asked him if it was possible to build something that would straddle a football pitch. He chuckled and nodded ‘yes’!”
Armed with the affirmative, Williams e-mailed Mark Fisher “who got it in one” and replied overnight with the first sketches of what was essentially the Theme Building in a stadium with a small stage in the middle.
[Interestingly, Williams and Fisher had discussed something similar — but much smaller — two years earlier. “One of the early sketches I did for Vertigo had a four-legged structure holding up an atomic bomb-shaped video screen,” said Fisher.]
“To be designing a U2 tour while we were still on the previous one is a first for me but it’s also unprecedented for us to run with one design concept from the start and not deviate,” said Williams.
“Once presented with the basic concept, the band became very excited and gave their approval to proceed further. This was always going to be a very expensive proposition but you open up 20-30% more seats per venue by doing it this way, and that’s very enticing for any promoter or accountant.”
PROGRESSING THE DESIGN
Working from Fisher’s sketches, the first technical drawings were done at Stufish in early 2008 and, as Williams said, “apart from the fine detail, you wouldn’t be able to tell much difference between those and what we now have”.
He added: “It started off looking like the Theme Building and whenever it began to look like something else, we moved in a different direction. And now, it doesn’t look like anything you’ve ever seen before.
“I was looking at this being heavily decorated although the only problem is that you end up dealing with narrative and have to justify why it’s there. However, given that the iconography of rock’n’roll is entirely arbitrary, if the structure can justify itself by simply being what it is, then you’re on to a winner.”
Williams presented 3D CAD renderings at a gathering in Dublin to celebrate his 25th anniversary with U2. “Arthur Fogel [chairman of Live Nation Global Music] was there and so was Madonna, and clearly this was an idea that we were going to run with although I had a feeling that something would come up to render this impossible, either financially or because it might not be tourable.”
Jake Berry took a more positive view: “I knew that touring this monstrosity would be the most difficult thing I’ve ever done, but I was convinced we’d find a way to make it happen. So I visited all the main stadiums that had been earmarked and advanced the tour about 18 months ahead of time because it was crucial to see how our 400 tonnes of production would affect those venues.” Berry returned with a clean bill of health and the project moved on.
After a cost study was completed, Fisher handed the technical design responsibilities to Jeremy Lloyd in May 2008, and he began a long and fruitful dialogue with Stageco. But then... silence!
“U2 went on vacation and nothing happened for a while until Willie and I had a meeting with them upon their return in September to try and kick everything into action because time was running out,” recalled Fisher.
“This was the point when everything from a contractor perspective began to really happen although until this January I was effectively bankrolling the design because I knew I would be paid in the end — it’s just a bit amazing that it took Live Nation so long to hire me!”
As well as production & technical designer Jeremy Lloyd, who celebrates 20 years in the business this year and has been a full-time designer at Fisher’s Kings Cross-based company Stufish since 2006, Fisher’s closest associates on the project have been Nick Evans, the technical co-ordinator for rigging between Buro Happold, Atelier One, Innovative Designs, Wicreations, Stufish and Stageco; and Adrian Mudd, the Stufish animator who produced the presentation animations that ultimately persuaded U2 to invest in the show design.
STAGECO BUILDS A SPACE STATION
TPi’s gained its first sight of the Space Station superstructure on May 20 when we were invited to Stageco’s test build site in Werchter, Belgium, a place that Jeremy Lloyd describes as his “second home”.
Among the people we spoke to there was MD Hedwig De Meyer who was enjoying the challenge of what he described as his biggest and certainly most complicated project since he founded the company in 1984.
Over the course of the test building, the expanse of the structure became a target for local sightseers and the media, with De Meyer earning celebrity status when on Belgian TV, YouTube... and TPi’s website!
For each venue, Stageco will build its 30m high, 190 tonne steel superstructure in 4.5 days, add 176 tonnes of production (PA, lights, 52 tonnes of video screen, the cigar, winches and automation) in a 24-hour production load-in, and lift it 28m in the air with a crew of 16.
This represents more than double the amount of equipment that would be needed for an end-on show. How this is all achieved is naturally a very complex affair.
“The superstructure spans 64m across its bases and built entirely from brand new elements — there’s nothing off the shelf here apart from the lifting tower support which comes from our Twin Tower system,” insisted De Meyer.
Beginning in February, the manufacturing of the individual structure elements was either conducted in-house at Stageco or by a number of sub-contractors who were given a set of 3D models containing precise information for the production of the four legs from very large steel tubes. The structure is all held together by ultra heavy duty 80mm diameter pins — more than twice the normal size — each weighing 15kg.
“Being in the middle of a global recession has actually helped us source sub-contractors for this job and get them to deliver parts on time, because 12 months ago when they were busier it would have been much more difficult,” commented De Meyer.
“Originally we were going to build this with four 150 tonne cranes and we gave a number of companies our drawings and told them what we wanted to do. They all advised us not to do it with cranes because as the weight shifts so quickly it would be virtually impossible to expect four crane operators to simultaneously lift all four corners with precision timing, which is exactly what it required.
The answer was to phase the building between smaller cranes and a different industrial solution. “We did some investigation into lifting methods and contacted the Madrid office of US-based Enerpac, a leader in the world of heavy lifting and hydraulic equipment,” said project manager Bert Kustermans.
“Their computer-controlled self-climbing units were newly-designed for us and arrived in Werchter in May. We start the build with the lifting towers. The top grid is assembled on the ground and then lifted 4.8m with three cranes, at which point we begin building the legs which extend beneath our lifting towers.
“The Enerpac self-climbing units work with hydraulic jacks and take over to slowly raise the structure so that the build can be completed, after which our lifting support is removed, leaving the structure ready for placement of the cigar through the centre void in the top grid with a six tonne motor. The lifting process alone requires 16 trucks of equipment!”
“It’s an incredible feat of engineering and the load-in/out is like no other,” said Jake Berry. “Here the method requires a steel load-in, a steel load-out, a production load-in and out, and another steel load-in and out, because we have to take eight trucks of the steel lifting system away. That in itself is a huge undertaking and that’s before you start getting everything from A to B as efficiently as possible.”
There has been talk of building a fourth structure for next year’s dates, though Berry remains cautious: “Due to the way this has to be erected and dismantled it would restrict the number of shows we can play if there was ever a delay in the schedule. I think we’ll end up making a decision about a possible fourth structure once we’ve moved all of this around a few cities and seen how we get on.”
Stageco’s crew chiefs for the three (blue, red, green) leapfrogging steel systems are Johan ‘Bellekes’ Van Espen, Patrick Martens and Hendrik Verdeyen. They will respectively work alongside site co-ordinators Toby Fleming, Robert Hale and Seth Goldstein.
Access-wise, the tour has started with two of the tightest physical get-ins for the steel systems, with Milan’s San Siro Stadium immediately following Barcelona. “It’s good that this big adventure begins with such a tough challenge,” said Stageco’s Dirk De Decker.
In an effort to protect stadium pitches from damage, especially during load-ins and outs, U2 Production has hired the services of German company, EPS, to supply all of the venues with field cover. This will entail nine trucks’ worth (three leapfrogging systems) of flooring.
Jake Berry explained: “We accepted that we’re going to damage the grass at all of these stadiums because we’ll be at each one for seven days and if you cover grass for that long without exposure to the air, it’ll die. The stadiums will suffer, but we’ll pay the bill.”
HAPPINESS IS A CIGAR FROM BRILLIANT
The superstructure is covered by a green-coloured tensile structure. The custom-coloured PVC-coated polyester fabric (around 1,500m2 of material for each of the three systems) was made by Ferrari Textiles SA. The very complex membranes were fabricated by South Wales-based Architen Landrell to patterns developed by David Dexter Associates and Atelier One.
Added to this are 36 orange ‘polyps’ created by Frenchie at Steel Monkey from steel and fibre glass. Each polyp contains eight custom 60W LED fixtures designed by Tommy Voeten of New York’s 1212 Studio. Given the wry name of U2BE (YouTube, geddit?), these LEDs perform serve to add a pulsing glow to the polyps.
Positioned through the centre of the superstructure is a device that has been variously described as the ‘pylon’, ‘vertical submarine’ or ‘spike’, although Mark Fisher insists we refer to it as The Cigar. Measuring 43m long, it’s topped with a lighting conductor whose tip towers 51.8m above ground level.
Conceived from the start as an object that could be assembled very quickly, the cigar was designed by Fisher and Lloyd, and fabricated by Brilliant Stages. It’s assembled from 19 2.4m high modules that roll straight out of the truck, get lifted into the air and then pinned together, topmost first.
The smaller modules near the top and bottom travel on dollies, all the middle sections are pinned together with their castors still in place.
The cigar is taller than the cradle that supports it, so part way through the lift, the rigging points are changed from the top to a point closer to the middle. In its final position, the bottom of the cigar is 9m above the ground.
Brilliant Stages set up a small, dedicated team led by CAD engineer Kevin Edwards, with two welders, Luke Johnson and Pete Mason to fabricate the modules. Everything was checked by Neil Thomas at Atelier One before being stored at a local warehouse. Fabrication of the cigar took six weeks to complete.
“It’s another contribution to U2’s touring history that we’re all very proud of,” said Brilliant’s Tony Bowern. “We used profiled plates between the sections to give us accuracy, using the latest water jet cutting machinery, and every section was then weld inspected.
“The next step was to add the orange cladding which we sourced from Banks Sails to create a spiral effect.”
As our section on the lighting design explains, the cigar has a number of lighting fixtures built into it, and Brilliant attached brackets on which the PRG’s Bad Boys would later be fitted, as well as adding a neat, ‘top hat’ weatherproofing solution for them and packaging for travel.
“There was a later brief to integrate a row of DWEs [totalling 498] on each join, so rather than introduce extra weight to the cigar, we designed box structures that could take those lights,” commented Bowern.
“We also fitted two mirror balls — the lower one is on an actuator and air ram that lowers it down to revolve above the band.” Once wiring was complete, the cigar was sent to PRG for its own lighting assembly.
ALL THE WORLD’S A STAGE FOR TAIT
Like all the vendors involved in 360°, Tait Towers has worked on a scale not previously encountered.
Tait’s work spans the entire ground level of the set, and includes the main 22.5m x 15.5m x 2.5m high elliptical stage, the outer B-stage runway, measuring 147.5m in circumference and 2.4m x 1.3m in width and height, and two automated tracking bridges that run between the stages.
The principal Tait team included VP Adam Davis, project manager Matt Hales and company president James ‘Winky’ Fairorth, who said: “Mark and Willie have taken us to new places, and even in those places more familiar to us they’ve really made us stretch in terms of what’s possible.”
“There have been many challenges. The main stage has an acoustic under-structure to help with the vibration on the deck and keep the low end away from the stage noise.
“It’s not just 4,000ft2 of real estate to play home to the band, it also has to house the backline and a bunch of mechanics. It responds in a calculated fashion to the Clair subs we’ve embedded within it — acoustics incorporated into the set design, that’s a first for us!”
Owing to the absence of a roof, Tait also dealt with the problem of water resistance and developed a new extrusion to catch and divert the rain water as it has become impossible to manufacture a touring impermeable membrane.
A massive undertaking, Tait’s role also included the slick camera tracking system that clips underneath the stage runway and has impressed so many working on the show. Tait also built dollies for the cameras roll on and the telescopic masts for hotheads.
Said Winky: “The camera track we built, the video LED elements we integrated into the decks and the drive mechanisms for the bridges required a variety of electronics that need protection from the elements as well. To achieve all that and the acoustic considerations, we’ve spent literally hundreds of man hours with Mark, Willie, our design team and every department on this production trying to make it perfect.
“The U2 team is an orchestra conducted by Jake at every turn. We consulted with him at length along with his crew of carpenters and we always consider the unexpected. How we managed the potential for collision between the tracking bridges and the camera tracking system was a nice innovation for us.”
Tait is also supplying three 16m diameter inverted umbrellas that will form a continuous waterproof canopy solution over the band. Based on the Mark Fisher design for Pink Floyd’s 1977 US stadium tour, they have been upgraded to lightweight aluminum structures with integrated hydraulic power units.
“People know us for building stage sets,” added Winky. “Packaging, speed and the finish is what they pay for, and we like to think we’re the best at what we do because we take a real pride in how we do it.”
VIDEO: A BOLD TRANSFORMATION
In order to facilitate what Jake Berry describes as “the most elaborate and expensive video system assembled for a rock’n’roll tour”, leading rental company XL Video made one of its largest-ever upfront financial investments to date when it purchased outright and assembled a completely bespoke screen package from Barco.
The 24m x 16m diameter screen forms part of XL’s comprehensive video rental consignment that includes 12 Sony cameras with televators, two UVA d3 pixel media manipulation systems, two Grass Valley Kayak switcher with associated routing and monitoring, telemetric pan/tilt systems with gyroscope camera stabilisers, Iso camera record and press feed facilities, plus eight video monitors for the stage underworld.
In fact, the only items outside the package are the LEDs embedded in the stage and Tait’s impressive camera track design, in which XL also became actively involved.
In the lead-up to Camp Nou, the project required nine months of intense communication between Stufish, Frederic Opsomer of the Barco-owned Innovative Designs (and designer of the PopMart video wall), US-based Chuck Hoberman, U2 Production, and XL’s principals — Chris Mounsor, MD XL Video UK; Kristof Soreyn, chief technology officer, XL Holding; Paul Wood, XL UK project manager; and technical director Richard Burford who was material in commissioning the system in Barcelona throughout June, earning Berry’s fulsome praise.
More than 500,000 transformable Barco FLX RGB LED pixels and another half a million individual components come together to create the incredible shape-shifting, automated, truncated elliptical cone screen that performs above the band and provides their boldest video statement ever.
The catalyst for this ground-breaking development was Willie Williams’ growing concern about what to do in a video-saturated world. He said: “Obviously, when we did Zoo TV and PopMart, not only did we have this amazing tool to play with but it was also brand new. What we did then was exceptional and very clever, but the fact that it was a new tool was the double whammy.
“These days, it doesn’t matter how great your video content is, you’re still in that same arena, there’s no more oxygen left in that tank, everyone’s drawing from the same well... and frankly most video content is so appalling that it just drags down the entire form.
“Audiences love a bit of razzle-dazzle, and the video screen is by far the loudest voice in the room. That was, of course, the whole premise of Zoo TV, and it’s taken a while to convey my feelings to U2 that it wasn’t about creating better content but that I was questioning the entire idea of that kind of show.”
For the first half of the main set, the screen is a motionless honeycomb of pixels as it transmits a full 360° mix of film, graphics and I-Mag around the venue. Then, musical beauty and engineering magic conspire on ‘The Unforgettable Fire’ — a song left untouched since 1990 — as the screen elegantly expands downward like an alien scissor lift and 90,000 jaws drop. How on Earth could this be possible?
“The concept evolved through all of our ideas and I was responding to Willie and Mark’s direction about the form it should take,” explained Chuck Hoberman, the famous inventor of folding structures and toys, most notably the Hoberman Sphere.
“My speciality is to take three-dimensional form and make it physically morph from one shape to another. And it’s thrilling to see this expressed in such an exciting way.”
Recalling his first tour with the band in 1992, Opsomer said: “U2 started to experiment with video formats on Zoo TV. Since then, we’ve seen screens that move, split and track, and this is now the next step in which we can literally transform the shape of the screen and form kinetic sculptures before the audience’s eyes.
“Willie and the band are always trying to encourage new approaches, and a transformable screen had been on my mind for a few years so it seemed the right time to suggest it. I couldn’t imagine any other band getting behind such a project.
“It’s the FLX single pixel platform that makes this happen because at the moment it’s the ultimate creative video tool. The modules can be mounted on anything to form a bespoke shape. Here, they are mounted on flexfoil [a flexible PCB] which is glued to aluminium. That becomes part of the overall screen structure whose movement is controlled by Kinesys K2 automation software, 40 motors and eight 7.5 tonne winches that raise and lower it.”
Crewed by Raffaele Buono and technicians Jack Richard and T.K. Woo, the automation system benefits from Kinesys’ new Evo chain hoist, introduced this spring at Frankfurt’s ProLight+Sound exhibition.
Dave Weatherhead of Kinesys explained: “The true zero speed of the Evo is crucial to the subtle screen movement because it has to travel at less than 1mm per second. Each of the screen’s four layers is held by a ring of hoists that run at different speeds, and Hoberman gave us very precise motion profiles that we loaded into the K2 computer.”
Hans Willems of Wicreations became involved in the project when Jeremy Lloyd asked if he could devise a screen support truss to be located inside the screen ‘cylinder’. The support structure holds all of the video controllers, power supplies and 25km of cable, as well as the automated hoists that open the screen.
The truss has to hold a total of 52 tonnes and Wicreations ensured that complete weatherproofing came as part of the package.
At the same time that the steel structure was being tested in Werchter, the screen was undergoing its own pre-tour analysis at the Sportpaleis in Antwerp, and Wicreations triple-reeved its 2.5 tonne hoists in order to lift the screen.
“The Sportpaleis grid could just hold it, so we introduced distribution techniques to make it all work,” said Willems, who has also built a number of U2’s amp rack dollies. The total video screen weight including distro, automation and winches is 74 tonnes.
XL Video UK and its holding company’s CTO, Kristof Soreyn’s involvement in consulting on and adapting the Innovative Designs-built metal structure into a touring solution was significant to the end design.
Last November, technical video director Stefaan Desmedt, a.k.a. ‘Smasher’, was invited to look at the video screen ‘basket’ concept and how he would handle the dynamic image mapping across it as it opened and closed.
He said: “I couldn’t find a software solution from Barco so I went to UVA, whose Ash Nehru re-wrote the program for the d3 3D visual playback system to make the re-mapping of video content and live inputs work correctly in this format.
“The d3 that has four inputs and virtually controls everything and also takes a feed from my [Grass Valley Kayak] switcher. I’ve been playing with this machine for two months and doing the most bizarre things with it. Fortunately it’s a very reliable tool.
“I receive data feedback from the Kinesys screen automation computer into the d3 system because I need to know the real-time status of the screen movement.
Smasher gave a d3 to U2’s long-time content producer (or video curator) Catherine Owens so she could “understand how the content would work in the intended format with what is basically a real-time visualiser”.
I-MAG CAMERA STYLE
More commonly employed as a director of photography on music videos (U2, Springsteen, Dylan, R.E.M.), film shoots and commercials, Tom Krueger is gaining his first experience of working directly on a rock’n’roll tour as video director in partnership with Smasher who, in practical terms, could be regarded as the technical video director.
“I didn’t know that I was going to cut cameras before I arrived in Barcelona!” said Smasher, with a wry grin. “So when that decision was made, I brought Stefaan Vanbesian in from the LED world to take over my original role of running the d3 I had pre-programmed as well as that of camera engineer.”
Although Krueger toured with the band on Vertigo in order to make the U23D movie with Catherine Owens and Mark Pellington, the experience was, he said, in stark contrast to the present. “I’m integrating fully with the crew this time. Working on a tour in the way I’m doing now has limitations that I’m not used to — you only get one take each night — but it’s exciting that every show’s different.
Willie Williams believes that Krueger’s involvement has been key to the new video styling. “Tom has made U2 look better on camera than anybody else and they know that. He approaches it like a nightly film shoot and the five tracking cameras on televators provide looks that are insanely good without affecting audience sightlines.
“I value his inexperience of touring if only for the fact that no other touring director could keep a straight face and ask Jake Berry if he can have 12 camera ops!”
“Smasher is cutting the show and calling cameras, so he’s doing everything a regular director does, but his relationship with Tom is crucial to the style because Tom tailored the set-up, the principle and gave confidence to the band.”
The XL Video team also includes Patrick Vansteelant (crew chief), chief engineer Jeroen ‘Myway’ Marain, camera operators Mark Cruickshank, Luke Levitt, Eoin McLoughlin and Gordon Davies, and LED techs Jan Bonny, Jeroen Mahieu and Tobias Kokemper. Olivier Clybouw is the operator assigned to run the understage video monitors and pilot their switcher.
THE CREATIVE STUFF
In association with Willie Williams and his producer Sam Pattinson, Catherine Owens has produced a large palette of video content that will introduced to the big screen over the course of the tour.
A friend of the band since the late ’70s, Owens was given a sizeable budget to commission pieces of various styles and working with her on the project is a veritable dream team of visual artists — Luke Halls, Damian Hale, Jan Urbanowski, Run Wrake and Jason Free.
Halls created the treatments for ‘The Unforgettable Fire’ and ‘City Of Blinding Lights’, Damian Hale produced the rave-style visuals for the ‘remixed’ version of ‘I’ll Go Crazy’ and also worked closely with Bono’s pal, Gavin Friday.
Run Wrake contributed a sequence for ‘Magnificent’, for which he photographed flowers from different angles, and added some interstitial elements like the Karaoke overlay for ‘Unknown Caller’.
The simple sequence for ‘No Line On The Horizon’ is a treatment of Hiroshi Sugimoto’s image of the Boden Sea that graces the latest album cover. Get On Your Boots is another Owens-produced piece by Elliott Chaffer at Loyal Kaspar that was made for the Grammys performance and re-worked for the tour.
Politics are never far away from the U2 stage and this tour is another opportunity to boost the profile of the One Campaign, an organisation close to Bono’s heart. The theme of ‘Lovers & Friends’ is introduced when thousands of photos of kissing couples that are uploaded from One.org cascade across the screen to raise awareness of progress being made against extreme poverty and preventable disease in Africa.
The audience also witnesses clips from an impassioned interview with Archbishop Desmond Tutu, produced in London by Owens and featuring Wrake’s animation work. The Tutu sequence segues majestically into the rousing ‘Where The Streets Have No Name’ — the perennial U2 live classic.
Williams commented on this highlight: “What’s great about ‘Streets’ is that it’s a rare moment in a show that carries a lot of anticipation from the swell of the intro but also has pay-off because it remains constantly huge.”
‘Walk On’ highlights the plight of Aung San Suu Kyi, the democratically-elected Burmese leader and Nobel Peace Prize winner who has been under house arrest by the military junta since the 1990 election.
Fans are encouraged to print off masks of the woman hailed as Burma’s Nelson Mandela and wear them during this song as a demonstration of solidarity. Repeated images of Aung San Suu Kyi’s face adorn the screen and the song climaxes with a procession of young masked people on the B-stage runway.
The opening night also included a ‘live hook-up’ between Bono and the crew aboard the International Space Station — a wacky interlude that Williams predicted may only be reserved for special occasions on the tour.
“Time and space are the themes that seem to be emerging,” he said. “I love our interludes and it is good to have a point in the show where you genuinely don’t know what’s going to happen.”
Much of the content is MIDI-cued from Terry Lawless’ keyboards in the stage underworld, explained Smasher, who added: “The clips and patterns have Alpha channels or extra blank layers incorporated in them so that we can fill them with I-Mag and combine live and pre-recorded content.”
PRG’s relationship with U2 goes back to the ’80s when Light & Sound Design originally furnished Willie Williams with equipment and crew. For 360°, a total of 196 of PRG’s new Bad Boy hybrid luminaires are being used for both effects lighting and regular applications as part of Williams’ design.
Outputting a blinding 48,000 lumens, the unit was specifically designed to be the first true stadium-application moving light, opening up a new range of possibilities for leading-edge show designers.
After watching U2’s opening show, Mickey Curbishley, PRG’s president of global touring, told me: “It’s the first time I’ve seen the Bad Boy working in the environment that it was designed for. Conventional moving lights wouldn’t have been able to deliver this level of power and there’s no other light that could do this job.”
At times, the Space Station’s membrane has a sinuous, veiny look that suggests it’s part of a living organism. This illusion is created by gobos projected by a bank of seven Bad Boys behind the mix tower, while the high platforms project on to the back and sides.
Last November, PRG’s Robin Wain arranged to hire Wembley Stadium in order to demo six Bad Boys to Williams who immediately saw that it was the first true stadium moving light which, crucially, can be read through a video screen and allow creative gobo use in conjunction with bright LED displays.
Williams himself told TPi: “It is an astonishing piece of kit and its success is due to them starting with the application. The colours are very good [the vivid green and blue for ‘Sunday Bloody Sunday’ and ‘One’ have amazing depth] but I was shocked to find it doesn’t do colour mixing. However, I understand why they went in favour of output because when you’re in a situation like this, output is number one.
“I knew I’d be lighting the audience to some extent but instead of just washing them I wanted to do things with break-ups, gobos and some movement. I must say that I have banned the Bad Boy name from the lighting tower. Great light, appalling name! We feel more comfortable calling it the VLI as a tribute to the Vari*Lite and the Icon, although Jake still refers to them as nodding buckets!”
In fact, the Bad Boy could well be the love child of the Vari*Lite and the Icon, as it takes the best lensing and mechanical features from each. In addition to the optical clarity that comes from using high-quality lenses, the Bad Boy features also include smooth, fluid control of focus, zoom range of 8:1 (7° to 56°), and imaging thanks to high-speed servo motors and full-field 0 to 100% dimming.
It was designed with energy efficiency and carbon footprint standards in mind which, given the number of non-eco friendly aspects of the tour in general, is no bad thing.
In Barcelona, history came full circle when Rusty Brutsché, one of the original Vari*Lite design team, watched the opening show of the 360° tour with Curbishley.
It was in this city that he saw Genesis début the first VL rig and herald a new era. On a balmy night, 28 summers later, it was a virtual re-run of the past as Brutsché saw the Bad Boys — co-designed by himself and fellow VL original Jim Bornhorst — burst into life.
AND MORE FIXTURES...
Lighting requires a 12-14 hour load-in and as lighting associate Alex Murphy told me, his boss knew exactly which fixtures he would use for each song and how he’d use them.
“Every one of the 196 Martin Atomic strobes [with colour changers] is a true workhorse and they’re all kept very busy throughout the show, but in terms of Willie’s very precise vision for a specific look, the huge DWE blast in ‘One’ is a great example,” he said.
“It’s also nice to work on a show where there’s such a wealth of bespoke equipment, such as the ripple beacons that come to life in ‘Moment Of Surrender’.”
Made from stainless steel, the five DMX-controlled rotating ripple beacons that are spaced evenly up the cigar were developed by Specialz as an giant-sized version of the fixtures produced by the company for Williams’ Lumia Domestica light art shows.
Dave Smith of Specialz said: “We prototyped a 4kW HMI but Willie wanted a little more power so we upgraded to a 6kW MSR. It’s a relatively small contribution that creates a very big look!”
Another role of one of the set cranes is to position eight Zap Technologies Big Lites in a circle on the roof of the structure.
PRG Mbox Extreme media servers feed the 1,200 Barco FLX-60 pixel modules that are implanted around the edges of both stages and the bridges. The video content team created special graphics that are sent to these LEDs.
Fog and haze machines get a workout on this tour. During the rehearsal fluid, the team were consuming 42 litres of fog fluid a day. Murphy commented that they are travelling with a full truckload of machines, including “Europe’s stock of Jem Roadies” and several Hazebase units.
Trying to call so many followspots with a Spanish translator for some of the bigger numbers was very stressful, according to Murphy.
There are 12 Lycian M2 long-throws in the trusses and 13 Strong Gladiators on all the high platforms, plus seven of the new Novalight Nova-Flower 2kW flower effects, supplied to PRG by Lightfactor Sales. The Nova-Flower features in ‘If I Don’t Go Crazy’, performing a larger-than-life, spinning disco effect.
All lighting equipment including power and data distribution is being supplied through the PRG Global Touring Group. A complete truss package — including PRG’s new BAT low profile truss support for followspot chairs — is also part of the deal.
And just as it seems that every lighting trick in the book has been pulled out of the hat, Bono returns to the stage for the encore, wearing a black leather jacket designed by Moritz Waldemeyer, featuring 240 lasers that extend the singer’s every move all the way across the audience.
Admittedly, whilst I wasn’t sure this the most impressive gag of the show, there were 90,000 other people who yelled unanimous approval, so what do I know?
Ethan Weber was brought into the U2 camp after long-term lighting director, Bruce Ramus emigrated to Melbourne. WiIliams was looking for someone with plenty of stadium experience and with several Stones tours behind him, Weber proved to be the perfect choice... as indeed was the grandMA lighting control platform. The tour carries two full-size grandMAs and two grandMA lights.
“I was an Avo user for many years and then got stuck with a spluttering piece of blue anodised metal for a while which I’m sure caused a lot of grey hair,” laughed Weber. “A new choice had to made; the grandMA was the desk that everyone’s using... now I know why.”
Weber controls all of the Bad Boys and the strobes, while Murphy controls the media servers and LEDs. Their consoles communicate via DMX so that Murphy can send signals to Weber’s desk to fire the smoke machines. “We’re running 24 DMX universes on my desk,” said Weber. “Alex has another four on his and they’re very stable.”
He added: “There are very few consoles in the world that could run a show like this. The grandMA2 could have been considered but I’m not into taking risks at this level and the original grandMA has proven itself time and time again.”
Weber was impressed with the attention and support given by MA’s team. He said: “MA’s German and London offices have been overwhelmingly supportive and when it became apparent that WYSIWYG couldn’t keep up with us, we went over to ESP Vision but simultaneously discovered MA’s MA3D software that you can download free of charge, which is wonderful.”
Chiefed by Rodney Clay through Paris, followed by Nick Barton, the lighting crew also includes Craig Hancock, Mick Stowe, Stuart Lee, Russell ‘Bits’ Lyons, Andrew Beller, Blaine Dracup, Jake Sullivan, Chris Keene, Jessica LaPoint, Alison Triplett, Gareth Morgan and Christopher Davis.
LET ME IN THE SOUND, JOE
U2 360° reunites the band’s audio director and FOH engineer of 31 years, Joe O’Herlihy, with Clair, the global sound rental company that, like PRG, has now serviced U2 tours for decades.
This Irish-American alliance pooled its collective experience and expertise to create a bespoke design for U2’s 360° touring PA system, which is based around Clair’s i-5 line array (see boxout) and the largest consignment of loudspeaker cabinets in touring history that is believed to have a US$10 million inventory value.
The unique system design evolved through the initial conversations between the band and Willie Williams at the end of their final Vertigo tour leg about a future in-the-round stadium tour.
By the time U2 reached Honolulu for their final show on December 9 2006, Williams was walking around Aloha Stadium, explaining to Bono about how an in-the-round stadium design could work from the band’s perspective.
On the same day, O’Herlihy began planning the 360° audio concept. “We haven’t played American stadiums for a long time,” he said, “and this time it required a completely different approach of an inclusive nature so that the PA would be fully integrated into the set design early on, working with Willie and the Stufish team.”
To cover a multitude of zones, the main system is split into the following hangs: FOH — L/R hangs of 36 i-5 & 36 i-5B each side; Rear — L/R 24 i-5 & 24 i-5B (less boxes to cover smaller audience numbers); House Left — 16 i-5 & 16 i-5B; House Right — 16 i-5 & 16 i-5B; Main Stage Front Fill — 24 Clair FF11 & 24 Clair BT218 subs; and B-Stage Area — 72 S4 subs.
By re-examining stadiums from a psycho-acoustic perspective and conducting measurements with Clair proprietary systems, O’Herlihy and his team were able to calculate the SPL required for audience capacities up to 95,000. “Not only does the software tell you the distance from A to B, it also gives a transient figure in relation to the SPL. And because of the system’s trim height it travels the whole distance of the stadium on its own accord and delivers high quality sound even up in the Gods.
“However, to gain additional intelligibility in difficult to reach areas, it was decided to supplement the main system with a new Clair delay speaker, the iDL [see Clair boxout]. It’s a very tight cabinet that gently augments what’s being projected from the main PA and very accurately reaches the areas that need extra vocal and guitar clarity.”
There are four delay hangs of eight i-DLs each, positioned left, centrefield left/right (behind the mix tower) and right. These new cabinets were given a test run in January when O’Herlihy and the Clair crew took advantage of AC/DC’s production at Toronto’s Skydome.
“We simulated the U2 system by using Pab Boothroyd’s i-4 rig... and it was an interesting and worthwhile experiment,” commented O’Herlihy, whose daughter Sarah is also on the tour as ticketing & security assistant.
This project arguably requires more precision on the part of the crew than anything in the past. Sound crew chief and master system tech Jo Ravitch, Vincent Perreux and Dave Coyle each take responsibility for a specific area of the system for set-up and tuning according to the agreed design document, although there is some flexibility between venues.
In order to produce the amount of low end energy in a stadium to which U2 has traditionally been accustomed, a ring of 72 S4 subs around the B stage was designed to provide the general bass for the venue, while the BT218 subs around the main stage add a more subtle layer, tuned to a specific frequency.
Of course, the bigger the venue, the wilder bass will behave, so a low end steering cardioid method has been applied whereby one S4 faces forward with another 54” behind it, also facing forward. This cancels out backfiring, leaving all the energy focused straight ahead.
Coupled with Tait’s acoustically-treated areas of the playing area, the result of this technique is a better listening experience for the audience and the quietest, most interference-free stage U2 have played on, giving O’Herlihy cleaner sources to mix at FOH — aided further by use of in-ear systems.
“It’s a luxury because we’ve always had to deal with a high level of loud wedge monitoring,” said ‘JOH-FOH’. “Now, I’m pretty much just getting the instruments direct and this partly helps me to improve Larry’s drum sound [he is playing a new Yamaha Phoenix PHX kit] which is particularly excellent this time.”
The system is powered by a combination of over 150 Lab.gruppen PLM 10000Q and 14000Q amplifiers — the largest number ever put together by Clair for a tour — all pulling a decent amount of juice from CAT Entertainment Services’ generators.
It was over a year ago that Clair made its initial investment in 300 10000Qs and its president and CEO, Troy Clair recogised the purchase as a significant step forward. “The PLM Series makes both business and technological sense for us,” he said. “We’ve reduced our standard rack size by half, which reduces the floor space used near the stage and the truck space used during transport, both of which are at a premium.
“We’ve also significantly reduced the weight. And with the PLM’s integration of Dolby Lake processing we’ve eliminated the need for a traditional FOH drive rack as well.”
Taking a practical viewpoint, Jo Ravitch added: “Using the Labs in the hot Spanish climate has been a real boon because, thanks to the onboard thermal protection facility, they talk to you and let you know when they’re getting too hot.
“The software keeps a record of the temperature, power output and consumption, and this is all very useful data.”
In addition to the Lab.gruppens, there are racks of Powersoft K10 amplifiers — the K-Series’ top model — which power the system’s low end.
A new approach to mixing this band, said O’Herlihy, has been crucial to the notably upgraded U2 live sound even though the technique may not entirely original.
To avoid the harsh effects of line array lobing, he feeds different audio content to the on-stage and off-stage rows of i-5s. Vocals and guitars go through the on-stage hang while bass, drums and keyboards are projected through the off-stage i-5s and i-5Bs.
Whilst the lower frequencies are is being sent to the outer system, everything is so close together that it sounds like one giant line array. And because the sections overlay so neatly, one can only tell how the feeds are separated from a very far off-axis position.
Seemingly a more ‘musical’ approach to mixing, O’Herlihy said this has all been necessary to provide extra headroom down power alley. “Not only do we create an incredible frequency response capability through this process, we also increase the energy going forward in increments up to 7%,” he claimed.
To pilot this scheme, O’Herlihy’s choice of weapon above all others is the digital DiGiCo SD7 console. “The SD7 gives you a multi-matrix with which you can send a signal from any one channel to any one destination, and we have matrices going all the way around.”
The SD7 works in conjunction with two stage racks, each with 40 input channels, and has three stereo outputs for inside L/R, outside L/R and the matrix L/R which is a combination of the inside and outside L/R for the side hangs.
Jo Ravitch observed: “The trick is to address these systems separately while consciously mix as if it it were one. It becomes a slight issue with our opening acts [such as Snow Patrol, mixed at FOH by Marc Carolan] because they also have to send us inside and outside signals in two stereo groups in order for the system to work properly.”
Every rehearsal and show is multitrack recorded which helps O’Herlihy perform ‘virtual soundchecks’ on the SD7 when the band is absent, and also isolate any signal problems. “On opening night, we had a crackle coming from the transmitter on Adam’s bass during one song, so I referenced back and solved the issue.
“For me, the SD7 is a very cleverly thought-out console — a much smarter version of the D5, which I used on Vertigo. DiGiCo listened hard to many engineers about things that might work better for us, and the operating system that now exists is at such a superior level.”
Whilst the onboard dynamics toolbox is embraced by the engineer, there remains a few outboard items that he won’t be without, such as Summit DCL-200 compressors for Edge’s guitars and Manley’s Vox Box for Bono’s vocals.
“It’s largely an old school Shure microphone choice that especially suits Edge’s vintage gear,” said O’Herlihy. Guitar mics are 57s and 58s, vocals are on Beta 58s,
On drums, there’s a 91 and Beta 52 on kick, with an added 98 to highlight the beater action; a 56 (top), 57 (bottom) and 98 (rim) are on the snare; and Sennheiser MD-421s on the toms.
An AKG C 456 on an elbow mechanism picks up the hi-hat; there’s an SM81 on the ride cymbal bell; overheads are Audio-Technica 4050s; there’s a wireless Shure 98 on Larry’s djembe drum and a 56 on bongos. DI boxes are all by Countryman.
A Roland V-Drums module is also used during ‘Get On Your Boots’ for which an explosive John Bonham snare sample is triggered from Larry’s own snare.
There are three sets of headworn mics — a Shure Beta 54 on a Clair-customised headset for Edge’s B-stage walkabouts, a flesh-toned DPA 4088 cardioid and another Beta 54 fitted to a bowler hat by Clair especially for Bono on the theatrical ‘Drowning Man’, only heard in rehearsal at Camp Nou.
Inspired by the classic boxing announcer’s mic, a custom ‘ring mic’ device has been created for Bono, which features an SM98 with a transmitter set inside a steering wheel-type surround. It is dropped down to the stage on a cable, enabling the frontman to swing around on it for a random effect during the encore.
INTO THE UNDERWORLD
Before rehearsals for 360°, monitor engineer Dave Skaff had spent most of the last three years off the road working for Digidesign. A call from Joe O’Herlihy catapulted him back into the touring world and he’s glad to be in the thick of it once more.
Monitor duties for this tour are divided between Skaff, Niall Slevin and Alistair McMillan, who is charged with recording each show. Robbie Adams was also present in Barcelona in a monitor consultant’s role.
DiGiCo SD7s are also favoured in the monitor underworld by Slevin and McMillan, with one assigned to Bono and another for The Edge, whose monitoring has always required complex attention.
A Digidesign D-Show Profile is run by Skaff for Clayton, Mullen Jr and invisible keyboard player Terry Lawless. Skaff’s Profile choice was, he said, influenced by the tight working area beneath the stage.
“It’s cramped down here, but you get used to it!” laughed Skaff, another U2 long-timer. “We don’t have a direct line of sight to the band because of where we are, so we’re working off video monitors. There’s also a separate mixer that mixes the 15 talk-back mics that link us to FOH and the stage.”
The band are on Future Sonics ear monitors, paired with Sennheiser G2 hardware. And apart from a couple of low profile Clair 12AMII ‘Stealth’ wedges for Bono, it’s a fairly ‘clean’ stage.
This is Future Sonics’ 17th year with U2 and in addition to the band’s requirements, the company, headed by founder Marty Garcia, has also been working with the security team to provide improved communication.
Although Skaff and Slevin previously included wireless frequency management as part of their daily tasks, the scale of this production required a dedicated RF technician, namely Josh Flower of Wireless First.
“The wireless thing has been a battle here in Barcelona which is a notoriously bad city for RF, with things flying about all over,” Skaff explained. “We wanted to get into a ground-based antennae solution that is more serviceable.
“There was also the complication of this big screen which is a huge metal shield and power supplies are usually the main offenders when it comes to affecting wireless transmission. But because of the way it’s designed, the power supplies are located high enough to not have a severe impact.
“We’ve got double sets of frequencies within the 500-600MHz band for everyone and around 60 belt packs to ensure that everybody gets what they need. It’s bordering on enough wireless kit to set up a dealership!”
Clair’s sound crew also includes Ben Blocker, Hannes Dander, Thomas Ford, Chris Fulton, Kelsey Gingrich, Pascal Harlaut, Joel Merrill, Jason O’Dell and Jennifer Smola.
NEGOTIATING THE STAGE
The stage is managed by the road warrior that is Rocko Reedy, who is assisted by George Reeves. Working out of the same subterranean labyrinth as the monitor engineers are the backline crew, headed by Sam O’Sullivan (also Larry Mullen Jr’s drum tech) who recently celebrated 30 years’ service to U2.
He is again joined by Edge’s tech Dallas Schoo, Stuart Morgan (Clayton), Phil Docherty (Bono), electronics guru Colm ‘Rab’ McAllister and keyboard player/tech Terry Lawless.
“The set design doesn’t affect our method of working on stage, but the backline has had to be angled differently and screened off to cater for the 360° performance,” said O’Sullivan.
“This stage is like another world,” said Edge, as we chatted briefly in the catering tent. “It’s going to give us such enormous scope to reach the audience and we’re all really excited.”
U2 are carrying an extraordinary amount of instrumentation on the road, with 58 guitars for Edge who also plays electric piano, 24 basses for Clayton (now using Aguilar amps) and nine guitars for Bono who plays on three numbers.
At first glance, the Space Station looks like a health and safety timebomb, so it’s no surprise to find that Jake Berry has employed the services of The Event Safety Shop to help administer safe working practice and bring all paperwork in line with European standards.
TESS’ Dave Wilkie ensures that every crew member has the tools and information they need to carry out their work properly and safely. He has also provided plant training and given around 50% of the crew European certification for operation of cherry pickers and fork lifts.
TESS is also the central depository for all the H&S documentation from every contractor and taking on board the requirements of promoters and local authorities.
“Health and safety regulations have tightened so much that crew have to take greater responsibility these days,” he said.
Nearly three trucks’ worth of crowd barrier from Mojo Barriers will keep audiences in order on the tour. These come under the jurisdiction of U2’s security director Scott Nichols of Sequel Tour Solutions and production security co-ordinator Knute