Imagining U2’s Next Stage.
BY DAN KENNEDY
[Originally published November 10, 2009.]
Mel “Kip” Kepperson,
As you can see, it’s basically designed as a six-story high steel manta ray structure that comes up even with the top seats in most stadiums we’re touring this year, and it will actually tower about five-stories above most of the stadiums on the South American leg of our tour, which is very exciting. The wings come out 150 yards on each side with the video screens, and that’s your secondary focal point. The central focal point is the manta ray’s body and head, which is a four-story tall crystal tube—that’s where Bono is encased for the first part of the set, and he can explore all levels of that tube during the concert without every losing sight of the fans. And the fans can see him no matter what level he’s at in the crystal tube body, because the eyes of the manta ray are two 9-by-900k Millennial-Scope® bi-oct sectionally-independent high intensity tone-tracking spotlights that are keyed to seek Bono and track him based on the EPIRB signal his wireless unit emits. So it still feels like an intimate show, which was really important to the band.
Rich “Dick Hat” Hardt,
Unit Hydraulics Lead
The stage moves just like a normal everyday live manta ray, and basically there are two formations to the stage. In formation one, the manta ray is erect and alert, wings upright, keeping the band visible at all times and one atmosphere removed from the fan. It is basically what I call a “highly visible and untouchable” presentation of the band. In formation two, the manta ray’s head and abdomen kind of tuck into each other, and his wings flip forward and down, forming dual catwalks that lead to a small “pod stage” in the middle of the crowd. Each of the ray’s wings is manned with five cameramen that track the band on The Intimacy Pod. Edge’s guitars are transferred out to the IP in two golf carts that run on a track under the stage, and his tech will offload the instruments into a pneumatic tube that uses pressurized air to push each instrument up as it is needed for each song in the five-song Intimacy Pod set. He’ll use three guitars per song, switching out for various parts of each tune, so that’s fifteen guitars in transit under the ray’s “wings” while his other thirty-one guitars remain back in the main abdomen. Larry and Adam are “birthed” from the rear underside of the ray’s belly and then swung around to the Intimacy Pod on separate sub-stages that “float” out over the crowd on cables. This approach keeps it simple; like a small rock club, really, giving the fans a chance to experience the band as if they’ve just walked into a pub or tavern to see their favorite band.
The main stage, just the manta ray’s head and wings, rolls out in one hundred and ten, eighteen-wheeler twelve-ton trucks. Those vehicles are our lead roll, so those trucks are first out of the current stadium and first in to the next one. And we’ve got three sets of those trucks, because we’re leapfrogging three manta rays. In other words, while you’re watching this show tonight in Hyde Park, we’ve already got a one hundred and ten truck convey on its way to the Go-Green EarthAid™ festival in Oslo with our second manta ray rig, and another one hundred and ten trucks on convoy to, say, Iceland for The World is Hungry® Global Relief Concert. So the band does three nights on and one night off and we’re always set up at the next stop on the tour, all over the world. People say, “Do you really need to roll with three hundred and thirty 18-wheelers for the stages, and the answer, obviously, is yes.” It seems a lot less extravagant when you consider we’re able to roll the band’s instruments and gear using only nine trucks, the outboard lighting grid in just twenty trucks, and the crew on thirteen busses. Then we’ve just got four planes for the band and front office management. When you look at it like that, you realize we’re pretty scaled down out here. It could’ve been a much bigger transportation setup, but the band stepped in and said, “Let’s do the right thing here, let’s keep it small, let’s let the music speak for itself.” So we did.
Wolfe “Master Mind” Mastürbaight,
Stage Designer and Architect
Someone was talking to me at one point and they told me that Chuck Berry tours with one guitar and he plays on just, you know, the venue’s stage. You know, the point being, here is this legend and he tours with one guitar and … nothing else, really. And I thought: that’s sad. All he has is the music. In a perfect world he’d be able to present those songs from a 170-ton exoskeleton that’s got, say, even just twelve camera operators. You know? I mean, if he’s playing, say, “Lucille” why isn’t he coming out on a giant heart that he could float out over the crowd on, then the heart literally “breaks” and he comes out with a headset microphone—you know, get him a little more mobile on the catwalk—and I could have Millennial Scope® laser hits following him out to the … Anyway, someone was telling me that Chuck Berry tours with one guitar.
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