Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Behind the scenes of U2 in Salt Lake

In another life and time, Craig Evans might have been a carnival barker, attempting to drum up interest and sell tickets for any number of traveling entertainment troupes passing through town.

In today's world, however, Evans is the director for the U2 360° Tour -- the biggest and grandest rock concert endeavor of all time. Indeed, by the time this traveling spectacle wraps in July, it will be the highest-grossing (to the tune of $700 million) and highest-attended (7 million tickets sold) tour of all time.

Despite the unprecedented, off-the-charts success of the tour, Evans was still at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City on Monday afternoon, holding court with local media members and drumming up advance coverage for tonight's long-awaited U2 appearance. (The show was postponed from last summer due to emergency back surgery for Bono, the band's lead singer and frontman.)

U2's current concert undertaking is so immense, that even Evans's barker-style hyperbole comes across as a mere stating of the facts.

"This is U2 2011, and these guys are growing and getting better every day," he said. "This is the greatest U2 that there ever has been."

It's hard to disagree, seeing as how Evans was standing on the field at Rice-Eccles Stadium in front of the largest concert stage ever constructed. U2's stage for this tour features a futuristic design that includes four steel legs that are 90 feet tall and a center pylon that tops out at 150 feet. The whole structure -- dubbed "The Claw" -- weighs 400 tons.

According to Evans, because it takes four days to construct the "Claw" structure at each venue, there are actually three of them which leap-frog tour dates around the country. So, presently, there is one in Denver still being taken down after Saturday's concert, one in Salt Lake City for tonight's show, and a third one being set up for the following show in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada.

There is only one set of production equipment, Evans said, which includes lights, sound, video board and the main stage below. That arrives the day before each show and is added to the main structure.

Let the good tines roll

The idea for this massive undertaking, Evans said, can actually be traced to the end of the band's "Vertigo" tour on Dec. 9, 2006, at Aloha Stadium in Hawaii. As he was walking out of the venue after the show, Bono asked U2 stage designer Willie Williams if next time, there would be any way the band could play to all the stadium.

The concept continued over dinner with the placement of four forks over a plate, visually representing a 360-degree viewing experience. Voila! "The Claw" was born.

"The idea was to make a stadium setup that was so big that it actually made the stadium feel small," Evans said. "And the idea behind that was to create a more intimate atmosphere and environment for the fans and the band, where everyone feels like they're not in a giant stadium but in very close. This stadium is the smallest stadium of the entire U2 tour. It's interesting to see the show that will happen here is going to be very unique indeed. It's going to make for a very special show ... and to be able to come to a community like Salt Lake City, which is a great city to come do shows at, but it's a challenge to bring a show of this size. But it's going to be a once-in-a-lifetime chance for people to see U2 -- the full-blown U2."

Evans was asked about which seats offer the best viewing experience for this tour. Like any good salesman, he was non-committal while extolling the virtues of any seat in the house.

"It's funny, I'm a golfer and people say, 'What's the best golf course?' and I can never answer that question because every good golf course is really good," he said. "I hear from fans that say they love it to be further back, and they get the big picture view. And I hear from fans who say, no, they want to get sweated on by Bono as he's running across the stage. You know, there is such a great experience because what is going on here is 50,000 people in a very closed area, and when they start screaming and yelling and sharing their excitement, then the band responds very obvious to that excitement, and then it goes back and forth. Really, wherever you are, you are part of that experience at the stadium."

Dave McKay, vice president for United Concerts, which is working with Live Nation on Tuesday's appearance, has seen all kinds of tours over decades in the entertainment business, but nothing like the current U2 undertaking.

"The U2 tour is truly the largest production ever put on the road," McKay said last week. "They are not only the most inspiring band, they are over the top with trying to entertain their fans. I'm not sure if this tour will ever be topped from a presentation standpoint -- it just can't get any bigger."

Weather or not

A recent spate of rainy weather will not have any effect on the show one way or another, Evans said. The show will go on, rain or shine. In fact, the futuristic stage has a backup plan in cases of inclement weather.

"We have these very, very elaborate and expensively designed umbrellas, that actually look like clear mushrooms, that come out of the stage and come over the top of the band members to protect them if we needed it to," Evans said. "As you can see with the spire, you have an open center, there's no actual center roof, so the rain can come right down. If it's coming on down on the band members, we're able to protect them. They seem to sort of enjoy it and you'll get a nice version of 'I'm Singing in the Rain' from Bono. There's really nothing weather wise that will affect us. Lightning is something we're very well aware of, but we're grounded safely. Wind is something that we very carefully monitor, but the structure has a very high tolerance. So we have all these safe levels that we've studied, but just the simple rain ... this show's happening and it has never really dampened a U2 performance."

When it comes to the concert industry, Evans has not only been around the block, he's been around the world many times over. He's been tour director for U2 for the band's past four tours, and prior to that he was tour director for the Rolling Stones and Paul McCartney, and also worked tours with Bon Jovi and Devo. He estimates that he's worked more than 6,000 shows in a career that began in 1986.

With apologies to another Irish artist, however, Evans said no one compares to U2.

"U2 is on a different level for everything," Evans said. "The Rolling Stones are an incredible stadium show. But what U2 has in terms of fan loyalty, in terms of international scope that they carry, for what they stand for, it's really hard not to truly believe all that they stand for. They eliminate debt and help poverty, and AIDS reduction ... they're passionate about it, they live it, it's real to them, and that adds on to everybody here. We're proud to be part of something that really in our society today is hard to find. There's no other band that could have done this tour successfully."

source : by Doug Fox

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