- 24 Nov 15
Whoever was privy to U2's gig last night must have been in awe of the incredible show the band put on this time. The designer Willie Williams lifts the lid on conjuring up one of the most captivating shows of the band's career.
“Every tour since Zoo TV, people have been saying, ‘It’s amazing – but how on earth are you going to top it?’ The answer is by finding a different canvas. If this were to have been a stadium tour, I don’t know what we’d have done. After the 360° Tour, I honestly didn’t have another stadium idea. I think that was the bookend to that kind of show.
With this tour, the canvas changed radically – a smaller space, under cover, where you can control light levels and everything else. I don’t want to say it was easy, but it’s more like starting from scratch. It didn’t feel like we were in competition with what had gone before. It’s extremely gratifying that it’s been so appreciated – it’s got easily the best press in a decade.
“It’s a different kind of show. 360°, for example, was about scale – every night there were around 100,000 people in the round, outdoors, sharing this communal experience. It was the best combination of a gig and a football match, and we were playing with the sheer spectacle of it. But there are enormous compromises that you have to make when working on that scale. To the naked eye, for instance, a human being doesn’t make much of an impact. For years we’d wanted to incorporate visuals – to have live performers interacting with pre-recorded pictures – but you simply can’t do that in a stadium. Indoors, that all changes.
“Our first summit for this tour was in early 2013. I love those meetings because I don’t generally see a lot of the guys between tours, and getting back together is almost like seeing how children have grown up. What really helped on this occasion was that there was such a strong narrative in the album. We could have designed the show 10 different ways – in fact, we did! – but the narrative was always the backbone. When I look at notes from that very first meeting, it’s amazing how many ideas we’re using on the tour were there from day one. I really love pushing the boat out, and thinking of the wildest ideas we can. I laughed when people were describing it beforehand as a ‘stripped- back’ affair, when it’s actually one of the biggest indoor shows that’s ever toured. But ultimately, there is a simple stage, and then a set-piece that does everything – it’s the bridge, the floating stage, the screen…
“We had a wonderful idea of having a bedroom float around the arena; lovely, until we found out the helium cushion needed would have to be bigger than the arena! It’s very sad when you have to leave those things behind, but the simplicity of how it’s expressed now – including Bono’s son Eli playing the part of his father when he was young – is far more satisfying. When Bono is walking down Cedarwood Road, I love watching the audience: the surprises are the real beauty of the show.
"There’s a moment where the screen clears, the house lights come on, and they’re right there in front of you. The four members of U2, in a cage, smack in the middle of the arena. You think, ‘What series of events could possibly have brought them to this?’ It’s an extraordinary moment, like a 21st century ‘giant lemon’.
"That lemon on the PopMart tour was, of course, based on Spinal Tap. It was only right that they ended up stuck in it! This time, there’ve been no catastrophes – apart from The Edge falling off the stage on the first night. The creative team actually missed that, as we’d done a runner before the last song finished. It was only when we got to the hotel that we heard about it. You instantly think the worst, but he bounced. He also said to me that the yellow lights on the walkway were on, all of the house lights were up, so it categorically was not my fault!
"When the Dublin dates weren’t announced, it really was because they didn’t know if it could work. We didn’t want to just do an acoustic show or something. I – along with Jake Berry the production manager, Joe O’Herlihy the sound engineer, and all the key people – spent a day in the arena with the arena staff. We basically just sat down and scratched our heads – whether to have the seats in or not, if we could turn the stage 90 degrees, all sorts of things. Obviously there’ll be compromises, but it’s a great compromise. There’s probably three songs that will need to be re-choreographed, but generally it’s an excellent solution.
“It’s interesting in such a small building, as the percentage of the audience at floor level is far greater than at a regular arena. That’s going to make the vibe amazing. You’ll still get the arch, the great visuals and everything else, but the energy level is going to be way higher – perfect for Dublin, you feel...”
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