U2's unearthly new tour set-up, consisting of The Claw and its revolving stage, makes its debut tonight at Barcelona's Camp Nou stadium - it promises to be a whole new live experience
Brian Boyd, Irish Times
IT LOOKS like a gigantic prop from a sci-fi film, costs about â‚¬100 million, is affectionately known as The Claw and all things going well will change the way we experience the live concert tour. When U2 begin their "360-degree" world tour tonight in the Barcelona's Camp Nou, they will be taking not just a huge financial risk with their radical stage set-up but perhaps setting in train a new idea for stage configuration that will have many imitators in the future.
Speaking about the tour, Bono says The Claw was his idea - an engineering challenge he had been working on for the past seven years. "The Claw is all to do with how you can play outdoors without using a proscenium stage with a big bank of speakers on the left and right. Every outdoor stage show you've ever seen uses that configuration. This idea we're now working on will mean more people can fit into the shows, there will be better sight lines and everyone will be closer to the action," he says.
The proscenium arch set-up - putting a stage at one end of a stadium - has served rock shows just fine so far but what the tour promises is a new experience. The giant four-legged Claw will be plonked down in the middle of the venue - and in the middle there will be a revolving stage.
The first big surprise when you see The Claw is that there are no huge banks of speakers and miles of wires in view. All the technical hardware is hidden inside the four legs of the contraption, and at the very top there is a huge video screen, which will offer simultaneous footage of the concert. One of the odd aspects here is that audience members can all clearly see each other.
By not having a stage as such, this configuration means that about 20,000 extra seats per stadium have now become available - so if nothing else, U2 will break box-office records on this tour.
Some 50m high, weighing 390 tons and requiring 180 trucks to transport it from venue to venue, U2 have three different Claws at their disposal. While they are playing on one of them, the second one is being set up at another venue and the third one is being transported somewhere else.
Long-time U2 associates Willie Williams and Mark Fisher will be working as show directors for the 18-month tour. "Everyone who sees it says that it looks like something different," says Williams. "It does look as though it has escaped from a giant space aquarium."
The Claw was inspired by the four-legged Theme Building at Los Angeles airport. "Our work is all to do with the logistics of building a very large piece of technical infrastructure in a very short time, and to make something interesting out of it," says Fisher. "Why do people go to shows like this in the digital age? It's for the huge collective experience, the social and spatial, and memories. This set will contribute by creating a massive sense of anticipation and delivering an amazing kinetic performance."
For all concerned, the best aspect of The Claw is that it can somehow create a feeling of intimacy in crowds of up to 90,000 people.
Bono says that U2 have always tried to present something different in the live context. The Zoo TV tour of 1991 was a spectacular, high-tech affair that had banks of giant video screens displaying imagery that corresponded with the music. Before Zoo TV, U2 live shows were a bit on the earnest side, but on that tour the band utilised images and slogans from pop culture to try and create a feeling of "sensory overload" for the audience.
The follow up-tour, 1997's PopMart, was a kitschy take on the nature of consumerism, with huge McDonald's-style "Golden Arches" on stage and a giant lemon from which the band members would emerge.
Subsequent tours have been more conventional but, with an experimental album on release, the band are now playing with technological fire once again. The dress rehearsals so far in Barcelona have suggested that this tour will be a very different concert experience, and an estimated 2.5 million people will get the chance to get up close and personal with The Claw over the coming year and a half. And they'll all find that it's really not as scary as it looks.
U2 bring The Claw to Croke Park, Dublin, on July 24, 25 and 27. See it in action at 360.u2.com
Â© 2009 Irish Times.