Irish rock band U2 to take grand stage at Heinz Field

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By Scott Mervis, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

U2 is renowned for its outreach work in underprivileged countries, but don't discount what the band is doing for local economies across North America.

The Irish rock band's 360 Tour, which touches down at Heinz Field tonight, is the highest-grossing tour of all time with a massive steel structure -- dubbed "The Claw" -- that takes more than four days to construct and requires 136 touring crew members and 120 local stagehands.

Pittsburgh is the penultimate stop on this run, which began in 2009 and has topped the Rolling Stones' Bigger Bang Tour, with ticket sales expected to top $700 million and fans numbering more than 7 million.

"We have set building records in over 60 buildings," tour director Craig Evans said in a media tour Monday. "So that in itself is incredible. This band is by far the biggest band touring the world today, and you need to satisfy the biggest number of fans to come see it. U2, as great as they are live, are even greater when they are playing to all sides and the excitement and electricity is coming from all angles. It makes for a really special experience."

The stage is the 10th U2 production designed by Willie Williams, who started working with the band during the War Tour in 1983. The architect is Mark Fisher, famous for his work on Pink Floyd's "The Wall," U2's "Zoo TV" and the Stones' "Bigger Bang" tours, among others.

The stage, which is carried by 120 trucks, stands 90 feet tall with a center spire that reaches more than 150 feet, and resembles a sci-fi movie vision of alien spaceships. Lead singer Bono and company, who will not be playing around up there, will be captured on the 54-ton cylindrical video screen. The leg pieces have been kept to a mere 41/2-feet wide to keep the sight lines open.

"The one comment is, 'Why is this so big?' " Mr. Evans said. "When they were first designing the 360, Willie Williams and Mark Fisher came up with the idea that, 'Don't go small to try to make it easy real estate to fit in.' Go big and actually make the stadium feel smaller, and change that ratio, and by doing so, the theory is you'll improve the feeling of intimacy -- that everyone feels closer and actually covered by the stage presence. The stadium doesn't feel as big with this stage in it."

One of the challenges for workers, who started Thursday, has been toiling in the 90-plus degree heat and humidity.

One stagehand said working on the steel platform that covers the entire length of Heinz Field was "brutal" on Thursday and Friday and joked that the sun's reflection went right up their shorts.

Fortunately, he added, much of the labor hadn't been that physical, as they've been mostly assisting the cranes and snapping things into place.

On the cooler Monday morning, they were dealing with rain, which wasn't much of concern in that every piece of equipment was carefully waterproofed.

Mr. Evans said, "The local labor has been great, and the building has been great."

Although there are still seats available, Jimmie Sacco, executive director of stadium management at Heinz Field, expects the show to break stadium records for a concert. "We hope to be close to 60,000 people." This is the third stadium concert of the season, with Kenny Chesney doing 55,000 and Taylor Swift, 53,000.

Mr. Evans mentioned that Heinz Field won't have the full 360 effect, because of the small number of seats on the open end that faces the city.

In terms of U2's part, "There will be things unique to Pittsburgh," he said. "The band won't decide on a set list till 6 o'clock [tonight]. They'll look at what's currently going on. [The] show will not just be a U2 360 show, but a Pittsburgh U2 360 show."

He added: "Pittsburgh has always reacted very strongly to U2. I still go back to the Elevation Tour [in 2001], when we were here at the arena, and it was probably the most vibrant crowd of the whole tour."

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This page contains a single entry by Jonathan published on July 26, 2011 9:40 AM.

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