Willie From The Road: No Sleep Til Gelsenkirchen

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Thirteen shows into the tour and the Dublin run just completed.

After our startlingly straightforward opening night, things have continued very well, perhaps even surprisingly well. The run of hurdles which begins any tour includes:

1) Building the thing for the first time

2) Making all the bits work

3) Getting through opening night and the first reviews

4) Getting through the first load out (19 hours)

5) Getting through the first move (four days)

6) Reducing load-out time (now 8 hours)

7) Reducing move time (recently achieved in one day)

Further challenges await, no doubt, but whatever lies ahead, it's official that we got off to an astoundingly smooth start.

The greatest joy for me personally is to witness how well the basic idea works. As a configuration for U2 to play a stadium show, this feels like the one they were born to do. They have taken to it effortlessly and the audience completely gets it. I spent much of the second show in Paris wandering the Stade de France, spending a good amount of time round the back, up high, down low, then round to the sides and finally a brave half hour in the mosh pit. Much as it's fair to say that given completely free choice there are obviously some vantage points you'd chose over others, it turns out that our press line about there being no bad seats in the house was based more in reality that artistic license.

The gear has held up remarkably well despite the killing schedule and the frequent inclement weather. Milan was our first move, punctuated by regular torrential downpours–proper rain, with thunder and lightning (we've had a lot of thunder and lightning now I come to think about it, which makes a man glad to be touring the world's first lightning-conductor-mirror-ball). The rain caused some equipment casualties but not nearly as many as I'd expected. The LED element of the screen appears to be utterly robust so the nightmare of abseiling with hairdryers remains a PopMart memory. The PA has been fine and out of 200 PRG “Icon IIs” [that's Bad Boys to the rest of us--ed.] only two went down. The screen motors need a little love and attention but so far so good and the LED in the stage all fell out when the 92 sub-base cabinets under the runway kicked in, but really there's been very little to complain about.

Speaking of which, I have also been amazed at the lack of crew whingeing. I had full expected, if not death threats, then certainly some terse comments in catering once the grueling schedule really kicked in. In Dublin on July 26, the crew had their first day off since load in at Nou Camp on June 7 so it has been a long haul thus far (we were due a day off in Barcelona on July 1, but somehow they managed to squeeze in a video shoot). Nonetheless, everybody (and I do mean everybody) involved, though clearly knackered on occasion, seems genuinely energized by the experience of being part of this extraordinary adventure.

I have completely lost track of how many crew we have now, or even how many trucks. I saw someone with the bag tag number 399 this week, so we must have hit 400 tour staff by now. More than half of these are drivers, of course, but the universal crew itself is now comfortably into three figures. I do know that we're into a second bus of caterers, so you can work backwards from there to figure out the rest. The food is fabulous, by the way, which is doubtlessly another contributing factor to the tour's morale.

And the shows? Well, they're just stellar–especially when we're in a good stadium, the look of the show being so heavily tied up with the architecture of the venue itself. Paris was the most beautiful, but the Berlin Olympic stadium would give it a run for its money. The volume of the audience is pretty startling too, being surrounded by them and having increased venue capacities to near 100,000 in the larger places. The band clearly thrives on all of the above and having shown up so well rehearsed are able to make the most of it. We're up to a pool of about thirty-something songs ready to go now, so it's fun to play with the set-list from night to night.

Next up is Sweden, then no sleep til Gelsenkirchen….

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