Over the last few weeks, a lot of disconnected details about the new U2 360° tour have been leaking out, but that information has truly been nothing more than drops in the ocean. Last night the whole experience for the first time came together, and over the next few weeks, we will be looking at show director/designer Willie Williams’ lighting design as well as his work with stage designer Mark Fisher and his team at Stufish Studios, in more details. Williams has created a lighting design that is sophisticated simplicity; it is deceiving in its scope. You hear the amount of lighting fixtures that he is using for this tour and you think, “I am going to be blown out of the stadium,” but when you watch the show, you would be hard-pressed to come up with an accurate count of lights.
As I said, we will get into more detail of the design moving forward, but for now, perhaps we should bring some of the many drops of information together so you can appreciate the scope of the lighting. The actual count of automated lights includes 196 PRG Bad Boy™ luminaires, as well as eight Zap Technology BigLites, that are used as searchlights on top of the roof structure. Other than those, Williams has no other automated lights on the show. After conducting a shoot out at Wembley Stadium back in March, Williams decided the Bad Boy was the only light that would work for his design, having both the ability to throw the enormous distances required and still be able to be used as a spot, as a wash and just about any other way that Williams can dream up.
In addition to the Bad Boys, Williams is using 25 followspots—a mix of Strong Gladiators and Lycian M2 Long throw units, as well as 156 Martin Professional Atomic Strobes with Atomic Color Changers. In the pylon, there are five custom Xenon ripple projectors, 42 sodium vapor floodlights, and 498 DWE PAR lamps ringing the pylon. Seven lighting platforms that are arrayed around the top of the stadium each have three Bad Boys, a followspot, and a Novalight Nova-Flower effect light. PRG Concert Touring Group provided all of the lighting equipment along with the S400 Power and Data Distribution system and the lighting truss.
On the exterior of the “skin” of the structure are 36 orange disks also known as polyps. Underneath each polyp/disk are eight custom LED fixtures, each containing 60W RGBW LEDs. These were designed by Tommy Voeten of 1212-Studio, Inc. in New York City and were manufactured in Belgium in just four weeks. They are called U2BE, which is pronounced you-tube. They provide another lighting effect that adds a glow to the fabric skin of the structure
No man is an island, and Williams has an incredible team working with him. Side by side with Williams is associate lighting designer Alex Murphy and lighting director Ethan Weber. Murphy has been Williams’ associate for his theatre design work, and Weber is a lighting designer/director for concert touring who had previously worked with Williams on the Rolling Stones Licks World Tour. Weber handles a MA Lighting grandMA console with all of the automated lights; Murphy’s grandMA controls the PRG Mbox Extreme media server for the LEDs in the stage floor and the LEDs in the set. Murphy also calls all the followspot cues, and remember, this is a 360° show.
For the load in and set up in Barcelona, the lighting production crew chief was Rod Clay, who will stay with the tour through the Paris dates. The crew chief for the balance of the tour is Nick Barton. There are 14 members of the lighting crew for this tour. Currently it is taking 14 hours to load in lighting, although they feel that they can get it down to 12 hours.
The power and data networking are all handled by the PRG Series 400 Power and Data Distribution System. The system was designed by assistant crew chief Craig Hancock along with PRG’s Chris Conti. Hancock, who has worked on U2 tours since the 2001 Elevation tour, spent time with Jeremy Lloyd and Nick Evans of Stufish integrating the lighting system into the structural system. There are power, data and dimmer positions at the bottom of each leg of the structure as well as up in the roof of the structure. The SHoW DMX wireless DMX system from City Theatrical is used to get DMX out to the seven lighting platforms that ring the stadium. The wireless DMX transmitters are in the roof of the structure with directional antennas to stay out of the way of the wireless signals from audio, video, scenic, etc.
There are lots of clever solutions to this wonderfully deceptive design that is just one element of this cohesive visual environment that is the U2 360° tour experience.