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Old 08-05-2005, 03:33 AM   #1
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(08-05-2005) U2's City of Blinding Lights - Wired News*

U2's City of Blinding Lights

12,000 daisy-chained LEDs. Spycams controlled by a PlayStation. The Vertigo tour is a monster concert machine - and the ultimate rock-and-roll R&D lab.

By William Gibson

Pan across derelict concrete runway at dawn, somewhere in the American Southwest: Someone's unpacked the whole convoy of semis that haul the equipment for U2's Vertigo//2005 tour. Unpacked the lights and the behemoth speakers and the Wi-Fi cart for the backstage offices and spread it here, on the outskirts of some city from a '50s horror film where distance plays tricks on the eye. Every last piece of cargo has been set out, part of an angular, bilaterally symmetrical Rorschach blot - a hard-edged Mothra, inducing a faint déjà vu.

Now the gear field stirs.

Scraping across oil-stained concrete, it bunches up anthropomorphically. Heaving up, Transformer-like, it comes alive, its shoulders the housings of giant speaker arrays, trailing epaulets of LED lighting.

Its eyes are clusters of surveillance cameras.

My wife and I stand in Seattle's KeyArena, noses level with the lower swoop of what U2 calls the Ellipse, the elevated stage loop the band traverses in performance. We're here because U2 is the early 21st century's biggest - and arguably most technologically innovative - touring group, the one that continues to define and redefine the spectacle that is arena rock.

For more than a decade, they've been driving both the technology and the form of the megatour while providing huge audiences with a powerful yet intricately managed sense of intimacy. I've been able to follow this, up close and backstage, on four other tours, beginning with ZooTV in 1992. Now I'm back, drawn by accounts of a lighter, more limber show. The remarkable continuity of U2's management culture allows for a genuine evolution, and the band members insist on it, so the odds of seeing something new are high indeed.

U2 is starting the sound check now.

I was born without a team-sports gene, I think, as I watch a technician pass Edge a Stratocaster in some shade of lacquer last seen on a Buick in Havana. For this reason, arenas have remained culturally mysterious to me. I can't remember ever having entered one, except for a rock concert.

Architect Mark Fisher, who led the design of the ZooTV set, introduced me to the intricacies of how a rock concert, a node of mobile architecture, can inhabit a sports arena - much as a hermit crab inhabits a seashell, it seemed to me. I hadn't thought of the design of rock tour sets as architecture before, but the idea of big, ambitious nomadic design erecting itself nightly within big, ugly concrete sports temples excited me mightily.

"William Gibson is in the house," Bono observes through the Vertigo sound system. The ghostly red Scalectrix of the Ellipse whips past us. We wave to him.

The confetti cannon takes me by surprise as U2 opens the concert with "City of Blinding Lights": glitzy, glittering, emotive kitsch. This glorious falling cloud is designer radar chaff, die-cut metallic PVC film. I pick some up, feeling like a rube at Roswell. The red rectangle is textured, the golden disc smooth, mirrored. Someone's worked these reflective differences out to get just this effect under exactly these lights. More crucial, though, the Vegas confetti storm is a bridge, a liminal device for the audience; we're over that threshold now, into the show.

The confetti serves as an opening act for the 12,000 individual spheres of the LED backdrop: daisy-chained pixel units that have unreeled from above while the chaff storm distracted us. Hanging behind and to either side of the band, these seven curtains can be retracted and lowered as needed, throughout the performance. They have a soft, slightly slinky, nicely organic look as they descend, the individual strands suggesting the bioluminescence of deep-sea fish. Fully extended, though, they do a fine imitation of Shinjuku on speed, and the lighting design for "City of Blinding Lights" takes advantage of that. Combined with the concentric LED rings of the target-motif stage and the ovoid light swoopings of the Ellipse, the visual effect manages to be far more that the sum of its parts.

To read the full article, please go here.

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Old 08-05-2005, 04:49 AM   #2
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city is one of the most brilliant song live!
And the "special effects" that go with it really thrill me during the show I saw!

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Old 08-05-2005, 01:42 PM   #3
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interesting article for the most part...but it seems a little uninspired. I expected more, especially after hearing about Gibson putting this together months ago.

The ice water injection tube thing for Larry seems neat....that was the best part.
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Old 08-05-2005, 04:16 PM   #4
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Someone I met in a Dublin pub opined that if U2 hadn't become the biggest rock act in the world, Adam Clayton might have become a policeman, Larry Mullen would have been the bohemian sort Clayton was perpetually chasing around town, Edge would have become an AI researcher, and Bono - well, it was impossible to imagine what Bono would have done if he hadn't gotten the job of being Bono.
Surely this is a typo, and it should be Larry who would be the policeman, and Adam the footloose bohunk?

Edge's brother really is an AI researcher, so that one's kind of funny.

Williams leans back in his chair and grins. "We're thinking of webcasting concerts through U2.com, but part of the deal would be that subscribers could only watch us if we can watch them, through their home webcams, and then we'd all get to watch those images."
Willie Williams really does come across as one of these one-in-a-million maverick geniuses. It's always sort of a mixed bag when people like this wind up working in the upper echelons of the corporate entertainment world...he's got more toys to play with and more exposure than he would otherwise, that's for sure; but also less freedom to follow through on his own inspirations, and to radically challenge prevailing conventions about the role of technology in performance art.
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Old 08-06-2005, 06:07 AM   #5
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Wow. I don't think I'd want to be watched surfing the 'net.
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Old 08-07-2005, 02:52 PM   #6
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Originally posted by verte76
Wow. I don't think I'd want to be watched surfing the 'net.
I see your point...that's a lovely top you're wearing this evening btw.

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