POPMART Leg 1: 1997, North America

Jul
20
2005

Milan San Siro Stadium

The band was due in for sound check at 1.30pm, so we had a little time for strategy planning ahead of time. This video shoot is more complex than others, in that we are outdoors and the band arent arriving till the afternoon of show day. This means that there wont be an opportunity to shoot any footage under show conditions (i.e. when its dark) that they can look at. Consequently they are having to trust the entire project to our judgment, at least for tonight. We do have two shows, so in the absence of a rehearsal it would be expected that, for the filming, tonight is more about getting our bearings than completely nailing the way it looks on camera.

By 2pm the heat of the sun in the stadium was extremely intense. Our curved metal screen backdrop was acting as a giant solar reflector, so I imagine that if you stood at precisely the right point in the stadium, your toupee would burst into flames. We have also been in mosquito hell these past few days, so climatic conditions have hardly been helping.

After sound check, Bruce and I headed to the dressing room and spent an hour with the four band members to talk through the task ahead and to finalise the set list. The mood was pretty good, though even at this stage in their career a show like this will still make them a little apprehensive. These shows will define how Vertigo outdoors will be remembered, so its hardly something to feel blase about.

I was in the video truck for the show itself. This is the mobile TV studio parked backstage, which is the centre of operations for the night, from where Hamish Hamilton directs the cameras and the engineering team records the pictures. The truck for this shoot is a brand new all-signing, all-dancing number from Belgium (what is it about Belgians and video?). There are three main rooms; sound recording, engineering and the main directors room. The directors room is a pretty awesome looking affair with one wall entirely covered with a gently curving array of plasma screens - about 40 of them - showing all the individual camera shots, programme feeds, our show cameras and so on. A man could get car sick just looking at so many moving pictures at close range. In the next room was Allen Branton, the TV lighting consultant, in constant communication with Bruce, U2s lighting director who was out at the mix position in the stadium. They were also studying the camera pictures and tweaking the lighting for all of them simultaneously, to create as many good looking shots as possible at all times regardless of how the musicians might turn around or move about.

The show started a minute or so late, but took off at speed. Hamish is a very physical director, up on his feet shouting instructions to the 16 cameras and everyone else involved, with the show audio playback going at high volume. Its a high adrenaline and exciting thing to witness, a real act of live creation. Three songs in and its Electric Co., with the band roaring and we are seeing some wonderful looking pictures. Things are clearly going well, the spaceship is reaching warp speed and theres a loud pop, the room goes silent and every screen goes to a test-card pattern and then goes completely blank. Everyone in the room froze, looking like theyd been slapped. We had, it seemed, lost power. To everything. Gosh. I headed out of the truck and could hear that the gig was clearly still in full swing, so it seemed that the locally supplied generator feeding the video truck had taken a dump. Not a good look.

Within seconds, our touring crew jumped in to the rescue, pulling cable, finding solutions, but it still took a good half hour to get the power restored. Hamish and team remained commendably calm, reassuring everyone with phrases like, 'nobody panic, weve got tomorrow night', but clearly this was at least a borderline disaster and certainly desperately frustrating.

In the absence of anything more helpful to do, I went to the mix position at front of house (my usual spot) to watch the show. San Siro is a fantastic place for a gig, as the grandstands are very close and very high. When filled with Italian music enthusiasts its an arresting scene to witness. I was very pleased with my new video bits in Miracle Drug (thank you Luke Halls, editor extraordinaire). Following this, the band went into Sometimes which Bono dedicated to his father Bob Hewson. As the song progressed all the members of the audience in the grandstand facing the stage produced large squares of cardboard and held them up, a la Russian Olympics, to make an Irish flag, an Italian flag and the words 'HI BOB' in between, in giant letters. I think Bono practically stopped singing when he saw it (you have to admit it would be a surreal sight - a stadium wide message to your dad). Last week we talked about perhaps trying to organise something along the lines of the Polish flag tribute for the video shoot here, but in the end felt it would be next to impossible and besides, theres something not quite right about carefully rehearsed spontaneity. Instead, the U2 audience once again left us speechless. I can only imagine what this might turn into as the tour progresses and inter-city rivalry kicks in (and who said organisation isnt Italys strong point?)

By the end of Sometimes the power to the video truck had been restored so I returned there for the rest of the night. Naturally the video team was a little wigged-out by what had happened, but everyone got back into the saddle and despite everything we got some really good footage. It was a long show too - 25 songs, which I think is a record - so by the end of it we were all ready for a stiff drink and a debrief.

Wed planned to carry on working after the show, to take advantage of the darkness. We had to wait for the stadium to empty, of course, but the building management were insisting on cleaning the place too, so we were most amused to see teams of white jump-suited men in face masks swaggering about the place, revving up large high-tech diesel powered blowers, brandished from the hip. Surely, only Italy could produce a culture of macho, style conscious garbage men?

We worked for a couple of hours or so, till we felt we had achieved all we could, then jumped into the International Van of the Year which got home by 4am.

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