25 August 2010
'Uniforms Everywhere...'Moscow. Show day.
The Moscow work experience is underscored by a general principle that anything you need to get done will probably take at least twice as long as usual and will be fraught with entirely pointless obstacles. This made for a long day but ultimately we got a great result so I suppose it was all worth it.
Sourcing transportation proved to be the now-customary trauma, but having found our van and made the hour-long journey to the venue, our driver pulled into some random car park and asked us how to get into the stadium. Generally speaking, knowing the way would come under the driver's job description rather than ours but today was clearly going to be exceptional on many levels. We circumnavigated the building several times on the look out for clues such as trucks and men in yellow security t-shirts. Having located a couple of likely looking entrances we attempted to drive in, but were refused entrance, being told in no uncertain terms that 'you do not have enough paper'. (What was meant by this we never did decipher, though we guessed that this 'paper' might either be some kind of additional backstage pass or perhaps just hard currency.) Eoin, our tour photographer, was on a bit of a roll, photographing the whole episode when out of nowhere a uniformed man with a gun appeared barking and making the now-familiar 'X'gesture with his forearms. 'No photo! No photo!' he yelled, in such cliched spy movie fashion that we actually fell about laughing. His turning indignantly on his heel and jumping into an awaiting Lada did little to sober us up.
We called our head of security who came to rescue us and we did finally get inside. From here the day ran its normal course but again punctuated with countless needless and inexplicable Kafkaesque obstacles. Our catering area was set up as usual but, unlike any other day, we were forbidden by the venue to take any items of food or drink out of the room, no matter how small. There were several sets of doors that opened from the stadium corridors onto the football pitch from all sides, but only the set directly behind the stage was unlocked. This meant any journey required walking up to double the distance than if the doors had been opened (and with literally thousands of uniformed troops on site, lack of security personnel was clearly not the issue).
It was all rather painful but we got there and the band came in to soundcheck around 3 o'clock. Given that this is U2's first appearance ever in Russia and the likelihood of inclement weather, we decided to forego experimenting with new material to allow room to play more of a (for want of a better word) 'greatest hits' set.
Once the band had left the stage, the 'security' team took up its place and I can quite safely say that we haven't had this scale of military presence at a U2 show since playing Sarajevo on the PopMart tour. In Sarajevo however, they were U.N. troops coming to see the show on a purely recreational basis, whereas here they were men at work. The U2 crew stood and watched in fascination as (literally) an army of uniformed security troops filed into the stadium from all sides. There appeared to be at least four different flavours, in various different uniforms. We tried to figure out the hierarchy, in the end imagining a pecking order based on a man's power being in direct proportion to the size of his hat. My favourite was one brand of military personnel who wore grey camouflage fatigues bearing the legend (I kid you not) 'OMOH' in large letters on their backs. ('Don€™t stand next to any mirrors, lads', etc.)
There were uniforms everywhere, including a line of troops standing across the centre-line of the pitch, with their backs to the stage. Another army of them ringed the entire lower level of grandstand seating, with a security guard seated in every fourth or fifth chair all the way round the stadium. There is an (empty) moat around the pitch, which was being patrolled by uniformed men with guard dogs interspersed with some important looking chaps (seriously high hats here, so we presumed them to be bosses of some kind) stationed at strategic intervals about the place. All of this, plus more guns than in all of Quentin Tarantino's movies put together. We couldn't help wondering what it was that the authorities could possibly imagine the audience might do to warrant this kind of controlling presence, aside from the dreadful prospect that somebody might actually hope to have some fun.
We had a good time photographing them though, and it was interesting to see how some of these young men wanted to let us know that they were doing all of this with a wink, whilst others wouldn't crack a smile at all. It was fascinating, hilarious, astonishing, strange, all at the same time and the sheer numbers were startling. What will all these uniformed people be doing tomorrow? What were they doing yesterday? What does a regime of fear do when the walls come down? Abandon ship or continue the form of the previous establishment?
It had been cloudy and threatening all day but at almost exactly the moment that we rolled Space Oddity the heavens opened, and it didn't stop raining until With or Without You. This is the first show on the 360 tour where it's seriously pissed down during the show - never mind for the entire show - so there was some concerns about how everything would hold up (not least the performers). Technically all went remarkably well, the only real casualty being the hanging mic, which refused to light up when its big moment came. As for the performers... well, they seemed to be having a ball. The crowd, too, was fully functional. Given what they'd had to put up with, in trying to enjoy a gig whilst surrounded by troops during a monsoon, they were absolutely amazing. This saved the day utterly and (from my warm, dry position in the mixer tower) I ended up really enjoying the night.