13 June 2002
Between Zoo And Pop
'PopMart was always going to be difficult for the opposite of all the
reasons that made Zoo TV seem easy.'
Twenty years after he first started work with U2, show designer and lighting
director Willie Williams (pictured left with Joe O'Herlihy) talks to Matt
McGee of atu2.Com about his work.
Here's an extract - then follow the link for the rest of this substantial
interview. Follow the other link to check on some of the hundreds of Tour
Diary entries from Elevation and PopMart that Willie has filed for U2.Com.
Q - There was an MTV special on last year that chronicled U2's touring
history. I remember Bono saying that PopMart was the most difficult tour
they've done - the biggest struggle. Do you feel the same way?
A - PopMart was always going to be difficult for the opposite of all the
reasons that made Zoo TV seem easy; the band were coming from a position of
success, so the critics' knives were out; the "new" persona of U2 was
established so surprise was no longer on our side; it was the second big U2
spectacle so the mood of the detractors was very much "come on impress us";
it was the first time ever that U2 started a tour in stadiums without some
smaller shows first; delay in the recording schedule meant tour tickets were
put on sale before the album was released and most of all -- in the U.S. at
least - the album contained no huge hits. None of this eased the ride into
the tour and the band found themselves facing what appeared to be an uphill
Conversely, PopMart was difficult for me only because it was difficult for
the band. Purely on a design level I felt -- and still feel -- it was U2's
high point to date. Whereas Zoo TV was a fantastic, incredible sprawling
mass of energy and ideas, the design of PopMart was an ultra simple,
complete concept embracing every element -- clothes, video, staging, sound -
and it was extraordinarily well executed. In some ways U2 had finally
answered the conundrum of the Joshua Tree, which was how to remain true to a
minimal design aesthetic when working on such a massive scale.
We received unheard of support from the usually highly exclusive New York
art world which resulted in the extraordinary animated visual material.
Meeting and collaborating with Roy Lichtenstein, Alan Ginsberg, William
Burroughs, Howard Finster and the estates of Andy Warhol & Keith Haring was
an unprecedented coup. From the beginning I felt sure that the artistic
achievement of PopMart would be greater than any U2 tour but it would
probably never receive the recognition it deserved because it was simply too
far ahead of its time.
Technologically PopMart outstrips Zoo TV too, incidentally. All the Zoo
technology was on display, but under the covers the PopMart video screen was
a far greater achievement. It was the first large scale video screen using
L.E.D. technology and remains to this day the largest video screen of any
kind ever created by the human race. Not bad considering we used to erect &
tear it down every day - oh, and we also drove it over the Andes.
Don't misunderstand me, I do believe both shows were quite extraordinary in
their own ways but I remain convinced that history will vindicate PopMart.
Already, with the distance of just a few years, if you sit down and watch
some of each video my point becomes really obvious -- it's PopMart that
stands the test of time to a much greater degree than Zoo TV.
Read the whole of the interview with Willie Williams at
Check Willie's Diary