POPMART Leg 2: 1997, Europe


Just like how punk should have looked.

New York.
Saturday, 7th March 2009
Woke up to a beautiful sunny New York morning. Had brunch followed by a walk in Central Park with Teddy, the long-haired dachshund. It's inconceivable that a week ago there was a blizzard here. We walked and sat and enjoyed the day. Headed back to the hotel intent on a nap, though got caught up in work things instead.

An artist friend picked me up later to go to the Armory Show art fair, which was vast and very crowded. There was so much work there that it was a little overwhelming and practically impossible to take anything in. The place was heaving. "It's a shame so many people like art these days," says my friend and, as often is the case, I'm not quite sure whether she's joking.

Later we headed out to an open studio evening at the Starn twins' place in Brooklyn. Artists Doug and Mike Starn are identical twin brothers, who have constructed a huge structure made of bamboo, which is constantly being disassembled from one end and reassembled at the other, so it moves around the space. Mike explained that it's to do with constantly changing but still remaining "me". A team of six riggers will be doing this for the next two years. They also had a large series of photographs of snowflakes which were very beautiful. It was a great space and I enjoyed meeting the brothers. I hadn't met them before, but in talking to Mike and looking at a film of the bamboo piece, I remembered the 'Sun Machine' film from R.E.M.'s 'Monster' tour, and the penny dropped. This was an extraordinary piece of film, shot by Jem Cohen, of a kinetic light sculpture built by the Starns, which had been used in the '95 R.E.M. show... which I designed. I'd pretty much forgotten about it, being buried in the mists of time; I never saw the actual object, but on film it was a very wonderful thing. I was gutted when Mike told me that the Sun Machine itself had been at the Armory Show, though slightly relieved when he added "...but it wasn't working today."

New York.
Sunday, 8th March 2009
The clocks went forward here last night, which puts us only four hours behind Dublin. All the same, I woke up quite early with a feeling of not wanting to waste a day off; ironic, given that all I really wanted to do was sleep I put a coat on over my pyjamas, nipped across the road for some take away breakfast items, then settled in for a lazy morning.

The evening's art event came in the form of an invitation to see 'Hygiene', billed as "a piece of instant theater by Russian artist Fedor Pavlov-Andreevich" at Deitch Project down on Wooster St. I went down at 18.00, as instructed, and found a small crowd gathering outside the door of a studio space. The play was so New York performance art it was hilarious. Though not funny. Seven men in vests with white painted faces, were sitting on benches reading projected text from a wall in faux (or not) Russian accents. It was something about being trapped in a room, which was quite appropriate under the circumstances, given that it had been advertised as a 40-minute experience and we eventually crept out after an hour. We weren't the first to leave and no-one seemed bothered, so I got to wondering if the piece was of indefinite length and they would only stop when everyone had gone. Let's hear it for 'endurance art.'

Monday, 9th March 2009
New York/Lititz/Boston
Up with the lark once again and down to Penn Station to get a train to Lancaster, Pennsylvania. From there to Lititz, PA, home of Tait Towers, the company that's building the performance area part of the U2 touring stage. The company, headed by the indomitable Michael Tait, has been manufacturing staging items for U2 since the War Tour; Michael's blend of engineering genius and eccentric lateral thinking has been behind the realisation of many of my designs.
There has been a staggering amount of elements, all of which have had to be designed for the forthcoming tour, most of which have been intensely complex design challenges in themselves. This goes some way to explaining how you end up having various pieces of the production being designed and built literally all over the world. Dublin, London, Belgium, Taiwan and North America have all had a hand in this so far.

It was very valuable to spend some time focussing on some of the remaining issues to do with the main stage. There are a great many needs associated with the stage, many of which are mutually exclusive. There is the performance surface of course, then down below in "underworld" there is a whole group of people who need space, access, light, power and so on. Making it all work together is tricky but I quite enjoy this part of the process because it's like a puzzle. There's no guarantee that there is a solution to this particular puzzle, so sometimes there have to be compromises, but I usually manage to keep everybody happy enough not to mutiny.
Being a fan of rail travel I'll take a train in preference to an aeroplane whenever realistically feasible. Consequently, after my meeting at Taits, I'd originally planned to take the train from Philadelphia to Boston tomorrow - a five hour trip on one of the groovy new Acela trains, which have a bar, restaurant, etc. However, the advent of this Boston film shoot means I have to be there by nightfall today, so it was back to the airport and just to spite us the flight was horribly delayed, getting us to Boston after midnight. Perhaps we should have stuck with the train after all...

Boston. Somerville Theater set up day.
Tuesday, 10th March 2009
After a month of TV show negotiations and working around directors and lighting people of wildly differing levels of enthusiasm and ability, it is a real treat to finish this run with a show over which we have complete control.

Tomorrow U2 are performing five songs live for radio broadcast from a small theatre in this suburb of Boston. It is also being filmed for various uses over the coming months so we wanted to make it something special. In discussing what the feel of the piece should be we came up with the mantra "what punk should have looked like."

In recognition of this, and as a tribute to the Dandelion Market days, I thought it would be fun to recreate the very first U2 backdrop - a "U" and a "2" made of plastic drainpipe and suspended from the ceiling.  I tracked down a local plumbers merchant who could supply 40' of 6" PVC piping and the various 'elbow' joints to make the correct shapes. It turns out that Tom, our video director, is a master of home plumbing, so was all over the project. We dragged all the materials out into the street and started sawing and laying out the parts. Ned, our video producer, happened by and joined in the fun, as did one of the truck drivers, who showed up bearing a vast array of very useful tools. It felt a bit like one of those management training course team-building exercises, trying to figure out how all these disparate bits went together to get a result. The pipe only came in white so we also had to spray paint it. This made it into quite a lengthy process, so each of us in turn would work on it for a while then go back into the theatre to carry on with the day job of lighting the show or sorting out camera positions, etc.

By nightfall we had ourselves a commendably post-punk backdrop which we hung from a house flybar. Getting it level was tricky and for a while we debated whether it not being straight was 'punk' or simply 'lame', before finally sorting it out. It looked great, in front of the bare, brick, back wall of the stage, and there was great satisfaction in having got our hands dirty and made something ourselves. One of the stage hands, amused to see the show director, video director and producer outside grovelling on their hands and knees, joked with me, "after all these years I didn't think you still had to do this kind of thing." This made me realise why it had been such fun - we didn't have to do it at all, but we chose to, and what a fun, creative day it turned out to be.

Boston. Somerville Theater, radio broadcast and film shoot.
Wednesday, 11th March 2009
It’s a very good job that we got some much done yesterday, because once the backline and sound equipment arrived this morning it filled every available inch, several layers deep. Cables, boxes, stands, racks - piles of gear everywhere. So much so all the lighting control gear ended up in a little tent outside the building on the pavement. Very punk.

The timetable was equally jammed, with many mutually exclusive tasks attempting to be carried out simultaneously. I was trying to focus and programme the lighting with a mind-altering drum-check going on, sound guys were trying to fix things under strobe light - the usual absurd multi-tasking of a rock'n'roll day.

Next door to the theatre is a crepe restaurant which Jake, our production manager, discovered yesterday and really liked. In order to feed all the crew he did a deal with them where they would run a tab for any of our people who came in and said the magic words "Freddy Popkins sent me." I kid you not. I went in with some trepidation thinking that it might be a wind-up at my expense, but good old Freddy came through for us, whoever he is.

This gig has become the worst-kept secret in the Boston metropolitan area, so there were a great many people outside, including TV vans and radio stations, but it was all good for the party mood. The band arrived and we did several run-throughs in the afternoon in order to allow cameras to be placed in locations that would be unfeasible during the show. I was pleased with the way it was looking (just like how Punk should have looked) and I almost got weepy over being able to light it exactly how I wanted without negotiation. I even arranged to have a small lighting desk in the video truck so I could fix things myself whilst the performance was happening. (Why doesn't everybody do this...?)

Showtime arrived and U2 went live on air, playing five songs followed by an on-stage interview with 'Sway', a chap from MTV. All good and it looked very promising on screen, so Tom now takes away all the footage to edit and spruce up. Coming soon to a laptop near you.

Thursday, 12th March 2009
Up at dawn, yet again, but this time to the airport and on a BA flight home. So ends the promo run and so begins the final push of building the real tour...

Related Topics


02 April, 2009
Welcome Back!
Hi Willie, Your entries have been a familiar and most welcomed part of the whole tour U2 experience. It's great to see you back on the board, and I look forward to living this tour vicariously through you. I was fortunate enough to be a guest at the GMA show, thanks to some dear friends, and it was brilliant. I look forward to having you all back down here in Atlanta. Cheers, Amy K
01 April, 2009
Willie...what happened...
Willie what happened to the U and the 2 letter & numeral...are they for sale....or did the theater or the band keep them?
Carry Each Other
30 March, 2009
Awesome !!!
I can't wait for the tour to kick off in Florida.  This entry into Willie's journal has really caused my heart to race. WOO HOO!
29 March, 2009
I am from Somerville,Ma
Although I didn't go to the concert ( because I worked that night), I want to thank you for making it a highlight for our city. I am going to the concert in September & am taking my nephew with me and cannot wait to see the show. I've always wanted to see what the big hype is about U2 & want to get a chance to see you guys before I die ( not that I am going to any time soon). Now I am going to get my chance. Blessings to you all! Dawn
29 March, 2009
Kiwi_ Denise
That looks real cool Willie. Well done. Amazing what yo can do with a bit of drain pipe.
26 March, 2009
Acela train on the North Corridor
The stage setup at Somerville was awesome. The music was energizing and the Q&A session was hilarious. Quite punk. Should have taken the Acela from Philly to Boston, Willie. They're the best!
Newer comments    1 - 6 of 6    Older comments

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