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Making the U2 set so big that it's invisible

It sounds impossible, but that's what designer Willie Williams had in mind for the structure.

October 25, 2009|Mikael Wood

The man who designed the stage set for U2's current 360? Tour, which stops tonight at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, knows that the size of his creation is cause for attention.

"How many miles of cable, how many trucks -- it's all very easy to pick up on," said Willie Williams, who has been working with the Irish rock band since 1982.

Still, Williams insists that the scale of it is "absolutely the least interesting thing about it," he said. "Even though it's very tall and very wide, the magic trick is that when you stand onstage the whole thing disappears. The reason it's so big is to make it invisible."

How, exactly, does that work? By removing the hulking backdrop that usually defines a stadium show and relocating all those tons of gear above the band's playing area, the designer said he's been able to create the illusion that the gear isn't there at all.

An early inspiration was the Theme Building at LAX, a favorite of U2 frontman Bono's. "My pitch to him was, 'Imagine the Theme Building straddling a football field with a little stage underneath,' " Williams said. "From that moment on we knew what we were doing, and over two years of work the intent never changed."

According to U2 manager Paul McGuinness, the structure has practical advantages: It allowed the band to expand the seating capacity at most venues by about 20 percent.

"We've broken a lot of attendance records," McGuinness said, "usually ones we've set ourselves."

Roughly 95,000 people are expected at the Rose Bowl tonight, so organizers are strongly urging fans to allow plenty of time -- and to use public transportation -- to make it to the show on time.

"Where U2 came from conceptually was this culture that was about everyone having access to the stage," said the group's bassist, Adam Clayton. "Scoot forward to 2009 and that's what we've created here, just bigger."

The tour incorporates three separate rigs to allow for construction and disassembly time along the way.

"We'd love the thought of finding appropriate homes for these things as festival stages in different locations around the world," McGuinness said, looking to the tour's conclusion late next year. "That's real recycling."

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