From Citrus to Cedarwood : Staging U2

As you go through life, there are a few scenarios one can create and appreciate for the dreams they are, and accept for the realities they will never become.

But if one of your scenarios happened to be the members of U2 exiting a split open citrus fruit and then continuing to perform their PopMart tour under a giant juicer, well then.

You’re good.

That was 1997. Two decades later, U2 continues to set the live performance trend and push the boundaries, set by them years before. It was a Beautiful Day when at the very impressionable age of 15, I saw U2 perform their 360 Tour at Greenpoint Stadium in Cape Town, and although they did not arrive in a rather large lemon, the cutting-edge claw-like spaceship was a close second.

And then, Even better than the Real thing, they joined forces with set designer Es Devlin, for their Innocence and Experience Tour in 2015. The result?

Well, I can tell you this. It was cooler than Bono’s signature sunglasses.

Image via Billboard [1]
The show will start shortly, we advise you put on your headphones and tune to track I:

The Miracle of Joey Ramone.

A stage lit by only the illuminated screens of mobile phones, a follow spot tracing Bono’s every step, the echo of his voice filled with the promise of the performance to come. And it begins. Suddenly a red wash covers the stage, and an overly large light bulb floats down from above. It’s all about the music, the innocence, the experience. That is the architecture of the current space, but it’s soon to change.

Image via You-Two [2]
You may now proceed to track II: Cedarwood Road

Here, Bono takes a trip down memory lane, and quite literally at that. Flown in is a runway, 37meters long, caged with screens on either side. Bono enters the ‘cage’ (working on that name) and disguising his voice – a cinematic roll of suburban Dublin, illustrated and collaged with memories past, influential to the band’s identity today.

The screen divides the arena space and creates a central focus line to guide the audience’s gaze. After all, the designer Es Devlin once commented on the democracy of theatre, and I think it applies to live performances as well, claiming that you can’t control the audience’s gaze. You have to fill the void in such a way that everyone is receiving the same experience at the same time. And this is exactly what she has achieved with this stage. There is a visual communication from the ‘e’ shaped rise right through to the ‘i’ inspired runway (representing the eXPERIENCE and iNNOCENCE part of the show), that allows for a constant flow of energy, once again, heightened by the flown in screens.

We advise that you tune into track III: Invisible.

The energy is evident here, where the ‘cage’ becomes an acid yellow Berlin wall. Graffiti’d across it, words charged with political meaning and social connotations, broken only by the sound-wave glitches that reveal the 4 band members standing within. The ‘cage’ (you come up with a better name) expands as black cyclorama panels are flown in on either side, bookending the performance space with further projection and visual triggers.

U2 have always had fantastic narratives to their music, and the way Es Devlin has visualised this particular story made it into one of those best sellers that even non-readers read.

But, don’t take my word for it:

 

 

 

[1] “U2’s The Edge on HBO’s ‘Innocence Experience’ Paris Concert, Eagles of Death Metal and ‘Busting Our Ass’ to Finish the New Album.” Billboard. Accessed September 07, 2017. http://www.billboard.com/articles/news/7415712/u2-the-edge-hbo-innocence-experience-paris-eagles-of-death-metal.

[2] “Es Devlin On U2’s Innocence Experience, Part 2.” Es Devlin On U2’s Innocence Experience, Part 2 – YOU-TWO.COM. Accessed September 07, 2017. http://www.you-two.com/news/spip.php?article58415.

 

 

 

 

Reinette Roux

Reinette is a Master of Architecture student at The University of Western Australia. She enjoys doing the set and graphic design for The University Dramatic Society and has an ever so slightly concerning obsession with Instagram.