Fans of Spinal Tap, take note.
October 14, 2009 7:25 AM   Subscribe

Fans of U2 have probably already seen concert footage from their current tour of the giant elliptical LED screen that morphs into a 7-story high cone-shaped structure, enveloping the band as it extends. But what you may not know is that it was designed (in collaboration with Barco) by Chuck Hoberman, inventor of the Hoberman Sphere.

According to the press release [pdf], the display is made of 888 hexagonal LED screens, with a total of 500,000 pixels encompassing an area of 3,800 square feet.

Video about the making of the transformable LED screen here.

Other designs by Hoberman:
-Expanding Hypar at the California Museum of Science and Industry
-The Hoberman Arch, from the medals ceremony at the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City.
-Brain Twist, a tetrahedral puzzle similar to a Rubik's cube.
posted by albrecht (47 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
 
You've pretty much ruined U2 for me. I thought the screen was being distorted by a miracle from St. Bono the Pretentious.
posted by Mayor Curley at 7:41 AM on October 14, 2009 [2 favorites]


Carbonfootprint.com estimates that the tour will generate a massive 65,000 tons in carbon emissions.

I know, I know, lots of bands put on huge stadium extravaganzas, so why is U2 being singled out? It may have something to do with the fact that the band, especially lead singer Bono, has taken on many humanitarian and political causes and some think the tour smacks of hypocrisy -- the almighty dollar trumping the environment once again.

But, according to guitarist The Edge, the band is not ignoring these concerns. While vague on the details, he told BBC that they’re doing certain things to offset the huge carbon footprint the tour is leaving behind, including having tour promoter Live Nation pay for environmental programs to offset negative effects of the tour.

posted by Joe Beese at 7:48 AM on October 14, 2009


EVERY MORNING I OPEN PALM SLAM A CASSINGLE INTO MY STEREO. IT'S SUNDAY BLOODY SUNDAY AND RIGHT THEN AND THERE I START DOING THE SONG ALONG WITH THE MAIN U2 GUY, BONO. MAKING WHOOSHING SOUNDS WHENEVER I SLAM DOWN SOME MELODIES OR EVEN WHEN I MESS UP TECHNIQUE. NOT MANY CAN SAY THEY FRONT THE WORLD'S GREATEST BAND. I CAN. I SAY IT AND I SAY IT OUTLOUD EVERYDAY TO MY EX-GIRLFRIEND AND ALL SHE DOES IS PROVE GIRLS CAN STILL BE IMMATURE JERKS. AND IVE LEARNED ALL THE LYRICS AND IVE LEARNED HOW TO MAKE MYSELF AND MY APARTMENT LESS LONELY BY SHOUTING EM ALL. 2 HOURS INCLUDING WIND DOWN EVERY MORNINg
posted by Optimus Chyme at 7:48 AM on October 14, 2009 [7 favorites]


Ok, everyone, you know the drill. Talk about how much you hate U2 rather than the cool video technology the post is really about.

Hey, how 'bout that Bono, trying to cure AIDS all by himself. THE NERVE!
posted by bondcliff at 7:51 AM on October 14, 2009 [3 favorites]


Here's more 360 tour tech info than anyone needs.

Say what you will, I'm less than 2 weeks from seeing this awesome sight in person, and could not be more excited. I sadly missed the last tour, but saw them twice in 2001, once soon after 9/11. Great experiences both.
posted by The Deej at 7:55 AM on October 14, 2009


Also, something I meant to mention but couldn't corroborate online: apparently the stage setup is so expensive that U2 is basically taking a loss on these shows, despite the fact that tickets cost $250.
posted by albrecht at 7:55 AM on October 14, 2009


Also, something I meant to mention but couldn't corroborate online: apparently the stage setup is so expensive that U2 is basically taking a loss on these shows, despite the fact that tickets cost $250.

The top price level is $250, but they have tickets at about $32, $57, and $97 as well. Not sure about the "taking a loss" part. But they have 3 of these sets traveling the world, so that's got to cost a nice chunk.
posted by The Deej at 7:58 AM on October 14, 2009


bondcliff: "Ok, everyone, you know the drill. Talk about how much you hate U2 rather than the cool video technology the post is really about."

Well, they're no longer completely separable at this point.

Back when I loved U2, they could command the attention of a stadium-sized crowd without the mechanical fakery.

All the tech is just a painful reminder of how they've become the Country Bear Jamboree.
posted by Joe Beese at 7:59 AM on October 14, 2009 [3 favorites]


That looks a lot more interesting than, say, listening to U2.
posted by Artw at 8:06 AM on October 14, 2009 [3 favorites]


The technology is great, but not the application.
I've seen U2 once - in 1985 on the Unforgettable Fire tour. It was four guys playing music on a stage, a little banter from Bono between songs, and at one point they pulled a guy out of the audience to play guitar on a cover of Dylan's "Knockin' on Heaven's Door". It was a fucking awesome show.
I'll never understand why any band feels the need to put on a multimedia "experience". What's wrong with just putting on a Rock and Roll show? It might even save your fans a few bucks on tickets. U2 are among the worst offenders for the trend of replacing music with "entertainment".
Leave that shit to Vegas.
posted by rocket88 at 8:10 AM on October 14, 2009 [4 favorites]


Okay: OC, what on EARTH is that from?....

As to the topic at hand: well, at least it's not a giant steel lemon.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:28 AM on October 14, 2009


The top price level is $250, but they have tickets at about $32, $57, and $97 as well. Not sure about the "taking a loss" part. But they have 3 of these sets traveling the world, so that's got to cost a nice chunk.

Uh ... feels like the Bowie Glass Spider Tour.

I saw U2 in Tempe in 1988 for Joshua Tree. It was definitely a stadium show, but it probably was the last tour when U2 still sounded like the scrappy humanitarian rock band from Ireland, and I'm glad I saw it. I really can't get into them since then. I know artists have to evolve - am one myself. But they're a bit too much, too post-ironic, too clever now. I liked Bono better before he lost his sense of humility. But at least they're still out there, and at least Bono is using his celebrity to try to do some good.
posted by krinklyfig at 8:31 AM on October 14, 2009 [3 favorites]


Aww hoberman spheres. They gave me something to do with my hands at raves besides learning how to actually dance.
posted by empath at 8:46 AM on October 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


That stage set-up looks very much like what you might find on a Dethklok tour on 'Metalocalypse.' Except on that show, the giant spider leg canopy thing would malfunction and stomp and stab its way through the crowd, leaving acres of bloody mush covering the ground.

Brutal.
posted by Darth Fedor at 9:08 AM on October 14, 2009


It's Bono's halo, isn't it?
posted by dowcrag at 9:09 AM on October 14, 2009


This reminds a lot of what Daft Punk did when they were touring.
posted by hellojed at 9:14 AM on October 14, 2009


I saw their plane at LaGuardia the other day. I wondered what that image on the tail was. Cool.
posted by fourcheesemac at 9:16 AM on October 14, 2009


I'm not watching the videos, because I'm seeing them in Phoenix in less than a week and have been avoiding spoilers as much as possible. But I have seen glimpses of the screen in action here and there, and have to say, it's a remarkable feat.

I know there's a lot of hate for U2 here in MetaFilter, some of it perhaps justified, most of it seeming like the posturing of people who are too hip and cool for their own good. But they're doing something that nobody else is doing right now -- being the biggest rock band in the world. And they've done it consistently for decades, when most others seeking that title have peaked and faded or burned out on their way up.

The frenzy of ZooTV was designed to create the dissonant overload for concert goers which Achtung Baby! was trying to depict musically. The pretentious irony of POPMart perfectly reflected the "consumerism as lifestyle" mindset they were japing. The earnest heart of the Elevation tour took on even greater significance in their revamped post 9-11 shows, when they became a secular church traveling through the US providing some measure of healing for their fans. The peculiar light-curtain spheres developed for the Vertigo tour was another tech breakthrough (for a band which had forced many to be created during their touring career), and was an elegant solution to a difficult problem.

Now, with this tour, they are seeking to solve multiple problems at once. How to keep ticket scalpers from being the winners during a concert tour? By selling as many tickets as possible to a stadium tour at a variety of prices (around 60,000 per venue, generally). How to keep view from being blocked by huge video backdrops? Create a suspended sound and lighting rig and circular video screen.

That the video screen is actually separate elements and can be expanded up and down in an oval cocoon is just an added plus which adds to the amazing factor of what happens when the biggest band in the world demands technology once again be best to their will, instead of having to conform to the limits of what was available when they began planning the show.

They are deliberately seeking out countries they have never played in before for this tour, sometimes they are the first major world act to play ANY of these countries. They may be over the top as far as production values go, but they bring a universality and joy with them in concert which I find is unmatched by anyone else. I don't go to church anymore, haven't for decades. But a U2 show truly aligns my spirit with the joyous core of Universal existence (whatever that means), and I seek them out eagerly every time they tour. I see a lot of concerts, but nobody else can even approach what U2 can in an evening of music and tech. Hate on me, mock me all you want, but I know that next Tuesday, I will be transported in a rare and special way, and all you mockers can remain unmoved within your cocoon of cynicism, standing on the outside, pointing and commenting and wondering why nothing in life ever really brings full satisfaction.
posted by hippybear at 9:23 AM on October 14, 2009 [15 favorites]


Really cool links! We saw this tour a few weeks ago and the screen is really beautiful -- we were close enough to the stage in the inner pit to get a really astonishing view of it. I think there's a gracefulness to it that pictures and videos don't quite capture... it seemed really organic and alive, and not so much like a giant steel deathtrap. It's a ridiculously awesome sight to behold.

(They actually got stuck inside that giant lemon on the PopMart tour, so I for one applaud their bravery in continuing to tempt the Spinal-Tap-type-stage-malfunction fates)
posted by kittyb at 9:36 AM on October 14, 2009


I've never seen U2 play. I heard them when they played Croke Park in Dublin this summer (I was in Glasnevin! Big Speakers!), though, and I'm a theater tech geek. The stories of the lighting and rigging here are amazing, though. I wish I had 1/10,000th of their budget.
posted by Alterscape at 9:38 AM on October 14, 2009


Am I the only one who doesn't see anything morphing into anything else?
posted by alby at 10:03 AM on October 14, 2009


I was into hating U2 way before it was cool to hate U2.
posted by Cookiebastard at 10:09 AM on October 14, 2009


I was right there in the middle of the inner circle Monday night at JerryWorld. We waited in line starting at about 2PM (around 1000 people were already in line) and didn't get to sit down again until around 11:30. And it was totally worth it. Bono's voice isn't quite what it once was, but the band still puts on a hell of a show. Secular church is about exactly the phrase I would use to describe it. Not that I've ever really attended church, but that's what it felt like to this lifelong agnostic.

My legs are still aching today, but I'd do it again in a heartbeat. (Though next time I would probably have to sit in the stands for my fiancee's sake.)

One of my biggest regrets is that I was too young or musically ignorant to catch ZooTV and Popmart. I've seen them live 5 times now (3 times from the floor). I hope I can make it to 10.
posted by kmz at 10:14 AM on October 14, 2009


Saw 'em last week - the expando-screen is by far the coolest part of the show. It is really stunning to see in real life.
posted by spilon at 10:21 AM on October 14, 2009


I got over hating U2 way before it was cool to stop hating U2.
posted by lothar at 10:25 AM on October 14, 2009


Also, something I meant to mention but couldn't corroborate online: apparently the stage setup is so expensive that U2 is basically taking a loss on these shows

From what I've heard, they should start making a profit later this month. I know both ZooTV and Popmart almost bankrupted them.

U2 are among the worst offenders for the trend of replacing music with "entertainment".

God forbid people actually be entertained at a rock concert. Did you yell "Judas!" at Dylan going electric too?
posted by kmz at 10:27 AM on October 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


God forbid people actually be entertained at a rock concert. Did you yell "Judas!" at Dylan going electric too?

If "going electric" referred to flashing lights and not amplified guitars, you'd have a point.
posted by rocket88 at 10:37 AM on October 14, 2009


If "going electric" referred to flashing lights and not amplified guitars, you'd have a point.

Martin Scorscese's No Direction Home is an outstanding documentary which uses the "going electric" moment as a hook upon which to hang his look at Dylan's career up to that point. Even more remarkable, it was a PBS "American Masters" offering. I earnestly suggest you seek it out if you have not seen it.
posted by hippybear at 10:45 AM on October 14, 2009


Oh yeah? I hated U2 way back when only cool people liked them!
posted by straight at 11:01 AM on October 14, 2009


Well, the cool people all hated me way before they all hated U2, so I think I got in there first.

More true than I'd like to admit...
posted by dowcrag at 11:29 AM on October 14, 2009


I loved the college-rock era U2, dislike the Pop/Leave Behind/Atomic Bomb/Horizon incarnations of U2, yet I agree with hippybear: if I could afford to go, and they were playing anywhere near, it would be hard for me to resist going, simply to make up for the fact that (unlike others in this thread, whom I envy) I never saw them in their Boy/War/Unforgettable Fire heyday.
posted by blucevalo at 11:48 AM on October 14, 2009


I will probably go to U2 concerts until I get to one where they play "An Cat Dubh", at which point I can die happy.

damn them for doing it only on the FIRST leg of the Vertigo tour
posted by Lucinda at 12:34 PM on October 14, 2009


...and at one point they pulled a guy out of the audience to play guitar...

rocket88, was this a concert you saw at the Assembly Hall at the University of Illinois way back when? Because that's what happened at that show...I like U2; please tell me they aren't traveling around with a ringer or something....
posted by Kronos_to_Earth at 1:21 PM on October 14, 2009


I saw them at Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto. I think it was part of every show that they would ask if any audience members knew how to play guitar, invite one of them up on stage, and have him strum the 3 simple chords for Knockin' on Heaven's Door. The guy at the Toronto show took it upon himself to add a pretty amazing solo and the band looked genuinely blown away.
posted by rocket88 at 1:41 PM on October 14, 2009


An elliptical screen that transformed into a cone would have been impressive. A cylinder turning into a cone? Less so.
posted by Eideteker at 1:53 PM on October 14, 2009


Excellent point, Eidetekker; I should have been more precise. The shape of the screen is neither an ellipse nor a cylinder but rather an approximation to an elliptical extrusion made up of irregular hexagons, which then transforms into a shape which is not a cone but rather an approximation of a truncated right elliptical cone, made up of those same irregular hexagons. And the Hoberman Sphere isn't a sphere at all, but rather an icosidodecahedron.
posted by albrecht at 2:07 PM on October 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


U2 regularly pulls people out of the audience to perform with them. When I saw them in Honolulu at the very last date of the Vertigo tour, they pulled a guy up and he stopped the show cold and got them to perform "Who's Going To Ride Your Wild Horses" live for the first time in many years with him playing Edge's keyboards. It was one of those spine-tingling moments in concert-going, and is giving me goosebumps as I write this.

It might have been a different guy that you saw, Kronos, but the sentiment is always the same -- pull up a representative from "the mass" to the stage and make everyone feel as though they are sharing in that moment. It's wonderful, it's classic, and it's part of what makes U2 in concert so special.
posted by hippybear at 2:10 PM on October 14, 2009


The Edge should do an unplugged solo tour.
posted by Artw at 2:25 PM on October 14, 2009


Related: It Might Get Loud.
posted by The Deej at 2:54 PM on October 14, 2009


I'm interested to learn that the screen was designed by Hoberman. The man is certainly skilled at inventing things that expand and contract.

I was at the U2 show a couple weeks ago and it was incredible. As we walked up the hill through the parking lot, we could see the stage before we even saw the stadium - it rose above it like a giant spaceship of rock. Here's a photo I took before the show when the screen is retracted. And here's another later in the show when the screen has expanded into the cone, nearly eclipsing the band.

As we watched the concert I hardly noticed the screen moving, what with Larry's drumkit rotating, the two bridges swiveling, the lights sparkling and the spotlights following Bono as he skipped around. At one point Bono picked a boy from the audience and did a lap with him around the ring - then he took of his shades and put them on the boy (first time I think I've ever seen his face without glasses attached).

As a big U2 fan who had never seen them in concert, this was a dream come true.
A giant, sparkly, spacey dream that I will remember for years to come.
posted by wundermint at 5:31 PM on October 14, 2009


wundermint, if you are talking about the NYC show, here's video of the boy being pulled from the crowd.
posted by The Deej at 8:22 PM on October 14, 2009


Crazy... I was actually at the Raleigh show, so maybe he does the same at each concert? I know they love to pull fans on stage... and now they can do laps with them!
posted by wundermint at 8:55 PM on October 14, 2009


Bono pulled a boy onto the stage in the Vertigo DVD during An Cat Dubh/Into The Heart, I believe. So, yeah, it seems to have been part of the show for a while. Pretty cool regardless.
posted by The Deej at 9:11 PM on October 14, 2009


I met Bono during the Unforgettable Fire tour - I think in 1986 or so. I had lost my keys in the basketball stadium where they played and I was waiting in the back for security to finish checking around. He just walked right in and said hello, then I went to some VIP room with him.

I was 16, totally shaking in my boots, but he was just as nice as could be. He had fallen off the stage a couple of tour dates before that, and had stitches in his chin. He was totally normal, just wanted to say hi and connect a little bit, but people were insisting on treating him like Jesus or something, touching his hair, his face, even the stitches in his chin, not really talking to him. Awkward as all hell.

Having witnessed all that, I don't blame him one bit for starting to wear giant glasses and going into Animatronic Rock Star mode at shows. A lot of people come for a show, they don't want to see a person behind all that. Bono gives them what they want.
posted by pomegranate at 4:59 AM on October 15, 2009


Saw this U2 show at Wembley. The screen is indeed impressive and was fully extended for City of Blinding Lights, like a big swirling blender of light. Some have commented that a band with their back catalogue don't need bells and whistles like this (and they have a point) but still, what a show. (Capsule review: they came out to 4-5 thumping tracks from the new album and then settled into an extended greatest hits session, both ancient and more recent. Feckin' great.)
posted by bright cold day at 6:24 AM on October 15, 2009


The frenzy of ZooTV was designed to create the dissonant overload for concert goers which Achtung Baby! was trying to depict musically.

Yeah, I know. Some of my friends explained it all to me, and I tried, and we listened to a lot of that era of the band, but it never worked for me. That doesn't mean they're no longer a decent band. I do like the evolution of a lot of musical artists, but something doesn't connect with them anymore, and for that matter stadium rock doesn't really appeal to me that much anymore. But that's just my own taste, and it's better that a band like that evolve than get in a rut, and at least they give people a run for their money and really do it up. And I can't fault a band for sticking together this long and still having fun at it as artists and friends, because it seems like they really do, and that's very rare.
posted by krinklyfig at 1:37 AM on October 16, 2009


I do like the evolution of a lot of musical artists, but something doesn't connect with them anymore, ... But that's just my own taste, and it's better that a band like that evolve than get in a rut, and at least they give people a run for their money and really do it up.

You have encapsulated perfectly my frustration with Tori Amos, Melissa Etheridge (although her holiday album last year was fantastic), Seal, Yes, Marillion, and probably a few other artists perfectly. I love the idea that they are still moving forward; I mourn that they have gone on a journey which no longer appeals to me.
posted by hippybear at 2:49 PM on October 16, 2009


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