After 40-plus years on the road, U2 remains one of the biggest live acts in the world, and not just because of the music. The band has always embraced the latest stage technology, often to spectacular effect, and its current Experience + Innocence global tour — the European leg debuts Aug. 31 in Berlin — is more impressive than ever, boosted by U2’s ongoing collaboration with Production Resource Group.
A leading provider of entertainment and event technology, PRG has supported every U2 tour since 1992. Jeroen Hallaert, director of PRG Projects North America, says the band has “pushed us to do something innovative and different. For their 2015 tour, we had a giant video screen with a catwalk connecting two stages, but they had to limit the screen size because of the weight involved and all the freight and shipping costs.
Last year the group went out with “Joshua Tree,” and in September PRG started to plan the current tour. “We sat down to find a solution to the weight problem, along with two other issues; the band also wanted a transparent LED wall with very high resolution, and also wanted to integrate augmented reality into the show.”
It was a tall order, notes Hallaert. “Higher resolution normally means far more weight, so we had to rethink how LED screens are conceived and built.”
The solution? A new system called Pure10. “Imagine putting an LED screen in a paper shredder and ending up with all these small strips,” Hallaert explains. “So instead of putting the printed circuit boards holding the LEDs in standard frames, we sliced the boards into strips and turned them 90 degrees with the LED mounted on the side, so you’re basically looking at a giant venetian blind — and this gave us 75% transparency. That means that when the video screen is off, one side of the arena can look directly through to the other side.”
It also meant that the LED lights could be placed closer to each other, which resulted in higher resolution. “And because we used carbon fiber instead of conventional metal, we also saved about half the weight,” Hallaert says. “That in turn opened up all sorts of other creative possibilities.”
With their “Joshua Tree” tour, U2 also debuted PRG’s carbon-fiber Spaceframe touring system. The rig was front and center at Coachella this year, with the company signing a three-year deal for the system at the festival.
Beyoncé, who performed at Coachella on a custom-built stage within the main stage built by PRG, is currently on her “On the Run II” tour with Jay-Z, which uses Spaceframe 2.0, a technology that allows the entire screen to move.
PRG also just upgraded its Rolling Video Floor Riser for U2. “It’s a great partnership,” says Hallaert. “They give us a challenge, and we try to meet it.”