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U2 at Valle Hovin

2005-08-05

The U2 concert at Valle Hovin Oslo last week was my first encounter ever with the stadium rock live format. That was an interesting experience in several ways. The band was really good and it’s fascinating to see the machinery backing them up. According to an article in VG or Dagbladet each concert during the Vertigo tour costs approx 13 million NOK. That would be enough to keep BEK running for 5 years…

According to the press they used about 100 monitors. I counted them and it turned out to be 160 and another 20 or so further down the stadium. All monitors looked the same and as far as I could see they did not use dedicated subwoofers but I guess a massive 8×10 wall of monitors at each side of the stage ends up functioning as one massive clustered sub. I suppose that’s somewhat similar to what I experienced with the 16 loudspeakers in a row setup for Electrohype (on a much smaller scale though).

Apart from the four members of the band there were no other musicians at the stage (or elsewhere as far as I could tell). Everything seemed to be based on click tracks and arrangements were fairly faithful to the originals from the records with as little extra playback tracks as required. The upside of this was extremely clean tight and consistent sound for all of the songs regardless of originating from the first records or the latest ones. On the other hand it was slightly awkward to see all four band members with nothing to do for the intros of some of the songs as it was all playback of synths/sound processing. I can understand that they want to keep the stage “clean” but it somewhat reduced the live feeling of the music. It’s kind of pussling that some of the music stays automated this way at the same time as at least 30 persons are controlling lights and cameras for the visual part of the show.

Visually speaking the stage had a clean design: Two large video screens on top of the monitor rows and a matrix of lights inbetween forming the backdrop of the stage. My position wasn’t to far from the stage but the band members still looked like small puppies and I had to depend on the video screens to see what was going on. I guess that was the case for most of the audience. In a way it wouldn’t make much difference if they increased the number of audience from 40.000 to 160.000 by streaming sound and video to three more stadiums around the country.

In a way the video screens represented a visual magnification in the same way as the PA did for sound. But why is it that the visual amplification implied a much stronger alienation and detachment than the sound amplification? Is there a difference in this respect in how we percieve and interprete sound and image or is it a result of cultural training? Am I so used to amplified sound that it becomesa transparent transmitter to me? Or is the fact that the music itself is based on electric instruments reducing the distance? At the same time we’re also used to images from TV video and the net always indicating “somewhere else” in time and/or space.

Apart from that some gorgeous images was created as the cameas zoomed in at Bono in front of the light matrix. At the video the ligths transformed into urban landscapes at night.

The things I enjoyed the most about the concert was the impression of the band having another fine day at the office enjoying their work and also how they dared turning the focus away from themselves and towards more important issues at a point in the concert where they could have turned the crowd really ecstatic. Instead we got the human rights.

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