U2 2017 'Joshua Tree' Tour

by Kevin M. Mitchell
in Production Profile
U2 2017 'Joshua Tree' tour photo by Steven Jennings
U2 2017 'Joshua Tree' tour photo by Steven Jennings

The band re-creates their 30-year-old Joshua Tree album on the road.

No U2 tour is “typical” — the band has been upping the ante on each and every outing for decades. But revisiting a specific point in their past — the 30 year-old Joshua Tree album — was something even the band and crew weren’t sure about it.

 

“To be honest, I think everyone was apprehensive about this idea,” says U2 FOH Joe O’Herlihy. “We’re a band that runs from nostalgia. We always look to the future. But the mesmerizing fact is that an enormous number of fans embraced this whole concept of the 30th anniversary. I think that everyone associated with it was ultimately shocked, overwhelmed, and delighted about the response. No one expected [this reaction].”

A smaller, more concise system and the latest technology get the job done.

‡‡         The Early Days

There is a lot of past with O’Herlihy and the band. One day in September of 1978 he was working for a Dublin sound company and mixed a quartet of brash young men at a college, and he’s been mixing them ever since. This includes the original Joshua Tree tour in 1987, and that was indeed a different world technologically. “You have to look back, and the obvious difference for me is I have sound reinforcement tools today that we could only dream about back then.”

But the struggle was real: Recreating the band’s precision in the studio in a live environment, specifically those unforgiving hockey arenas and ballpark stadiums the band was already playing in, was not for the faint of heart. Still isn’t. “To replicate what the band was doing in the studio and maintain that criteria while also introducing the adrenalin that happens when they play live has always been the goal” — and the challenge to this day. The technology back then was good, they had the best available, but getting it to do what they needed involved a lot of knob twisting and trial and error in every venue they played.

No U2 tour can really be described as 'typical.' Photo by Steve Jennings

O’Herlihy and the band have played a lot of rooms together. “When we met, they were 17 and 18 years old, and so it’s been quite a journey,” he says. Indeed, and he credits having mixed for Irish rocker Rory Gallagher for five years as preparing for the U2 ride. And along the way, O’Herlihy’s also worked with REM, David Bowie, Stevie Nicks, and The Cranberries among others. “That’s where I learned the elements of rock ‘n’ roll mixing, graduating from crew member to monitor engineer, to FOH. Staying up on the latest in pro audio has been key to his success, and he embraced the digital movement right out of the box. “Now there is all this fantastic technology at your fingertips; with that and the old saying ‘prepare, prepare, prepare,’ we can get very measured, very precise.”

The audio team had this specific challenge: While quite a few songs on that album have always been part of the live concert repertoire, some had seldom — and at least in one case — never been played live. “Revitalizing those involved some work because we wanted to be true to the album. We had to replicate those as best we could and even improve on them.”

The FOH team, from left: FOH engineer Joe O’Herlihy; system engineers Jo Ravitch and Joel Merrill; and Pro Tools engineer Mike LaCroix. Photo by Steve Jennings

‡‡         Math Homework

O’Herlihy is happy to be using the Clair Global Cohesion speaker series. “The Cohesion is very new technology that was I involved with on the R&D side,” he says. “We used it on other arena tours, and I like how everything is present. It’s always coming from above your head. One thing I learned is that the band needs to be comfortable with where the sound is coming from — it has to be natural.”

Power/precision with a smaller footprint was important. “We have a 245-foot video screen and the last thing I want is my speaker system hanging in the middle of that!” he laughs. O’Herlihy worked with a trim height of 53-feet and cantilever cranes to position the four sets of line arrays in manner that meets the band’s high level of expectations. This aspect is done way differently than 30 years ago. “Today, it’s all about mathematics, and it’s so brilliant.”

O’Herlihy’s FOH rack was old-school, but filled with time-proven classics. Photo by Steve Jennings

 

A lot of the work happens in the comfort of his office chair long before the first date of tour. There, he’s able to map where they are playing on his computer, specifying exactly what boxes goes where. “I’m able to place the arrays where needed and the four delay positions — it’s very specific. It used to be such a guessing game, and now it’s about doing the homework before the tour.”

O’Herlihy must be a good student, because most the time it sounds great from the first note, and when that’s not the case, it’s just minor adjustments involved. “We get it right most of the time off the ground, and it’s a joy to walk around [the sound check] hearing it right.”

Drum miking on Larry Mullen Jr.’s kit was straightforward and effective. Photo by Steve Jennings

‡‡         At FOH

O’Herlihy has long been a DiGiCo guy, and he’s got an SD7 out on this tour. He leans on a Summit Audio DCL-200 tube compressor, which he uses on the guitars and bass. “It’s an old vintage model but it works really well. Serving Bono’s voice is the Manley Labs VoxBox: “It’s intelligent and really works well sonically for him.” Additional compressors and reverb units are also found in that rack.

The monitors are all SD7 too. “They give you a 100 percent redundancy right in the board, and a lot of manufacturers ignore that idea. Having two engines on the boards is good in case something bizarre happens, like a pint of Budweiser landing on the console.” (Note: apparently, this has yet to happen — not that we’re issuing a dare…) He admits that it’s a substantial undertaking to take all those boards out, but it’s important to do so.

The Edge’s amps were captured offstage with Shure SM58 or SM57 mics.

One of the key components he listens to is the clarity of the lead vocal. It’s not enough to just slather Bono’s voice “on top” of the mix. “The lyrics are a message, and they must be heard and heard with great clarity. I’ve spent my entire career focused on that because it’s just so essential to the band’s music.” O’Herlihy says that as the years’ progress, he’s doing less — not more — from the board as the singer seems to be defying the aging process. “Mysteriously, his voice has improved — it’s quite a surprise to all of us. He does take good care of it and has good mic technique when he uses it,” he laughs. “I tell him every night, ‘sing into the microphone and I’ll make you sound like you; don’t and you’ll sound like everybody else.”

The vocal mics are largely Shure SM58s, with The Edge on a Shure 54 headset. The guitars are all 58s and 57s as well. “With the drums, I haven’t much through the years. The kick has a SM91 and SM52, and there’s a SM57 on the snare bottom.” AKG 451s and Sennheiser 421 are on the toms.

While the system technologies are better, his job is not easier: “The responsibilities are bigger, so it’s not easier, and things are more complicated.” Not that he’s complaining.

U2 2017 tour photo by  Steve Jennings

‡‡         The Systems Approach

Clair, has been taking care of U2 for decades, and sent system engineers Joel Merrill and Jo Ravitch out for this tour. Merrill first went on the road in 2006 in a van and trailer style tour where he was one of two crew members. After two years of building up from that, he went to work for Clair in 2008. Since then he’s worked with Dream Theater, 3 Doors Down, The Eagles, Justin Bieber, Paul McCartney and — since 2009 — U2. Ravitch fell into the business when he found himself as the A/V supervisor while attending State University of NY at Stony Brook, which parlayed into a gig at Clair in March 1979. The Bee Gees, Elton John, Hall and Oats, REM, Todd Rundgren, The Grateful Dead, Rush and the Rolling Stones are some of the other acts he’s worked with along the way. He goes back further with U2, having first gone out with them in 1984 and has worked nearly ever tour with them since.

Bono’s monitor engineer Alastair McMillan. Photo by Steve Jennings

Ravitch points out that this show is significantly smaller than the 360 Tour, which had 11 trucks of just audio gear, not to mention the giant claw-shaped staging structure and video funnel hanging beneath. This one has shrunk all the way down to a mere three trucks. There are 11 audio crew members, including three monitor engineers.

“The meeting for this show started last year with preliminary design proposals from Willie Williams and Ric Lipson of Stufish Designs,” Ravitch says. “There were many meeting with the design crew and Jake Berry, the production manager, and Tait Towers to prepare, design and plan the tour logistically. Eventually the design was finalized and StageCo came up with the perfect structure to support the massive screen and four main P.A. clusters,” which consist of the Clair Global CO-12s, CO-8s, and CP218s.

CJ Eiriksson handles monitors for Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen Jr. Photo by Steve Jennings

“My main tasks in the planning stage of the tour was logistics,” Merrill says. “Jo [Ravitch] had been working with the show designers and production ironing out the details of the system. My focus was to package the system to be mobile and adaptable once we loaded in the first time.” On the road, he supervises the load in and out of the P.A. system and FOH. “It takes about six hours for us to get the system in. With the stage being configured in the way it is, all the cables going to the P.A. must be pulled up and over the video wall so they don’t obstruct views. We have a team of two climbers who just deal with this task. It is a very uncommon way to load in.”

The Edge monitor engineer Richard Rainey. Photo by Steve Jennings

They did their first build of the stage at the NRG Stadium in Houston. “We spent around 10 days there where we were able to fine tune the system and just focus on the technical aspect of the show,” Merrill says. “After Houston, we moved to BC Place in Vancouver for full production rehearsals with the band. We spent another two weeks there before our first show.”

The four-piece band has three monitor mixers: one for Larry Mullen and Adam Clayton, and one each for The Edge and Bono. “As time progressed, the band got used to very specific and individual monitor mixes staring with their studio projects,” Ravitch explains. “They desired to achieve the same kind of studio quality in-ear mixes for their touring shows. As time went on, it became fairly obvious that one monitor engineer couldn’t handle the extremely varied individual requirements in the context of a live show.”

And they are all making it work.

“We have a great crew out here, and we make the best of everyday,” Merrill adds.

Guitar tech Dallas Schoo. Photo by Steve Jennings

U2 Joshua Tree Tour 2017

AUDIO CREW

  • Sound Company: Clair Global
  • FOH Engineer: Joe O’Herlihy
  • Monitor Engineers: Alastair McMillan (Bono); Richard Rainey (The Edge); CJ Eiriksson (Adam Clayton, Larry Mullen Jr.)
  • System Engineers: Jo Ravitch, Joel Merrill, Tim Peeling
  • Monitor/RF Technician: Niall Slevin
  • Monitor/Stage Technician: Brandon Schuette
  • Pro Tools Engineer: Mike LaCroix
  • P.A. Techs: Pascal Harlaut, Hannes Dander, Anne Butte
  • Guitar Tech (The Edge): Dallas Schoo

 

One of the early dates on the tour was a show for 50,000 San Francisco area fans at Levi’s Stadium.

GEAR

P.A. GEAR

  • Mains: Two Clair Cohesion clusters, each with (16) CO-12’s
  • Side Hangs: Two clusters, each with (16) CO-12’s
  • Upstage Side (270°) Hangs: Two, each with (4) CO-12’s
  • Subwoofers: (30) Clair self-powered CP 218’s, ground-stacked 15/side in a steered, cardioid configuration.
  • Delay Towers: Four, each with (8) CO-12’s
  • Front Fills: (20) Clair CO-8 across edge of stage.
  • Amplifiers: Lab.gruppen PLM+

U2 2017 tour photo by  Steve Jennings

FOH GEAR

  • FOH Console: DiGiCo SD7
  • Outboard: (2) Manley Labs VoxBox; (2) Avalon 747 preamps; Eventide H3500 UltraHarmonizer; Yamaha SPX1000 reverb; (2) TC 2290 Delay/Effects; (2) Summit DCL-200 compressors


MON GEAR

  • Monitor Consoles: (3) DiGiCo SD7
  • Outboard Gear: (4) Neve 1073 preamps, (6) Empirical Labs Distressors; (4) TC 1128 programmable graphic EQs
  • Mics (partial): Shure SM58 most vocals, Shure 54 headset (The Edge vocal)guitar amps: Shure SM58s and 57s. Drums: kick, Shure SM91/SM52; snare, SM57 top/bottom; hi-hat, AKG C451B; toms, Sennheiser MD421’s

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