On The Edge With U2
by By David Dayen, Joanna Lux
During the opening song on U2's 1983 live album, "Under a Blood Red Sky," Bono declares, "This is the Edge!" to introduce a searing solo by the U2 guitarist. Now everyone knows the Edge. A truly superb player, he has no problem bringing an arena to its feet with his slow-building, explosive style.
At Conseco Field House in Indianapolis, AudioFile found the Edge's guitar tech, Dallas Schoo, in his element: at the arena, pre-show time. He went over Edge's setup, pedal by pedal. Click on the video icon to watch extra footage of the interview not broadcast on TV. For more information on U2's gear, visit German fan site U2 Sound. To see "AudioFile's" photo albums of U2's amps, pedals and more from the show, click here.
TechTV: How many amps does the Edge use?
Schoo: On the Zoo TV and Pop tours, Edge had a total of eight combo amplifiers. On this tour they wanted to play on limited stage space, so the actual physical area is not enough to accommodate eight amps. He wanted to do a simpler guitar/signal path, but still get some big sounds. So this tour, he's running almost all his sounds through one or two amplifiers, playing them at a lower level and making the effects at a hotter level. He's quite happy with his sounds that he got from the album by doing it that way, so he's attempting to do that live. He's getting good sounds. He still uses his main old 1964 AC-30, as well as an '82 AC-30.
TechTV: What is the story about that amp getting kicked in?
Schoo: This amp used to belong to Bono, and when Bono's not real happy with his sounds, he used to take it out on his amps. He is a different man now. It has such a great old sound, that Edge thought since we're limiting his amplifiers to two or three, then let's use the best-sounding ones. So he took Bono's amp and talked Bono into using a different one. So that's where the tear came from. Edge isn't one, as you can see cosmetically, to want to update things. He likes to keep them old and vintage.
TechTV: What is the switching system?
Schoo: It's a Bob Bradshaw system, and Edge and I can both control this. We can control the amplifiers as well. We have a splitter for that. It's a really good system; it's been very reliable. In this band, there are four of them. With this band, he's usually the only guitarist. You can distinguish when he has a 12-string on, or when he's using this effect or that.
TechTV: Is a lot of this gear dedicated to particular eras of U2?
Schoo: This is true. It's a bit of a generalization, but most of these old pedals up here, the stomp boxes, Edge used for the old albums. "Joshua Tree" and "Boy" and stuff. He'll also decorate. He has the capability of having a blank canvas for each song. All in all, there is gear from some of the older eras. He always made his albums with Korg delays, before the higher-end TC's came out. He still makes the albums with the older Korg stuff. They have a warm sound that he prefers. But when we do the stage show, we have to rely on the newer TC delays.
TechTV: What are these stomp boxes?
Schoo: Predominantly distortion boxes. Different degrees, different characters. They're all used as part of presets, but on a certain night, if he feels like that distortion isn't what he wants, he can activate another one with his computer. [He uses a] Japanese distortion thing [that] came out of nowhere, I think Brian Eno, or Danny Lanois introduced him to it. He's using it loads, and it's the most offensive. Offensive seems to be the way to go with Edge. Even though there's all this noisy sound when he's not playing, he believes what's coming through when he is playing is worth it. He doesn't use noise gates, he wants the purity of the signal. And if there's one thing I've learned from this guitarist, it is how much it means to him, the integrity of his signal.
TechTV: And the tube screamer?
Schoo: That's another distortion box. It's a soft distortion he has it set for, but that is in probably 70 percent of his presets of the crunch songs. Not like "Where the Streets Have No Name," or the pure delay songs. But the big songs, "Beautiful Day" and "Fly."
TechTV: Give us a tour of the pedal board.
Schoo: These are the computer controllers for the system. And these are all enhancement pedals. This is a Dunlop wah-wah pedal. This is used for "Real Thing." This Whammy, it's just an octa-verse sweep. This was designed by one of the techs, Raab McCallister. This is a big sound for the song "Elevation." It's just broken ingredients that he put inside of a pedal. These here, Edge is able to tell the keyboard sound to come on by hitting green or red. Because there's only a few songs where Edge can't play and play guitar at the same time, so the keyboard sound will come out of offstage.
TechTV: What about his mix?
Schoo: He has a mix of the instruments that he wants in his monitor. A lot of it is his guitar, and the percussion, the drums. And Bono's vocals, to know where he's keying off of. When he's out running around the heart, or he's away from here, that's what he relies on. And it's what I rely on when he's playing his solos, when to move him on. That becomes kind of a personal thing. You can screw up in a way, like if I move him on out of his guitar solo before he's made his last note, made his last statement. But then you just do the best you can.
TechTV: How long have you been doing this?
Schoo: For 17 years I've been with him now. He's a real class guy to work for, too. It means a lot to him to get his sounds consistently, of course.
U2 Drum Tech Sam O'Sullivan
Drum tech Sam O'Sullivan gives AudioFile the blow-by-blow of Larry Mullen Jr.'s drum set and explains the cons of drums on a stadium tour.
Drum setup: Well, it's the same sort of setup he's been using for years. 24-inch bass drum, two 16-inch floors and a 14-inch rack. And we use this special Brady snare drum, which is an Australian drum. He's been using that size since 1989. It's only 12 inches by 7 inches across, but he gets a great whack off it. It's quite a basic setup. The Yamaha drums are fabulous. He's been with Yamaha for a long, long time. Over the years, quite a few snare drums have come our way from different companies, but he's always come back to the Yamaha Brady Snare. He uses it in the studio as well.
Cymbals, sticks, and mics: He uses Paiste cymbals. And of course, ProMark sticks. We stick with the same stuff. There is just one mic setup.
Arena vs. stadium: The good thing about this whole tour is that we're indoors. It's just great. The elements make a huge difference to drums, as they do to any instruments. Instruments do not like the weather changes all the time. The rain seems to follow us around. On the PopMart tour we used to have a kit on the B stage as well, which wasn't covered. So, more often than not it was completely soaked. Visually, it looked fantastic, when you hit the drums, the water would come up. It sounded awful. So I basically had to take the kit apart every night before I put it back in the box. So this is a dream, you know, to have the right environment. Everything is consistent.
U2 Show Designer Willie Williams
At the Bradley Center in Milwaukee, show designer Willie Williams tells AudioFile about the look and feel of the Elevation tour. Video of Williams can be found here.
On the arena: When you're in a stadium you take every stick of the environment with you, so quite literally the sky's the limit. When you're indoors at an arena, you can't play with that same sort of scale. But the plus side, of course is that the band and the audience are under one roof. So it's a much more intimate surrounding.
On the goal of Elevation: The overall goal really was to design a concert situation which brought the band and the audience as close together as possible. Both physically and emotionally. That was sort of the mandate that came down from day one.
'Beyond the technology, there is real chemistry in the room. On a scale of 1 to 10, this is an 11. It's so great.' -- Williams
On the stage: The most important design element is obviously the stage itself. And we spent a lot of time working out how to make the catwalks and the ramp and the area with the audience inside the stage. Logistically, that was all tricky, because of fire marshals and entrances and exits and that kind of thing. So that was pretty tough, but once we cracked that part of the design, everything else came from there and followed. Because once the band can get out there, the rest is easy.
On the visuals: I think in terms of the visuals, it was quite clear that this time around, I wanted times when basically I just get out of the way, and we let the band do it. A lot of the show is very simply lit, and there's no special effects or anything like that. But then of course there are other times when you have to push all the buttons. U2 now have a reputation for spectacular stage shows, and so you can't leave the audience with nothing. I think we got the balance of that right.
On his lighting style: Not just with U2, but generally the way I approach lighting a show tends to be more subtle than most rock and roll light shows you would see. I like to build very strong, bold, simple lighting looks, and pretty much leave them there. My thought has always been, if you go and see a theater show, or you go and see an opera or something, and you come out talking about the lighting, then something is terribly wrong. My goal is to just create the right kinds of environments and the right kind of moods for what the band is doing. Obviously there are moments where there are big lighting effects.
On the lights: Essentially, the show runs through three or four different phases in terms of the way the visuals look. We open the show with one particular kind of lighting look, which is simple and white light. Well, actually, we start with the house lights on; that was the opening gag. But when we get into a regular concert environment, I've been using 2K Fresnell theater lamps, which have a very low color temperature, and so they're quite warm, and they're kind of old-fashioned. They're only up about 50 percent. It's just a very warm light; it's very low color temperature.
On PIGI projectors: The next phase, we're using PIGI projectors, which is an effects projector, which is like a slide projector, but it's a scrolling film, and the film is seven inches wide. It's a huge aperture, a seven-inch square aperture. And there are two scrolls, so there are two films which run on top of each other. You get all kinds of different visual effects from that. There are four of those, and I'm using them without a screen. They go into the house, because we have people that go all the way around the stage. I'm using the audience as a projection screen. Which is lovely, because the audience can see what's happening on them, and if they look across the other side, they can see what the big picture is. The final phase is when we bring in the video wall in the back of the stage, which is our sort of tribute to the ZooTV-type visuals.
On the technology: It's funny, a lot of it is very deconstructed, if you like. A lot of the visuals are handmade by several different artists. We're just surrounded now by digital images and digital technology, and the simplicity of drawn images is quite powerful. The last cue in the show is the lyrics to the song on the PIGI projectors which scroll up the walls, and it's just handwriting. But the scale of it, I guess, is what gives it the sort of emotional power. So a lot of it is very low-tech in terms of the content, but the delivery mechanism is extremely cutting-edge, so it's kind of a contradiction. Beyond the technology, there is real chemistry in the room. On a scale of 1 to 10, this is an 11. It's so great.
On the visual masters: There are four of us running the visuals at front of house. There's one guy who runs the PIGI projectors, and then the other three of us. There's Bruce Ramus, who's the lighting director, and Stephan Desmit, who's running the video system most of the time. I'm running a small lighting desk and talking to the cameras, and I do run some of the video cues myself. So the three of us sort of run everything.
On the computers: The video system is the most pre-programmed, because of the nature of that kind of technology. It runs off a Mac G3 laptop.
On the video: There's two kinds of video in the show. In the latter part of the show, when the sort of visual imagery comes from the video screen, that's an LED video wall at the back of the stage. We talked a lot about how to get around the close-up camera pictures, which are now an essential part of rock shows.
The way that most rock shows run is you have a screen on either side of the stage, and there are close-ups of the band on it, and you have a video director backstage somewhere, who's directing the cameras and cutting and mixing, and basically doing a little HBO special either side of the stage. It absolutely drives me insane. Television is so powerful, you can't not look at it. It's like if you're in a bar, and the TV is on, you want to talk to your friend, but you find yourself all the time looking up.
What I really wanted to do was give the audience a close-up look at the band. I wanted to remove the person between the audience and the video pictures. We have four cameras, and they're out in the house, they're long-lens cameras, regular broadcast cameras, and there are four screens, and then each camera has a direct feed to one of the video screens up above the stage. It just sits there all night.
So you have Bono, Edge, Adam, and Larry, one on each screen. But rather than taking four camera pictures and cutting them up into a video show, I've just let the audience see all four pictures all the time. It's really working, because it's far less of a distraction than having an image that's being cut.