June 12, 2008

Hampden set for Bon Jovi invasion as 200-strong team get ready for tour date

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Jun 10 2008  Richard Bennett

NEXT week rock fans will Pack Hampden park in Glasgow to see Bon Jovi blast out huge hits like Living' On A Prayer and Bed of Roses.  Behind the scenes, a dedicated team of more than 200 people will make sure not a speaker or drumstick is out of place.

The massive operation was experienced by Rchard Bennett, who joined the team for a day in Germany.

 

IT'S 9.30am on a sunny Saturday in Munich's Olympic Stadium. In just under 12 hours, US rockers Bon Jovi will perform in front of 72,000 fans on a stage that's not yet built, with instruments that are still sitting in a truck and through a PA system that's lying in bits.

Over the next eight hours, more than 200 people will transform one end of the stadium into a cutting edge, state-of-the-art rock 'n' roll spectacular, in what backline crew chief Mike Rew refers to as "organised chaos".

Tonight's concert is the second of 22 European dates on Bon Jovi's Lost Highway world tour. By the last one at Twickenham Stadium in London on June 28, the band will have played to more than one million fans across Europe.

The people responsible for making sure this military-style operation runs smoothly are the six crew chiefs, including veteran roadie and stage manager Mike Devlin, who right now is concerned about the time it's going to take to set up.

He said: "During the US shows, we build the stage at one end of the arena and the lights at the other, and then we just roll the stage under the lights.

"With the European shows we can't do that, so the logistics of putting the whole thing together become more complicated."

It's down to Devlin, Rew and the other unsung heroes in Bon Jovi's road crew to make sure the audience go home with their ears ringing, eyes wide open and the wow factor firmly imprinted on their minds.

Each concert requires 1.5 megawatts of power, enough to run 1000 power saws.

Due to its size, there are three structural stages, each taking three days to erect, complete with their own advance teams.

These stages leap-frog each other across Europe. As one is being built in a city, another one is coming down somewhere else, with the third on route to the next show. The rest of the equipment is built on to these stages on the day of the concert.

The working day gets started at 8am, with Devlin, Rew and the other chiefs, along with 100 travelling crew and another 100 local personnel recruited for the day, unloading more than 20 giant trucks.

"We unload the trucks in order of set-up, lights then video equipment, sound system and so on," explained Devlin.

Four trucks at a time drive on to the stadium floor to be unloaded.

The lighting system, which takes up three trucks and 150 flight cases, is put in place first, overseen by lighting crew chief Storm Sollars. His team of 20 start stage right, working their way across to finish stage left. "It's a game of layers" he said.

The lighting rigs, including five large custom circle pods, are constructed at ground level before being lifted into the heavens. The whole process takes six to seven hours.

It's a back-breaking job. "People think being a roadie is all sex and sunglasses, and that's it's glamorous. Well there's the glamour for you," said lighting tech J. Rock, showing me his callous-scarred hands.

While he and his boys are setting up the lights, video crew chief Mark O'Herlihy and his team are sorting out the £5million worth of equipment used on this tour.

This includes six venetian blind screens, generating more than three miles of power and control cables, capable of extending in size as they move up and down the backdrop, and two huge screens either side of the stage, which allow those at the back of the stadium to see what's happening.

Mark's pride and joy is the custom-built low-resolution screen, consisting of more than 27,000 video pixels. It runs the length of the stage from floor to ceiling, and will have a number of different images and colours projected on it during the two-and-a-half-hour concert.

More than five broadcast cameras, directed by Jon Bon Jovi's brother Tony, will capture the band members as they play their way through 25 years of hits. Away from all the madness on stage, there is a little island in the middle of the stadium floor, known as front of house. This is system engineer Mike Allison's kingdom.

From here, he and his team of nine will control the sound generated by more than 130 speakers, via a 60-channel mixing desk and a bank of computer screens.

By late afternoon everything is in place.

Next comes one of the most important parts of the gig - the instruments.

The truck containing the guitars, drums and keyboards is backed up to the stage and the crew start moving flight case after flight case on to the stage.

These cases contain David Bryan's keyboards, Tico Torres's custom hand-painted drum kit and Richie Sambora's 24 guitars, all of which he will play during the evening.

As guitar tech Takumi Suetsugu explained: "Richie and I sit down before every show and go down the set list, and go over what guitar he will play on what song."

As the instruments are set up on stage, some of the crew can finally take a breather.

Sitting backstage, thoughts turn to what they will do when the tour, which started last October, finishes in New York in July.

For Rew, it will be about spending some time working on his classic American car and for Devlin it "depends on who rings" if he gets the summer off, or spends it on yet another tour.

As show time draws near and the band prepare to go on stage, the crew's thoughts then turn to tearing it all back down again.

As Allison said: "It always comes down faster than it went up."

It takes more than four hours to take everything down, pack it in the trucks and send it on its way to the next show.

Once the gear is all on its way, the crew travel to the next city on one of seven buses, to start the whole process again tomorrow.

It's a life that most of them are used to. "I can't get to sleep in a hotel bed, but on the bus I'm all right," admitted Devlin.

This crew work hard with little recognition from fans to make sure the paying customer sees an amazing show, But as Storm said: "If they didn't come to the concerts, I wouldn't have a job."

Spending the day with these guys, you can't help but feel their strong sense of family, something Richie Sambora thinks is the key to a successful tour.

"A lot of these guys have been with us from the beginning when we started to headline," he said. "We try to keep as many things constant as we can, and keep them as a family. It is important to have familiar faces around you."

At 8.30pm, the band hit the stage to a thunderous roar of appreciation from the capacity crowd, and the opening chords of Lost Highway fill the night air. Meanwhile, backstage, the crew are already planning the next spectacular show.

Bon Jovi play Hampden on June 21.

 

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