Say my name bitch

10.12.2006 Honolulu–San Francisco.

It was an early start, but I made it to the airport with a dozen or so other crew members who had flights around the same time as me. I’m going to San Francisco for a while before going home, so my flight’s only four hours or so, whilst others will be spending days in the air to get to far corners of this planet and possibly other ones.

Once again it seemed like everyone on the plane had been at the show so U2 was the general subject of background conversation. One woman in particular, across the aisle from me, spent the entire flight re-living her concert experience (“…and then Bono went down the ramp, so everyone went to the right, but I noticed that Adam had gone to the left, so I…. etc”.) Sometimes it’s humbling to realise the degree to which these shows can provide such life highlights for so many people; even a show that left me feeling frustrated and grumpy. I pulled my hood up and had a moment of quiet appreciation. This has been a fantastic little run, producing some of the best shows of U2’s career – perhaps we should consider doing a dozen shows after a six-month break at the end of every tour…
Say my name bitch

09.12.2006 Show day, Honolulu.

Vertigo show number 131. Or 132 if you count Live 8. 133 if you count the open rehearsal in Los Angeles…. whichever number it is, it’s the last one.

I spent the morning packing at the hotel as I have been warned tomorrow could be problematic. The Honolulu marathon is on which involves closing the streets around our hotel and right through Waikiki from 4am. Our hotel had a mad sounding plan that persons wanting to leave would be taken (with their bags) in golf carts as far as the running route. When there was a break in the volume of runners, we would be ferried across the track to the other side where cars had access, to then take us to the airport. I was dubious to say the least, but reserved judgement till later.

Traffic going to the venue was absolutely brutal, which set the tone for the day. I am not sure if it was particularly highlighted for me, having just come from the ‘land of politeness’, but there was quite a rough atmosphere in the venue. Not aggressive exactly, but from security through to the mood of the crowd there was a slightly confrontational feeling in the air. Maybe it was the Mai Tais.

I spent the afternoon stuffing my workbox with all the things I couldn’t face carrying home, so hopefully I’ll see it again around the end of January when it comes off the freight boat. After that I made my way around the building wishing farewell to as many of the tour staff as possible – particularly the one’s who’ll be up to their necks in a load-out the minute the show is done. Pearl Jam opened which was a treat for the audience, who clearly appreciated them making the effort to come. Apparently it’s Pearl Jam’s last show for a while too, so with the end of the year upon us there was very much a feeling of closure.

To be completely honest I didn’t really enjoy the U2 show that much. The house security appeared to be in something of a shambles and (possibly as a result) a tangible level of aggression surfaced, with a few scuffles in the crowd. By the time I’d got from backstage to the mix position I was a little tweaked. To add to this, for the first few numbers there was what seemed to be an endless series of small, irritating technical problems – one of the video screens went out, the lighting desk started doing odd things with the strobes, etc. All the same I made a point of looking at the show, understanding that we’ll never see this again. The big Vertgio op art swirls, the Julian Opie walking man… all gone for good.

After the show I turned my mind to tomorrow and how to deal with the blanket street closures. By midnight I still hadn’t heard anything from the band party’s travel co-ordinator so took matters into my own hands. I had noticed that the crew’s travel guy had a very precise plan in place, so decided to jump ship and join them. A runner took me back to the retirement community where I checked out and drove to the crew hotel for the night. I’ll spare you the details of the runner getting lost in the middle of the night and our driving round in circles forever, but I made it unscathed in the end.
Say my name bitch

08.12.2006 Load in, Honolulu.

I woke to find myself in a state of serious Mai Tai recovery. Never again, etc. It’s the Golden Syrup, I swear.

Bono’s not staying at the retirement community, so I headed over to his house around lunchtime for a final catch up and debrief. This has been a really fun little tour and our conversations have given us some pointers for the future, which is a huge unexpected bonus.

From there we went on to the house where The Edge is staying as he had kindly thrown an afternoon bbq for anyone who fancied coming along. From here to the stadium for the final sound check of the tour. It’s quite touching that a band would still be interested enough to soundcheck before the very last show of a two year project, but that’s U2 for you.
Say my name bitch

07.12.2006 Day off, Honolulu

The past couple of days have been relatively low impact as everyone begins the process of packing up and winding down. My daytime activities have included such rock and roll tasks as sorting out my receipts or buying underwear (it’s either that or do laundry which is out of the question at this stage of the tour.)

The past couple of days have been relatively low impact as everyone begins the process of packing up and winding down. My daytime activities have included such rock and roll tasks as sorting out my receipts or buying underwear (it’s either that or do laundry which is out of the question at this stage of the tour.)

This evening I escaped again and met up with my pal Darren Hayes who’s here with his partner, a mate of theirs from Oregon, plus Darren’s mother and aunt. I met up with this unlikely combo at their hotel, the Royal Hawaiian, which is a symphony in pink, much like the Madonna Inn-on-Sea. The ocean front bar is the Mai Tai bar, so it would have been rude to have anything else. Before long we found ourselves swilling washing-up-bowl-sized drinks that seemed to consist mostly of golden syrup and lighter fluid, topped by a fruit pile that would have embarrassed Carmen Miranda. There was a house band playing soft rock classics with a front man who chatted to the (large) patio of drinkers. “Who’s here with the Honolulu Marathon?” (faint cheers), “Who’s here for the Pearl Harbour anniversary?” (fainter cheers), “Who’s here for the U2 concert?” (entire bar erupts with drunks whooping, chanting and pounding the tables).

Later we ate at a Benihana’s type place where impossibly chirpy chefs cook in front of you whilst juggling carving knives, kitchen utensils and flame throwers - a concept billing itself as – I kid you not – “Eatertainment”. Once again it seemed everyone in the place was talking about U2 and what time they were planning to get to the gig, etc. Looks like half of Honolulu is going to be there with a great deal more having flown over from the mainland.

Having eaten we helped ourselves to a little more “drinkertainment” before I headed off to see if I could break into the retirement community without having the police called.
Say my name bitch

05.12.2006 Tokyo – Honolulu.

Spent the morning packing up the tsunami of crap that seems to have overwhelmed my room during the past week or so. I also made a point of having a bath. The bathrooms at the Grand Hyatt are fabulous, being slate-tiled wet rooms that drain to some discreet, unseen place beneath the big square tub. I filled the bath literally to overflowing, suds slithering onto the floor, and then jumped into it sending more waves crashing everywhere till the floor was inches deep in water. I felt like a five year old. Loved it.

I made a last minute return run to the MORI art gallery design store, before joining the rest of the tour party in the hotel’s club lounge. We had to check out of our rooms but by way of compromise the hotel served us afternoon tea, which was extremely civilised, so we had somewhere to hang out before leaving the hotel around 4pm.

We flew out of Narita airport, which involved a very long drive through rush hour traffic but everyone was pretty mellow. Many people had a late one last night as a gesture towards giving Japan a respectable send off. We’ve had a great time here; Tokyo has changed so much over the past five or ten years. It’s New York now, an extremely cosmopolitan 24-hour city where you can find just about anything if you look in the right places.

The flight from Tokyo to Honolulu was another JAL charter which made things more comfortable for all. I was faintly astonished to discover that the flight time is only six and a half hours, having psyched myself up for another marathon all-nighter. Consequently it was a little hard to pace myself, but we muddled through. My great triumph of the flight was finishing the New York Times crossword from Saturday’s International Herald Tribune, which I’ve been working on since the weekend. I’d got a good way into it, but Bruce helped me with some of the sport and America clues which leave me completely helpless. I’m a big fan of the NYT crossword, though not infrequently I feel I could happily send Will Shortz a letter-bomb for clues like “Junk mail a trucker might get?” (SEMICIRCULAR) or “Graffiti on a jail wall?” (CONNOTATIONS).

I’m writing this on the flight and we’ve just crossed the International Date Line, which means that it’s now Monday evening. When we land in Honolulu it’ll be 6.30am and it’ll be Tuesday morning again – the same Tuesday morning as when I was jumping in and out of the overflowing bath in Tokyo. I’m not quite sure how best to visualise this, but for now I am just going for imagining that there are two Tuesdays this week, I think I’ll be more psychologically able to deal with it that way than a Tuesday that’s 50 hours long...
Say my name bitch

05.12.2006 (again) Day off, Honolulu.

Our JAL charter plane landed in Honolulu at 6.30am with its passengers mostly resembling a dog’s breakfast. It was sunny and warm, though having only had a couple of hours sleep by the time I got to the hotel I was feeling more sick and stunned than anything. 8am and its still Tuesday. The hotel is OK, if abject luxury in a tropical paradise is your kind of thing. I had a bit of breakfast and went for a stroll. It was a tad surreal as the place appears to be some kind of retirement village. Not very rock, it has to be said. I ran into others wandering, equally stunned – Gerry, Sharon, Jack and we gravitated toward the beach front café, in a gathering of the damaged. We sat and talked rubbish for some time, then I finally gave up at about 3pm and went to my bed.

Waking up at about 8pm in the pitch dark was deeply confusing. I staggered up and managed a cup of tea and second breakfast of the day, trying to get a handle on the fact that it’s still Tuesday. Headed over to Bruce’s hotel which, in sharp contrast to ours, is a massive resort which was just jumping. Bands playing, lots of holiday makers and troops in uniform – it was all a bit full on. Trying to find somewhere quiet and semi-normal for dinner was a challenge, but we eventually had some kind of success. It was all going well until the waiter (who I think ‘liked’ us) produced a huge, spontaneous, unordered, bizarre, dry-ice-spewing , chocolate desert. He placed in centre table then retired, leaving Bruce and I to gradually be enveloped by waves of dry ice, flowing over the table and off all sides down onto the floor. I know we are jet lagged all over again, but even so, it really didn’t seem like a normal situation to me.

Having survived the surrealist chocolate experience, we took a stroll on the deserted beach to calm ourselves. I even had a paddle in the pacific. What a mad life, suddenly finding yourself on a pacific island in the middle of the night. And its still Tuesday.
Say my name bitch

04.12.2006 Show day, Saitama.

After a leisurely breakfast I headed into the venue on an early shuttle to give myself some time to start sorting out my front-of-house world in preparation for the end of the tour. My personal junk filing system never quite recovered from the abrupt stop the tour made way back in February, so I felt it wise to give myself a fighting chance.

Amongst the crew, there’s a definite smell of the stables beginning to appear in the air and a muted excitement is rising. Having four days in Hawaii before the next show is also something of a rarity which will allow us time to celebrate the end of the tour properly (though I do fear for the state of some of the crew by the time we get to showtime). We also set up a tour photo, with the entire touring party, band, crew, management, everybody, on the stage - very much akin to a school photo. The only absentee was Paul McGuinness who was stuck in traffic, but with doors-opening time approaching we had to go ahead without him. However, the very clever Japanese photographer who’d been hired for the task took Paul’s picture when he arrived and photoshopped him into the group shot – honestly, you’d never know.

We finished the Tokyo run with another great show. I don’t know whether it’s having had six months off, or being at the end of the tour, but the band are just on fire right now. Melbourne, Auckland, Tokyo – these have been some of the most effortlessly great U2 shows I’ve ever seen. The architect Tadao Ando came to the show and had nothing but compliments, apparently, which is humbling.

Back at the hotel needless to say a few drinks were in the offing. I didn’t stay up too late, but I’ve a feeling there are many who did. We’ve had a great week and we’ll all be sad to move on.
Say my name bitch

03.12.2006 Day off, Tokyo.

Went back to the MORI art museum design shop this morning, which is full of fantastic work by rakes of Japanese designers. After that I went on a hunt for a Louise Bourgeois sculpture that I’d seen from afar the other day. Given that it’s a 15 metre tall black spider, you wouldn’t think that it would be that hard to spot, but the Roppongi Hills complex is laid out in a rather circuitous way, so I was all over it before finally finding the spider. It’s an absolutely magnificent site, outdoors in the middle of a large pedestrian plaza. Whilst I was at it I sought out a giant rose by Isa Genzken that is just around the corner. Given how difficult public art can be (and let’s face it, the vast majority of public art you see is pretty grim ) this area has done extremely well. There is a big push to make Roppongi the new cultural centre of Tokyo, which is a bit of a stretch given that 90% of the new development in this area is retail, but whoever put this whole complex together has made some bold and successful decisions.

After a further sushi binge, Bruce and I took to the streets for the evening. We went out with the video camera and tripod, shooting footage of Tokyo streets. Shinjuku Sunday night and the place was teeming with groovy young people who all looked like extras from a Tim Burton movie. We shot street traffic, high from bridges, central reservations, trains, windows… it was a lot of fun and we got what I think will prove to be useful footage for some future undecided project.

Back at Bruce’s hotel we retired to the late bar on the roof and watched the blinking lights of Tokyo extending as far as the eye could see in all directions. City of bling, indeed.
Say my name bitch

02.12.2006 Day off, Tokyo.

Woke to another cold, bright blue sky and the joy of having an actual full day off. Got up slowly and met a few other Vertigoans in the hotel lounge, in various states of post-Tokyo-night-out damage, which left me feeling quite smug at having had an early one.

Joe and I headed to Shibuya on the subway with the intention of meeting Bruce “outside the subway entrance”. On arrival we came up to the surface to find ourselves at an enormous intersection surrounded by department stores. The traffic would flow then periodically all the lights would go red to allow for pedestrian crossing. With no exaggeration there must have been ten thousand people in this intersection alone and when they got the “go” the human swarm was absolutely terrifying. I can do crowds. I live in London’s West End and I spend my work life on a little platform in the centre of 50,000 people every night, but this….. this was something else; an absolutely retail scrum.

Chances of ever seeing Bruce seemed slim, but happily our video phones came to the rescue as we could navigate by mutually observable landmarks (“show me what you can see…”, “what’s that over there? The giant coca cola sign?” etc.) Upon hooking up we joined the retail throng firstly here and then on Akeharbara, the home of all things electronic. This proved to be equally overwhelming, particularly inside the electronics superstores where a hundred TVs, hi-fis and computers would all have their volume turned up to eleven, with sales persons barking and announcements being made over the shop tannoy. It was like a Star Wars Vegas casino floor – I could feel my eyeballs vibrating. It was truly sensory overload and, to be honest, quite exhilarating for it. Back at the hotel I was ready for a quiet one, so ended up getting takeaway and watching “Troy” in Elizabeth’s room. I’d never seen ‘Troy’ before so quite enjoyed how hilariously, irredeemably awful it is. I confess to not making it through to the end.
Say my name bitch

01.12.2006 TV Asahi show, Tokyo.

Smasher and Bruce came over this morning and we headed out to the MORI museum to have a look at a Bill Viola show. In the frequently highly dodgy world of gallery-based video art, Bill Viola is a master and one of my absolute favourites. It was a retrospective with six or seven rooms, each containing one large work. I find his newer ‘contemplative’ works less compelling than his earlier more environmental installations, but this show had some of each so I was pleased. The highlight was ‘The Crossing’, possibly his most well known work; a room-sized double sided piece of a man walking towards the camera for several minutes. Journey complete, he fills the screen, then on one side of the screen he bursts into flames, whilst on the reverse side he is drowned in a deluge. Wonderful stuff.

The museum is on the 53rd floor of the MORI building and includes a viewing deck giving extraordinary panoramic views of the massive, massive urban sprawl which is Tokyo-Yokohama. It also offered a perfect bird’s eye view of our stage for this evening’s TV show, so at least we got a sense of what the helicopter shots might look like.

We followed up our art excursion with the obligatory sushi lunch which was so delicious and inexpensive it just made me want to weep. From here to the studios of tv asahi (stick!). In keeping with the Japanese meeting ethic, we took about 25 people with us including backline, lighting, sound, monitor engineers, management and assistants. I think the TV people were overwhelmed by so many of us showing up, but an amount of ‘shock and awe’ never hurts in these situations. Everyone at tv asahi (stick!) was very willing to make it look and sound the way we wanted, but their native aesthetic for TV rock performance (much akin to the way the BBC lights news readers) is so far from our own that it took a while to bridge the gulf. The discussions, via interpreters, became quite intense, but gradually we saw that we were getting to where we want to be.

We ate in the TV station staff dining room, having been issued with little plastic ‘credit cards’ containing Y 1000 of food credit. It was a canteen sort of thing, with impossibly exotic looking dishes all over the place. Having selected four or five items I headed for the check out, initially confused as there was no-one serving. Placing my tray on the counter, an LCD screen sprang to life and made a pinging noise, before showing me the total charge. I confess to feeling momentarily like the cave man in Piccadilly Circus – are you telling me that this thing knows what’s on my tray? Apparently so. I put my credit slip in a slot, causing a second ‘ping’ and a little cartoon dog with a waggy tail indicated I was free to go and eat. Genius.

The band came in for soundcheck, run-through, camera blocking and so forth. I was gradually overwhelmed by a realisation of where I was and what I was doing. We are on the roof of a TV station against the backdrop of the Tokyo tower and skyline lit up against the night sky. After two years of Vertigo on the road, finally, here we are, in the real City of Blinding Lights.

To our eyes the TV show is a mad affair – a sort of ‘Ready Steady Go’ meets ‘Blue Peter’ kind of thing, but apparently is watched by untold millions. It also goes out ‘live live’ as we say in the biz (as in actually broadcast as performed, rather than with any kind of tape delay) so it was going to be served exactly as seen. In the moment we got a great result. The tv ashahi (stick!) team really came through for us. It looked just like a band performing against the Tokyo night sky should look.

Bruce and I got hopelessly lost trying to leave the building then headed out for a walk to take in the Roppongi Friday night atmosphere. Somewhere further down the street we walked past a large installation by another of my favourite artists Tatsuo Miyajima, whose work with rows of red LCD numbers counting down might be familiar. This piece was number countdowns, but each number was about three metres tall, which was pretty impressive against the traffic.

We ended up back outside the front of the hotel and faced a moment’s indecision as to whether to head out, go for yet more sushi or just call it a night. We ended up loitering outside of hotel until Joe showed up carrying an open bottle of wine. Decision made. We sat right there on the terrace by the taxi rank and looked at the action of a Roppongi Friday night. This is a wild place and I confess that I may be falling in love with this city, this psychedelic vision of the future which will be coming to a town near you, probably a great deal sooner than you imagine.