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The Making of U2’s - The Joshua Tree Tour, India

Stage Setup Reigns Supreme

The concert marked several firsts for India with the biggest high-res LED screen of 200 feet x 45 feet ever used in a live touring show globally coming to the country
photo credit: Ross Stewart

U2’s unparalleled live setup showed India what the future in stage production looks like. PT caught up with Vinay Agrawal, man on the spot responsible for executing the finest details and ensuring that things sailed smoothly in terms of production and Kunal Khambhati, Head - Live Events at BMS

Over 40,000 Indian fans who might have endured over a decade of false rumours about the legendary band U2 touring the country, were finally treated to a dream musical extravaganza by BookMyShow (BMS), India’s leading entertainment destination when they got the Irish Rock band to perform their first-ever concert in India on December 15th, 2019.

photo credit: Ezra Acheson Mullen

For fans, it was well worth the wait when U2 performed at the DY Patil Sports Stadium in Navi Mumbai. The 150-minute performance which was the finale of their legendary album, The Joshua Tree Tour 2019 which commemorates 32 years of the band’s 1987 album of the same name, enthralling fans and celebrities who had converged from all across the country and beyond.

Kunal Khambhati, Head – Live Events and IP, BookMyShow said, “U2’s India concert was a massive success, a feat that was waiting to be done for several years. We are glad we had the opportunity to turn this dream into a reality for thousands of fans in the country. Live entertainment offerings such as music concerts and live acts especially at scale, offer the very real challenge of catering to high levels of consumer demand. At BookMyShow, we rely on our huge repository of data on customer preferences and keenness to understand and solve for demand expectations for various genres of entertainment events that we bring across our markets. We have used this approach successfully for U2’s finale of The Joshua Tree Tour in Mumbai as well with over 40,000 people attending the finale show. The concert marked several firsts for India with world’s biggest high-res LED screen of 200 feet x 45 feet ever used in a live touring show globally coming to the country, the usage of Clair Brothers’ sound – the world’s most refined sound technology and a concert replete with production elements that had never been seen before.”

A dream tour of this magnitude of course demanded excellence in all areas of live production. This is where Vinay Agarwal’s role as an experienced live event production professional came into play. Having steered many high profile shows like Ed Sheeran Divide Tour, AR Rahman Encore and One Republic in the past, Agarwal who was one of the core members of the team that helmed BookMyShow’s production of The Joshua Tree Tour, was the man on the ground responsible for executing the finest details and ensuring that things sailed smoothly.

“A concert like U2 is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Jake Berry, Production Manager for the U2 Tour is a one-man army by himself. Before the show was confirmed, he came to India for a venue recce and to ensure that the venue was capable of withstanding an event of this scale. He undertook a complete logistical survey to understand the best way to bring in the massive containers that for the show, how they could be loaded and unloaded in a timely manner amongst other details. Once Berry went back and gave a green signal, is when we at BookMyShow started checking on elements such as customs, working to get in the equipment, etc.,” says Agarwal. 

Vinay Agarwal

Iconic Stage

“In terms of stage setup, every piece of equipment was flown in, from sound to the lights, stage, LED, generator, etc., from different parts of the world where the concerts had taken place. We had to make sure that the manpower that was asked for, reached the venue on time to help set this up. U2 owns the set which international staging, event and structures engineering company Stageco built for the band. These have been travelling with the band for the past 6 years.”

Oscar-winning composer A.R. Rahman performs ‘Ahimsa’, a collaborative single with U2
photo credit: Ross Stewart

The U2 crew, which includes around 90 people traveling with the band and another 120 crew members, can set up the stage in 10 hours and pull it down in four. Once it’s packed up, the set travels to the next gig.

“They have three identical sets of the show with the exact brand and quantity of sound, light and LED, which they keep moving from one tour to another. The 40-foot containers that came to India, came in via ship and three Russian army cargo airlines,” says Agarwal.

For each of its shows since the 1990s, U2’s arsenal has included big screens, bright lights and grand stages, so it did not come as a surprise that U2 brought a 200-foot x 45-foot, 8k resolution screen that towered above the stage. This has been the largest and sharpest screens in terms of resolution to ever be used in a concert tour in India.

For each of their shows, the band uses almost 89 tons of sound equipment that unleash loud resounding sound to every seat in the venue. “They got the Clair Brothers’ sound systems, which is custom, designed for the show. This system has never been heard in India and this brand is not even available to rent in India,” says Agarwal.

“The band just came for sound check on the day of the show. They have done 25 shows before coming to India with the same crew and equipment. Their audio engineer and mic handler has been working with the band’s lead singer Bono for almost two decades now, so they don’t need to do any kind of rehearsal. On the day of the show, they rehearsed for about half an hour or so, on the one track they did with AR Rahman and it was the only track they rehearsed for.”

Kunal Khambhati, Head - Live Events & IP,

Meticulous Planning

Talking about the planning for the show, Agarwal says, “I just knew that U2 would come in with the equipment and one head for every department. So I went to Singapore where the U2 tour was taking place to see the set and the load-in and load-out processes, manpower requirement and to understand how the entire coordination of manpower and machinery was done.

"2020 will see us continue strongly on our journey to make India a definitive landmark in the global live entertainment ecosystem"

- Kunal Khambhati

Many factors had to be considered including the transport between the port and the city, machinery and manpower that would be needed for the show, etc. All their equipment required machinery due to its weight. The trusses are not made of aluminum but of steel. The band only told us what they would get but ensuring the ground safety was our responsibility. We had to get all the engineering reports done to make sure that the venue could take that kind of load, without the ground sinking in and make sure that the venue and equipment remain undamaged. This was important since DY Patil is a cricket field at the end of the day, which has an irrigation system below the grounds. We had to ensure that the point load of the structures that they were bringing in was distributed evenly, so that pillars don’t sink in. We involved engineers and ground staff from venue all the over the world to understand how the load could be distributed evenly.”


BookMyShow got the venue 15 days prior to the main event. The U2 crew comprised of dressing room manager, wardrobe manager, FOH professionals, riggers, etc. with one crew lead for every group of 10 people. Helping the BookMyShow team with manpower for the event was SNL Pro who provided specialized sound crew while Star Dimensions provided specialized light crew and Natura provided professional riggers and climbers. Spectrum provided specialized crew for LED setup. Colour-coded jackets were provided to each department in order to differentiate and identify local personnel from each department, be it sound, light, LED, rigging etc. 

“It took us five days to first lay the Porta Deck. The next five days were used for erecting the steel truss. For the steel build, U2 had flown down 20 -25 people and we gave them the support of another 50 people. These trusses have the maximum rigging and load bearing capacity and are the safest in the world. However, as steel structures, these are 10 times heavier than aluminum trusses. We needed two days for the technical setup and three days to make sure that everything was going in place. The entire technical set up of sound, light and screens began only a day prior to the show. They started rigging on December 14th at 8:00 am and they were done by 6:00 pm. These timelines were possible because everything was automated and could be done with the press of a button and with forklifts. The same set would have normally taken us more than 5-6 days for setup.”

Talking about minor hiccups Agarwal says, “The crew forgot to pack a key element required for the whole steel built, because of which work was held up for two days. They had to fly it down from Manila. As soon as the Manila show was over they flew it to Mumbai.”

Commending the crew for their efficiency, he adds, “The moment that part landed in Mumbai, within two hours it was at the venue, and within 3 hours they completed the work which would have otherwise taken 12 hours.”

Overcoming Hurdles

“The biggest challenge we faced was that, in the part of the ground where the stage was to be assembled there was going to be a lot of movement of machinery. 200-tonne cranes and around 25-30 forklifts that were going to be used would definitely damage the ground. In order to protect the ground we zeroed in on a certain type of material called Porta Deck, which would automatically distribute the weight when put over the grass. The challenge however was to find this material. U2 suggested a company in Dubai that dealt with these kind of floorings but Dubai did not have enough stock and when we contacted Amsterdam, we realised that shipping would cost us the earth. After a lot of research, we found the closest substitute to this material in India, which again had to be brought in from different parts of the country.

This was the first time that these kinds of decks were used for a live concert or an event in India. These decks are generally only used on a construction site. Each sheet is approximately 300-400 kgs, which is why it can take that weight. We used almost 600 tiles of 4 mts x 2 mts.”

Onsite Management

Talking about onsite venue setup and planning, Agarwal says, “When you are doing a show overseas, the only thing you need to do is build the stage, rest is taken care of, by the venue. Right from security and parking to F&B counters, everything is handled by the venue. But in India, the organizer is responsible for all of these elements. In India, there is no venue that gives you any kind of infrastructure.

BookMyShow had a dedicated team handling parking. Since there is no parking at the venue, we had to acquire six different parking grounds all over Navi Mumbai to accommodate over 40,000 people who came in. Besides parking, we had to build bars, food stalls, green rooms and offices, put up Mojo barricades, add more toilets, ensure water supply, maintain venue cleanliness and enable Wi-Fi connectivity across the venue.

DY Patil is close to the main road, highway and the service road. We had to take police permissions to close the service road for a day and that’s how we built all the mojo barricades.

They had only two lawns where we could enable F&B. Because we did not have enough space, and over 40,000 people would obviously require food, we planned for a lot of hawkers to roam around within the venue with food. We were not serving any alcohol except, in the VIP section of the building.”

Crowd Management

Following U2’s cue, BookMyShow handed over coloured bands to some of the fans in order to ease the crowd and inflow of people in and around the venue. “People were standing around the venue, one night prior to the show, just to get the opportunity to stand in the front row. The band is obviously used to this happening all over the world, so they gave us paper bands, numbered 1 to 500 to distribute to the people. The lucky ones who got these bands could come an hour before the gates opened and were the ones allowed to stand right in the front.”

"The trusses are not made of aluminum but of steel. We had to get all the engineering reports done to make sure that the venue could take that kind of load, without the ground sinking in and make sure that the venue and equipment remain undamaged. "

- Vinay Agarwal

The Experience:

Commenting on his experience on working for the Joshua Tree Tour, Agarwal says, “It was the best show that I have ever worked on in these past 13-14 years. The overall experience and the magnitude of the setup is overwhelming. I have never enabled such a big setup in my life. The clock-like precision that they work with, the management of time and skilled labour is amazing. Every minute is planned to the tee, because for a show of this scale you need to have that kind of planning.”

Speaking about the journey so far and what’s in store ahead for BookMyShow in India, Kunal Khambhati says, “The past three years have seen BookMyShow create several milestones in India’s live entertainment landscape bringing to the country, internationally acclaimed artists and never-seen before formats such as Cirque Du Soleil, the international musical Disney Aladdin, Ed Sheeran’s India Tour, Bryan Adams’ India Tour, first ever NBA Games in the country, the immersive exhibit of Marvel Avengers STATION and finally U2’s historic finale of The Joshua Tree Tour 2019. 2020 looks even more promising for us as we bring to India global comedy sensation Trevor Noah for his first ever show here in April, cater to young music fans with pop musician Lauv’s India Tour in June as also launch our first ever IP in the beauty experiential space – Nykaaland, in collaboration with the leader in the beauty space, Nykaa. Nykaaland will see the world’s most celebrated make-up artist Mario Dedivanovic (Kim Kardashian’s makeup artist) conduct his celebrated master class in India. 2020 will see us continue strongly on our journey to make India a definitive landmark in the global live entertainment ecosystem.”

As Agarwal exits BookMyShow to explore other opportunities, pondering over his journey in the live entertainment industry, he says, “It’s been 13 years for me in this industry. I was picked up by Percept as an intern from NAEMD in 2006-2007. I worked with Sunburn for nine years with Nikhil Chinappa, Aman Anand and Devraj Sanyal who were leading Sunburn at the time. Around the same time, Percept Live came to birth and I moved from Percept D’Mark to Percept Live, where for four years I worked on the Sunburn Arenas, Sunburn festivals and obviously Sunburn Goa. Around this time, Universal Music was talking with Shoven Shah from Twisted Entertainment for EVC, Devraj got in touch with me, and he told me that he wanted me to lead this IP. That’s when I moved out of Percept and I joined Universal as a Production consultant. I also did a lot of freelance work for Mr. B Live Entertainment, Scoop and Production Crew. When BookMyShow got into the live entertainment business, Kunal Khambhati approached me to help him build a team. In the first year, I was freelancing with BookMyShow and it was during the time that I worked on Ed Sheeran’s debut show for India. Immediately after the Ed Sheeran concert, BookMyShow hired me and I worked for them for nearly two years. I quit BookMyShow recently because I want to create an IP, design stages, plan a festival etc. I want to explore my creative side and not just put together a show following riders. I haven’t yet decided what I am doing, I’m still evaluating, but overall, it has been a fun journey for me in the live events space,” he concludes.


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