Lately, the keyword in the digital signage and communications industry has been ‘experience.’ Whether it’s with the resurgence of virtual reality (VR), 3D immersion, or touch interactivity, the continuing trend has been for the focus to gradually shift away from digital devices and over to the customer experience that these devices and technologies can provide for the increasingly discerning consumer. It’s fitting then that one of the world’s most iconic group of entertainers, the band U2, has embarked on a technologically enhanced new tour dubbed the “Experience” tour, which makes creative use of augmented reality (AR), smartphone apps and an 80-foot long, double-sided LCD screen.
The new tour officially began just over a week ago in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where U2 debuted the stage implementation. Fans came armed with the U2 Experience app downloaded so they could view digitally designed images superimposed over real objects in real time through their phones for a concert that can truly advertise itself as multimedia. To achieve such a feat, the Irish rockers developed the concept and logistics with stage designer Es Devlin, whose resume includes installations for Kanye West, Beyoncé and the London Olympics Closing Ceremony amongst others. Through the app, design elements from the stage show bleed over to the “Songs of Experience” album cover as well.
“I am abusing technology, if you like,” U2 Lead Singer Bono told CNN’s Laurie Segall ahead of the show. “[What we’re] using goes back to the very early stages of U2 when we would stage dive to break the fourth wall, trying to reach our audience and touch them.”
The live set begins with a recording of Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World” playing over an AR glacier melting and transforming into a waterfall. Then, Bono appears on stage, lying down in a somewhat veiled reference to death, to sing “Love is All We Have Left.” As audience members point their devices at the LCD screen overhead, they witness a synced and larger-than-life digitized version of Bono doing his thing.
Now I know what some of you out there are thinking … that all Bono needed was a bigger head. But seriously, aside from his penchant for philanthropic posturing now and then, Bono and his band are an international treasure with one hell of a back catalog and at least two arguable pop-rock masterpieces in The Joshua Tree and Achtung Baby. When one thinks about the modern musical landscape, you can count the number of true “rock” outfits capable of filling a stadium venue and putting on a spectacle at this scale level on one hand. So, whether it’s with songwriting or stage performance or technological flirtation, it’s refreshing to see people at the top of their craft continually attempt to raise the bar. See Bono’s quote below for further proof that U2 cares about each and every paying audience member equally and that the Experience tour is putting that care into action.
“When you get to play theaters and arenas, the back [gets]further and further away,” Bono said. “We had to find different ways to get to the back; hence these satellite stages … and video reinforcement as video art. We’re trying to wrestle with our audience in a very physical way.”
To see video footage of U2’s new stage production, check out this link.