U2 On Career High With Elevation Tour

Billboard Magazine by Ray Waddell (2001-06-23)

Irish Icons Gross $69.9 Million In 50 Sellouts In North America

With the Elevation tour, U2 has heightened its credibility as the top touring band in the world.

U2 is currently wrapping up a sold-out North American leg and is preparing to embark on an equally successful European tour. Although no official announcement has been made, it appears likely that the band will return to the U.S. for another round of dates this fall. SFX is the worldwide promoter of the Elevation tour.

U2’s numbers speak for themselves. When the band wraps the North American leg June Z2 at Continental Airlines Arena in East Rutherford, NJ., U2 will have notched 50 sellouts that grossed $69,910,000. Another 33 European sellouts will take the gross to $115 million and over 1.6 million in attendance, starting with a July 6 sell-out in Copenhagen.

“This is the best tour we’ve ever done, and the band is doing the best shows they’ve ever done,” says Paul McGuinness, longtime manager for U2, who adds that the critical and commercial success of the Interscope release All That You Can’t Leave Behind makes for a very gratifying period in the Dublin band’s history. “This is probably shaping up to be U2’s biggest -ever record, which is very satisfying after 20 years of making records. The audiences are wonderful, the shows are all sold-out. What could be better than that ?”

All of which bodes well for a return to the U.S. for more dates. “There is the distinct possibility we will be back here in the fall,” McGuinness says. “We’re discussing it at the moment, and the chances are pretty good.”

Arthur Fogel, president of touring at SFX, is more cautious: “There has been some discussion, but there won’t be anything definitive for another two- to-four weeks. It would certainly be great if they did. The whole run of this project has been a great experience.”

U2 and SFX raised eyebrows when it was announced the Elevation tour would feature general admission (GA) or “festival” seating on the floor (Billboard, Jan. 13). GA seating has mostly been absent from major mainstream North American rock tours since the late 1970s, but it has remained popular in Europe.

“Over the years, we have tried to figure out a way of doing GA in America—in Europe, it’s commonplace,” McGuinness says. With the heart shaped “barricade” staging design of Elevation, organizers found a way, the configuration hailed as brilliant by venue man agers and other industry observers. “The buildings love it, because it’s actually easier not to have chairs on the floor.”

Production values remain high, but the show is not as over-the-top as the band’s PopMart and Zooropa tours. The “tidy” production of Elevation moves on 15 trucks, as opposed to 90 trucks for the three stages of PopMart (which grossed more than $173 million from 95 stadium shows in 1997 -98).

“It’s still a pretty expensive show, but its very efficient,” says McGuinness. “We’re breaking a lot of building records in terms of capacity.”

That would include Philips Arena in Atlanta, where U2 set a house attendance record of 20,596. “The configuration was great, and the band used it well to have the fans eating out of their hands,” says Trey Feazell, director of booking at Philips Arena “When they first started talking about an open floor, this didn’t seem like the right audience for it. But they knew what they were doing.”

If U2 returns to America, the band will play indoors. “It sounds ridiculous to talk about intimacy with 20,000 people in the audience, but these shows are intimate,” McGuinness says. “U2 have a lot of hits to play, but they also play six or seven songs from the new album, and the audiences know the songs. This is not a greatest hits show by any means.”

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