U2 manager delighted to bring stage show full circle

Wed Sep 23, 2009 3:15am EDT
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By Ray Waddell

NASHVILLE (Billboard) - As U2 wraps the 2009 dates of its groundbreaking 360 world stadium tour, the band is expected to gross about $300 million and sell about 3 million tickets to fewer than 50 shows.

Rather than a high-end ticket price, the big numbers are more about a unique staging concept that boosts configurations at stadiums, and fans know that U2 is again pushing the production envelope. The tour is in support of the band's latest album, "No Line on the Horizon," and if it isn't scaling the sales heights of previous sets -- since its March release, "Line" has sold 991,000 copies, according to Nielsen SoundScan -- the band's manager, Paul McGuinness, credits that more to overall market conditions than a decline in the act's popularity.

Though sometimes outspoken about industry issues -- his 2008 MIDEM keynote excoriating the industry for its lackluster response to digital distribution still resonates -- McGuinness is anything but riled as he sits in an office backstage at Chicago's Soldier Field just before U2 went onstage. "What do I possibly have to be pissed off about?" he wonders. Both pragmatist and gambler, McGuinness guides the career of what has become arguably the biggest band in the world, and it has been a banner year for the group he has represented since the start of its career.

Much like the band he represents, McGuinness continually focuses on breaking new ground, and he's constantly looking for new ideas. The 360 tour is U2's first under a new 10-year Live Nation multiple-rights deal. While he doesn't claim to have all the answers, McGuinness is open to new horizons, as evidenced by "the claw," the massive staging concept that makes U2's 360 tour truly an all-encompassing experience.

Billboard: How did the European leg feel to you on this run of the 360 tour?

Paul McGuinness: Incredible. We played to staggering numbers. We've broken records in every building we play because the effect of this production economically is to increase the capacity by about 20 percent routinely. For instance, in Berlin at Olympic Stadium, we held the record already jointly with the Rolling Stones at 70,000. This time I think we put in 90,000. Every building we play we will break whatever record there is there.

Billboard: So you feel good about the live part of U2's business?

McGuinness: Absolutely, because in a way there's a memory in the audience. They've always known that when you come to a U2 show -- even when we were doing theaters -- we would do as much production as we could afford. Once we got into arenas, we loved it -- we always played in the round in the arenas -- so this seems natural to be in the round in the stadiums.   Continued...

<p>U2's (L to R) lead guitarist The Edge, drummer Larry Mullen Jr., lead singer Bono, and bass guitarist Adam Clayton perform during the opening night of the North American leg of their 360 degree tour at Soldier Field in Chicago, September 12, 2009. REUTERS/Jeff Haynes</p>