(Scrolling gallery photos credited to Mark Cunningham unless stated otherwise, inset images by Getty)
With their iconic exploding cannons and a giant inflatable woman named Rosie, AC/DC are back on their latest stadium tour Rock Or Bust, performing under a Stageco arched roof.
After headlining the Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival in California in April, the band began their 28-date European leg at Arnhem GelreDome in the Netherlands on 5 May, notably calling at Wembley Stadium on 4 July for a show that was hailed by The Guardian as ‘rock’n’roll reduced to its purest essence’.
Stageco’s arched roof was topped with a pair of devilish horns. The band – 60 year old ‘schoolboy’ guitar hero Angus Young, singer Brian Johnson and bassist Cliff Williams, with returning drummer Chris Slade and rhythm guitarist Stevie Young taking his retired uncle Malcolm’s place – delivered a non-stop rollercoaster of monster anthems that have been the backbone of heavy rock for 40 years.
Their Rock Or Bust stage is based on the curved roof technology that Stageco introduced as the Giant Arch for Pink Floyd’s The Division Bell tour in 1994, a copy of which is being deployed this summer in Andorra for Cirque du Soleil’s show Scalada: Storia.
AC/DC’s model is a smaller variation of this arched roof and is similar to the one developed for the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. It measures 66.3 metres wide; the central arch is 16 metres high with a width of 23 metres.
Taking care of the tour on behalf of Stageco is project manager Bert Kustermans and R&D manager Dirk Van Der Goor who collaborated with technical consultant Jeremy Lloyd of Wonder Works.
The three have worked closely with Dale ‘Opie’ Skjerseth, the innovative production manager who has played a pivotal role in Stageco’s history.
At Wembley, Opie explained that Stageco’s contributions to the tour come under three main categories: quality, service and staff. He said: “As always, they bring everything to the table from when there’s a presentation of the design to them, to figuring out how it’s going to work and what it’s going to take.
“They come to all the meetings and organise the engineering to the point of making it happen in such a way that you’re not having to fight your way through the day. Right off the bat, we all saw that their solutions would make it easy to take this around the world. Stageco go in, build the framework, then we come in with production and in eight hours we can have the show completely ready.”
Working to a design by Ray Winkler of Stufish, Stageco and set fabricator Tait have pooled their individual expertise to create a set that truly embodies the heart and soul of AC/DC. “While it would be simple to explain that Stageco have provided the steel structures and Tait have focused on the ‘rusted’ corrugated cladding that fixes to the Stageco roof, and the two horns, the partnership has been more in depth,” commented Jeremy Lloyd.
“For Tait’s rolling B-stage runway, Stageco builds a sub-deck underneath to ensure its foundations are level. That’s absolutely key to the moments in the show when Angus Young runs out nearer to the crowd for his famous cameo moments.”
Steel and labour
The relationship between AC/DC and Stageco began in 1991 with the Razors Edge tour, under Jake Berry’s production leadership. Since then, the Belgian company has been responsible for all of its large-scale staging and, for the Rock Or Bust tour, Stageco is leapfrogging three steel systems with crews headed by Stefaan Vandenbosch, Hendrik Verdeyen and Johan ‘Bellekes’ Van Espen.
Verdeyen, who was crew chief at Wembley Stadium, explained: “Each system travels on 14 trucks with a crew of 12, and they include a carpenter, two scaffolders, climbers and so on.
‘The stage structure includes the nine metre wide PA/video wings and Tait’s horns, and requires a three-day build using two cranes and eight forklifts, working from 8am to 7pm with 24 local crew [Showstars at Wembley] assisting our own guys. It’s a well-oiled machine.
“At this moment, one steel system is travelling from our last show at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin to Imola in Italy, and another is setting up at the Festivalpark Stenehei in Dessel, Belgium. Another two trucks are reserved for four delay/spot towers and a front-of-house control riser that are set up at each venue by a separate two-man crew.
“It’s not one of our most complex builds but you approach each venue in a slightly different way, according to its specific attributes. The main thing is to finish the arch and once that is done, you can work on the rest of the detail.
“It’s also by far not the biggest performance area we’ve ever built but it has a very powerful appearance and because the band members are closer together, it gives you the impression that you’re in a more intimate venue – that’s normally quite difficult to achieve in a stadium.”
Jeremy Lloyd admits that he has worked with Stageco on more projects than he can remember – The Rolling Stones, Roger Waters, U2, Genesis, Robbie Williams and, of course, AC/DC being among them.
Many occurred during his four-year tenure as senior designer at Stufish. Since early 2014, he has partnered with Piers Shepperd at technical production company Wonder Works.
Lloyd said: “We have that shared experience of doing so many jobs together, it makes everything go much more smoothly. We understand how Stageco do their CAD and their engineering, and how their equipment works, but over that time we’ve also built up some very solid relationships which obviously makes for a pleasant working environment, and the results speak for themselves.”
In physical load-in terms, none of the venues posed a problem to date, however, AC/DC’s show at Hockenheimring in Germany on 16 May was notable for other reasons. “There’s a fairly relatively steep incline from FOH up to the stage at Hockenheim – about two metres difference,” said Opie. “It was quite a drop and Angus must have felt like he was on the end of a cliff when he was on the B-stage.
“Many of us are very familiar with Hockenheim and it was one of the big topics of our planning discussions so we had our solutions in place well before we arrived. For different reasons, Italy can be more of a challenge because their venues’ rules and regulations are very strict, but everybody has been on top of it.”
Opie stressed how important AC/DC’s presentation is to the band members. “It’s presentation with a capital ‘P’,” he said. “AC/DC have a seriously loyal following who know exactly what they want to see, and so the band remain heavily involved in – and very particularly about – the production.
“Everyone loves the familiarity of the band’s visual trademarks and so we have the bell and the cannons, and a new version of our inflatable Rosie, not forgetting the iconic wall of Marshalls. It’s a look that has expanded in size since the last tour and the guys love it.”
Opie pointed out that all the Marshall amplifiers are real although they’re not all turned on. “Of the 35 stacks, 24 are live, and obviously we carry a lot of spares,” he added.
The current itinerary runs until 15 December when the band finish their Australasian leg at Western Springs Stadium in Auckland. However, plans are in motion to extend the tour into 2016. “It’s all being worked on and by the end of the European leg we should have the rest of the dates put together,” said Opie.