Why Bono's bad back could cost U2 millions
Huge sums of money, plus bragging rights as the most popular live act of all time, rest on the speed of a certain 50-year-old’s recovery, writes BRIAN BOYD
NOW THAT U2’S North American tour has been postponed because of Bono’s back surgery, it’s time for all involved to start totting up the cost. “U2’s daily tour overhead spend is $750,000 [€950,000],” says an Irish music-tour insider. “Bono’s back has put them out of action for two months. They’re insured for show postponement, but that’s not the full story. The set-up costs of the three Claws they use was phenomenal. They don’t need this, their insurance company doesn’t need this and the global touring economy doesn’t need this. It’s not just the show day; it’s the three of four days before setting up the stadium, one day stripping it down after, the 200 trucks, the drivers, the security, the merchandising people, the drinks and food people, the programme sellers, costume, make-up and hundreds of other people. U2 would have over 100 permanent touring personnel and an extra 200-300 working personnel at each local venue. It’s the hotels, the flights, the food vouchers. It’s like a small country coming to a standstill.”
Arthur Fogel, chief executive of U2’s concert promoter, Live Nation, says of the 3600 tour postponement: “There’s no question this is monumental.”
A million tickets had been sold for the band’s North American leg, in July and August, now put off to allow Bono to recuperate from his back surgery in Munich last week after injuring himself during rehearsals. The band are looking at 2011 for the rescheduled dates.
Of severe annoyance to the band is the fact that there was also a high-profile Glastonbury Festival appearance (their first) at the end of June – their spot has now been taken by Gorillaz – for which the band had written a song.
The European leg of the tour, from August until October, is still officially on, but it will depend on the singer’s recuperation. The emergency surgery was needed “to avoid further paralysis”, said doctors after Bono developed severe compression of the sciatic nerve, along with a ligament tear and a herniated disc.
“He won’t want reminding that he just turned 50 last month,” says a source. “He has been throwing himself around stages for over 30 years. He’s up there as the frontman for two and a half hours a night, and he’s not one to do things by half measures. This is a very serious injury and sounds like it could be the result of cumulative damage. How things play out will be interesting. This is showbiz – hundreds of millions of dollars rest upon a 50-year-old man’s back disc.”
All focus now will be on whether the singer is fit for the European tour. (There are no Irish shows this time around.) Bono may not climb up speaker stacks any more (something that always concerned other band members), but he still flings himself around a fair bit. As the focal point for 80,000 people each night, a certain degree of showmanship is required. People close to him say there is no way he will appear on stage without being able to give it “the full-on Bono treatment”.
The band train hard before going the road, but in the months off between legs of the tour they can let themselves go a bit. This back injury was caused by Bono trying to get himself into shape for two months of touring after several months off.
What is particularly frustrating for the band is that this tour is perhaps their most significant ever. They’ve never spent as much money assembling a stage configuration as they have on the Claw, and they were prepared to go substantially into the red on the tour before seeing any profit.
With their latest album not selling as well as it could have, the tour has exceeded expectations. It was the most profitable tour of last year, but in this, its second year, it was supposed to resolve a long dispute over who is the most popular live rock band of all time.
U2’s Vertigo tour (2005-2006) sits in second place as the highest-grossing music tour. Just ahead of it lies The Rolling Stones’ Bigger Bang tour (2005-2007), which grossed $558 million. The Stones, though, played a lot more dates than U2. So far, the 3600 tour has grossed $311 million. Without Bono’s back injury it would have easily grabbed the prize.
Guinness World Records(and bragging rights) will have to wait. But for the still intensely competitive Bono, having U2 make another piece of music history will be motivation enough to accelerate the recuperation process. For a few months, though, there is a line on U2’s horizon.