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"In my head How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb is about my father, Bob, How To Dismantle An Atomic Bob. His demise set me off on a journey, a rampage, a desperate hunt to find out who I was." — Bono

U2 Stands by Plans for No-Seat Seating

USA Today
U2 frontman Bono says the band's spring Elevation Tour 2001, which starts March 24, will be "mind-blowing" and more like the band's free-spirited European shows. But one of the changes, making half of tickets general admission, is sparking controversy.

Concert industry critics are using U2's plan -- in which fans on arena floors will have tickets but no assigned seat -- to renew attacks on the practice.

Bono, however, downplays concerns about safety, saying that precautions are being taken.

"This is the way we do business everywhere in the world," says the singer. "It's only in the USA that we haven't been allowed to. Because of safety regulations, we're not going to be able to fill the floor the way we do in Europe. I don't think there are going to be any accidents. The only thing that I'm worried about is that the floor will look empty."

But Paul Wertheimer of Crowd Management Strategies, a consultant who focuses on concert safety, says the practice, called festival seating, invites trouble. A teenager died Wednesday from injuries suffered last week in a crowd crush at a Limp Bizkit concert in Australia.

"Festival seating encourages and sometimes demands that people in a crowd compete against each other," he says. "I'm not saying there's going to be a disaster. But there's a great potential for disorder and discomfort and possibly worse."

U2's tour promoter, SFX, has released a statement citing safety as a top priority. And Bono maintains that safety standards will be high and argues that U2 fans are a harmonious bunch.

"Rock shows have always been a kind of positive riot," he says. "Our shows in Europe have been a very physical experience. People go to the show to dance and jump up and down and get away from their office, their school, their factory floor. Watch what happens when you see a floor full of U2 fans going up and down. It's incredible."

As for the tour itself, Bono says U2 fans should expect the unexpected. Despite the stripped-down, back-to-basics sound of their 10th studio album, All That You Can't Leave Behind, the shows will be anything but bare-bones.

"People are expecting a plain vanilla U2 show," says Bono, whose other new project, the movie The Million Dollar Hotel, opens Friday in New York and Los Angeles. (Bono came up with the story idea, wrote and performed much of the music, and is one of the producers.)

"But we have some surprises. We're flattered when people say, 'My favorite part was when you turned all the lights off, and it was just the four of you playing in the middle of the house.' Well, thank you very much. But if the whole show were like that, wouldn't you feel just a little ripped off?"

U2 favored extravagant pyrotechnics, TV-monitor mountains and high-tech wizardry in its '90s shows ("We have faced bankruptcy, we have burned money, on our past tours"). By comparison, the upcoming tour will be low-tech but still ambitious. "There's material we have in our lexicon that needs or deserves some color wheels."

Tour shows will include "two gigs, one in the middle of another," Bono says. "We can have a club gig in the middle of an arena gig."

Meanwhile, some fan Web sites are abuzz with complaints that the band and SFX have been slow to release details on the staging and seating arrangements.

"There's so much anxiety and confusion by a vast majority of fans, because they're spending $130 for 'Golden Circle' tickets, but nobody knows what that is," says Matt McGee, who runs the fan site @U2 (www.atu2.com). Festival seating tickets are $45.

© USA Today, 2001. All rights reserved.