Guns n Roses: Once in this lifetime
There was no time to hang around as Gearhouse worked around the clock to ensure Guns N’ Roses’ first South African concert for 30 years went off without a hitch, discovers Simon Luckhurst.
For a band whose career stretches back longer than I have been alive, it seems unfathomable that Guns N’ Roses’ recent stop in South Africa as part of their Not In This Lifetime tour was the first time they had graced the stage at Johannesburg’s renowned FNB Stadium. Let alone the first time they’d performed to their South African fan base, and with the original line-up. The concert was a particularly special one for lots of reasons.
Having split in the mid-1990s, there was the added bonus that this latest tour would see the original members back on stage together for the first time in a while. Regardless of that, South African rockers have been eagerly waiting more than 30 years for a local performance from their heroes. Yet it came close to never happening.
Guns N’ Roses frontman, Axl Rose, was famous for cancelling shows at a whim back in the day – perhaps the audience wasn’t enthusiastic enough, or he just wasn’t in the mood to perform. At the Abu Dhabi tour date a week before the Johannesburg stint, it was announced that Axel was ‘severely ill’, leading fans in the next continent across to conclude the tickets they had purchased were probably now expensive but meaningless pieces of paper. Would the band ever make it to South Africa?
What a difference 25 years makes. The trio powered on through a 29-song, three-hour setlist to thousands of fans in attendance, and appeared so taken aback by the reception received in Johannesburg there have since been rumours of a full reunion complete with a brand-new album.
Much of the applause for such a slick production should be handed to the Gearhouse Group. Tasked with supplying and operating the entire audio, visual, lighting, rigging, staging and comms setups, various Gearhouse branches have been planning a technical extravaganza together with organiser, Big Concerts, for many months. Luckily, the company is no stranger to setting up at the FNB Stadium and takes working on productions of this size in its stride.
‘The Gun N’ Roses team supplied us with a full detailed tech rider of what we had to supply,’ explains Stuart Andrews, operations manager for Gearhouse’s Johannesburg branch. ‘We are one of the few companies locally that has the stock and technical capacity to deliver as per the tech rider’s requirements. We also work regularly with the promoter, Big Concerts, and production house, Mushroom Productions, on many top international and big local shows. This put us in good standing when it came time to bid for the project.’
Even for a crew well-versed in catering for large outdoor concerts, the gig came at a particularly hectic week. Gearhouse had already been tasked with handling the setup at FNB for the National Day of Prayer concert that would take place a few days before. Then again, just days afterwards, FNB would host another 100,000 people for South Africa’s Global Citizen Festival. With completely different AV requirements at all three events, the Gearhouse crew had to work around the clock to provide a quick turnaround.
‘It was certainly challenging to incorporate multiple setups and shows,’ furthers Andrews. ‘Having to work in sync with two other huge events at the same venue meant that comprehensive, in-depth planning and 24-hour shift work was required so that all crew worked efficiently – with a well-engineered collaboration of both local and international production managers, project managers and technical heads working together to coordinate each show. The quantity of gear required to put all three shows together was truly epic.’
And it is the gear, together with its deployment, that can make or break a high-profile concert such as this. Naturally, Gearhouse opted for its flagship L-Acoustics K1 system for sound reinforcement inside the stadium. Gearhouse senior audio technician Jonathan Green settled on a design featuring main L-R hangs of 14 K1 cabinets with four K2 flown underneath and flanked by wide hangs of a further 10 K1 and 6 K2 per side. Three StageCo Delay towers positioned around the stadium consisted of 12 V-Dosc each, while low-end extension came from 60 ground-stacked KS28 and SB28 subs and a further 16 K1-SB flown cabinets and front fill from 20 Kara cabinets. All of this meant a total of 48 L-Acoustics LA8 and 48 LA12x amplified controllers was required just to power the system, with eight of L-Acoustics’ new P1 processors providing audio distribution over AVB. Systems engineer Kashane Malatji then had the unenviable task of handling the signal distribution and networking.
However, even that wasn’t enough to provide coverage right to the back of the stadium. An additional 15 hangs – six hangs of six L-Acoustics Kudo and nine hangs of six Kara were flown from the roof. Due to the complexity of mounting 16 hangs from the stadium together with the distance involved, this setup was handled by a separate crew of six, led by Andile Maphumulo. That’s an insane amount of loudspeaker equipment to rig and re-rig between events just days apart.
‘With the limited time frame for change over to the Guns N’ Roses rig, the team led by head rigger Reinier Robertson did an outstanding job in achieving the goals set,’ explained Gearhouse rigging operations manager, Johann Moolman. ‘It meant a day shift crew of 11 and a further nine-strong night shift crew pulling together to deliver, once again, a flawless rig that consisted of a full complement of 104 Gearhouse CM motors assisted by a fleet of 40 international long-chain motors to reach the heights set by the four Super Truss towers for the main PA stacks.’
The opportunity to provide real-world training on such a sizeable rig was also too good to pass up and Gearhouse’s first-year students got hands-on with the setup under Robertson’s watchful eye.
Such an elaborate rigging setup was not without reason. In addition to the massive number of L-Acoustics cabinets hanging from the rig, more than 425 lighting fixtures added glitz to the performances, with models deployed including SGM P5s, Martin MAC Vipers, Martin Mac 2000e Washes, Martin Atomic 3000 DMX Strobes, Robe Robin Pointe, Robe ColorWash 2500E ATs, Robe Robin BMFL Blades and Robe Led Beam 150s.
‘It was not easy to do such a big changeover with the amount of time we had. We started on Wednesday night and needed to be done with the lighting rig by early Thursday morning so that the structures for the upstage risers could be built,’ offers lighting workshop manager at Gearhouse’s Johannesburg branch, Peter Abrahamse. ‘We had prepped a cabling system that worked for both Global Citizen and Guns N’ Roses so all we had to do was drop the first rig and land it on its wheels, then push it backstage where it was stored for two days. We then used forklifts to get the pre-rigged Guns N’ Roses trussing on the stage. Due to all of our prep work, this changeover ran smoothly and we accomplished our goals in very good time. I take my hard hat off to all of the crew involved in this epic task, the lighting team showed everyone that we are really a world-class team.’
The FNB concert was seemingly the perfect end to a mammoth reunion tour that saw the band perform 159 shows to more than four million fans. As if it really needed to, Gearhouse can add another flawless execution to its long list of world-class live event productions.
‘The Guns N’ Roses show is one of the biggest we have ever worked on in South Africa and it was an absolute pleasure to work with the band’s technical production team who were complete professionals,’ concludes Andrews. ‘We delivered a great sounding and great looking show and I don’t think that there was a single person in the 55,000-strong audience who didn’t have a good time.’
Story reprinted courtesy PROAVLMEA, Photo Big Concerts
Feb 25, 2019