Having performed at massive indoor arenas for the duration of his 2007 world tour, Justin Timberlake's live performance debut in the Middle East demanded a complete re-think. Following the selection of Emirates Palace for the show, a crew of around 300 set about constructing a fully serviced venue on the lawns of the hotel.
"Unfortunately there isn't a sufficiently large indoor venue here in Abu Dhabi to accommodate a concert of this scale," explains production manager Lee Charteris, who was hired by promoter IMG to manage the technical aspects of the event.
"As a result, the decision was taken to redesign the stage and audience areas to meet the specifications of the venue. I came here in September after Emirates Palace had first been touted as a potential site for the concert. At that stage I earmarked a couple of locations in the grounds that I thought could accommodate a show of this size. Ultimately, we settled on the West Park lawned area at the extreme end of the property.
"It is a big flat expanse which could accommodate a large outdoor stage and a grandstand. An added benefit was that it was directly adjacent to a flat piece of land which we were able to use as a car park for around 7000 vehicles. This was a critical factor.
As well as arranging logistical support for the event, from plumbing and security to ticket sales, Charteris also liaised with the Abu Dhabi authorities to attain all the necessary paperwork. Concerns over possible traffic congestion played an integral part in the show's planning.
"We contacted SEP, a UK-based traffic management consultancy which specialises in large-scale events. Given Emirates Palace's location on a peninsula, we were potentially facing serious traffic management problems," explains Charteris.
"We put together a traffic management plan, which was passed on to the Abu Dhabi police. Once that was rubber stamped, we got on with actually building the venue. The traffic was a challenge.
"But, you have to remember that Emirates Palace is a very prestigious venue. Doing things like removing the hotel's perimeter fence to create an entrance gate, bringing heavy duty machinery onto a manicured lawn, basically creating a building site in the grounds of a palace, was a challenge in itself."
Charteris met with several local equipment rental firms and sent the various options to the Timberlake touring crew, who settled on Dubai-based Production Technology (Protec) to supply the rider.
"Around 90% of the kit was sourced from within the UAE, which is a great achievement. Most of the crew recruited for the show were employed locally," explains Charteris. "I didn't really want to come here and fly in an army. I've been happily surprised by the quantity and quality of the people that are working out here.
Rick Wade coordinated the Protec team on-site.
"This was the largest technical rider we have ever received for a single event. There were about fifty truck loads of gear ferried between Dubai and Abu Dhabi. However, for mine, it was the best sounding show that has been staged in the UAE. We managed to get our hands on the prototype of some new JBL software and it made our Vertec system sound better than it ever has," says Wade.
"Justin's FOH soundman, Andy Meyer, put us in touch with Paul Bauman of JBL," explains Protec's audio systems engineer, Rob Turner. "He provided us with the new crossover settings for the Vertec system. He only completed programming the software on December 3 and we had it loaded into our boxes a day later.
Wade believes the Protec production team was the first in the world to use the new software. He says it drastically improved the sound quality produced by the company's Vertec 4889 line array.
"The timeline between the low-end frequencies and the tops inside the boxes was never quite right," Turner concedes.
"Bauman has done a lot of timeline work within the cabinets themselves. The result is that with the new settings, it doesn't sound like a bite-your-head-off line array box, it has a warm speaker sound. We were all really pleased with it and so was Andy Meyer.
"We have just used the new settings again with a smaller four-a-side array. We don't need as many subs now on any given job thanks to the sound generated by the Vertec. This is great news for our corporate business because it means we don't have to have these big ugly boxes ground-stacked. On one recent job, we dropped the array cabinets down to 29 Hz and the DJ at this corporate event couldn't believe that there were no subs on site. We had to walk him round and lift the stage skirting to show him there were no subs!
"At the Timberlake gig, the lower end frequencies of the Vertec were well-defined. You couldn't tell when the subs were on or not.
"Meyer also uses a surround sound style set-up. In this case he used Nexo Geo-S boxes which are quite small but really punchy. This has become our main system for corporate jobs now. Clients appreciate their discreet size."
The angles for the 14-a-side line-array at the Timberlake show were calculated across three continents by a combination of Turner in the UAE, Bauman in the US and Meyer who was in Australia immediately prior to the event.
As well as the new sound settings, the show also featured a custom-designed lighting rig.
"The show's lighting designer, Nick Whitehouse, completely re-designed the touring rig for the Abu Dhabi show. We gave him a list of what we had and he came up with the new design. The lighting rig consisted of four curved trusses, which was quite complicated and actually quite difficult to build," says Wade. "The rig itself weighed 11 tonnes and then with LED screens and the PA, we ended up flying 18 tonnes off the structure. We hung 12 tonnes at the Pink concert and that was about as much as we had done before. This was really pushing it, not quite to the limit but getting there.
"It's down to us to make the touring crew's plan a reality. It's always a challenge; you never know quite what their requirement is until the last minute when they show you a drawing.
"You know what the limitations of your structure are. Then you look at it and realise what they want to do is actually hang more weight in one area than is possible according to the manual. There are ways - not to cheat the system - but to get around it. We work really closely with the manufacturers who offer advice in these types of situations. They help us take someone's idea and turn it into something like the show we put on in Abu Dhabi.
Wade says he spent three to four days calculating the point loads to ensure everything was safely hung according to the manufacturers' specifications.
"We had to get everything signed off by the manufacturer as we went along," he explains. "Most artists expect a letter from us confirming that everything is safe before they are willing to perform.
On-site safety was also a priority during pre-production, with the organisers flying an independent health and safety inspector in from the UK.
"The inspector was brought in to ensure that health and safety procedures that are applied in the UK were followed on-site," says Wade. "He wasn't just there to enforce the law. He provided helpful advice to the local crew and made sure they were wearing hi-visibility vests, hard hats and proper footwear at all times, rather than sandals. I thought it was a very good system actually.
Wade says the venue could have accommodated a slightly larger crowd and that other areas of the Emirates Palace site could possibly accomodate even larger audiences in the future. The venue was also praised by audio man Turner.
"The site was metaphorically a blank canvass when we first came to inspect it - it's a very open area. The problem with somewhere like Dubai Media City (DMC) Amphitheatre, is that you are surrounded by glass. The sound ends up bouncing around in circles. The Emirates Palace site was brilliant because it was so open. It is certainly better than the DMC venue in this regard," says Turner.
The show was promoted by the international sports, entertainment and media company, IMG, which has recently opened an office in Dubai.
"This was their first show since opening an office in the Middle East," explains Charteris. "I expect they will be looking to bring a large number of artists here who might otherwise dismiss the region.
"There's always some pressure when dealing with an international promoter and a high profile event. But, Justin and his crew were very happy. I think people are always surprised when they come to the Middle East to see how much equipment and how much experience there is here.
• 28 x Vertec 4889s.
• 16 x Nexo CD-18s.
• 18 x Turbosound 718s.
• 2 x Turbosound THL-4s.
• 4 x Turbosound 760s.
• 40 x Camco Vortex 6s.
• 10 x MC2 1250s.
• 4 x MC2 750s.
• 6 x XTA D-6s.• 4 x Nexo 242s.
• 6 x XTA 448 (running VT4889 V4 software)s.
• 1 x XTA wisp wireless system.
• 1 x D-link ANT24-0800.
• 4 x Turbosound TFM 330s.
• 4 x Turbosound 760s.
• 2 x Turbosound 718s.
• 4 x MC2 1250s.
• 4 x MC2 750s.
• 4 x XTA D-6s. Surround system
• 14 x Nexo Geo-s 805s.
• 2 x Nexo Geo-s 830s.
• 2 x Nexo 242s.
• 4 x Camco Vortex 6s.
• 24 x ETC source four profile 19 degrees.
• 26 x Thomas 8 lite molefays.
• 16 x Studio Due 2500w city colours.
• 24 x Clay Paky Alpha Spot HPE 1200s.
• 22 x Clay Paky Alpha Wash 1200s.
• 34 x Clay Paky Alpha Spot HPE 575s.
• 32 x Clay Paky Alpha Wash 575s.
• 32 x Diversatronic 3K strobes.
• 4 x 3k Strong Gladiator 3 follow spots.
• 2 x 2k Strong Super Trouper follow spots.
Total fabrications extra heavy duty roofing system, 24m x 15m x 14m with 1.5m cantilever plus 2 x wings at 9m x 6m.
Total fabrications arena deck stage, 34m x 15m inclusive of wing areas.
Mechanical sub stage lift 2.4m x 1.8m x 1.8m.
• 34 x 1 tonne CM chain hoists.
• 8 x 0.5 tonne CM chain hoists.
• 16 x Total fabrications 18-inch circular truss 20m diameter 22.5-degrees.
• 16 x Total fabrications 18-inch circular truss 18m diameter 22.5-degrees.
• 8 x Total fabrications 18-inch circular truss 8m diameter 45-degree.
• 4 x Total fabrications 18-inch circular truss 4m diameter 90-degree.
• 4 x Total fabrications 18-inch truss section 3m.
• 24 x Total fabrications extra heavy duty truss 3m.
• 3 x Total fabrications extra heavy duty truss 1m.
• 2 x Total fabrications V towers for surround PA.