By Brooke Sever
With well over 200 lights, a massive stage and one of the most energetic and professional performers around, it’s not hard to see why the Dubai stop of Usher’s ‘OMG’ world tour is being touted by many as one of the biggest productions this region has seen
Even before all 12,000 tickets were sold out for Usher’s concert last month at the Media City Amphitheatre in Dubai, the stakes were high. Aside from the massive rig involved, Usher himself is regarded as a perfectionist about the technical elements of his performances and the tight timeframe that existed for the build added extra pressure. On top of this, promoter done Events was understandably keen to reinstate its reputation in the eyes of the public following Amy Winehouse’s controversial show earlier in the year.
In the end, even with just three days to transform an empty site into a fully-fledged concert venue, the high-expectations of those behind the scenes and in the crowd were met – thanks in part to what Inhouse’s Nick Groves describes as the artist’s professionalism and warmth.
“The show went for about an hour and 45 minutes. We were expecting 75 minutes so to see him extend that was impressive. Apparently he wasn’t feeling that well either but he really got into it, he was really feeling it and you could tell,” he says.
It was a great result after a stressful lead-up to the event - the lack of a permanent venue suitable to hold such a show meant changes to the production were only emphasised by the brief set up period.
“Normally, they’d tour their own equipment, but because the tour manager didn’t trust the customs here in the UAE or in Asia [the next stop on the world tour] – because the shows are only two nights apart – they shipped everything straight to Australia ready for his Perth show and we supplied all the stuff locally,” explains Groves, whose firm Inhouse was the concert’s production partner.
He says this meant huge changes to production costs, which he maintains is just another reason a purpose-built entertainment arena needs to be built in the region.
“Because we had to take everything outdoors – where there was no infrastructure – everything has to be built. In an arena, you don’t have to bring in F&B, toilets, you’ve got most of the security already there, power, patch bays, rigging points are all there – so your production costs are a lot less.”
In an effort to stop a blow-out of production costs in Dubai, a stage lift and pyrotechnic element to the show were originally dropped – until the artist himself stepped in.
“We’d just put the roof up and the stage in and we found out that Usher wasn’t happy that the pyro had been dropped and that he wanted it back in. He didn’t want the fans to miss out on that aspect of the show,” says Groves.
“We also added a lift at the back of the stage for Usher to use – that was a last minute inclusion at his request. And because the stage was already in, putting the lift in meant that the whole centre stage section would have to be taken out to get the lift in the back – but we managed to avoid that by taking the lift across the top of the stage and dropping it in with some of the motors that we had there,” he adds. “And that was an additional crew we had to bring in because we couldn’t stop the rest of the production – we were too short on time.”
Also challenging the timeframe was the reintroduction of pyrotechnics. “We had two days to get all the permissions from TECOM, the Police and the other authorities, and everything on stage – all the soft goods – had to be replaced with fire-retardant versions. So that was a bit of a push, but we got there,” Groves explains with what can only be described as a relieved laugh.
Unable to be included, however, was a fifth LED screen – to have been situated downstage – and a tracking system. “It’s not because we can’t do it - the tracking systems are here, but just because the production costs would’ve gone through the roof, in the end we did the four in the back and just left them stationary,” he says.
At over 25 by 20 metres plus wings, the stage erected was one of the largest to be seen at a concert in the region, and proved a regulatory challenge for those involved. “We had to get a 48-page structural report on the roof from the UK and I don’t know any other company that’s ever done an event in TECOM that has been required to do that,” says Groves. “I think at the end of the day, the management there knew it was a big build, they knew how many people were going to be there and how excited and ramped up they’d be and they just wanted to be sure everything was 100 per cent safe. They wanted to cross their T’s and dot their I’s, so to speak.”
Despite this, he says the lead-up and show itself went smoothly, in part due to what a “great job” the local production crew did, commending crew specialist Showforce in particular.
“I’ve started to work with Ian and the team at Showforce because they’re very, very good at what they do. And I like the idea that of having a crew chief that’s a qualified rigger as well. For us, it means one point of contact with someone that knows what they’re doing. We had a really late night on Wednesday, into the early hours of the next morning and when we came in on Thursday, Showforce were already there. And they were working, not just sitting around waiting for us to tell them what to do, which was brilliant, they really know what they’re doing,” explains Groves.
And while the individual production elements may have been nothing new – from video content on Catalyst software run through a grandMA, to a rig laden with Varilites and GLP impressions, to smoke machines – the combination and volume of kit worked together with impressive results. But perhaps not as impressive as Usher himself.
“I’d say the most impressive aspect of the show was Usher and his crew. He was a genuinely really nice guy to work with,” says Groves.
Usher sums it up best himself. “I wouldn’t want technology or gimmicks to overshadow my own performance – I’d just want it to complement what I do.”