Better to focus on the riggers. Trussed up in harnesses that triangulate around their hips, they look like superheroes in cargo shorts. They are forbiddingly cool as they take a break before getting back to hauling up chains. One is so cool, in fact, that he’s napping on a pile of the burlap scraps he’ll use later to pad the beams. Another rigger leans over the railing as he smokes, casually flicking ash into the emptiness.
A man the size of a linebacker strolls jauntily across the catwalk as if he were ambling down the street on the happiest day of his life, the harness forcing his legs wide so that he bounces and rolls a bit from side to side.
Draped in coils of red rope, Phil Vasko brushes past with a greeting and a big grin. “You’re not leaving the best office in the city, are you?” he asks.
This nosebleed summit, the best office in the city?
“It is to me!” he calls over his shoulder as he prepares to step off the catwalk and onto one of the beams tucked under the arena ceiling. Sure, for a certain wing-walking, rush-addicted mindset, it’s a lovely office indeed: mere inches of steel, lots of air.
By the time Lopez and Iglesias start their soundcheck several hours later, 136,000 pounds of speakers, lights and video screens will dangle over the singers’ heads. Each piece will have been guided into place by “upriggers” like Vasko, who creep along the beams to secure cables and chains, and “downriggers” on the arena floor who attach the equipment.
Rigging a rock concert has always been hard physical labor. But as shows get more technologically complex, they require ever more intricately coordinated manpower. With two artists teaming up for this tour and each aiming for a separate spectacle — one production staffer calls the J-Lo/Iglesias alliance a “battle of the bands” — there’s a lot of gear to hang.
Later, Lopez will cha-cha and gyrate impressively in her hour-long set, scampering up custom-built stairs and ramps in her stilettos, backed by an energetic team of dancers. But they will have nothing on the raw power and behind-the-scenes choreography of the riggers, carpenters, stagehands and loaders that started heaving her followspots at 4 a.m.
There is a truth acknowledged with some irony by veterans of the road: “People come to see a show, not hear a show,” says Omar Abderrahman, the tour’s production manager. He got his start as a rigger in the late 1970s, the era of REO Speedwagon and the Cars, when no one wore a harness and speakers were stacked on the floor.