Remember, it almost fell on Thom Yorke’s head. In fact, we’ve heard that the massive lighting overhang at Toronto’s Downsview Park collapsed just moments before soundcheck. Then again, it did fall on Radiohead’s drum technician, Scott Johnson, killing him. So what’s the difference?
In our celebrity-obsessed culture, the difference is actually everything. Because instead getting shuttled to our collective back pages, a casualty in the order of Yorke would have produced endless national headlines, overhauls in staging practices and regulations, cancelled gigs, hearings, firings, witch hunts, calls for blood.
Sugarland narrowly cheated death in Indiana, and I’ve personally witnessed a sketchy stage collapse in Baltimore during a Wu-Tang Clan concert (everyone was fine). So maybe it’s only a matter of time, especially as financial and scheduling demands intensify around touring. “You wouldn’t set up a server overnight for [Digital Music News] then tear it down the next day,” one stage tech unrelated to the Toronto incident told us. “But that’s sort of what they’re doing now. It’s set something up in no time, lights, camera, action, encore, then tear it down and do it all over again.”
Which means lots of room for error, little room for testing, and endless opportunity for disaster. The Ontario Labour Ministry is just starting its investigation into the matter, and details are starting to trickle. Toronto-based CBC News just reported that more than 10,000 pounds of lighting and speakers were being affixed to the scaffolding that ultimately fell. And members of the lighting crew apparently expressed concerns about the weight, lack of redundancy, and speed of construction (but ultimately proceeded). Optex Staging appears to be a main company involved, with Live Nation handling the broader gig.
There’s almost certainly more ahead. Actually, the Labour Ministry is currently investigating four different companies, and applying forensics expertise to the ‘crime scene’. “Because of the lack of redundancy, a very small human error could precipitate a chain reaction,” structural engineer David Bowick told CBC.
“The thing that is unique about this type of facility is the speed that it goes up, and the speed that it comes down. It may very well be that the pace of the industry is just too fast to allow normal protocols to do their job.”
Schematic shots from NMA News Direct.