I was recently invited by the Sabaton crew to join them at Wembley Arena in London to witness how their massive show goes together. The original purpose of this was to photograph some of the amazing women that they have on their crew as part of my “Women Behind the Scenes in Live Music” personal photography project, but as I spent the day with the crew it became apparent that it was well worth producing a piece about the whole show set-up in general, although there is still a large focus on the women involved. I have always been fascinated with how live music shows are put together, especially huge stadium and arena shows. Whenever a band release a live DVD, the first bit I always watch is the behind the scenes documentary. When the opportunity came along for me to witness this first hand I was beyond excited!
When I arrived at Wembley Arena at around 9:30am, the tour buses and trucks had just arrived and I met the crew in the loading bay. The first job was to get all seven trucks backed up ready for load-in. My friend and fellow member of Women In Live Music (WILM) Jessica Bengs is the lead truck driver for this tour, and it was great to be able to see her at work. Her job doesn’t just involve driving trucks; she is also works out the order of the loading/unloading of each truck to ensure that each item is exactly where it needs to be for the set up/breakdown of each show, organises parking plans, ensures that all of the drivers have the necessary parking permits and know the route to the next venue, and makes sure that all of the drivers have what they need (including necessary items such as snacks) for their long journeys. This is a huge tour and all seven trucks were packed (very neatly) with a huge number of flight cases and stage-set equipment – everything from pyro gear, trusses, lighting and sound gear to catering equipment. What struck me from the very start was how well everyone worked together – they are clearly a very close team and it really showed. In the midst of getting the job done there was so much friendship clear to see, and I instantly felt very welcome.
After load-in I watched the riggers at work and audio engineers beginning to set up their gear, whilst others continued to load in equipment for the elaborate stage set – featuring barbed wire, sand-bags and of course that massive tank drum riser! As the rigging continued, there were guys beginning to set up the pyro… of which there is a huge amount on this tour! I also got to spend some time with production assistant Olga Kenig (another WILM member), who took me through some of her daily tasks, including sorting out passes for guests and members of the press, liaising with the catering team to ensure the tour buses had enough supplies, and making sure that the members of the crew had everything they needed.
Back in the main arena, the rigging was completed and had been hoisted up to the ceiling and it was time to “fly the monitors” (hang stacks of speakers from the rigging) which was overseen by another member of Women In Live Music – Megan Clement. It was great to watch Meg work with her team to get everything connected from the venue supply to their gear. With the rigging out of the way the stage crew were able to begin setting up the stage. A forklift truck was used to lift flight cases onto the stage, and a team led by stage carpenter Pirita Kervinen (another WILM member) began to put everything together to create the wonderful stage set. Whilst all this was going on, the Front of House team were busy testing the lighting, and various other things were going on that I couldn’t keep track of.
There were 120 people working on this tour, and whilst the majority of the crew were male, what I love about the Sabaton crew is that they have a relatively large number of women on their team; 5 in the main crew (doing jobs such as truck driving, sound engineering, stage building and wardrobe) and a further 5 women working as part of the larger team in departments such as catering.
Whilst the finishing touches were being made to the stage set up and line-checks were being carried out, I headed to catering for a spot of lunch, after which I headed back to the main arena to check on progress. Everything looked great and ready for the show – there were backdrops in place, the video screen was up and running, and the support bands’ gear had been loaded in and set up behind the stage ready for their sets. During a pause in sound-check we were allowed onto the stage to take a photo of the five WILM members sitting on top of the tank drum riser. Standing on boxes of pyro was quite nerve-wracking and I kept asking “they aren’t going to test the pyro now are they?”, worried that I would be engulfed in flames shooting from the various canisters and pipes beneath my feet.
The fifth member of Women In Live Music that I got the chance to follow around was Mira Penttilä, who works in the wardrobe department. Her duties range from washing and drying the crew’s clothes (an essential albeit not overly glamorous job), to ensuring that the band members’ stage clothes are ready for the show. She is also in charge of making sure that all wardrobe items are in the right place at the right time for costume changes during the show, helps the band with quick costume changes, and ensures that the smoke machine and gas tanks that Joakim wears for “Attack of the Dead Men” are properly working and fitted on him exactly on time.
By around 5pm and it looked like everything was pretty much ready to go. I met up with our EiC Mosh and his son for an interview with Pär, before we headed out for a spot of dinner before the show. You can read Mosh’s review of the show here.
Another wonderful thing about the Sabaton crew that I feel it necessary to point out, is their treatment of photographers. In a bid to help us get the best shots possible, Sabaton’s press manager Nick Azinas (of PFTP Promotions) met all the photographers at 9pm shortly before the start of the band’s set for a full briefing of what lay in store for us. The short answer was lots of pyro, but the briefing contained all the information we needed – which songs had which effects, and other special things to look out for such as the gas masks for “Attack of the Dead Men”, the bazooka for “Night Witches” and the confetti cannons at the end of the show. Never have I received a more thorough briefing, and it was much appreciated by all the photographers. We often feel like a bit of an after-thought and are just ushered into and out of the pit by security with little idea what to expect and the sort of shots we can hope to capture (unless you have researched earlier dates of the same tour) which often leads to us trying not to soil our pants when flames unexpectedly shoot out over our heads and fireworks go off inches from our faces.
The live show was everything I had expected it to be and more. Sabaton played their first London headline show at The Purple Turtle in 2008, and to see them sell out the 12,500-capacity arena was wonderful. It clearly meant a lot to the band and to the crew who have been with them on their journey to the top. As I watched the show I felt a huge sense of pride as I looked up at the monitors I had seen Meg hoisting into the air, the stage set that I had seen Pirita build, all the gear I had seen Jess help load out of the trucks, and various other details of the show that I had witnessed being put together during the day. Many people turn up to shows and perhaps don’t think about everyone involved in making them happen. Hopefully this has provided a bit of an insight into all the hard work that goes on behind the scenes to create a spectacular live show for you to enjoy.
I had a wonderful day and was thoroughly fascinated to see how such a massive production goes together. Huge thanks to the Sabaton crew welcoming me into their family and for letting me follow them around all day taking pictures. I hope our paths will cross again in the future.
Photos and concept by Katie Frost Photography