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Fuelled by adventure

Features
March 20, 2018
Starting out in the time-honoured way of driving their own gear from show to show, Fall Out Boy have risen through the ranks and crown their current tour with a homecoming show to 40,000 fans, but that’s not until they’ve passed through China, Japan, Australia and Europe.  Christopher Barrett reports

Since Fall Out Boy formed in the Chicago suburb of Wilmette in 2001, the quintet have edged increasingly further away from their emo-inflected, pop-punk roots while continuing to top the US charts and sell-out shows in every corner of the world.

In the 15 years since Florida-based indie label Fuelled By Ramen released Fall Out Boy’s debut album, Take This To Your Grave, the band have recorded a further six LPs of which four reached the pinnacle of the US charts.

The band’s seventh album, MANIA, was released on 19 January, some four months after its scheduled arrival. The original September release date had been planned to coincide with an intimate opening show, at the 1,300-capacity House of Blues in Chicago, on the band’s accompanying tour.

While that date went ahead, shows at London’s Electric Brixton (1,500), Berlin’s Lido (550) and Debaser (850) in Stockholm were rescheduled for January.

For bassist and songwriter Pete Wentz, guitarist/singer Patrick Stump, drummer Andy Hurley and guitarist Joe Trohman, it was the first time they had missed an album release date, but the extra time in the studio paid off while the shows proved a success.

Mixing everything from hard rock and EDM to reggae, all blended with the band’s trademark anthemic hooks, MANIA became Fall Out Boy’s third consecutive album to top the Billboard chart, and met with widespread critical acclaim. Despite comprising only 10 tracks, the album has spawned five singles and features six credited producers.

By the time MANIA was released, Fall Out Boy had played dates across the US, Canada, Brazil and Europe on the MANIA Tour. Fans had been drip-fed new material including the singles Young and Menace, The Last of the Real Ones and Champion.

Tickets sales for the shows were high but Fall Out Boy is not likely to want to repeat the delayed album release model again, believes their agent Andrew Simon at Creative Artists Agency’s (CAA) in Los Angeles, who has worked with the band since they signed to Fuelled By Ramen in 2002.

“It is a competitive touring landscape and when you set off on a major worldwide tour you always want to have things lined-up correctly, go out strong, and be firing on all cylinders,” he says.

“The plan was always for the record to be out when the tour started, but I thought it was incredibly brave of the band to admit the album wasn’t quite right and to take more time to work on it.

“At that point we could have pulled the concerts, but a lot of tickets had been sold and fans were excited about the shows. I would not want to do that again, and nor would the band, but it was kinda nice because it gave them the opportunity to slowly introduce new material to fans.”

For Fall Out Boy’s European agent, Mark Ngui at CAA in London, the delay to MANIA’s release did not create many challenges, and the rescheduled London show at Electric Brixton (cap. 1,500) a week prior to the album’s release sold out swiftly.

“From a European perspective, we always planned to start touring a little later, and so when it was decided that the album was going back a little bit, it wasn’t so much of an issue,” says Ngui.

He says the first run of European dates in January were intentionally underplayed, organised in smaller venues to excite fans and reward core followers.

“We’ve done this on pretty much every album cycle, with shows in venues as small as the 500-capacity Underworld in London,” says Ngui.

In March the band played four arena shows in Australia and one in New Zealand before revisiting Europe with shows including The O2 (17,000) in London and Manchester Arena (15,000), Germany’s Max-Schmeling-Halle (9,000) in Berlin and Belgium’s Forest National (8,400) in Brussels.

“They can count on 4,000 to 5,000 people every time they play a concert here,” says Live Nation Belgium’s Denis Malschalck.

Meanwhile, Live Nation Germany’s Matt Schwarz has worked with the band on every tour since 2014 and says all of them have sold out in Germany.

“The four German shows this time have either sold out or will do,” he says. “The band’s following just gets bigger and bigger — they are reaching new and younger fans all the time.

“The band is backed by a great team of professionals who listen to promoters and don’t micro-manage us. It’s an amazing project to be part of.”

In the UK Johnny Phillips at SJM Concerts has promoted the band in England and Wales since their first headline tour in February 2005. He says SJM primarily used online marketing, but also TV, radio, billboards and press ads, to publicise the current tour.

“The O2 in London and Motorpoint Arena [7,500] in Cardiff sold out extremely quickly and Arena Birmingham [15,800] and Manchester Arena were not far behind,’ says Philips.

Stephane Minier, founder of Distortion Concerts, has promoted Fall Out Boy throughout France and is overseeing the band’s only French shows this year, at the Zenith (6,200) in Paris

“Fall Out Boy is a hugely popular live band all over France,” he says. “Tickets for the Paris show are selling very well, they always do, so we expect it to be close to selling out.

“For an act as big as Fall Out Boy, it is important to make sure online activity is coupled with a major advertising campaign, including radio and billboards.”

 

Over to Asia

Following the European dates, the tour hits Japan for three shows and then Singapore in April before heading to China in May for a trio of concerts.

The concerts in Japan include Tokyo’s landmark Nippon Budokan (14,400), promoted by Creativeman Productions.

“This will be the band’s first Budokan show,” says Creativeman product manager Ryuhei Ando. “Fall Out Boy have built their career here by doing club shows and promotion, it’s finally time for them to play at the legendary venue, which is so exciting.”

Ando says Creativeman is booking a popular local band to open the show, and is marketing the concert primarily via radio and social media.

Promoting the show at the Zepp@BIGBOX (2,333) in Singapore is LAMC Productions.

“Singapore is the band’s only stop in South East Asia and demand is strong,” says promoter Lauretta Alabons.

In China the band performs at the 18,000-capacity Mercedes-Benz Arena in Shanghai and the Shenzhen Bay Sports Center (13,000) and Cadillac Arena (18,000) in Beijing.

“The band has been to China once before but that was more of a promotional trip when they did a lot of TV and played shows in Hong Kong and Macau,” says Bob McLynn of Crush Music, who co-manages the band with Dustin Addis.

“This is the first time they are playing Chinese cities such as Beijing and Shanghai. The band are always trying to find new places to go.”

 

“For the most part, we are ensuring the shows are as similar as possible and that we give everyone the same show, no matter where they are worldwide.

Chad Olech

DIY start-up

McLynn says that when he first discovered Fall Out Boy playing clubs in and around Chicago back in 2002, it was the band’s work ethic as well as the music that really struck him.

“I started working with them before they had any records out, they were building it up locally in Chicago, getting out in the van on their own — they had a real self-starter mentality,” he says.

“What set them apart from other acts in that whole scene at the time was Pete, who wrote these phenomenal lyrics, and Patrick’s voice was otherworldly.”

McLynn says Fall Out Boy’s work ethic has remained unchanged during a career that has seen them grow from teenagers to fathers.

One of their most ambitious touring exercises was the 2008 attempt to enter the Guinness Book of World Records by becoming the first band to play all seven continents in a single tour. Unfortunately, the plan was scuppered by poor weather and the band were forced to cancel a planned show in Antarctica.

“I was on that expedition,” says McLynn. “Pete came up with the idea but it was a little too late in the season. We went ahead and did it, but got stuck in the bottom of Chile because the weath

er was so bad. After days waiting for the plane to go, in the end we had to turn around and come home.

“It is really that sense of adventure that has made Fall Out Boy a lot of fun to work with.”

After playing the Reading (90,000) and Leeds (80,000) festivals in the UK this summer, the MANIA Tour will then return to the US in late August for 28 shows that will lead them to the final curtain at New Orleans’ Smoothie King Centre (17,800) on 10 October.

Among the highlights on the way will be a huge homecoming show in Chicago.

“They will play Wrigley Field [41,000] for the first time, which is a real milestone for the band,” says McLynn.

Hands-on

The members of Fall Out Boy are not only passionate about taking their show to new places, their manager says they are also heavily involved in the look and feel of the show itself, and like to be able to explore as much of a venue as possible during a performance.

“The band is always 100 per cent involved in the design of the show and trying to find new ways to connect and get close with the audience,” says McLynn.

In the vast majority of arena venues on the MANIA Tour, the show consists of a huge runway down the centre of the floor, coupled with B and C stages.

Production designer Robb Jibson has worked with the band for the past three tours and his work on the MANIA Tour began in spring last year.

“Pete always wants to give the people at the back of the arena in the top seats a few moments of the best experience possible, and bring the show right out to them,” says Jibson. “With any production elements that reduce available seating in venues, you need to get it done early, well before the tour goes on sale.”

“We identified that we wanted elements positioned out in the crowd — a long thrust that went out and we knew we wanted floating stages. A key thing for the band was to create something that would be a surprise for fans, so the stage set needed to enable the band to appear seemingly from nowhere,” he says.

The solution was for the drummer to move underneath a catwalk running the entire length of the arena floor, he would then get inside a box that would lift up and reveal him to the audience while he performed a drum solo.

“While that is going on we have another stage up high in the air that acts as a video box.  At a certain key moment it lowers and then the band get on top of it,” says Jibson.

Responsible for the stages, automation, lifts and construction has been All Access Staging & Productions in Los Angeles. The company supplied a rolling stage with thrust, in addition to the custom flying stages and an off-the-shelf drum riser, a scissor lift, a piano scissor lift, and three star lifts.

“Building the flying B and C stage elements was a very big challenge, keeping in mind the safety aspects and keeping the overall weight down,” says All Access technical vice-president Dave Agar. “To see both stages flying with the band on both elements during the show was a fantastic look.”

Clair Global has provided Fall Out Boy’s audio production requirements since the early days. Account executive Justin Weaver has been a fan since he first saw the band play at the Chameleon Club (1,000) in Lancaster, Pennsylvania in 2004 but he didn’t get to work directly with them for nearly a decade.

“I was tipped-off by one of my touring friends in early 2013 that Fall Out Boy was going to release new music and play a few intimate shows, including one at The Studio (1,500) at Webster Hall in New York,” he says. “I immediately booked a train ticket to go meet their new touring crew and hear the show.

“Since that day, I have handled their account for Clair wherever they go in the world.

“There have been requests from Robb Jibson that have challenged our company to think outside of the box, and by doing so has really let the value of Clair’s resources shine.”

 

Continuity

Production manager Chad Olech says the aim is to keep the show set up as similar as possible no matter where the band are playing on the tour.

“There are some restrictions in some countries due to local regulations and there are also some things that, timing-wise, we can’t get to some shows as logistically it simply doesn’t work without us building three versions of the same things,” he says.

“However, for the most part, we are ensuring the shows are as similar as possible and that we give everyone the same show, no matter where they are worldwide. That has been the goal of the band and management.”

Olech says another new approach for this tour has been the amount of video involved in the production. The equipment was provided by California-based VER.

“In the past Fall Out Boy shows have not featured the use of video during every song,” he says. “On this tour we have stripped the stage down so there is no backline except a drum riser and the guys — that is also new.  As a result, the stage is very clean and wide open with a look that relies on the video elements more than on any Fall Out Boy show in the past.”

Despite the minimalist approach and avoidance of on-stage paraphernalia, Olech says it is the most sophisticated show Fall Out Boy have ever done.

“The band wanted a big clean stage that reflected the album’s artwork,” says Jibson. “It is a simple looking stage set-up, but I liken it to a duck swimming on a lake — apparently calm on the surface, but underneath the legs are kicking away furiously.”

Despite the complexity of the production, Olech says the average load-in time is five hours and the equipment and crew are usually clear of a venue in around two. The production is transported in a dozen trucks.

Keeping the show on the road is tour manager Joshua Scott, who has worked with the band since late 2012.

“For me the challenge is the budgeting because it is expensive to get the gear around the world and also deal with immigration issues,” he says.

While the full production is being used in the US and UK, a slightly scaled down version will be used on mainland Europe due to the smaller venues booked there. When it comes to playing more far-flung and culturally idiosyncratic territories such as China, the challenges are very different.

“There are a lot of challenges that come with playing in China,” says Scott. “The visa process is extensive but I have a company in the US that helps with that. A bigger challenge is the video content.

“The show is very video-heavy and the Chinese government is very strict about the use of video content. We have to submit all the video in advance and it is very heavily monitored. We just heard from officials in Beijing that video for two songs has not been approved, but they have approved the set list so we can’t alter that.
“Playing China is tough but at the end of the day it is worth it as it is an enormous market.”

The past decade-and-a-half has seen Fall Out Boy play scores of arenas, numerous stadiums and headline dozens of festivals. Musically they have come a long way since the smart pop-punk of their debut album and the rousing emo of 2005’s From Under The Cork Tree.

“The fact that Fall Out Boy is still on the radio in 2018 and selling-out shows around the world is because they continue to write songs that are relevant, and you can’t say that about too many artistes,” says McLynn.

“They have changed as people and musicians and the sound has evolved in line with that. Even though the music is different, the fact it is the same four guys playing is key.”

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