The Zoo TV Tour was an elaborately-staged worldwide concept tour by U2.
Launched in support of the albums Achtung Baby and Zooropa, the tour visited arenas and stadiums from 1992 through 1993. The Zoo TV Tour used multimedia and the video age for much of its inspiration, as it was designed to instill a feeling of "sensory overload" in its audience. The stage's 36 video screens flashed random collections of images and slogans from pop culture, while performances were complemented by a myriad of bewildering visual effects.
Lead singer Bono described Achtung Baby as "the sound of four men chopping down the Joshua Tree". The Zoo TV Tour marked a shift from the band's previously earnest stage performances from the 1980s to ones that were intentionally ironic and self-mocking; Bono used the tour to showcase numerous stage personas and characters he created. Differing from all previous and subsequent U2 tours, the Zoo TV shows opened with six to eight consecutive new songs before playing any older material.
Different phases of the tour were also known as Zoo TV – The Outside Broadcast, Zooropa, and Zoomerang. The tour began in Lakeland, Florida on February 29, 1992 and ended in Tokyo, Japan on December 10, 1993. It comprised five legs, 157 shows, was seen by about 5.4 million people, and was the highest-grossing tour in North America of 1992. The band's 1993 album Zooropa was recorded during a break in the tour, and its songs were featured in later legs of the tour. The tour was depicted in the Grammy Award-winning concert film Zoo TV: Live from Sydney. In 2002, Q magazine called it "still the most spectacular rock tour staged by any band."
The stage was designed by frequent U2 collaborator Willie Williams who worked with the stage designers Mark Fisher and Jonathan Park (designers of the Rolling Stones "Steel Wheels" stage set). The stage itself was 248 feet wide and over 80 feet deep. A B-stage further out into the crowd connected to the main stage by a ramp approximately 150 feet long. The stage design featured 4 mega video screens, 4 vidi walls, 36 video monitors, 2 Betacam and 2 Video-8 handicam video cameras, and 11 Trabant cars, several of which were suspended over the stage with spotlights inserted into headlights. The Trabants featured elaborately-painted artwork designed by Catherine Owens, Rene Castro, and Williams. The overall feel to the set was similar to the movie Blade Runner, which fitted well with the current electronic direction the band was taking
In order to put on the tour's massive production, the concert crew used 12 directors, 5 broadcast cameras, 176 speaker enclosures, 312 18" subwoofers, 592 10" mid-range speakers, 18 projectors, 26 on-stage microphones, 19 video crew members, 12 Laser Disc players, 1 satellite dish, and two separate mix positions. A total of 52 trucks were required to transport the 1,200 tons of equipment, 3 miles of cabling, 200 labourers, 12 forklifts and one 40-ton crane, required to construct the stage. The sound system used over 1 million watts and weighed 30 tons.
The tour, partly inspired by CNN's seemingly endless coverage of the Gulf War was, on one level, a straight-faced satire on the media overload that came to define the 1990s. The tour's television screens displayed a mixture of seemingly random images and slogans (an idea that originated from the band's video for "The Fly"), featuring found sounds and live sampling from actual mass media outlets. This stream of media was created by artists such as Kevin Godley, Brian Eno, Mark Pellington, Carol Dodds, Philip Owens, David Wojnarowicz, and multimedia performance artists Emergency Broadcast Network in an effort to reflect the desensitizing effect of the modern mass media.
The 1993 Zooropa and Zoomerang shows opened with a seven minute piece created by Emergency Broadcast Network, which wove looped images from Leni Riefenstahl's Triumph of the Will with various war and news imagery sources. Following this, the stadium was darkened and moments later Bono appeared onstage, silhouetted against a giant screen of blue and white video noise. The show began with a fixed sequence of songs. In an interview on the Zoo Radio program, The Edge described the visual material that went with the first three of them:
“ 'Zoo Station' is four minutes of a television that's not tuned in to any station, but giving you interference and shash and almost a TV picture. 'The Fly' is information meltdown – text, sayings, truisms, untruisms, oxymorons, soothsayings, etc., all blasted at high speed, just fast enough so it's impossible to actually read what's being said. 'Even Better Than the Real Thing' is whatever happens to be flying around the stratosphere on that night. Satellite TV pictures, the weather, shopping channel, cubic zirconium diamond rings, religious channels, soap operas ... ”
The imagery used during "Zoo Station"'s performance was created by blending video noise with stop motion animation sequences of the band members "filmed" on a photocopier. Some of "The Fly's" meltdown messages included "Taste is the enemy of art", "Religion is a club", "Ignorance is bliss", "Rebellion is packaged", "Believe" with letters fading out to leave "lie", and "Everything you know is wrong", and real media footage borrowed from mass media.
"Mysterious Ways" featured a belly dancer on-stage. "One" was accompanied by the title word shown in many languages, as well as Mark Pellington-directed video clips of buffalos leading to a still image of David Wojnarowicz's "Falling Buffalo" photograph. People found in the song, as they did with the tour, many levels of meaning; released as a single as the tour began, "One" quickly became one of U2's most popular songs. During "Until the End of the World", Bono unleashed a series of egotistical rock star poses with the chaotic visual approach, this time created from a rapid-fire jumble of numbers, many of which reflected topics close to the video artist's and band's heart, including production crew members' birthdays, the date of Martin Luther King Jr.'s murder, the date of release of U2's first 12-inch single in Ireland, the date of 'Bloody Sunday'. More video montage led into "Tryin' to Throw Your Arms Around the World", during which Bono would continue his long practice of dancing with a young female fan pulled from the crowd, only now spraying themselves with champagne and captured each other with a consumer camcorder video feed shown live to the audience.
U2 had used backing tracks in live performance before (such as the synthesized backdrops to "Bad" and "Where the Streets Have No Name") but, with the need to synch live performance to the high-tech visuals of Zoo TV, almost the entire show was synched and sequenced, with most numbers featuring pre-recorded percussion, keyboard, or guitar elements underlying the U2 members' live instrumentals and vocals. This practice has continued on their subsequent tours.
Zoo TV was one of the first large-scale concerts to feature the B stage, a smaller stage in the middle of the floor, intended "to be the antidote to Zoo TV". Here, the four members played quieter numbers such as acoustic arrangements of "Angel of Harlem" and "Stay (Faraway, So Close!)". After that it was back to the main stage for some U2 classics played straight, but when the encores began, Bono's alter-egos returned.
The concerts usually ended with Achtung Baby's gentler "Love Is Blindness", although later in the tour, it was followed by a cover of Elvis Presley's "Can't Help Falling in Love".
According to VH1's Legends: "Zoo TV saw U2 mocking the excesses of rock and roll by ironically embracing greed and decadence. However, some missed the point of the tour and thought that U2 had 'lost it', and that Bono had become an egomaniac."
U2 also brought in several 'alternative' acts as support, most notably Public Enemy, The Disposable Heroes Of Hiphoprisy and the Emergency Broadcast Network, who also designed many of the visuals used on the tour, including the "We Will Rock You" video, using a montage of film clips from speeches by George H.W.Bush, which opened the show on the American Leg.