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Behind the scenes: Setting up for a Guns N' Roses spectacle

When audiences leave New Era Field on Wednesday night, chances are they'll be humming "Sweet Child O' Mine," "Welcome to the Jungle" or any number of other Guns N' Roses hits.

Axl Rose, Slash and the band that reunited last year after nearly a quarter-century break deserve most of the credit for lodging that song in your head. But save some of it for the crew of about 200 people who have spent the last three days building a city of steel on a simple stretch of turf.

Two of those crew are Tyson Clark and Simon Bauer, a pair of long-serving audio experts who will make sure the notes echoing through the stadium sound as clear and sharp as fans' memories of the band's early-90s' heyday.

In fact, given advances in technology since Guns N' Roses' famous "Use Your Illusion Tour," including more compact sound equipment and more sophisticated mixing tools, it will probably sound better.

"We always say nobody goes home humming the beat of the lighting rig," said Clark, the audio crew chief for the tour.

His statement could apply to any job performed by the 100-person crew that travels with the tour, constructing massive stages, dealing with harsh weather and often performing herculean feats of engineering in impossibly tight time windows.

Clark and the crew, led by production manage Dale "Opie" Skjerseth, work for Clair Global, the high-profile production company that mounts massive concerts for major touring acts, including AC/DC, the Rolling Stones, Billy Joel and Elton John.

Clark will be seated behind a massive sound board under a tent at about the 50-yard line on Wednesday, working with Bauer to make sure Axl's wail connects and Slash's soulful solos achieves maximum clarity.

"We make sure stuff is in phase, but as far as what it sounds like, we use the best instrument in the world," said Bauer, a native of Switzerland who's been with the company for 18 years and with this tour since May. "There's no measurement system in the world that can do what the human ear can do."

Clark and Bauer spoke to The News on Tuesday afternoon, when a crew of about 100 Clair employees and 100 local workers were putting the finishing touches on the massive stage setup for Wednesday's concert and covering equipment with tarps to protect it from the rain. The field was covered in hundreds of interlocking plastic panels, obscuring any hint of green and making it possible for massive cranes to drive onto the field without damaging the turf below.

As a crew member did a sound check on Axl Rose's microphone, counting from one to 30, Bauer and Clark tweaked the sound, to thunderous effect. If Tuesday's test was any indication, Guns N' Roses fans are in for a loud show: Skjerseth, speaking to a group of Buffalo media, said the concert tops out at about 102 decibels. AC/DC, he said, clocks in at about 120.

Production manager Dale "Opie" Skjerseth, right, climbs some scafolding during a tour of the massive staging and production being built at New Era Field. (Robert Kirkham/Buffalo News)

The transformation of the stadium from an NFL field to an entertainment venue takes about three days from start to finish, Skjerseth said. It includes four trucks filled with sound equipment, five trucks of lighting equipment and three trucks of video. That doesn't include the many tones of structural steel that go into building the stage and lighting rigs, which takes about three days to completely assemble.

During Wednesday's concert, two audio engineers will mix what the band hears onstage while Bauer and Clark tweak the sound the audience hears. Ten spotlight operators will follow members of the band from six perches in the crowd and four onstage.

What to know before heading to Guns 'N Roses

Pyrotechnics will explode from behind the stage and the top of the stadium about every third song, lending visual punctuation marks to the performance on a regular basis.

And after the band plays its final note on Wednesday, the whole thing will come down less than a day, disappearing into waiting trucks that will whisk it to the next location. Build, strike, repeat.

To the casual observer, the feat seems impossible. But for Skjerseth, 55, a Minnesota native who also toured with Guns N' Roses in 1992, it's a simple matter of planning and execution.

"We put the same show up everywhere in the world. We put out the same thing for everybody, and what the band does onstage is exactly the same," he said. "The fans are the same here as in South America."

For Skjerseth, who has managed productions for many of the biggest tours and festivals in the world, the reunion of Guns N' Roses provides an opportunity for him and many of his crew members to relive their younger days on the road.

"I did 'Use Your Illusion' and then after that, in '93, we were done and we didn't know if we'd ever do it again," he said. "And we're all happy to do it again. It's an honor."

As for the thousands of pieces of equipment, the unpredictable element of weather and the many things that can and often do go wrong during a concert on such a massive scale, he offered a simple statement:

"We're ready."

Email: cdabkowski@buffnews.com

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