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Published: Saturday, 12/31/2011

U2's big tour has big payoff

BY RANDY LEWIS
LOS ANGELES TIMES
U2 frontman Bono performs on July 8, 2011 in Montreal as part of the band’s ‘360’ tour. U2 frontman Bono performs on July 8, 2011 in Montreal as part of the band’s ‘360’ tour.
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U2's final spate of shows on its massive "360 Tour" lands as the top-grossing tour of 2011 across North America and throughout the world, according to Pollstar, the concert-industry tracking magazine.

The Irish quartet, which had to postpone a significant chunk of shows that had been scheduled in 2010 when singer Bono injured his back, roared back in 2011, pulling in $156 million from 25 shows in 21 cities in North America. Worldwide the group logged $231.9 million from 34 shows in 26 cities.

U2 was the only act to cross the $100 million mark in North America, but pop-country princess Taylor Swift came close with $97.7 million for her "Speak Now" tour, which visited 59 cities for 80 performances.

The rest of the Top 5 for the continent are country superstar Kenny Chesney, who grossed $84.6 million, Lady Gaga ($63.7 million), and the previous year's touring crown winner Bon Jovi. The New Jersey rock band registered $57.1 million during 34 shows in 27 cities, down from $108.2 million in 2010 racked up during a more intensive year of touring that logged 51 shows in 38 cities.

Rounding out the Top 10 are Elton John ($51.8 million), Sade ($48.6 million), Kanye West and Jay-Z's "The Throne" tour ($48.3 million), Lil Wayne ($44.4 million), and Celine Dion ($41.2 million).

Overall Pollstar's preliminary figures for the Top 25 tours showed total gross ticket revenue of $1.19 billion, down about 4 percent from the $1.24 billion tallied in 2010 in North America. Worldwide, the figures were nearly identical year to year at $2.1 billion.

"Although the overall dollar volume was down in 2011, the industry fared much better doing fewer shows and taking a more cautious approach in its objectives," Pollstar editor Gary Bongiovanni said in a statement issued along with the revenue figures. Pollstar's complete report on the Top 200 tours of the year is scheduled to be released Thursday.

Close behind U2 on the worldwide tour gross rankings was Take That, the former teen pop band from England that reunited for a hugely successful tour across the U.K. and Europe. The group, which was the springboard to fame for singer Robbie Williams, brought in $224 million from 35 shows in 17 cities.

Bon Jovi ranks third worldwide with a total gross of $148.8 million, followed by Swift at $104.2 million, and former Pink Floyd singer-bassist Roger Waters at $103.6 million.

Filling out the worldwide Top 10 are John ($102.7 million), Rihanna ($90 million), Chesney ($84.6 million), Sade ($83.3 million), and Paul McCartney ($79.2 million).

Pollstar's figures are closely, but not precisely, matched by Billboard's year-end box-office tally, which takes a slightly different time period into account. Pollstar's numbers are collected across the calendar year while Billboard measured results from Nov. 1, 2010 to Nov. 8, 2011.

According to Billboard, the five highest-grossing tours worldwide were U2 ($293.3 million), Bon Jovi ($192.9 million), Take That ($185.2 million), Waters ($149.9 million), and Swift ($97.4 million).

In an area of the music business historically dominated by superstar acts from the '60s, '70s and '80s, this year fully half the acts that finished among Pollstar's Top 10, as well as throughout the Top 25, started their careers in the 1990s or later. That's a positive sign for the future health of the concert business, as many promoters have worried whether new acts will emerge to take over when top-grossing veteran acts such as the Rolling Stones, McCartney, John, and the Eagles bring their touring days to an end.

Still, in the short term many of those same promoters, as well as fans, are looking forward to 2012 for recently announced tours by long-running acts including Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band, which will be touring for the first time since the death this year of saxophonist Clarence Clemons, and the reunited Beach Boys, touring next year with all surviving original members, including creative mastermind Brian Wilson. Madonna also has said she will return to the road next year, and the Rolling Stones have all but confirmed they will be back out playing arenas, amphitheaters, and stadiums in 2012.

Other developments that will be viewed as encouraging are the two hip-hop tours that made the Top 10 in North America. Hip-hop acts historically have struggled at the box office, but with two of the genre's kingpins -- West and Jay-Z -- teaming for nearly three dozen concert stops, in addition to a heavy slate of 71 shows in 70 cities for New Orleans rapper Lil Wayne, rap posted stronger-than-usual results last year.



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