April 1, 2017 Michael

The Floor is Going to Collapse: INXS’s Last Filmed Show With Michael Hutchence

The Wheeler Opera House in Aspen Colorado had production offices under the floor right in front of the stage. As I found out in February of 1997 the floor (or ceiling depending on where you were) does not safely support hundreds of people jumping up and down.

Why were they jumping up and down? Well, here is where the story starts…

Looking back now, I realized how incredibly lucky I was during the 90’s to have worked at VH1. The channel for what ever it’s failings were, was committed to music at a time when music was about to enter a very different era. Digital meant very little in 1997, and the notion of music from a computer was not really on many radars.

1997 was my last year at VH1 as a fulltime employee and while my career was about to ascend I still got to shoot many interesting gigs for them. Series like “Storytellers,” big live specials like “Divas” and cool concerts like “INXS Rocks the Rockies!”(which very indirectly lead to my Directing “RockstarINXS” for CBS eight years later, but that’s another story).

The INXS concert was fairly straightforward – it would be a one-hour special to air a few weeks after I shot it. The budget was, as I remember about 200K, low, but doable, partly because the Producer/Director was staff and thus free (me).

The concert would be taped at the Wheeler Opera House in Aspen Colorado to go with a VH1 affiliate/advertiser get away, which is a combination vacation/blow job to the lucky invitees. VH1 was of course a cultural juggernaut in 1997, cynicism aside, we had “Behind the Music,” “Storytellers,” “Divas Live” (oh that didn’t happen until 1998… well we had “Pop Up Video” and we had lots of arrogance from our upper management, particularly from the top of upper management). Plus, we were in fucking Aspen, Colorado and I could ski and then shoot a concert with the very fun and visual INXS.

I got into Aspen about a week before the shoot, because I needed to see how my skiing ability was, and much to my surprise, a few private lessons later I was decent on the blue slopes.

As far as the show, INXS could not have been better to work with or have better accents. They were totally down with my concept to put a ton of ripped up posters on the upstage brick wall and light and go! Raw, and to the point. We got to the Wheeler to remove the first ten rows of seats and have an area for the fans (some were allowed in from the town) to mosh, or dance or simply jump up and down in front of the stage. INXS requested one more thing, a ladder leading up to the first opera box be left intact. I would see why during the song “Devil Inside.”

Well all was going great, I had a small, but “A” crew and staff with me and everything was pretty damned perfect. The band arrived from Australia about four days prior to the taping to acclimate to the 14K ft. altitude. They also took a small camera (by 1997’s definition of a small camera) and shot great behind the scenes stuff with the band and their crew, including some really moving and genuine moments with Michael Hutchence, who a few months later tragically took his own life.

The day prior to taping, the band loaded into the Wheeler, and I got to know them a little better. They were an incredibly cool bunch of people. Cool in the sense of being funny, nice, talented, and who just happened to have sold 55 million records.

Their lead singer was Michael Hutchence, who brimmed charisma without trying. I was sitting in the opera house with the INXS manager, and Michael was coming on and off stage with different outfit choices. All I could think was “I’m witnessing a bonafide fucking rock star.” One shirt choice was a black lace top, which was so cool, and so only cool on a rock star.

We did a sound check/rehearsal during the day and about 15 minutes into the band going full throttle on stage, the Production Manager comes in the truck and tells me the ceiling of the production office, which was right under the front of the stage was vibrating quite a bit. I looked at him and said something to the effect of, “I don’t care, it’s a rock concert.” I may have added some off color language, which in those days I did on occasion (if anyone reads this who knows me you might be rolling your eyes … noted).

Rehearsal ended, and next was the show to shoot in about 3 hours. Now the time after a rehearsal and prior to the actual taping often is a time of nervousness, pacing and not eating. That night I was feeling so pumped and relatively stress free that I ate, laughed, and generally enjoyed myself.

For whatever reason sometimes TV shows just take on a life of themselves and as the Director you just go along for the ride. INXS “Rocks the Rockies” was such a TV concert. It simply was amazing start to finish. The band was loose and tight all at the same time, they were so happy to be up there and the audience could not have been more engaged. The show felt intimate but it also felt like a real fucking rock show.

Of the many moments I remember, the one which still stands out to me 18 years later was the performance of “Devil Inside” – Remember the ladder leading up to an opera box? Well, Michael used it and sang half the song from there. The placement of the jib could not have been better- the shot speaks for itself.

Oh yes, you were wondering about the floor, yes that floor which was on top of the Production Office that started to crack. Apparently the Wheeler Opera House never tested its strength when several hundred people are bouncing on it and music is played at about 105 decimals, but by song 3 of the show, I sensed a panic about me. I didn’t stop directing, I was in it, nothing short of an electrical failure would get my head out of the monitors I was staring at, but I was also “Producer” and knew that there would be a discussion about this after we wrapped.

There was that discussion where I was told the floor cracked to the point that everyone in the production office needed to get the fuck out. They solved the impending disaster by literally installing 10 2’by4’s and propped the fucker up. No one got hurt and I got one great rock n roll story to tell.

Looking back now, I realized how incredibly lucky I was during the 90’s to have worked at VH1. The channel for what ever it’s failings were, was committed to music at a time when music was about to enter a very different era. Digital meant very little in 1997, and the notion of music from a computer was not really on many radars.

For that one night in Aspen it didn’t matter.

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