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Guitars on Broadway: Book of Mormon, Rock of Ages, and Spider-Man: Turn off the Dark

Guitars on Broadway: Book of Mormon, Rock of Ages, and Spider-Man: Turn off the Dark

Spider-Man: Turn off the Dark

Anytime a comic-book hero makes the leap to screen or stage, you can count on plenty of attention, both good and bad. Add in half of one of the biggest bands in the world, and it gets even bigger. Such was definitely the case with Spider-Man: Turn off the Dark. But though it got some flack early on, it’s now performing to sell-out crowds every week. The show was scored by U2’s Bono and the Edge, and by all accounts they were very particular, down to the minutest details.

“In general, you don’t have to audition for Broadway shows,” says guitarist Matt Beck. “The contractor knows a bunch of musicians and then chooses the right person for the gig.” But it was essential to both Bono and the Edge to pick players who projected the right vibe and style for their music.

When music contractor Antoine Silverman conducted auditions, he contacted several guitarists, including Beck and Ben Butler. The Edge had requested that the guitarists use a Fender Telecaster and an Epiphone Casino, so Beck brought those to the audition and played through two songs from the show, as well as one U2 song. “I played with a live drummer and bassist, and the whole thing was videotaped so Bono and Edge could pick from it later. Dallas Schoo [the Edge’s guitar tech] was onsite with a Vox AC30, a Line 6 DM4 [Distortion Modeler], and a Line 6 DL4 [Delay Modeler],” says Beck. Because Schoo was dialing in the sounds, Bono and the Edge were able focus more on playing than each applicant’s tone.

Butler went through the same audition process and scored the gig despite never having played Broadway before. “I was sent some songs to learn, including the U2 hit ‘Vertigo,’ but when we got there they played us different versions of the same songs, which made it tricky.”

The third guitarist to join the Spider-Man guitar army was Zane Carney, who landed the gig through a more traditional route: His brother Reeve—who fronts the originals band that Zane plays guitar in (called simply Carney)—had landed the lead role, and he suggested Zane be brought aboard, too. Pretty soon, their whole band got in on the action. “A few months later while we were on tour, they asked us to come to New York to see if we could read music and be versatile enough,” says Zane. Eventually, drummer Jon Epcar and bassist Aiden Moore were also offered spots in the show’s core rhythm section.

Once the guitarists were in place, it was time to gear up for more than two hours of music. Before rehearsals officially started, the whole team met in the studio to record and work on the constantly changing material. “The tricky thing was that we had to learn from Edge’s own demos, and then we recorded our versions at different times in different studios,” says Butler. “Then they gave us the charts for David Campbell’s orchestrations—which changed everything again.” During rehearsals, the guitarists took note of things the Edge and Bono liked—including what type of pick to use on certain songs—so that they could be added to the score later.

Spider-Man: Turn off the Dark Gear

Matt Beck
Epiphone Casino, Fender Custom Shop Telecaster, custom Rickenbacker
Ben Butler
DJerry Jones Baritone, custom Rickenbacker 12-string, Taylor GS Mini
Zane Carney
Gibson Explorer, Taylor 314ce, Fender Custom Shop Telecaster

Fractal Audio Axe-Fx

Strings and Picks
Matt Beck
D’Addario EXL115s (.011-.049), Elixir Nanoweb 12102s (.011-.049), Fender medium celluloid picks, Herdim medium picks (turned around so the dimples scrape the strings)
Ben Butler
D’Addario EXL110s (.010-.046), Elixir Nanoweb phosphor-bronze 16102s (.013-.056), Fender medium celluloid picks, Dunlop Tortex medium picks
Zane Carney
D’Addario EXL115s (.011-.049), Martin Phosphor Bronze (.012-.054), Dunlop Tortex 1mm picks, Herdim medium picks

Spider-Man’s official opening was delayed several times before finally opening in June 2011, but now that the crew has more than 500 performances in the can, trying to keep the same intensity day after day can be a struggle. As a rule, Broadway musicians are allowed to sub up to 50 percent of their shows, and the same applies for Spider-Man. “The hardest thing is to play with the same amount of vigor as when we started,” says Beck. “Thankfully, each player is allowed to have subs,” Beck says, “so we can take off if we ever feel the need to have a break, do another gig, or even tour.”

Carney adds, “Getting through the 80-plus-hour workweeks for six months while staying professional and bringing 100 percent every day with legends like Bono and Edge present was a really great way to learn how to dig even deeper.”

For Butler, digging deeper means learning how to relax, focus on the music, and remind himself that live art always has its good and bad moments. “It’s very easy to do things to keep your mind occupied [between numbers]—read, play chess, check out vintage guitars on eBay—but if you get distracted and miss an entrance or something, that snaps you right back to sharp focus. I try to just go into a Zen mode and remember that no two shows are the same and just watch the conductor and play.”

Despite the convenience of the aforementioned scheduling flexibility, it goes both ways. “Spider-Man has been through so many changes before finally opening,” Beck says. “There’ve been different musicians in the band at different times … the band was onstage at one point, then not, then on again—and finally not. The list goes on and on, and the easier you can roll with the punches, the less stressed you’ll be.”

As for the music itself, Butler says many people are surprised by how little it resembles what they’re used to hearing from Bono and the Edge. “It’s much more varied than U2.” Beck says he plays parts more than he does riffs, which allows more of the signature Edge sound to come through. “I feel like my parts are more vibe-y and ethereal— you might not notice them in the mix of everything but you’d feel something was missing if they were gone. I do a lot of EBow, a lot of swell-y, shimmering sounds. And, of course, a nice dose of the dotted-eighth- note delay thing.”

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