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GEEK SQUAD TO THE RESCUE TECH 'AGENT' KEEPS U2 HUMMIN'.

Byline: Brent Hopkins Staff Writer

Brawny roadies lug huge equipment cases across the floor and guitar techs strum their instruments as a slim man purposefully totes a silver laptop.

Joshua Kapellen is clearly different from the rest of the 80 grizzled crew members setting up U2's massive and complex Vertigo show, which will play the second date of a two-night stand in Los Angeles this evening.

They've got tattoos, long hair and the rough look of men who spend their lives sleeping in the back of buses. He's got a badge that proudly labels him a geek.

But on a tech-heavy tour such as this, that once insulting term's an honor. If the light show busts, Kapellen gets the call. When Bono can't get his e-mail, it's Josh whose BlackBerry buzzes.

``You've got the biggest band in the world on the biggest tour in the world and everything we do has technology,'' Kapellen said during a brief break at Tuesday's setup. ``Even the construction techs - hammer-and-nail guys - have two iPods and a laptop. They're always begging me to put a wireless network on their truck.''

Kapellen, an aerospace engineer by training, didn't come by this gig easily. He works for the Best Buy Geek Squad, whose members normally spend their time setting up office networks and servicing crashed laptops but is under contract with the tour to provide technical services. After five years with the Squad and attaining the title of Special Agent of Information Technology, he put his job in the research and development department on hold to go on the road with his favorite band last February.

And for a guy used to dealing with computer emergencies rather than the crazy complications of the road, it's been an interesting adjustment. In Toronto, he was up 44 straight hours setting up and troubleshooting. He spent his 28th birthday pulling apart the components of the band's signature video projection and getting it running on an off-day. In Dallas, he gashed his arm during setup, leaving a screaming red line from biceps to forearm.

That came not long after he knocked himself cold on the tour bus prior to a show.

``I'm on call 24/7, day off or not,'' Kapellen said. ``It's not rare for me to get a call at 12:30 in the middle of the night. And if someone's got a problem, sure, I come on down and fix it.''

This is a far cry from the old days of touring, where a high-tech fix involved duct taping electrical cords together and praying no one got electrocuted. There are laptops everywhere and more flat screen monitors than a sports bar. To get every phone plugged in and wireless Internet network secured, Kapellen rolls around through the stadium's labyrinthine corridors on a Razor scooter.

The calls for his assistance are frequent - and urgent.

``I'm on my 33rd phone in three years, my seventh BlackBerry in seven months and my third computer on this tour,'' said Tommy Whitelaw, the band's global merchandising manager. ``Josh being on this tour has changed everything for me. I've learned more from him this past year than I did in the last 12.''

After nine months and multiple countries, Kapellen's still not sure if the road life's the one for him. Though it's pretty comfortable in the bus - he wired the lounge for DVD surround sound and an Xbox game system - he's still getting used to getting some sleep with just his arms and a folding table for his pillow and bed. Even so, he can't imagine missing a chance to help guitarist The Edge get his Apple PowerBook working again.

``I thought about it,'' Kapellen said. ``And said that I'd kick myself if I had the chance to go out with U2, the only band I liked enough to buy every one of their albums and I didn't do it.''

Brent Hopkins, (818) 713-3738

brent.hopkins(at)dailynews.com

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2 photos

Photo:

(1 -- 2 -- color) Joshua Kapellen of Best Buy's Geek Squad, above, talks about his work on the U2 tour as preparations are made for the band's appearance at Staples Center. At top, Kapellen wears his 'badge' as he helps with the band's technical needs.

Evan Yee/Staff Photographer
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Title Annotation:Business
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Nov 2, 2005
Words:709
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