“The Lights Will Inspire You”
Lighting designer Patrick Dierson, who is also the lighting op for this tour and has worked with the artist for several years, says he came on early in the planning process to ensure cohesion between video and lighting, as well as “to make certain that this monstrosity would be able to realistically tour on what would inevitably be a challenging routing schedule. All of us were very excited about what UVA had proposed,” he says, noting that the designers, artist’s management, and the production management teams (including tour manager Randy Buzzelli and production manager Bryon “Hot Dog” Tate) were all consulted on the early design concepts. “Nobody is left out because the higher-ups appreciate the fact that everyone has challenges to overcome when putting together a production of this caliber, and, in the end, we’re all able to overcome those challenges earlier in the process.” Dierson adds that Jay-Z’s business partner (who prefers to remain nameless) is “truly the one that drives the boat from start to finish, and he’s ultimately the man that pushes the big ideas of how the show will look.”

The lighting team researched new technology and decided to go with fewer quantities and a large range of different products to get the most variety and impact. Dierson says he wanted to create layered looks, but he also had to fill in a lot of the negative spaces left by the screen setup. “We really wanted to take the multileveled look of the set and expand it upward with the lighting rig,” he says.

Alongside the cityscape’s hard edges, the lighting, provided by Atomic Lighting, follows suit. “As a general rule of thumb, we rarely like to be forced into having negative space on stage,” says Dierson. “I’m a huge fan of not turning everything on at the same time, but personally, I like to decide when negative space will happen.” The rig includes groups of 10' pod trusses hung individually, each pod comprising two Coemar Infinity XL wash units—the predominant wash unit on the rig—two Martin Professional MAC III Profile fixtures, and three Martin Atomic 3000 strobes with color scrollers.

Dierson notes that he has seen a trend lately in the lack of great fixture patterns used, due to the combination of low intensity fixtures and bright video screens. “The majority of fixtures on the market simply can’t compete with the brightness, and I was really getting dejected by the idea of doing yet another run without being able to get some beautiful gobo looks,” he says, adding that using the MAC III Profiles allow him to “slice through massive intensity on the stage, with noticeable reactions from the camp, including the boss himself, a man usually of very few words.”

Dierson also designed custom fixture arrays, dubbed the “Jay Arrays,” that hang vertically behind the video cityscape and were created by Tait Towers. The pentagon-shaped brackets each hold five Elation Design Wash LED Pro units. “In traditional Tait fashion, they added some wonderful functionality in that they have continuous extension poles similar to the traditional stirrups that you find in broadcast studios,” says Dierson. “These allow us to down-rig them at various heights and get them to fit perfectly within the scenic design. Tait Towers and Atomic Lighting did an amazing job collaborating on the design build of these by integrating all of the cabling for the fixtures so that they just get loaded onto set carts as a completely pre-rigged array.”

An additional upstage truss—downstage of the Jay Arrays and upstage of the truss pods— houses 12 additional Coemar Infinity XLs, 12 Vari-Lite VL3000 Spots, and two Sony cameras for I-Mag. For even more layering, Coemar Infinity ACL units are used in the stage deck. “We’ve traditionally used 3,000W Xenon fixtures on the stage for Jay, but, in the past, we’ve had much more stage space to work with,” says Dierson. “We basically needed something small that packed a punch, and little did I know that you could get so much power out of a fixture with literally ten times less wattage. More importantly, these don’t burn the band gear or band members.”

Dierson says his workhorses are the Main Light MF3s, which are used for audience blinders —“a bit of an unsung hero on these shows,” he notes. “Audience light is a huge part of the Jay-Z shows in that there is so much call-and-response within his songs. He also loves to see the crowd. The MF3s can be pixel-mapped directly through the grandMA via its bitmap effects function. It allows us to run very basic imagery through the units’ LEDs while being able to override the effect and do big blinding pushes where appropriate.”

Dierson preprogrammed the show at Prelite using ESP Vision and then had three days with the actual rig. All lighting playback is done live without SMPTE timecode and run on another grandMA, independent of the video setup. “This is a departure from how I normally work these days, where all consoles are networked and working off the same show file, but it is absolutely the correct choice in this application,” says Dierson. “The daily production changes, last-minute set list changes, and hectic cueing playback would inevitably leave us stepping on each other at some point if we were working in a networked environment.”

Dierson also has a MIDI percussion pad with eight individual pads that can trigger various playbacks on the grandMA. “This allows us to playback some of the more percussive songs with drumsticks as opposed to just hitting buttons,” he says. “I’m hoping that, on this tour, it turns into what the original intention was: so our VIP guests can join in the show by playing along to some of the songs via the MIDI pads.”

As far as challenges, Dierson notes that “Jay is relatively forgiving about the followspots when it comes to him. My nervous moments always come whenever ‘the Mrs.’ [Beyoncé] is making a surprise appearance. On some lucky nights, she will pop on stage for a quick cameo, and those are usually the evenings when I’m given the heads-up from Jay along with a playful warning to not mess it up.”

As for the final product, Dierson calls it “totally cohesive, despite the fact that so much complex cueing is happening on two desks. It can certainly be argued that this is the way shows had been done for decades before networked technology was an everyday part of production, but it’s never been this technically complex before and is thus rather impressive.”

Additional vendors for the tour include staging by All Access and
rigging/trussing by Jax Logistics.