Definitely Maybe, the title of Oasis' first album, is probably a good description of the fortunes, reputation, and popularity of Manchester's favorite brothers. In the US, the band has often struggled to gain the same huge success they have achieved in the UK and across Europe. Yet, if recent stadium shows in the UK — in support of Don't Believe The Truth — are anything to go by, the Gallagher brothers look set to take their 14 dates in North America by storm.
At The Rose Bowl, Southampton, England, the clouds hung heavily over a waiting crowd — something not unexpected. “It's been very challenging with the weather conditions that we have had,” explains lighting designer/programmer Andi Watson as we looked toward the stage at two of the large Barco D7 video screens temporarily lowered to the ground due to gusting winds. “It has rained an awful lot everywhere we have been. When it tips it down with rain, and all your lights get full of water, it doesn't really help.”
With the summer sun setting around 9:30pm, and Oasis onstage at 8:30pm, a bit of cloud could only be a good thing, enabling Watson's huge rig to create the magic. “The overall design context of the show is to look very simple, very basic and clean,” he says. “It's all very strong images. I see my job as creating an environment for the band to perform in.”
The band had requested that the look of the lighting be retro, old school, or in other words, PAR can centric, something that Watson was happy to go along with while updating the look by replacing bars of four PARs with bars of four Martin MAC 2000s, a rig element Watson refers to as quads. “I didn't want to go back to a massive PAR can rig, so I designed groups of four MAC 2000 Washes and Performances, which are on custom built sub-frames with James Thomas Engineering Pixel Line 1044s built into them along with Percelli lights and strobes. Those four lamps are then set up, a lot of the time, as fans, so they sort of replicate bars of four. The 12 quads are one of the main elements of the design,” he details.
Out front, hanging from the advance truss, sit 12 Martin MAC Performances and 11 MAC 2000 Washes interspersed with a collection of Molefays helping to keep the wanderings of front man Liam Gallagher illuminated. More Molefays are situated between the quads, with the addition of color changers, while another line sits on the floor facing downstage to backlight the band. Upstage, additional MAC 2000 Washes light the cyc with the help of more strobes. For the stadium shows, Watson has also included several side trusses running from upstage to downstage on each of which are hung eight MAC Performances. Atop the PA wings, on either side of the stage, hang audience trusses rigged with six MAC 2000 Washes per side, while another six per side sit on the floor. Finally, the obligatory audience blinders complete the out-front line up but are focused close to the front of the stage. “I like to get all the crowd involved not just the bit down the middle, but I want all the energy to come from the stage area,” explains Watson.
With such a huge amount of moving lights, surely the temptation to just continuously move them is almost overwhelming — a temptation that a broad range of lighting designers and operators fail to overcome. Watson feels he takes a more measured approach. “They do move, but they move for effects rather than just randomly moving over the top,” he says. “I don't tend to move moving lights as much as a lot of other people. They move between verses and chorus, but they are not the kind of band where lights need to just move randomly.”
Nestling on stage, among the 150 MACs, are four trusses loaded with 12 Syncrolite SX3Ks between them, which, along with the quads, are all controlled by a Kinesys Motor Management system, operated by two dedicated crew members.
While working on the design, Watson consulted further with the band and discovered Noel Gallagher's desire to incorporate some of the design elements found in the band's own studio, one of which is Christmas tree lights. “Obviously, if you take normal Christmas tree lights and put them on a stage in a stadium, you won't see them, so we are using a combination of sort of industrial Christmas tree lights and baby festoons,” Watson says.
Along with the lighting, the band had used a deep base red color carpet on the walls of the studio to aid soundproofing and dampen the sound, which inspired Watson to cover the sides of all the trusses with a similar deep red velvet drape and expand it to include the cyc and upstage to downstage cloths. The all-encompassing velvet makes the stage look striking from the moment the kabuki hits the floor, and the band takes to the stage.
Back out on the front truss, one of Watson's old tricks keeps enough light on the band without being obtrusive. “The band doesn't like followspots, so I have used something that I use on a lot of my tours, which are beamlights [Wybron Super Beam 1200s] with 15” conventional color scrollers, and they are operated by spot-ops, but the color and intensity is controlled from the desk,” he says. “You get very unobtrusive light from the lanterns, and because they have such a narrow beam, you don't need them to be that bright. What you get is just the band being lit — very important because of the amount of cameras we have on the show every night. We can light the band in a very controlled way, but it is not invasive to the performance.”
At the front of house control position, the scale of the lighting production is obvious with two Flying Pig Systems Wholehog® 2s, complete with wings, linked via MIDI running a total of nine DMX universes with one of the Hog outputs overdriven to provide the extra universe. For a retro show, the control position makes it look exactly the opposite. “Even though the show is designed to look clean, it is very complicated to make that happen,” Watson says.
The two Wholehog control systems have certainly made some programming more complicated, so we wondered why Watson decided to go down this route rather than choosing a console that could run the show as one unit. “There are desks we could have put the entire system on, but I just felt that looking at the options and after discussing them with various other people, there wasn't a desk I felt happy using that had the reliability and quality of the control,” he says. “There are several desks that do have the facilities, but I am either not familiar with them, or I don't think they are sufficiently developed. They will be good desks, but they are not there at the moment.”
One Wholehog 2 has worked well for the smaller arena shows, which can be operated on just one desk. Ultimately, the second console runs just the extra channels for the stadium shows.
But the control system does not get any simpler from here, far from it. Running alongside and controlled by the Wholehogs is PixelMAD software allowing graphics, textures, and video to be mapped across the Pixel Line units onstage in conjunction with a High End System Catalyst™ system to provide full motion video to the four independently controlled 9' Barco D7 video screens. “For some of the cues, we are using the same files on the Pixel Line that we are using for the video screens, so we actually have video playing through them effectively. There are three video sequences, which come from the video team; all the rest of the stuff gets cued — verse, chorus, and timing — all through the desks. Effectively, we are running two systems: one for the Pixel Line and one for the screens,” he explains.
It was crucial to the design that what was on the screens worked seamlessly with the lighting. While video has been a part of Oasis' live shows for other tours, Watson, as creative director, decided to mesh all visual elements even more. “I wanted to continue that relationship but, at the same time, try to integrate it completely so that set, lights, media content, and live video work in harmony to create a coherent visual environment for the band's performance,” he says.
In order to have someone looking after practical aspects of running the video, Watson brought in Justine Caterall to be overall producer for the video content. “Justine, [director] Dick Carruthers, and I then pulled in different artists — notably Pip Rhodes and Julia Hesselberg who created several pieces each — with their own areas of expertise to fulfill the various briefs for songs,” Watson says.
With such a large and potentially complex system, Watson was happy and full of praise for his operator, Rob Gawler. “He is great. I have complete confidence in him,” he says. With Watson due to leave the tour to continue with work he had previously booked, Gawler will take the reigns of the 10 crew members from PRG, who also supplied the lighting equipment.
With the three opening acts finished and following a brief downpour, the clouds broke, the video screens were raised, and the setting sun eased its way through the mottled clouds, creating a static effect even Watson's arsenal of MACs couldn't compete with. “I don't believe it,” he says with a grin.