From the moment each performance on Garbage's Bleed Like Me tour opens, it's clear that what follows isn't quite your standard gig. Johnny Cash's version of the Nine Inch Nails song, “Hurt” plays over the PA as the house lights gradually dim. About halfway through the song, Butch Vig, Steve Marker, Duke Erikson, and Shirley Manson take their places on stage without any fanfare.
“Over the course of making this record, the band went through the things that really make great records. They broke up, and their personal turmoil absolutely echoes within this piece of work,” explains Butch Allen, Garbage's production manager and lighting designer/director. “The first time I heard this Johnny Cash song, I was just drawn to it. He was in the last throes of his life, and every time you listen to it, you're almost in tears. For two years, that's what this band kind of did to each other, so it really fits. I felt the opening of the show should be really soft and gentle but still a little on the ominous side. When they come out, we barely put any light on them because the whole idea is to remind people they're here to listen.”
Of course, the lack of budget had some impact on the design as well. “We're using in-house systems that we don't augment; I do the whole show in about four colors, and I use four backwashes, a backwash of Lekos, and two front washes: a no-color and a red wash. And there's a lot of audience light (a la Metallica) as a tribute to John Broderick. I learned how important it is to break down the ‘fourth wall’ and bring the audience and band together as one from JB.”
Allen is reprising his roles as Garbage's production manager and lighting designer/director. And, because three titles are better than just two, he's also the video crew. He opted to bring along a Main Light Soft-LED™ curtain that hangs behind the band. “The curtain is super cool, and it fits in well with its low resolution,” Allen says. “The further away from it you are, the better it looks. Kind of like me! And on top of that, we drop it on the ground, fold up, and roll it into a tube. It goes into a road case and doesn't impact our truck at all.”
There are also four 40" Panasonic plasma TV screens in front of the curtain that provide contrast. “It's just a little bit of high-resolution reference for your eye that makes the entire giant screen make sense,” Allen explains. “Your eye fills in the blanks.”
This is Allen's first stab at using the High End Systems Catalyst™ Pro v3.3 media server. “I'm completely Madame Director now,” he says. “And I owe every single video person I've ever met an apology and a drink. I had no idea what was going on back there, but I do now. This video set up makes it very easy. It's a good ‘Video for Dummies’ course.”
Video director Sophie Muller, who directs Garbage's videos, supplied Allen with some content for specific songs. For others, he just picks up and manipulates some of the footage that comes with the media server. “If you're a regular arena concertgoer, you've seen this 100 times, but if you're going to club shows, you're not seeing this kind of technology,” Allen says. “The first time Shirley's eye comes up on the full screen, it's epic. So, it's proportional to what we're doing.”
Allen controls everything from High End Systems' new Hog® iPC console, which is making its touring debut here. His Metallica crewmate, Brad Schiller, also happens to be the director of console development at High End. “He told me that this new console would be coming out and showed me a prototype, which I just loved immediately. It's small, really fast, and it really fits a tour like us. I can just whip it out of its case, flip up the monitors, and we're up. It fits inside the booths in the clubs. I'm super impressed. If you know the Wholehog® 2, the Hog iPC console is like an old friend that's ‘had some work done’, in a good way. I live in L.A., so trust me on that. The new touchscreen monitors are very responsive. I run a great deal of our show on the fly, and it works really well. We're having a good time with it.”
XL Video is the tour's supplier. The extremely dedicated crew includes: Chad Zaemisch, Justin Crew, Billy Bush, Tom Abraham, Clay Hudson, and Jennifer Webb. “Everybody puts their hands on the gear and works hard,” Allen says. “And, of all the jobs I do, I've really found my place here. They're still the band they were, but they've got kind of a new sound this time out, and there's a whole different feel. So I look at the simple lighting approach and the video curtain, and it's like a whole new look, too. It serves all of our purposes and exceeds our expectations. We're just this little band of people out here running around and making something out of nothing daily, which is really fun.”
Garbage, currently touring in Europe, is planning more US dates later this year.