When you design for a band that's been together for 20 years, the challenge to give the audience something new is formidable. When that band is Bon Jovi the challenge is overwhelming. Bon Jovi is a live performance band and the fans go to every tour, so designers JUSTIn Collie and Doug “Spike” Brandt, of artfag LLC, took a unique approach to give Bon Jovi's current Bounce tour a fresh feel.

Collie and Brandt began working together in the mid-1990s. Their first big concert gig was for Korn, on the inaugural Family Values tour. Since then, they've established themselves as innovative designers, forming the company artfag in 2001. They don't see themselves as LDs per se, explains Collie: “Our approach is to try and create performance environments — rather than be called lighting designers, we use ‘performance environment design.’” The concept is, he says, “The concert should be one event, communicating one idea from the band onstage. It should be all one environment. It is the merger of set and lights and everything else around the band.”

In the case of Bounce, says Collie, “This is our third tour with the band. We start by talking with the client; Jon Bon Jovi is very involved in the process. We send ideas back and forth. The idea for Bounce was to get a message out globally — the satellite dishes.” Thus the design features three towering satellite dishes placed upstage of the band. “Each dish is almost 26' in diameter and the tower base is around 23' high,” says Collie. The dishes were built by Tait Towers, the obvious choice, says Pat Brannon, Bon Jovi's longtime lighting director. “If you want something of that size you have to go to Tait Towers,” he adds.

The dishes are not just static set pieces, however; they serve as innovative video and graphics screens, an extension of artfag's whole-environment concept. This line of thought also led to the inclusion of lasers on the gear list. “It seemed appropriate to use lasers for the idea of digital transmission and to give the impression of stuff flowing out of the dishes,” says Collie. The tour uses five laser units from Production Design International Inc. of Ontario, Canada, according to laser technician Gordon Hum. The five units include two Spectra Physics 171 white-light lasers and three Melles Griot DPSS YAGs, built into Production Design projectors. Laser operator John Popowycz controls them through DMX, using Pangolin Laser Software. The lasers represent the flow of information around the globe; the two white-light units allow the audience to see more than the usual green laser beam since they emit a range of colors. Popowycz adds, “The lasers aren't overused. It is really a nice mix in the overall design. There are very few repeated looks.”

The Bounce tour also offers a new twist on an old favorite, the star drop. In this case, instead of a fiber curtain it's a custom-built LED drop from England. “Spike and I like to use the star drop as an easy device to create depth,” says Collie. “The star drop is always a moment — almost cheap applause, but it is always fun,” he adds. Brandt laughs, “We are the star-drop guys. If artfag is starting to get attached to anything it is probably the star drop. It is a great prop and is very effective. This one is so much brighter than [a fiber curtain]; you can get these deep, rich colors and it looks great on camera.” The drop is controlled via DMX from the show's LSD Icon Console. Brannon points out only one wrinkle with the effect so far. “In Japan they don't use a ground, so sometimes we would get a little jerk in the fade, but other than that it has worked perfectly.”

On the gear list, many of the usual suspects are represented (see equipment box, page 54). Speaking of the Icon Console, Brannon says, “It's the desk I have been using for 10 years. I love it; it's user-friendly. It really does a great job.” The equipment package for the tour has been provided by LSD/Fourth Phase of Los Angeles, a longtime supplier to Bon Jovi tours. “LSD has always been super-good to me,” says Brannon. “I can't say enough about them. They work well with me, they give me what I need to keep running smooth. The tour support has been immaculate.” Also supplying the tour is Syncrolite. Jimmy Page Henderson, of that company, says, “They have 14 SX3K units and one spare for the US leg, and in Europe we will add 12 more units. Greg Kocurek is the technician for the gear and it has been going very well; we are fortunate to have really good people working for us.”

The unified look of Bounce reflects the way Collie and Brandt work together. According to Collie, “In a partnership, you have a sounding board, someone else you can discuss design ideas with. The partnership really opens up the process a lot. You become braver because you have someone to tell you if you are crazy. Because of that, you push the envelope further. The design process is something we do together; we discuss the design, the concept, and then, when we know the direction we want to go in, one of us will take the lead.” The lead designer on Bounce was Brandt; however, he quickly points out, “It really is all artfag. There is no separation between JUSTIn and me in the design.”

Whoever takes the lead, Brandt adds, “On every tour there are certain parameters that are defined for us, whether budgetary, physical size, or if there are elements from the past that the band wants to reuse. So you have those building blocks and then JUSTIn and I strive to make each show as unique as possible, even though certain things in design are fundamental and you often come back to the same place to a certain extent. We take great pains not to rehash or just modify things but to end up with a unique show.”

It's a process that works well, says Brannon. “I can't emphasize enough what talented individuals they both are,” says Brannon. “The three of us have a fantastic work relationship. We all think the same way, and when someone sees something, everyone is open to the other. It is really a perfect scenario out here.” Brandt agrees: “Pat makes the show; without Pat it would be a completely different deal. We rely heavily on him for his knowledge of the band, Jon, and the music. Everything that JUSTIn and I do, Pat is fully involved with as a member of the team.” Brannon has been with Bon Jovi for every tour except the first major tour, for Slippery When Wet. “This is the third Bon Jovi tour for Spike and JUSTIn and they work well with this band.”

Brannon is based in Tennessee but hasn't seen home in a while. The Bounce tour finished its American leg in April, having already been to Japan, and it heads to Europe this month. There may be another US leg this summer and dates have already been set in August for Giants Stadium, in the band's home state of New Jersey. Brannon enjoys touring with the group and has a lot of returning friends on the crew. “My crew is seven guys, and most of them have been with at least three of the tours. They are a great group and it is a luxury to work with them.”

The Bounce tour may be a shining example of artfag's performance environment design concept. It is a well-integrated show that highlights the ideas of the music and the band without overwhelming or upstaging them. Brannon says, “I'm really having a good time running this one and it just keeps getting tighter and tighter. I am more satisfied with this tour and the outcome than any before.”

Contact the author at keddy2900@hotmail.com.

BON JOVI BOUNCE WORLD TOUR 2003

Lighting Suppliers
LSD/Fourth Phase Los Angeles
Syncrolite
Production Design International Inc.

Lighting Equipment

52 Martin MAC 2000 Spot luminaires
53 Martin MAC 2000 Wash luminaires
28 High End Systems Studio Beams
14 Coemar Super Cycs
30 9-light Molefays
30 Wybron CXI 9-light color-mixing scrollers
6 Wybron CXI 10" color-mixing scrollers
6 Robert Juliat Heloise short-throw followspots
24 Color Kinetics ColorBlast 12s
21 Diversitronics 3000 strobes
3 ETC 48x2kW dimmer racks
1 LSD Icon Console
1 control system for LED fixtures
29 8' sections A-type truss
16 10' sections A-type truss
16 A-type hinge units
1 5' section A-type truss
1 2' section A-type truss
4 8' sections auto truss
1 12'-diameter A-type truss circle
4 sections of 40' A-type truss circle
15 Syncrolite SX3Ks
2 Spectra Physics 171 white-light lasers
3 Melles Griot DPSS YAG lasers