It not only takes two to tango, it takes two to create an amazing looking show for one of the hottest bands in the world. For Coldplay's recent Twisted Logic World Tour, longtime show designer Bryan Leitch and LD Nick Whitehouse conspired to create a look that was cinematic as well as evolutionary. Every song has a particularly distinct look, both in lighting and scenic elements, as per frontman Chris Martin's wishes. If the goal was to leave the audience wondering, “how'd they do that,” then mission accomplished. And it was all done with a relatively small rig that Leitch created and Whitehouse implemented on the road.
Leitch handled design duties during the rehearsal/development period as well re-lighting the show for differing show situations as required. He and Whitehouse have worked together for years on several projects. “He is a very talented chap who never fails to deliver the goods, so why do they need me on the bus?” Leitch says. “Nick has a big hand in the design — we work on all our joint projects as a two-handed equal team, with me doing arty stuff and him working out how to actually get it to work. That's a pretty fair assessment of how we do things.”
“Bryan knows where to put the lights and I know what to do with them, which works for us,” Whitehouse concurs. “He'll say, ‘Wouldn't it be cool if we tried this?’ And I'll program something and he'll say, ‘Yes, that's really good.’ We kind of work off of each other like that. Also, the lead singer, Chris Martin, often comes out and sits down with us and suggests ideas for us to try (for example: “What if you keep that movement but make it red?”) so we work on implementing them as well.”
For this tour, the band set specific ground rules for the show's overall look. “They wanted a really cinematic feel to the whole thing and something that, while quite impressive, didn't take away from the band at all,” Whitehouse explains. “They're not the type of band that needs a massive production to make them look good on stage.”
The production team only had about two days of rehearsals for the US leg of the tour. From night to night, the set list is not identical as the band members will change a few songs depending on what mood they're in. On the US leg, they added two or three new songs, which Whitehouse programmed on the road. “We had more time in the UK, but we did stadiums there. Over here we did arenas and sheds and just tried to improve on the show,” Whitehouse says. “It changed quite a lot, actually.”
The band wanted the show to have a very dynamic look, which required major scenic changes between songs, Leitch adds. “Bearing in mind that we were going into a huge diversity of venues,” he says, “it all had to work indoors, outdoors, and in various size of arenas. I thought the best way out of that would be to get as much dynamics out of each fixture.”
However, those dynamics are not meant to be seen by the audience. “Very rarely do we move anything during a song,” Leitch says. “It's not meant to be ‘look at how much movement we have here.’ It's about setting scenes and changing things in between songs so that when the look fires up again, it's something completely different from what they just saw, and nobody realizes where it's all gone or why you can suddenly see the back of the stage.”
The rig in the air is basically a 50' by 20' box. “Hanging from that we've got five moving trusses and 15 DeSisti Spider Pantographs, which are DMX-controlled and motorized, that we can drop in and out as well,” Whitehouse says. “The motion control is done by the Cyberhoist variable speed chain hoist system. It controls the moving trusses as well as the Lighthouse LED wall, which is 52' by 15' and moves up and down in the back as well. We very much wanted to be able to change the look of every song so that nothing was the same, so from there, we came up with all the moving pieces that we've got.” The Pantographs, custom made by DeSisti, are typically used in television studios to raise and lower fixtures without manpower.
Floor lighting includes ACLs integrated in the stage grille in front of the band as well as on the sides, three Studio Due 6K Dominators, four Syncrolites, two Lightning Strikes strobes, and eight (of 17) Martin Atomic Strobes. “The setup is all based on a series of curves, which makes it even wider than it actually is. It's a weird shape,” Whitehouse explains. “Then the LED screen moves from sitting on the floor or halfway up behind the lighting rig. When it's off, you can't see it anyway. There's no backdrop, so when we're in an arena, all the seats behind it are open, and we've got lights out there as well.”
The ACL bars on the floor are automated, which makes the rig change dramatically, making it look much bigger than it really is, according to Leitch. “When you look up in the air and see it, you wonder, ‘is that all there is?’” he explains. “The rig is actually slightly smaller in fixture count than when we last came to the US because we aimed for value for our money rather than just throwing hundreds of fixtures at it when it doesn't need it. I don't think there is a lot of virtue is spending an awful lot of the client's money needlessly. It should be part of our remix to protect their interest as much as possible, and they should not pay for one light they don't need.”
With a rig loaded with 41 SGM Giotto Spot 400 CMYs, 26 VARI*LITE VL3000™ Spots, six each of VL3000 Washes and AS fixtures, 16 Martin Atomic 3000 Strobes, 27 Molefays (in two-light and four-light configurations), four Studio Due CS4s, and the four Syncrolite SXB5/2s, Leitch says that there was no single lifesaver. “The saver of the whole thing is we have so many different light sources, temperatures, and types, and that adds to the illusion of there being much more than there actually is,” he says. “The SGM Giotto Spot 400 CMYs are an absolutely stunning piece of kit for the size of the lamp. They are so bright, they enabled us to get really fast moving trusses on the Cyberhoist. They come rocketing in and can withstand that because they're really well made. We've got a huge diversity of types and temperatures and dynamics within the lamps. The VL3000 Spot is still the best moving light in the world. It's everything the VL7 should've been. If you compare that with the 400 CMY, I would argue that it is as good but in other departments. It's incredibly fast and has incredible optics, and they really do complement each other.”
For the band's acoustic set that takes place downstage on the thrust, Leitch configured an antique to make it part of a 21st century rock show. “We have Mole Richardson 10K film lights, which are huge Fresnels. We had them reworked and took a modern reflector and a 5K source so they're brighter than the original 10K,” he explains, adding that the original fixtures were made in the 1950s. “We rehabbed them, but the band wanted them to look old so we completely refurbished them up to legal standards in terms of safety and performance. Essentially, we kept the aesthetics very old looking. If you saw them on the floor, you would think they were just junk the last tour left and deliberately so. The barn doors look like they're going to fall off. The idea is to look as old and tacky as possible.” The set is only lit by the 10Ks that come in on Pantographs. They sit there for three songs and then disappear, but they are brought in under the cover of darkness. “They come in with other things happening so you don't see the lamps arrive. The audience doesn't notice until they're faded up.”
To control everything, Whitehouse is using the Avolites Diamond IV console. “I like it because we can run so many universes out of it, and that's the only board that can do it,” he explains. “We use eight fully populated universes, so that kind of rules out other boards like the Wholehog® 2. It can do anything I want. We worked quite closely with Avolites, and they changed a bit of the software programming for me, which made it easier for me to label to run the show the way I like to.”
Whitehouse also controls a lot of the video through the RadLite MG-1 Server, while the live I-MAG is mixed by video director Andy Bramley. “He does all the I-Mag for the lawn screens, and I want a quick feed for the media server, he'll send it to me,” Whitehouse says. “Everything on the back screen comes from the media server.”
The content on the panoramic LED screen is a mixture of both IMAG and abstract looks. “We created images specifically for the band,” Whitehouse says. “I did some, Andy did some, and Bryan did some as well. There's a lot of IMAG that's being fed through the media server as well, which affects it in different ways. We used Final Cut to create most of the abstract images.”
A trio of lighting companies is supplying gear for the tour: Leitch's company Siyan, Netherlands-based Flashlight, and PRG, which introduced the designers to its new Series 400 power distro system. Making its touring debut, this configurable, multi-component system uses a combination of breaker modules in a rolling rack unit, breakout boxes, and high performance trunk cable to provide power and Ethernet or DMX data for automated luminaires or other devices.
“We have a complicated lighting design with a lot of sub trusses, and with the Series 400 system, we just run one cable to each place,” Whitehouse says. “We've got so many moving elements in the rig, it means we only have to drop one cable down to each one. It cuts in half the amount of cable that goes into the rig really. It's also saved a lot of time and it's all modular in how it fits together so it's all very neat. It's quite good for our crew as it's made cable management really easy and saves a lot of times. And it works really well.”
For spotlights, there are three Robert Juliat Heloise truss spots as well as two house spots to keep the band covered. For the show's last song, “Fix You,” lead singer Martin makes use of a 60W light bulb encased in a wire safety cage. “It drops down over him on a powered winch, and then he throws it out over the crowd,” Whitehouse explains.
After wrapping up its US leg in September, the band is scheduled to play arenas in Europe until mid-December. After breaking for the holidays, the band will pick up its worldwide tour next year.
COLDPLAY Twisted Logic Tour: PARTIAL CREW LIST
Production Manager: Mark Ward
Production Assistant: Shari Weber
Show Designer: Bryan Leitch
Lighting Designer: Nick Whitehouse
Lighting Crew Chief: Ben Holdsworth
Light Tech/Set: Tom James
Light Techs: Tim Massey, Dave Favorita, Pat Thomsen
Video Director: Andy Bramley
Monitor Engineer: Chris Wood
Video Crew Chief: Alan Yates
Camera Man: Mark Antonuik
Video Crew: Brent Jones
Projectionist: Jimmy Johnston
Coldplay Sound Engineer: Dan Green
Sound Techs: Bryan Kiger, John Kaylor, Dave Cheek, Will Lowdermilk
Stage Manager: Eric Benbow
Backline Tech: Craig Hope
Rigging Chief: Jim Allison
Rigger: Reuben Pinkey
PRG/US Crew Chief: Chris Conti