Mesmerized/You get sucked in by the hype/Headlights in your eyes.... These lyrics to"Last Day on Earth" from Duran Duran's latest album, Pop Trash, neatly summarize the atmosphere at the band's live shows. Crossing the US this summer on the shed circuit, the tour ended with a week at LA's House of Blues. LD Alex Reardon worked with several suppliers to design unique set elements to complement the rave-like lighting.
"The album is called Pop Trash so I wanted to have a wall of bubble wrap," Reardon explains, "but I needed big enough bubbles for the audience to see." Mark Ward, the tour/production manager, knew a company in London called Inflate that might be able to make something suitable. "They actually make sort of chic inflatable knapsacks and eggcups and things, but Mark said don't worry, I'll make sure it's tourable."
Inflate designed clear vinyl pillows 3' wide by 1' high, in strips 50' long, hung vertically and hooked together side by side. (They resemble giant floating pool loungers.) Sections can be added depending on stage size. Fans at the top keep them inflated, and sandbags keep them in place. "It's nice to use stuff you don't normally see or haven't seen before," Reardon comments. Just downstage of the bubble drop is an opera gauze "custom spray-painted from Hangman, which is basically a sort of breakup; it makes it more interesting to look at." The bubble drop and gauze can be frontlit and backlit for different textures and colors.
Reardon has designed for the band for four years, and relies on his crew and suppliers to take his design ideas and contribute their own, to come up with something that everyone can feel a part of. "The nice thing about Gary Oldknow on video and Alan Chesters at Hangman is that I can give them a concept, and that gives them leeway to come up with something interesting that they want to do, and I'm more than open to suggestions from those two; I trust them completely."
New for this Duran tour is video, "because we're all so full of ideas we couldn't really do any more with just static images." Truss design is based around a letterbox video idea, "to get some nice cross-stage angles," the designer says. The video screen is a black drop with a white oval. "The lighting is designed to complement the video screen, so I dropped 16 Icons at random heights around the top half of the oval."
For star treatment, "Each member of the band has a Mini Mole with a scroller on the floor upstage right of them at a 45 angle so they're never lit flat, and the three key members of the band have a downstage left Mini Mole as well to give them an uplight or footlights idea."
There is an ever-changing mix of songs that utilize the various drops in a different order each night. "There are two design influences pulling at me from the band: One is their old stuff, which is classic pop, and yet their new stuff and their self-perception is slightly more esoteric; they've pretty much seen it all and done it all, so they're not particularly impressed by bells and whistles. They leave me to it, and it's a rare moment that they actually come up and ask for anything. They just grin sweetly and pass me a bottle of wine every now and again."
One design element the band insists on is lots of pulsing lights aimed out at the audience. While the band is bathed in saturated color washes, with complementary colors from the floor units, along the top of the stage is an almost constant punctuation of white strobes and colored flashes (above). For slower songs, the Icons sweep the crowd with gobo patterns. "They like the audience to feel they're being lit too," Reardon explains. "If the audience is into it, the band will do better, which will spur the audience to react more, which will spur the band to react more, sort of a chain reaction. And they like bits of punctuation, which are easy to do if you know the music. There are thousands of keyboard stabs on songs like `A View to a Kill,' and on some things like `Save a Prayer' [below] there's just one cue and it sits there and the video takes over."
Lighting equipment, supplied by Light & Sound Design, includes 16 LSD Icons[R], 15 High End Systems Studio Colors[R], 10 LSD Icon Wash Lights[TM], 10 Diversitronics strobes, 10 Molefay 8-lights with Wybron color scrollers, eight Mini-Moles with Mini Molemags, 10-light ACL strips, "and some [Reel EFX] DF-50s and [High End] F-100s with Olbas oil" added to the fog fluid, the designer says jokingly, "to stop petulant vocalists from getting uppity about their throats being clogged - Olbas oil is a sinus decongestant which they like - and it gives me enough smoke to get some beams in."
The LSD crew includes Steve Fallon, crew chief; Dan Sasala, dimmer tech; and Connie Paulson, Icon tech. "There's no luxury on this. Everything had to fit in one truck, with three days of rehearsals," Reardon notes. In fact, load-in and focus is usually finished by tea time.
"This tour is the best one we've done for them," he concludes, "because we've had the same projectionist, the same tour manager, we've all sort of evolved with it, so we know what the band likes and what we like to do for them. We're taking this to England for eight dates around the arenas in December, and then who knows? Give `em a couple hit singles and we might come back again."