James Poepping Goes on the Road with Creed

When the lights dim, the venue is filled with a cacophony of noise — bullets perhaps? UV searchlights penetrate the thick, white smoke and then … flame. The song is called “Bullets” and the band is Creed, in its first arena/stadium tour. It's big rock at its best, and it's a welcome sight in a concert market filled with classic rockers, boy bands, and teen pop tarts.

Lighting designer James “Poop” Poepping, who has been with the band since the Human Clay tour of 1999, is the choreographer of Creed's visual assault. Management tapped Poepping as lighting designer in July of 2000 and he has worked for the band in that capacity ever since.

In many cases, history with a band is a good thing, and has proved to be advantageous to Poepping. “Generally speaking, the band likes everything to be clean and easy flowing,” he notes. “And of course, the lighting has to go with the mood and the tempo of the songs.” The band also had another requirement for the current tour. “Basically, the band's only request was a clean look for the show, with nothing hanging over the middle of the stage,” he adds.

That request led to the development of the truss configuration. “We're going to take this into amphitheatres, arenas, and stadiums with minimal add-on for the stadiums,” Poepping remarks. “Therefore, I had to create a rig that would accommodate all three venue types to light it up properly, since there is a lot of square footage to light.” The massive set, designed by Mark Fisher and constructed by Tait Towers, is actually two. The A set, which plays in stadiums and arenas, consists of four massive architectural columns, with three 15mm LCD panels placed between them. The B set is similar, but is curved like a horseshoe to fit into amphitheatres with more limited space. “To accommodate both, I have a horseshoe truss that's keyed in a bit more with the B set,” Poepping says.

The set also helped determine the 40' (12m) trim height of the truss, which explains much of the gear that Poepping has in his rig, courtesy of Upstaging Chicago. “There are only certain brands that can give you the punch that you need with a 40' trim, which is why we went with Martin MAC 2000s, Coemar 1200 HEs, and Coemar 2.4 SuperCycs for a nice wash,” he explains. In the day of single-vendor tours, Poepping has a selection of automated fixtures that also includes High End Systems Studio Color 575s, Studio Spot 250s, Studio Beam PCs, and Turbo Cyberlights. “With the high trim height, the 1,200W Coemar wash lights were the best unit available for the budget I was given,” he explains.

The rig isn't only about moving lights, although automated fixtures dominate the gear. Some of the tour's conventional lights include eight-light and nine-light Molefays, used for the audience and the set, as well as ETC Source Four PARs placed in a variety of locations around the set. “I have four ETC PAR narrows for uplights on the singer, and two with medium lenses for the guitar player,” Poepping comments. During the song “Who's Got My Back,” white columns of light appear out of the floor of the stage, creating a wall of white light that sharply contrasts with the saturated looks that dominate the show. “There are 56 ETC Source Four very narrow PARs underneath the grating for the wall of light,” the designer explains. “We used the Source Fours because of the size limitations that we were getting into under the set, because of everything else that was under there,” he adds. The effect is stark and unexpected. “It's a floor effect that gives a spooky, moody look,” Poepping remarks.

From a programming standpoint, one of the most crucial aspects of the production happened last year. Poepping and programmer Richard “Nook” Schoenfeld headed to Chicago just before Christmas. “We went into Upstaging, where they have a WYSIWYG studio, and we did seven days there,” Poepping says. “Basically, I got a song list for the tour the day we got there, and we started programming. We did about three songs a day for seven days,” he adds. Poepping, a fan of WYSIWYG, has found it to be an essential part of pre-production. “I think these days it's a must to do WYSIWYG. You can't get the arenas for the two to three weeks you were able to in the past, it's cheaper, and it's definitely just as good. By the time I walked into rehearsals in Florida, I had basically 80% of everything already done,” notes Poepping.

Overall, the show is bathed in deep, concentrated color, except for a few rare moments. There are no pretty pastel ballads — there are intense colors to go along with the band's just-as-intense lyrics. “It's a fairly saturated show,” Poepping readily admits. “The band's thought is that they're a hard-rock band and they want a hard-rock show,” he contends.

The show also takes fans back to a time when automated fixtures were new and moved in big, bold strokes. “I like to see the moving lights move,” he admits with a smile. This creates an old-school hard-rock vibe that draws that audience into the performance even more. “The band likes to incorporate the audience into the show, and the lights help get everybody involved,” Poepping comments.

Working hand-in-hand with the lighting rig is a variety of pyro effects, which the band started using during its previous tour, Human Clay. “The band fell in love with the pyro, and a couple of effects turned into a lot of effects,” comments Poepping. This time out, the pyro is a dominant part of the show. From the opening moment in “Bullets,” where tracer-like pyro arcs through the air, to the wall of pyro in “What's Life For” to the flames that engulf the stage in “What If,” the Weathered tour is pyro-intensive.

Of course, the lighting and the pyro work together. “Whenever a pyro cue goes off, there's basically just a pyro cue,” Poepping explains. “The lights either aren't as intense, or they're totally blacked out.” Each pyro cue is more impressive than the next, but, in the end, the night belongs to the Flame Dragon. “The first-generation Dragons, the Mini Dragons, would only go about 10' high (3m) and the band thought that was kind of wimpy,” Poepping comments. “So we tried flame pods, and they were even worse. But then Doug Adams with Pyrotek came up with the new Dragons, and I think we're the first ones to use them,” he reveals. The Flame Dragons engulf the stage, not once, not twice, but repeatedly. “During the song ‘What If,’ every time Scott Stapp says ‘I’ he wanted flames coming up,” the designer reports. Ever-accommodating, Poepping made sure that this happens, much to the delight of Flame Dragon junkies.

One of the high points in the show comes during the song “One,” when Stapp talks to the crowd about having pride in America and uniting as one. Before long, the entire arena is overwhelmed by the voices of the sold-out crowd, with over 40,000 hands in the air, waving to the beat (and the message) of the song. “I never thought of ‘One’ in those terms at all,” admits the designer. “Then, during the first show we did in Atlanta, Scott Stapp made the comments about everybody being together as one and being united as one. I never thought of it like that, but it makes total sense.” Of course, with a patriotic message, one might expect a red, white, and blue color scheme. “I never thought of red, white, and blue when I was programming it,” Poepping confesses. “The song isn't a dark, sad song, or a ballad — to me, those colors are for slower-paced songs, and the colors just didn't fit the song at all,” he notes. Instead, “One” is alive with hues of orange and amber, with white Molefay accents on the audience. “I saw the song as a bright song, a happier song with crowd involvement and bright colors,” the designer explains. “It's toward the end of the set list, and it's one of the bigger songs, so I thought it should be brighter — more yellow, orange, and white. To me, a feel-good song is at the brighter end of the spectrum,” Poepping concludes.

Poepping and the rest of the crew, including tour manager Andrew Weiss, production manager Arthur Kemish, and stage manager Thomas “Biss” Kelleher returned to the US in April with the band after an extensive tour of Australia and New Zealand, as well as a date at the Olympics. This is Creed's first stadium tour, and it may very well prove that big arena rock, in all its moving-light, red-spotlight-laden, pyro-filled glory, is back.

Contact the author at sstancavage@primediabusiness.com.

CREED WEATHERED TOUR 2002

Lighting Designer/Director
James “Poop” Poepping

WYSIWYG/Wholehog Programmer
Richard “Nook” Schoenfeld

Tour Manager
Andrew Weiss, JHMP Management

Production Manager
Arthur Kemish

Stage Manager
Tom Kelleher

Lighting Crew Chief
Ron Schilling

Lighting Crew
Mathew Cotter, Jon Tosarello, Michael Zielinski, Jorge Valasquez

Video Director
Shane Waldsmith

Set Designer
Mark Fisher

Rigger
Bobby Savage

Ground Rigger
William Williams

FOH Engineer
Kirk Kelsey

Monitor Engineer
Scott Boculac

Tour Vendors
Upstaging, John Huddleston
M.D. Clair, Ralph Masterangelo
Dove Communcations, Ken Gay
Pyrotek, Doug Adams
Tait Towers, Michael Tait, James “Winky”
Fairorth, Mike Long

Lighting Equipment

120

ETC Source Four PARs

2

Altman Q-Lites

6

Thomas 8-light Molefays

7

Altman 9-light Molefays

4

Lycian 1271 Starklite truss spots

13

Wybron large-format Coloram scrollers

7

Morpheus XL ColorFaders

26

Diversitronics 3000 strobes

8

High End Systems Studio Beam PCs

16

High End Systems Studio Color 575s

15

High End Systems Turbo Cyberlights

12

High End Systems Studio Spot 250s

26

Martin Professional MAC 2000s

26

Martin MAC 300s

20

Coemar CF 1200 wash lights

10

Coemar CF 1200 hard-edge lights

5

Coemar Panorama Cyc Powers

7

Coemar SuperCycs

4

Reel EFX DF-50 hazers

2

High End Systems Fog Generators

1

Clear Com intercom system

2

Flying Pig Systems Wholehog II consoles

1

Flying Pig Systems Wholehog II expansion wing

1

Flying Pig Systems Wholehog II overdrive

2

ETC Sensor 48x2.4kW touring dimmers

2

Motion Laboratories motor control systems

19

Columbus McKinnon Lodestar 1-ton chain motors

Tomcat Swing Wing Truss

Tomcat Box Truss

Tomcat Pre-Rig Truss