Editor's Note: In our concert coverage, we tend to obsess over the latest/hottest/sexiest new acts with the biggest and most spectacular new shows using the most innovative (and expensive) gear. Nothing wrong with that, but, in a funny way, such productions are less important than those long-lived acts that tour year after year for their loyal fan bases. These tours are the bread and butter of the concert lighting industry and many of them are beautifully designed. Without them, the traditional boom-and-bust cyles that drive this business would be infinitely worse. This month, we look at some of the more unsung tours out this summer.
This summer, LD Mike Keeling reunited with Chicago: “I worked with those guys in the 80s, for about six years,” he says. “Then they contacted me last fall, saying they wanted a new design. They wanted to get back to a theatrical presentation. I saw a show in rich colors, like coppers and velour blues. I saw aluminum set pieces that really grab the color.” With a rig of moving lights that includes ten Martin Mac 2000 Profile units, plus four Mac 2000 washes (placed beneath the risers) and 20 High End Systems Studio Colors, Keeling got a variety of strongly theatrical, deeply saturated looks that befit Chicago's sophisticated blend of jazz and rock music styles. Of course, with eight principals moving around the stage, it's a challenge to highlight and isolate them. “They asked me to try it with four spotlights,” the LD says, “but after a couple of weeks I begged them for six.”
Keeling handled the scenery as well.“We have a very organic backdrop that I custom-designed with one of my artists. Robert Lamm [of Chicago] didn't want it to be too literal, but wanted it to have depth and variety.” The drop is heavy with greens and blues:“When you add high-contrast colors, there are many varieties that come out,” the LD says. There's also a crushed blue velvet backdrop — ”if you blow it with a fan and hit it with a gobo, it feels three-dimensional,” says the designer — and an American flag drop that is something of a standby with the band. Control for the tour is provided by a Flying Pig Systems Wholehog II, with the conventional units run off an ETC Expression console. “I like my lekos on separate channels,” he says. Lighting gear was supplied by LSD/Fourth Phase, with the aluminum risers from B&R Scenery and the soft goods by Superior Backing. Also on hand were crew chief Mike Gott, automation tech Jim Keegan, and third electrician Thad “Hunter” Partridge.
You can check out Keeling's work in several recent music videos as well, including Justin Timberlake's “Rock Your Body” and Lisa Marie Presley's “Lights Out”.
“Kenny Loggins is one of the very first acts that I did a full lighting and set design for, in 1986,” says LD Michael Ledesma. “I've designed all of his major tours, except for, maybe, one. I did both the set and lights for him this time, too.” The LD notes that Loggins owns some of his gear, with the rest supplied by Chicago-based Upstaging. However, for a recent set of ten dates with Hall and Oates (pictured), Bandit Lites, which already had the Hall and Oates contract, provided the gear.
Ledesma's design for Loggins uses lots of moody saturated colors; it's a good approach to Loggins's intimate, when-Sunny-gets-blue, jazz-inflected style. The effect is warm, sophisticated, and keeps the focus on the performers. Ledesma says he's a big fan of saturated colors: “That's pretty much my look. All the stuff I've done, like, for example, with Marc Anthony, reflects that. Of course, Kenny realizes the significance of good lighting and production. He says that not having good lighting is like going to a movie without a soundtrack.”
The full gear list for the Loggins tour includes: eight Martin Mac 300s, 13 High End Systems Studio Colors, ten HES Studio Spots, six HES Color Pros, and eight HES Cyberlights, along with some conventional units. Control is via a Flying Pig Systems Wholehog II with a Wing attached. Next up for Ledesma is a Gloria Estefan spectacular at the Colosseum in Caesar's Palace. Like Loggins, Estefan is another longer-term client. “We were doing Latin before Latin was cool,” he laughs.
HALL AND OATES
LD Jesper Luth joined up with Hall and Oates in February, after a couple of years with heavy metal acts.”My ears are happier,” he says, adding that he is fond of that style of music. For the current tour, “John [Oates] had the most input. “He likes a lot of drapes-and there could be no smoke during the show. That was a challenge. I used a lot of sidelight, with [Martin] Mac 2Ks. If you've ever seen MTV Unplugged, that was sort of the idea.”
Luth adds, “John wanted it to be about the music. Also, we've got to light the fans — that's Daryl's thing. He likes to see some of this audience. I started out with 8-lights for them, which were way too intense. So I replaced them with lekos with a leaf breakup; this created more of a warm setting so the audience didn't feel they were the center of attention.” The songs, he adds, are fairly intensively cued, “but it's all very subtle, except for ‘Family Man’ and ‘No Can Do,” which have a little more to them. It's all about using booms and sidelighting. We have four scrims upstage to project on. We've also got two pieces of gold lame that, without the light, look like something you buy at Wal-Mart. But they reflect the color really well; they frame the four scrims upstage.”
Luth uses a simple rig of ten Mac 2000 units, plus four Mac 600s, with a fiber-optic curtain powered by Martin Q150s; for conventionals, he generally works with the house rig. (The moving gear was supplied by Bandit Lites). For a nine-day set of gigs, Hall and Oates teamed up with Kenny Loggins, who is lit by Michael Ledesma. The two shows are a study in contrasts, says Luth. “My show is more theatrical, with a U truss and lekos and PAR cans. Mike's show creates a concert feel, with smoke, beams, and an illuminated curved truss.” Other personnel included rigger Tony Mitchell, and techs Don Lockeridge and Chip Perry.
Remember when a rock concert meant PAR cans? That's what you got on the recent Poison tour, lit by Jon Pollak. “I went for the old heavy-metal look of, like, 1981,” he says. “I did use Molefay units, but otherwise this show is PAR cans everywhere you look.”
Indeed the gear list from LSD/Fourth Phase lists approximately 140 PAR cans, 20 PAR bars, four PAR 64 ACL bars, plus roughly twenty 8-Lite Series Molefays, in Pollak's arsenal of gear. (Also in the package are ETC dimmers, four Lycian spots, Wildfire blacklight units, 13 Diversitronics strobes, and Reel EFX and High End Systems foggers.) As for the LD's approach, “The idea was to keep the look very heavy on strong blocks of color,” he says.
Of course, PAR cans are very old-technology. “To do the focus,” Pollak says, “I had to use the 10-second rule. Don't touch any light for more than 10 seconds. The tech would start to focus and I would count: ‘Seven, eight, nine, ten — -moving on!’ It was really fun, but you forget how time-consuming it is, because today all the time is spent in the programming.” The show was controlled by an Avolites Sapphire console: “They originally sent out a [Flying Pig System] Wholehog II with the package,” he says, “because I am a big Hog guy, but, on an old-style show likes this, I just killed it. Three weeks later, we had a Sapphire.” Lighting director on the tour was Mark “Fifi” Miller.
None of these challenges seem to have ruffled the designer. “I was pleased with the design. I think you get a real throwback to the look of those early 80s, heavy-metal, heavy gear shows.” Currently, he's getting a real change of pace, lighting Steely Dan.
LD Martin Brennan has been with working with heavy-metal rockers Iron Maiden since 1998. Currently, he's seeing the world with the band. “This year, we started in May. We did a seven-week European festival tour, then a fabulous seven-week tour in the US. Starting in October, we have another eight weeks in Europe, then next year, it's Japan and South America.” The first leg of the tour was to support of the Band's compilation album Edward the Great, and the DVD Visions of the Beast; the later dates are dedicated to supporting the new album Dance of Death.
You can expect Iron Maiden's show to feature lots of heavy color, with plenty of drama in the cueing. Brennan proclaims himself a saturated-color man “unlike a lot of American LDs, with the paisley pinks and light blues. Not for me. It's as nature created it — with primary and complementary secondary colors, you have all the drama you need.”
The tour, supplied by Neg Earth in Europe and Christie Lights in the US, features 12 Martin Mac 2000 Profile units, 20 High End Systems Studio Colors, 14 Pulsar Chromabanks, and an assortment of PAR 64s, Molefays, and groundrows. The show is controlled by a Flying Pig Systems Wholehog II; this latter choice proved to be a blessing during the festival tour. “Some of the rigs we used were completely inappropriate for a Maiden show,” he says. “The cloning ability on the Hog was a godsend.”
Brennan is pleased with his crew, including Terry Mueller (crew chief/rigger), Mark Olesen (FOH/lamps) Jennifer Bernard (moving motors, dimmers, lamps), Jason Lewis (mains, dimmers, lamps), and Darryl Magura (technology, scrim tech, lamps). “Their speed, their sense of humor — they're all gods in my eyes.” Alan Chesters, of Hangman, provided the production design.
RINGO STARR AND HIS ALL-STARR BAND
If anyone in show business has nothing left to prove, it's Ringo Starr, now in his fifth decade as rock royalty. But he loves to perform, and has a new album, Ringo Rama, to support, so this summer Ringo Starr and His All-Star Band, once again hit the road. (The All-Starrs include Sheila E., Mark Rivera, John Waite, Colin Hay, and Paul Carrack). LD Jeff Ravitz has been with the act since 1989; he notes that Starr's concerns are simple: “Back in the beginning, all he wanted was that he himself not be the center of attention. He also wants the audience lit when he talks to them. And he wants to make sure that we're working as tightly as possible with the music.”
As a result, Ravitz has a created a clean, bright, colorful design that works closely with the music and highlights each of the performers. “He's really generous with spotlight time for everybody,” the LD notes. Lighting director Susan Rose adds, “It's not a real flashy show, per se. The band has a total issue with fog and haze. We use a lot of color, with patterns on the cyc — it's very tasteful. Everyone's lit all the time, because everyone is a star onstage.” The rig consists of Morpheus gear — 24 Fader Beams and four PC spots on the upstage truss and four PC Spots on the downstage truss (the latter is usually from the house rig). Rose praises the Morpheus FlipBox truss which, she says, speeds up load-in time considerably: “There's no data cable to run. It's just beautiful.” (Morpheus supplied the package). Control is by a Flying Pig Systems Wholehog II.
“It's a feel-good tour,” says Ravitz. “I always look forward to it. Everyone is really sweet and the musical lineup is a killer.”