Ethan Weber Lights a Brighter Shade of Pink

Probably best known as that girl with the fuchsia hair who does that “Party” song — or as part of the quartet who covered “Lady Marmalade” for last year's Moulin Rouge soundtrack — Pink is currently out with The Party Tour, her first as a headliner. Ready to prove that she is much more than just a flash-in-the-pan pop singer with a colorful one-name moniker, the former Philadelphia street punk with the powerhouse voice is bringing her music to the masses in her own distinctive style.

“When we first saw her in production rehearsals all of our mouths dropped open when she was doing some Janis Joplin songs and hitting all of those notes,” says LD Ethan Weber. “She has an amazing voice. I don't know how many people in the audience have come up and asked me if it's her or if it's on tape, but it's all her. And her new album is pretty diverse. She's got songs in almost every style.”

Pink's sophomore effort, M!ssundaztood! features 15 new songs, most of which she co-wrote with Linda Perry of 4 Non Blondes fame. Her show kicks off in high gear with “Get the Party Started,” slows down for “Missundaztood,” cranks back up with “18 Wheeler,” and then slows again for Pink's cover of the 4 Non Blondes hit, “What's Up.” The entire show is like a musical roller coaster, from polished R&B and pop/dance tunes to heartfelt ballads and raw rock songs. Naturally, the lighting design accentuates every peak and valley. “The music allows for a very varied light show,” Weber says. “There is a little bit of everything in there, which makes it fairly easy to give each song its own look. It was probably different from anything that I've ever done just because of the nature of it,” Weber says. “When I met with her, she didn't really know how to talk about lighting because this is her first real tour. I kept the questions kind of basic and asked what her color preferences were and whether or not she likes to have the lights moving. She did have some definite opinions, but pretty much, she had two things to say: She doesn't like pink lights and she does like green. Having done a Marilyn Manson tour, I've used pretty much every green there is, so that was no problem. There are some off-pinks and salmons in the show but no real pinks. That would have been too literal.”

Besides, the word “Pink” is already spelled out on the graffiti-style backdrop that hangs for the first part of the show. Weber and production manager Ian Kinnersley put together some platforms and ramps from Tait Towers and created specific areas for each of the band members as well as some additional lighting positions. With LSD/Fourth Phase in place as the lighting vendor, Weber worked with John Lobel to flesh out the rig, which features a series of grandstand (layered) trusses that provide extra depth. “Initially I was interested in trying out High End Systems' x.Spots and the Studio Beams but, given the budget, I decided it would be better to go with Studio Colors® and Studio Spots®, which were fine for theatres,” he says. “I decided I'd rather have quantity over the extra effects in some of the other lights. When you have a fair amount of lights for a theatre show, I love the big looks you can get out of them.

“I come from a conventional lights background, where you really had to be creative and learn to use what effects you could get with the lights you had,” he continues. “I find it's easier to take a light that doesn't have quite so many functions and get something great out of it. That's how you changed the look of a song beyond changing colors or throwing in gobos whether you were using 5ks, PAR cans, lekos, and 2k fresnels or Omnis. You tend to get more out of the simple tricks.”

The system has 111 PAR cans. “I'll probably always use PARs because it's still the best-looking beam source,” Weber says. “Now that moving lights are so prevalent you can generally choose between a hard-edged light and a wash light. Obviously there are different types of both of these, but, depending on the manufacturer and the type of bulbs they use, the light might have a different quality, it's not as pronounced. You can use all your moving lights as your main source of light, but then when you throw some PAR looks in with that, it fleshes it out and makes it look even bigger. You can get a lot more out of a smaller system with them. I really like those types of big looks. Plus, it's still kind of fun to climb and focus and get some exercise.”

Working along with Weber on the lighting crew are Adam Finer and Marty Langley. “These guys have been really good — almost cheerful — about getting in as much of my show as possible, no matter what the venue size may be,” Weber says. “I really appreciate that and everything has being going in really smoothly.”

Weber's control board of choice is an Avolites Diamond III. “I don't like just hitting a go button,” he says. “I know you can set up almost any console to do that, but I just find that running the Avo is more fun. It gives you a better feel for running the show — it's more interactive. Especially on a theatre tour like this where every venue is different; it makes your lighting look different every day. I also like programming the shows myself and I like having the faders on top that I can grab because I always have my lekos up there and I can get to them quickly.

“The Avo also has a good effects engine, which is a great programming tool when it's not overused,” Weber continues. “I'll spend hours going in one direction on a song — and this happened for about 75% of the songs on this tour — I'll start going down one route and not be happy with it and I know I'll come across something because I'm programming it myself and I fall into it. Then I scrap everything I did and something clicks and I know that it's right.”

Having never used High End Systems' lighting equipment before, the LD spent quite a bit of time working out what they could do. “I knew that I could crossfade colors or strobe with the Studio Spot, but I spent a fair amount of time playing around with them the first few days,” he says. “I had about seven or eight days, and LSD/PRG in Vegas threw in rehearsal time, with a great rehearsal space. One of the drawbacks and pluses to programming myself was that I didn't know the gear well, so I spent a lot of time trying to figure out how to create certain looks I've done with other light sources that I like to use. But by doing that, I came up with some different and interesting looks that I don't think other designers use. There were some nice little tricks in there. I first went through the manual and in the macros I found some handy tricks that I initially thought were extraneous because I could have programmed them in a two-step chase. But there were a few nice and subtle looks that I got out of using them.”

One of the biggest-looking and most kinetic songs in the set is a sort of Latin-flavored tune, “There You Go,” from Pink's first album, Can't Take Me Home. “It's important to give every song its own singular look, and I feel that I was able to do that for this tour,” Weber says. “But the audience only notices the lights if they're really good or really bad. So you're always looking for those few cues that the audience won't realize that they're responding to, but you know they are. It's all subconscious.”

Keeping in mind that the audience is consciously there to see the artist, Weber has two ellipsoidals on the front truss for everyone onstage. “Her management is pretty adamant that the show not be really dark,” he says. “We've all done our dark and moody shows, but even if that's what the band wants, it's annoying to be in the audience and not be able to see the people you paid money to see. I do a lot of her more dramatic songs with just the stage lighting, which I really prefer. I do use the spotlight as well, but it's kind of a necessary evil, since you're still relying on somebody else.”

In her days as an opening act, Pink usually had to perform to taped tracks. “That's another reason behind making sure the band is always well lit,” Weber says. “She does a Janis Joplin medley and pays tribute to those who have gone before her, and having a band is something she was looking forward to. She really wants them to be a part of the show — so I make sure they are lit. The best and the cheapest way to do that is with lekos. You have a lot of control over the light, and as you change its intensity you change the color of the light, so it's pretty versatile as a key light.”

The key lighting is especially important for the last three songs, which include video augmentation. “We use a fairly cheap Barco projector since it's a low-budget tour, so it was a given that those songs would be dark — there was no way around that,” Weber explains. “But I used the lekos so you can pick out the band onstage while leaving the overall area dark enough for the projected images to read.”

The Joplin tribute features lots of images of the 1960s, including, of course, Janis, as well as photos of other musicians who have died. The video has a genuine home movie quality to it, which Pink oversaw herself. “Family Portrait,” obviously a very personal song for Pink, features many of her own home photographs. The final song in the set is “My Vietnam.” “She's got some pretty strong images — her father was in Vietnam, so she has some personal pictures and some other graphics,” Weber says. “We were going to let the video stand on its own, with just some stark uplight on her, but I had to put some key light on the band — it didn't look right without that. One of her few requests in rehearsals was that she wanted something like a searchlight or helicopter light — there are helicopter sounds at the beginning, so I threw a beacon in there for that. It's just a regular beacon — we tried a high-octane one that Willie Williams had out on U2, but it was too much. LSD had a really simple one in their warehouse that spins at a lower intensity, so that worked.”

Weber effectively uses the Diversitronics strobes throughout the song at very low intensity and then gradually builds them into a huge effect. “It's this big, powerful song with these compelling images from Vietnam — she feels strongly about it,” Weber says. “The dim strobes fill in the background air. It's kind of subtle, but if you know lighting at all, you know it's a strobe and it kind of builds the anticipation because you expect something is going to happen. We end the show by assaulting the audience with the big strobe effect before the encores.”

Pink is ending the summer by teaming up with Lenny Kravitz for a shed tour, then she's scheduled to tour Japan in November. “She was the first to admit that she doesn't know a lot about putting a tour together, but when you talk to her and look her in the eye, she's really listening and she wants to learn,” Weber says. “She wants to be — she will be — a rock star. The songs are really good and it's fun to light, so it's been a very enjoyable experience.”

Contact the author at cmbmc@earthlink.net.

PINK THE PARTY TOUR 2002

Lighting Designer
Ethan Weber

Lighting Techs
Adam Finer, Marty Langley

Production Manager
Ian Kinnersley

Video Supplier
Vincent “Vinny” Stancarone, 3 Degrees

Lighting Supplier
Light & Sound Design/Fourth Phase

Lighting Equipment

111 PAR-64s
22 High End Systems Studio Spots
23 High End Systems Studio Colors
12 ETC Source Four ellipsoidals
2 ETC Source Four PARs
3 LSD Molefays
1 Lycian 1.2kW HMI truss spot
16 Diversitronics D3000 strobes
1 nook light
2 Reel EFX DF-50 hazers
1 High End Systems F-100 fogger
2 Wildfire UV fixtures
14 LSD D3 8' truss sections
4 LSD D3 truss corners
14 Columbus McKinnon chain hoists
1 Avolites Diamond 3 console
1 Clear-Com intercom system
2 traveler tracks
16 LSD kabuki solenoids
1 24'x50' black backdrop