Bridges to Babylon's million-dollar, self-articulating bridge transported the Rolling Stones from its huge main stage dripping with gold and silver hues to a tiny, bare stage set roughly in the middle of the stadium venues. While the band has often sneaked in a few club dates before or during its regular tours, its nightly reacquaintance with the intimate feel of performing on a small stage gave the band an appetite for more of the same. And although the group did a handful of Bridges to Babylon shows in arenas, its current North American tour is officially its first arena tour in 16 years.
Along with a select 81 crew members (from the 170 on the previous tour), LD PatrickWoodroffe, set designer Mark Fisher, and production manager Jake Berry have reprised their roles and created yet another new look for this one, dubbed No Security after the live album the band recorded during the Bridges to Babylon shows.
"The Stones have always been a band of scale, so this show was all about trying to reduce those huge, great stadium extravaganzas and to do their version of the club show," explains Woodroffe. "Of course, their version includes an audience of about 20,000 people, but we try to keep that feel. It's still a spectacle, but it's not about big, lavish effects or big, funny conceits. Just simple lighting and a very elegant, tough stage. That's the side of their personalities this show is trying to explore, rather than the glamorous, mad side. So Mark made a beautiful stage that fits the 'no security' concept."
"Everyone who has walked on the set has said that it feels like rusted steel, when in fact it's made of plywood," Fisher says. "Which is, of course, what theatrical design is all about. It would have been cheaper to make it out of rusted steel, but then it wouldn't be quite as functional."
Overseeing all manner of practicalities falls to Berry, who shoulders the tour's greatest responsibility: making sure every piece falls correctly into place and on schedule (see "Sorting out the Stones," page 52). "Jake becomes very involved in the practicality of the lighting and because of that he has a real understanding of the concept--you can't really have one without the other," Woodroffe says. "He's very supportive of what we do artistically, but manages to turn it into a very practical beast. He's very good at that."
The set elements Fisher designed include 10 towers and six pods. While aesthetically pleasing in their own right, they mainly serve the utilitarian purpose of supporting the show's lighting--but not from a lack of effort on Fisher's part. "These things are never easy with the Stones," he says. "The tour was to be called No Security, so I took a sort of metaphysical angle on that and said that this show could be about pre-millennial angst--no security about going into the next millennium." He laughs. "Everyone just looked at me blankly and then as if they were wondering if they should ring for professional help."
There was also the inflatable of a baroque alabaster sculpture of ascending saints surrounded by cherubs, a jeweled crucifix, and a neon Las Vegas cross. All were proposed for the song "Saint of Me," but none ever made it past the concept stage. "From my point of view, the process of designing this show was far more interesting than what we ended up with, although it is absolutely perfect for the job at hand," Fisher says. "It was a giggle all the way. We enjoyed creating it and had a few laughs."
Among those joining in on the fun were Tait Towers, who built the lighting towers, the main stage, the B stage, and the runway between the two. Tait also constructed the pop-up lift (from which Mick Jagger makes his entrance) out of elevator parts recycled from a previous AC/DC tour, also a Fisher/Woodroffe collaboration. Brilliant Stages made all the cladding for the pods; the trussing and the lights were supplied by main lighting contractor Vari-Lite Production Services (VLPS).
"The big challenges when you're working in the round are that you have no scenery to light and no lighting in the middle ground," Woodroffe says, "so the towers fulfill both of those demands. They provide lighting in the middle ground, from different angles, and they've also become rather beautiful scenic pieces. We still wanted to do a second stage, but this time we put proper sound and lighting around it. That really is their version of playing a club--all of them crammed together on a tiny stage. We used big audience lighting trusses to be able to light the runway to the B stage, but also to include the audience in a lot of the lighting, and when they reacted well that was obviously a big part of the show."
Conspicuously the show's largest element is the brand new Sony LED screen supplied by BCC Video, which rests upstage in front of the lighting trusses. "We're always trying to find ways to make the composition of the stage different. It was a bit of a gamble sticking the screen way up there, but we couldn't have it as part of the stage, so we made it in a widescreen format," Woodroffe explains. "And [video director] Dick [Carruthers] runs a very simple cut--much simpler than the stadium cut--with virtually no effects. It's very straightforward. He made this beautiful piece of film for the opening. It was done in three hours in the basement of the Henry J. Kaiser Auditorium in Oakland, CA, just one day before rehearsals began. But it looks like a multimillion-dollar video shoot. So that was quite successful."
Hanging directly above the stage are the six lighting pods. "We didn't want any lights on trusses, so we came up with these pods that appear to be extraordinarily slim, considering the amount of lights within them," Woodroffe says. "Most of the lights are hidden behind mesh, which causes us to lose quite a bit of intensity from the PAR cans, but it's worth it for the look and the feel of seeing very few sources up there. Then the pods themselves become part of the scenery of this No Security set."
Controlled by lighting technician Barry Branford, the pods also move positions during the show. "There is the opening act look, in which the front three are down, then they go up to a high, flat trim for the first song," explains lighting director/crew chief Ethan Weber. "Then they come down at the start of the next song. We do move them again, in a very limited manner, just to make a scene change for Keith's songs. We move them back up when the band goes out to the B stage; some of this is dictated by the fact that we're selling 360 degrees."
Lighting equipment for the show is drawn from numerous sources, including Brilliant Stages, Columbus McKinnon, Diversitronics, ETC, Lightning Strikes, Lycian, Mole-Richardson, Reel EFX, Skjonberg, Tomcat, and Wybron. One Avolites Diamond 3 console and two Vari*Lite(R) Artisans(R) are used. A combination of 60 Vari*Lite VL5(TM), 10 VL6(TM) and 41 VL7(TM) automated luminaires comprise the system's moving lights.
"There are 20 black VL5s and VL6s painted with the yellow diagonal stripes that mark much of the set. It was much simpler to do these than the ones we did for the stadium," Weber says. "We were able to use regular Krylon paint, whereas the stadium lights required a complicated process to get the right color of gold and silver we wanted."
The show's VL7s escaped the paint job. "They are very good; the best part about them is their optics," Woodroffe says. "There are a lot of really good lenses on the market, but there's nothing to beat the really wide focus on the VL7s. You pay a price for it in that they are big lights, but they're very accurate and smooth--they did a lot of the work for us."
"The VL7s have been very reliable--I like them a lot," concurs Vari*Lite operator/crew chief Mark "Sparky" Risk. "It's a great show--the band has been so on every night. It started off well, and it's remained a very dynamic production."
Risk and Weber spent production rehearsals programming with Dave Hill and Woodroffe in Vancouver and Oakland, CA. "It was definitely one of the more relaxed programming sessions I've ever been involved in--it really helped that the four of us have gone through a few rounds of this already," Weber says. "We've all done outdoor Bridges to Babylon and indoor Bridges to Babylon, and now No Security. So everyone involved knows the songs really well, even though the band changes them. The biggest problem is that we don't get a set list until a few days before the first show. We just programmed some basics in and got some looks down that Patrick was happy with, and then just hoped we'd have enough of those that work for the songs that they actually decided to do. But this show is actually very simplified, both in the color and the running of it."
"It's a very monochromatic show, mostly white and shades of blue, especially at the beginning," Woodroffe says. "So when we do finally go to something like red or purple, it looks very rich and makes quite a statement. Sparky and Ethan did sterling work as ever, really playing the show like a tough arena system as opposed to the grand gesture. They were really right on it with the timing. They're very good."
According to almost anyone you could talk to on this tour, it's all good. "After all this time, it's still a pleasure working with everybody, from the top to the bottom," Weber says. "The band members are all enjoying themselves and they have a great attitude about being on tour. Everybody's got a great attitude--maybe it's just from being indoors now and out of the constant rain, but it's a pleasure being indoors with a small core crew. People always ask, 'Don't you get tired of it after this long?' My standard reply is that there are worse things than spending a couple of years touring with the Rolling Stones."
No Security wrapped up April 20 in San Jose, but at the end of May, both band and crew will once again set out for the great outdoors and revisit Bridges to Babylon. The 89 errant crew members will rejoin the extended family as home audiences in the UK and other European cities will see the celebrated million-dollar bridge extend itself for another nine shows. Cast and crew will take their final bows in Cologne, Germany, on June 20.
Production manager Jake Berry
Stage manager Gary Grosjean
Production accountant Mark Aurelio
Assistant production accountant Kevin Carretta
Production coordinators Dana Jaeger Kari Stephens
Lighting designer Patrick Woodroffe
Vari*Lite programmer Dave Hill
Set designer Mark Fisher
Backline crew chief Chuch Magee
Guitar technician Pierre de Beauport Bass guitar technician David Rouze
Keyboard technician Peter Wiltz
Backline technician/band bartender Stephen "The King of England" Shepherd
Backline technicians Mike Cormier Johnny Starbuck
Lighting director/lighting crew chief Ethan Weber
Vari*Lite operator/Vari*Lite crew chief Mark "Sparky" Risk
Lighting technicians Kenny Ackerman Barry Branford Simon Honnor
Vari*Lite technicians Nick Barton Gregg Brooks Dimmers Ian Twell
Video director Dick Carruthers
Video crew chief/head engineer Jim "Coach" Malone
Assistant engineer Dave Moss
Screen technicians William Agerter Kraig Boyd
Camera operators Bruce Green Scott Russell Phil Woodhead
Video technician Steve Chambers
Head rigger Bart Durbin
Riggers Joey Favor Rodney Johnson Dano Rowley
Head carpenter Kurt Wagner
Carpenters Kendall Carter Alan Doyle Seth Goldstein Bill Shewmake Ian Tucker
Carpenter/teleprompter Flory Turner
Main lighting contractor Vari-Lite Production Services (VLPS)
Video BCC Video
Set construction Tait Towers Brilliant Stages
It's March 7, and in about two hours the Rolling Stones will take the stage at Washington, DC's MCI Center--it is nearly the midway point of their No Security tour. Production manager Jake Berry is backstage in the catering room, and between bites of mashed potatoes he discusses this tour and the phenomenon that is the Rolling Stones.
"My company in Phoenix is called Production Alliance--wonderful production company, best in the whole world. We do a lot of tours, so any one who is out there looking, we can match your budget," Berry says."But it's been six years since Voodoo Lounge. It's been great. I haven't worked for anybody else."
When Berry began working on the Voodoo Lounge tour in early 1994, he described himself as 'the new kid on the block,' because other members of the production team had worked with the Stones in the past. Before that tour ended in September 1995, plans for the next tour were underway. Bridges to Babylon began two years later in Chicago, but because of tax reasons, the band did not return to the UK last summer, so it will finish up in June.
"When we came to put this arena show together, the idea was to make it as efficient and as fast as possible, while juggling around the wonderful NBA and NHL schedules here," Berry explains. "Traditionally, we would always go in the day before, but if we did that, the tour would be a year long and we'd have had lots of days off, hanging out by the beaches in Florida. That would be really nice for the crew, but not very cost-effective for the band."
When LD Patrick Woodroffe came up with a pod design, the production team decided to go with a grid system to avoid having to hang a lot of chain hoist motors. "First, we had this massive grid that took up the entire floor, blocked all the load-in, and so was really impractical. So then we decided for two reasons to split it in half. One is that we could rig left and right and fly one side if we were running late. The second has to do with cable management. To try to get the cables all off to one side would have been a pointless exercise because we would have had a wad of cable piled as thick as those holding up the Bay Bridge. That's why we made the grid fit into two triangular shapes to take the pod systems. All the lights except the moving lights ride inside the pods, which also come down. They're 24'x8' with a hinge in the middle, so when they come down we put them on a forklift and put them on the truck. It's a rapid deployment module--we stole that idea a little bit. The object was to come in at 8am, g et everything up, do the show that night and then get out and get on the road like a normal arena tour. We didn't want to try to change anything--except of course that it's the Rolling Stones."
Berry credits Tait Towers' rolling stage as helping simplify the whole production. "With a tour of this size in 15 trucks, and lots of gear in the middle of the arena and everywhere, we have to have a rolling stage," Berry says. "Tait built it, and we just roll it into position every day. When we played arenas last year, we were still doing Bridges to Babylon, not No Security, so we were actually cutting down the stadium show, and that was time-consuming and inefficient.
"When the No Security tour came up the object was to design specifically for arenas that would fit between hockey dashers and not overhang and get in the way of the fire marshals like the old one did," he continues. "We made several detachable bits like the extension screamers for the PA and we have a set width maximum of 82' [25m], built in increments of 8'. Because it's the Rolling Stones, there are always a lot of people who want to come and see them, so we really have to maximize our seating. That's what we've achieved, so we're very happy."
Simply working in an arena environment has cheered up the crew immensely. "The biggest change we've noticed is that we're not getting phone calls on the radios asking when it's going to rain," Berry says, laughing. "We had a nasty habit of ending droughts. It was like we were doing rain dances. It can't rain on us now that we've always got a roof over our heads. So that's where we are, halfway through the tour, having a lot of fun."
"It's really fantastic working for the world's greatest rock and roll band, whether it be a field in Germany or here in Washington, DC," Berry concludes. "I'm having a great time, and as you can tell from the atmosphere backstage, everyone else is as well. There's a great vibe, lots of smiling and laughing going on. The emphasis here is not on the spectacle of the show, but on the Rolling Stones' music. They'll kick your ass."
No Security ended April 20 and Berry and the rest of the 170 crew members are gearing up to return to Europe for more Bridges to Babylon stadium shows. When it's over, will Berry take a well-deserved vacation? "Yes, definitely. It's been amazing, but I'll be taking some time off to see what I want to do next."