Where is the future of concert design headed? A good place to look might be Matchbox Twenty's current Mad Season tour, with lighting designed by Marc Brickman. At times, the show screams straightforward post-20th-century rock and roll, only to take a 180° turn and hint at a proper English drawing room, or even a Moroccan casbah.

Brickman, a veteran of high-profile tours with Pink Floyd and Paul McCartney, worked with Matchbox Twenty's lead singer Rob Thomas on an Imax film, All Access, which the musician participated in with Carlos Santana last year. When it came time for the band to go out on tour last fall, Michael Lippman, the band's manager, asked specifically for Brickman. The initial run covered college markets and Australia, where the band has a large fan base. “We decided to start the tour off without any mechanical parts to the production,” notes Brickman. The system for the first two legs of the tour consisted of a plethora of Vari*Lite® gear, including VL4s, VL6Bs, and VL5s. “We also had a three-dimensional roll drop system for the first part of the tour, which worked all right,” the LD says.

After the Christmas holiday, it was time for Matchbox Twenty to hit the major markets, which resulted in a redesign of the tour. The earlier leg featured 10 vertically hung truss stalks, a favorite of drummer Paul Doucette. “He told me that he liked the stalks, but he also liked the idea of the stalks coming down to the floor,” Brickman reports. The LD, who has done tracking systems with McCartney and Nine Inch Nails in the past, suggested the idea to lighting director/programmer Ben Richards. “I wanted to keep the same look we had during the earlier part of the tour, but I also wanted to double up the number of pods we had, as well as make them move up and down.”


Richards, a native of Canada, immediately knew where to go to transform the moving pod concept into something workable. “When Marc told me he wanted to make the pods move, I thought of some friends of mine who I've known for many, many years in Quebec City, who are distributors of ChainMaster Vario-Lift motors from Germany,” Richards says. Brickman was also familiar with the products. “I had seen the motors at LDI, and thought they were pretty amazing.”

The Vario-Lift motors are the essential players in the Mad Season tour. Manufactured by ChainMaster of Eilenburg, Germany, they are distributed in North America by Show Distribution of Quebec City. “These motors are like Spinal Tap,” Brickman smiles. “They go to 11.” This is the first time the Vario-Lift motors have been out on a major concert tour, and Brickman is definitely a fan. “What's amazing about them is that they're variable speed. They can go as fast as 90' (27m) a minute and, as they're going down, they can hit the next cue — and can start going up again without stopping. There's no jolt when they stop,” he notes. “A normal chain motor runs at 16' (5m) a minute.”

The Vario-Lifts went through rigorous testing well before the tour. “Show Distribution president Jacques Tanguay and his crew put them through the wringer in the past year. He used them on shows here and there and worked hand-in-hand with the Germans to make the motors more reliable,” explains Richards. The extra work by Show Distribution definitely worked to the advantage of everyone involved. “All of the tracking systems I've usually used are custom-made,” comments Brickman. “It's very rare that you can find equipment that moves that isn't custom-made, and to find something off the shelf that actually works is fabulous.” Adds Richards, “They've been working wonderfully since day one.”


Brickman's plot for the current outing is heavily dependent on the 14 pods the Vario-Lifts control. Originally, the pods, each of which consist of four Vari*Lite “VL8s” (industry slang for the VL2416s), one VL7, a Kino Flo unit, and an ETC Source Four PAR with a Wybron Coloram color changer (the latter two suggested by production manager Chris Kansy), were positioned according to the location of the roll drops as well as the previous location of the truss stalks. “We basically needed to have holes for the roll drops,” Richards says.

But with the redesign of the show, the trim height measured in at 40' (12m), which wasn't workable for the roll drops. “We eventually decided to abandon the roll drops on this part of the tour because our trim height was a lot higher, and the roll drops just weren't working properly,” explains Brickman. Currently, there are five pods upstage, three midstage, and three on each side of the stage. “The pods actually ended up in the most logical areas because you get your sides, your rears, and you even get some directly above the band,” notes Richards.

Another Teleprojector, from Cameleon in France, was added to the one carried on the first leg. “I've been using these projectors since 1988 with McCartney,” Brickman explains. “I really love them — they're the brightest, I think, in the world.” When the projection, which is content-driven rather than simply IMAG, is featured, the midstage and upstage pods are moved to their highest trim heights, while the side pods illuminate the band, rather like theatrical shin kickers.

Audiences have no idea what kind of visual punch they're going to get once Matchbox Twenty goes onstage. The pods are idle for the first two acts and the lighting rig looks normal enough to the untrained eye. “Marc and I pretty much decided to start the show subtly,” explains Richards. “Because the system has been idle, during the band's first song, one pod comes down, and it's kind of cool, because the audience members look at each other like, ‘Is this normal?’” After the first song, when one pod is dramatically lowered during a guitar solo, the movement of the pods becomes more apparent and sets the tone for the entire show. “Slowly but surely, we get more energetic behavior from the whole system, to the point at the end of the show where everything is just going nuts,” Richards says.


Color is an integral part of the show, since, along with the pod movement, it defines the tone. “For me, it does become almost like a painting,” Brickman says. “This show was really about big landscapes of color.” From subtle ambers to painfully bright whites to incredibly saturated reds, the show covers the spectrum. “When it comes to doing a show with Marc Brickman, Bastard Amber is going to be the anchor color,” reports Richards. “By playing to that, you can go on from there and use lavenders and all kinds of shades of blue.”

Overall, the show strikes a nice balance between songs that feature color-mixing as well as single-color songs. “I love to be able to lock myself into only a few colors at a time per song,” says Richards. “I call it the double color theory — you do two colors, then maybe you'll throw in a third from a spotlight. Then, after a while, you just say, ‘OK, hold on. This song, this is my red song.’ And you just lock yourself into one color.”

The show also has a total of 11 spotlights — four in the house and seven on the truss. “The followspots are, of course, the key lights for each member of the band,” Brickman notes. “Each band member is always illuminated by a spotlight, and around them, there's an incredible amount of color that is layered to create shape and depth.” The spotlights are loaded with traditional theatrical standbys: Bastard Amber (Lee 162), Medium Amber (Lee HT020), Medium Pink (Lee HT036), Deep Lavender (Lee 170), Dark Steel Blue (Lee 174), and Light Red (Lee 182). “Because we have such a high trim height, we added a truss spot. I shuffle around when I'm calling the spots, since the pods are sometimes in the way of the truss spots,” explains Richards. “I don't mind the upstage light on Rob, the singer, going through a pod, but nothing looks worse than a spot going through the front of a pod to get the drummer,” he adds.


Although the plot of the show is different from the first two legs of the tour, many of the cues stayed the same. “The biggest challenge for me on this show was not starting from scratch,” admits Richards. “I figured the key to success on this new run was to implement as much as possible of what we did on the old system.” Richards had his work cut out for him during rehearsals. “I spent a week at VLPS Los Angeles pretty much copying the cues from the VL4s and the VL6Bs into the console for the VL8s and VL7s, since there's no way of importing the cues from the old instruments into the new lights. Marc and I still made some major changes to most of the songs, but the foundation of the cues from the first leg of the tour was still there.”

Richards' Vari*Lite Virtuoso console also controls the movement of the pods. “We used the capabilities of the Vario-Lift system to receive triggers from the Virtuoso. It gives Tom Cusimano, our motion control man, the opportunity to observe how the computer system and the motors are performing during the show — that way, he can hit the panic button that stops everything if there's a problem,” he says. Controlling the motors through the Virtuoso console has worked out well. “I really don't have to worry about them during the show. The motor cues just happen automatically, based on how I programmed them within the lighting cues.”

The current leg of the Mad Season tour concluded in early May, and the band is expected to do sheds in the summer. Brickman is happy with the way it turned out. “I like it — I think it's a really good, entertaining show, and it's nice to see something new.”

Search LightingDimensions.com for an archived story, 1998 vintage, about Matchbox Twenty (then 20).


Tour Vendors
VLPS Los Angeles
Vario-Lift motors provided by Show Distribution Group Inc., Quebec City, Quebec

Lighting Designer
Marc Brickman

Lighting Director & Programmer
Ben Richards

Production Manager
Chris Kansy

Stage Manager
Andy O'Millianowski

Lighting Crew Chief
Scott Norden

Vari*Lite Technicians
Ronald Beal, Joe Chardukian, Mark Villa

Motion Control Programmer/Rigger
Tom Cusimano

Mike Gomez

Projectionist/Soft Goods
Pete Roberts

Lighting Equipment

56 Vari*Lite VL2416s
26 Vari*Lite VL7s
14 Vari*Lite VL5s
14 Diversitronics strobes
7 Lycian Starklite 1200 spots with truss chairs
14 Kino Flo fluorescent panels
6 Altman DWE 8-lights
14 ETC Source Four PARs
14 Wybron Colorams
14 10' sections 20.5"x20.5" A-type truss grid
2 8' sections 20.5"x20.5" A-type truss grid
14 4' sections 20.5"x20.5" A-type box truss
7 4' sections 20.5"x20.5" A-type truss grid
6 20"x20" A-type corner blocks grid
13 10' sections light-duty box truss traveler and side leg trusses
2 Vari*Lite Virtuoso consoles
1 Clear-Com intercom system
2 Reel EFX DF-50 hazers
2 Reel EFX high-powered fans
2 Cameleon 6k Teleprojectors
11 ChainMaster Vario-Lift motors
Lee Filters gel
RTS Systems intercom system