In a radically altered fashion statement, Sheryl Crow appears with straightened scraggly hair, heavy makeup, and tight designer clothes on the cover of her second, self-titled album, and in her video for "If It Makes You Happy." LD and production manager Paul "Arlo" Guthrie took that as his cue when designing her current tour to promote the new record.
"We did start out with a bold new look to go along with her current image--I originally had a backdrop made out of shower curtains, which was done by a New York company," says Guthrie. "That basically evolved from looking at the photos and the high-fashion, very harsh-looking images that were in her album and photo shoots at the time. We toured with that for a while, then we got to England and shot a 12-camera video, and she looked at it and decided that it was a little too full-on."
The artist went back to wearing jeans and T-shirts and the show replaced the plastic curtains with shirred drapery. By the time the tour arrived in New York City in February, the hard edges had effectively been blunted. "We just tried to diffuse the harshness," Guthrie says.
Guthrie met Crow when he was production manager for Crowded House's 1994 US tour, and she was the opening act. "No one had heard of her, but near the end of 1994 she rang up and said, 'I'm going out on a tour next year; I need a production manager and a lighting designer.' Two weeks into the tour was the Grammy Awards, and she picked up three of them. The rest, as they say, is history: We haven't stopped working since. And all the gang which were on the first week of that first headline tour are pretty much all here. The tour manager and me, a house guy, the guitar tech, plus Curry Grant at Vari-Lite--a totally excellent human being--has completely looked out for me."
Guthrie also has almost the same lighting rig as for the 1995 tour, which consists of 15 Vari*Lite(R) VL6(TM) automated spot luminaires, 14 VL5(TM) automated wash luminaires, one DF-50 fog machine, and an Artisan(R) control console, supplied by Concert Production Lighting in conjunction with Vari-Lite. "We stuck with our Vari*Lite system because it's extremely easy and very beneficial for its size. We've actually used this rig all around the world now. For instance, we were in Europe for a one-shot at Royal Albert Hall and two shows in Manchester and Birmingham in their civic halls, and I just rang up Carol Croft and asked for the same system. I have proven that you can take one disk everywhere and set it up in three hours.
"That is an awesome selling point for us," Guthrie continues. "In Australia we only did two headline shows but I could still go in and present the full-blown show. All we took down was the backdrop in a road case. So it has a high yield for very little investment in terms of time. I can be the production idiot all day, and just run out and do a focus while everyone else is sound-checking and making noise. The speed and reliability are huge bonuses for me, and we can go out with just one lighting tech (Bill Snawder) and rock hard. So it's all very simple. We don't invest much in big tricks."
While almost everything is the same, Guthrie did redesign almost all of Crow's "Tuesday Night Music Club" songs, and then added one effective new trick: two 4'-diameter (1.2m) revolving mirror balls in the upstage corners. "'Superstar' is a fantastic 70s disco song that just screams for mirror balls," Guthrie explains. "I used the same idea with the Finn Brothers last year because they wanted them, and it happened that Jands has some that sit on the floor, which creates this big vortex effect. I decided to keep it if I found another song it fitted.
"Everyone has laughed at me for having them, but Wayne Boehning at CPL dug them out for me. They souped up a fancy-looking motor that sits on the ground, and these big half-mirror-balls sit on top--connected by an incredibly high-tech, patented Velcro fastening procedure," Guthrie laughs. "That's our only fancy effect."
After journeying to foreign lands including Japan and Australia, the production will return to the US in August for a shed tour, at which point Guthrie plans to have beefed up the lighting system. "Being the production manager, sometimes I have to cut back on the lighting budget," Guthrie laughs. "I have to ask myself how many lights I want, and of course I want lots. But then I'll have to tell myself, 'Sorry, you can't have that many.' I'd like to get some more fancy effects the next time around, but there's never been a huge tendency in this camp to want to go for the big light show. I don't know that any big designers would ever get away with convincing her or her management that she needs a huge light show. In the bigger venues, I would just like to create a bit more depth."