With no opening act on the bill, audiences attending An Evening With Liz Phair were treated to a slide show of the famously foul-mouthed singer/ songwriter in various goofy poses with friends as well as other images including her three album covers. To oversee the design, Phair and her manager, Doc McGhee, recruited LD Jason Boyd, whom they had met on last summer's Lilith Fair, where he was Natalie Merchant's LD.
Working with his associate, scenic designer Megan Ingalls, Boyd created a design that included a shrouded stage, per McGhee's instructions. "Doc had a real clear idea about wanting to have a ceiling, so I found this silver material called Poly Sheen, which has a space age look to it that fits the whole Liz Phair, 70s-meets-90s feel," Boyd explains. "Doc really wanted to have the curtain there because they wanted her to be in silhouette for the opening moment, and I came up with the idea to have the watery pools of light around her when the curtain slowly opened. It's also nice to have the ceiling because it's almost like having two cycs: one on the back and one on the roof. We tried to play with the light on the ceiling as well as in the background so we could surround the band with light."
The designer feels that the colors he used were especially important to the show's overall design. "I used a secondary color scheme for the first time in my career. I've almost always used primary color schemes, but I've been listening to her music as a fan for several years, and secondary colors came to mind when I was designing the songs because it's all a little offbeat. There are magentas instead of straight red, and a blue-green instead of a blue, for instance; the watery-looking opening works really well."
Boyd designed the lighting system with help from programmer Stan Green. "I couldn't have done any of this without Stan," Boyd says. "He's the Robert Cray Band's LD and is such a pro. We only had about two days to program, and he really pulled through for me. We were able to crank out 20 songs. Breckinridge Haggerty did a great job as lighting director as well; we had to design a few more songs while out on the road."
With the multiple titles of projection operator/head electrician/rigger, Tiffany McLane also covered many of the show's technical bases for Boyd. The lighting equipment, supplied by main lighting contractor Delicate Productions, included 10 High End Systems Studio Colors(R), 14 High End Technobeams(R), eight ETC Source Fours, and 14 Lighting & Electronics Mini-Strips with control via a Flying Pig Systems Wholehog II console.
"Having the Mini-Strips as footlights actually became a big part of the design," Boyd says. "We didn't want to use followspots, because often in club situations you get such a flat angle. Liz doesn't like to work with followspots either, so having the footlights opened her up and let her strut around and still be lit."
While the LD admits that price had a lot to do with his equipment choices, he was very pleased with the show's outcome. "The gobos High End puts in the Technobeams have a very rave kind of feel," Boyd says. "With the right prism and the right out-of-focusness, you can make them kind of theatrical as well. Those templates actually suited Liz's music pretty well because it's a rough kind of rock and roll but it also has its ravy moments. They were a good tool. I love the little lasers, too; it's fun to use those."
The fun of the slide show continued at various points throughout the show. "Working with Lonnie Hamilton and Kevin Curtin of Staging Techniques, I grouped the opening images so there would be a black-and-white section and then a color section," Boyd says. "I picked images such as a group of butterflies for the song 'Perfect World,' because it's a very small song about her and the wing imagery suited it. We used a bunch of art slides and colored prisms and different shapes that Liz had picked out, for 'Whitechocolatespaceegg.' For 'Flower,' her very famous dirty song, we used these black-and-whites that were like different shapes from the inner sleeve of her first album; these weird black-and-whites are up there while the audience is singing 'Every time I see your face,' and so on. Then it has a really tongue-in-cheek ending--we put up a phallic and a vaginal slide together at the very end. It actually got a laugh at one of the first shows in LA."
A somewhat harsher set of images were projected for Phair's "Dance of the Seven Veils." "For that, we had some other black-and-whites," Boyd says. "Some of them are actually Bauhaus images from 40s Germany, and Moholy-Nagy and other artists Liz had picked out. Overall, I think we were able to give all the songs individual looks, so I was really happy with the way it all worked out."
Phair canceled the last few weeks of her 1998 tour, but is scheduled to make them up this year.