It's hard to believe the “boys” from The Red Hot Chili Peppers (RHCP) have been churning out their brand of funk-infused rock for over 20 years. But when you consider that the band's monster 1991 release, Blood Sugar Sex Magik, was already its fifth studio album since forming in 1983, it sort of puts things in perspective, doesn't it? These guys have been at it a long time.

On the road once again, RHCP is supporting its ninth album (double album, to be exact), Stadium Arcadium, with a North America arena tour designed jointly by 40wattlabs' Scott Holthaus and Grier Govorko, who went into the project with the goal of bridging the gap between the band and the audience. “A twofold goal, really,” says Holthaus. “We wanted to bring the audience and the band closer together by obscuring the demarcation line between stage and crowd. The other goal was to provide a show for the audience in the further reaches of an arena.”

And this was no small task, given the band's extensive catalog, limited rehearsal schedule, and the need to write lighting, video, and camera cues in just a few weeks. “We basically walked into three weeks at the Los Angeles Forum with a list of 60 songs from the combined tours and an unfinished double album collection of 20 more songs they might play,” says Govorko.

To achieve their two-pronged attack — as well as what Holthaus describes as “an elegant feel juxtaposed with a raw low-res look” — the designers use 750 Element Labs Versa® Tubes (a combination of 1m and 2m) to dominate the set backdrop with low resolution imagery spanning 60' across, continuing up over the band and out over the audience, and creating a 100' ceiling of video and various effects. “Being a low-res product, we knew the further away one was, the clearer the image,” says Govorko. “Conversely, the closer one is, the less readable the image, so that the people closer to the stage would concentrate more on the artist and less on the ‘show’ and the further away, the opposite.” The Versa Tube backdrop was constructed by Tait Towers, with Versa Tubes provided by XL Video and rigging by 5 Points Rigging.

Four 12'×10' Barco DLite D7 LED screens, provided by Nocturne Productions, feature IMAG content to complement the seemingly endless Versa Tubes. The designers, however, didn't settle for straight IMAG content but opted, instead, for a more original look via custom software that allows the camera feed to run through Control Freak Systems media servers or the Vista Systems Spyder for a little extra spice.

“We have five or six different effects that are used during the show: solely on cameras, bold duotones, rescanned looks, high contrast black and white, among others,” says Holthaus, who also serves as operator for the show. “We're extremely happy with the results of that, both being less than fans of ‘boring old IMAG.’”

Media servers for both the Versa Tubes and the D7s are custom fabricated around Macintosh G5s by Control Freak Systems. One system (plus a spare) serves the Versa Tube rig, and another is dedicated to the D7 screens. Yet another works off of clips of eight lines of audio from FOH audio engineer Dave Rat. According to tour programmer and self-proclaimed button-pusher Leif Dixon, “I can then choose any line — guitar and bass are used most frequently — put a bandpass/range filter on it, and then route it to one of the media servers for audio-driven content.” Control Freak Systems' Stuart White wrote the code for the servers.

A pair of MA Lighting grandMAs controls all lighting, video, and camera effects for the tour. “With the grandMA, we can adjust IMAG on the fly with the buttons on the desk,” says Holthaus. “We can distort images for an effect or go black and white from a rescan camera or supplement the performance with odd video clips.” GrandMA 3D was also used early on for some previsualization, but all cueing was done onsite with the rig in place, according to Dixon.

When it comes to proud moments, Govoko adds, “We are particularly happy with what we call our ‘Warhol’ look, which is a camera effect that is essentially a high contrast duotone effect where we have control of the colors, so we can change IMAG into a very vivid and, at the same time, low-res thing on the fly with a bump button on the grandMA.”

The FOH setup is one massive network. Holthaus runs cues on one of the grandMAs, with Dixon on the other for “background stuff…video overrides, if necessary, homing fixtures, etc.,” the programmer says. “My fader layout is specific to my tasks and does not show the same things Scott's desk shows, yet my “Go” button is attached to his cue list. Basically, if he were to get hit with a beer grenade, for example, I can still run the main cue stack from my console without skipping a beat.”

The set also features a custom trolley system to move the D7s into one large 16:9 widescreen mode (48'×10') or to track into four separate panels. In order to keep content where it belongs on the shifting D7s, one of the grandMAs controls the Spyder, which “makes switching more precise and frees the director to cut cameras and not cut Spyder, so the content on the D7 screens changes in perfect synchronization with their movements,” Holthaus explains.

George Elizondo directs four live cameras and a remote camera, but FOH controls the screens and how content is fed to them. “We are using Art-Net out of a grandMA — via conversion through yet another Macintosh — to control the Spyder and a serial router backstage in video world,” adds Dixon. “We can take George's line cut, an individual camera or combinations of cameras, or media server content and route it to any of the four D7 screens or spread an image across all four in a widescreen format.”

Video content for the tour came from several sources, including some animation by Mondo Productions, various clips from G-E Projects, and some created by Holthaus and Govorko themselves.

Dixon's console acts as the host of the network, but experience has shown this crew the benefits of having a flexible system. “Earlier this year in Europe, ten minutes into a show, the power supply on my console failed, and we lost it — down for the count,” he says. “While the desk was still running off of the built-in UPS, I pulled the Ethernet cable from my desk at the end of a song during blackout. Scott's desk automatically took over the network, and the show continued perfectly. We run Cat5 to the beaches (SR & SL), where we drive the show off of NSPs.”

Lighting for this video-immersed set is delivered via fixtures hanging in custom pods constructed by Tait Towers. Also controlled by the grandMA, the lighting rig includes 64 Martin MAC 2000 Washes, 40 Martin Atomic 3000 Strobes, 50 Atomic 3000 Color Changers, 15 Syncrolite B52s, eight Robert Juliat 2.5kW Ivanhoe followspots with Wybron CXI color scrollers, and four 2kW Strand Bambino Fresnels. Premier Global Production Company supplies the fixtures.

Holthaus limited the types of fixtures used “so as to show force in numbers,” he says. “Breaking the fixtures up into various types tends to lessen the powerful effect of all the groups. The only remotely hard-edged or gobo-esque looks are when multiple opaque color string/patterns on the Syncrolite B52s work against each other to give a moving gobo effect.”

For color choices, the designers claim that they use color combinations that, once upon a time, would “make us sick, but now we rely on them,” says Holthaus. “We can't tell you what they are, but if you go to the candy aisle off Route 7 in Reno, Nevada, you can see for yourself, right next to the Laffy Taffy.”

As for challenges this time out, the setup time crunch (that old standby) was one, but Holthaus adds it was also tricky “getting our audio-to-video interface working properly.” Other than that, he notes, “The other main challenge is winning paper, rock, scissors for who, out of the FOH three, will have the soul-destroying task of dragging the drinks cooler to FOH for the night's performance.”

But overall, it all seems to work well technically. “I would say the only drawback is the difficulty in changing things on the fly during a show,” says Holthaus. “We attempted to integrate a MIDI controller through our media server to allow us access to various parameters of video playback — speeds, color shifts, scale, etc. — and although this seemed entirely doable, we ran out of time and decided to shelve it for now.”

To sum up the feel on the tour, Dixon says this: “I have two cowboy hats in my FOH workbox, a white one, customized by Scott, and a black one. For the record, I am not a cowboy, but I have a sense of humor. If I'm seen on any particular day wearing the white hat, it's a good day. Conversely, a black hat means it's not a good day, or there are problems with the rig — true story.”

And while Dixon's mood is indicated by the many hats he wears, both literally and figuratively, Holthaus and Govorko say that there are also challenges calling the show. Govorko, they say, believes he can read lips, while Holthaus tries, without success, to use sign language. “Although it tends to create moments of high humor among the squads of Spanish and Hungarian spot ops that stare on in earnest disbelief, it would tend to lead us to believe that there is a show-calling challenge that needs to be addressed,” jokes Holthaus.

The tour's production manager is Bill Rahmy, production coordinator is Natalie Drillings, lighting crew chief is James Vollhoffer, and VersaTube crew chief is Kenny Ackerman. RHCP continues touring the US and Canada into November, when the band heads to Europe. Several dates have also been announced in Australia for 2007.

RESOURCES:

40wattlabs www.40wattlabs.com

Barco www.barco.com

Control Freak Systems www.controlfreak.tv

Element Labs www.elementlabs.com

MA Lighting www.actlighting.com

Martin www.martin.com

Nocturne Productions www.nocturneproductions.com

Premier Global Production Company www.premierglobalproduction.com

Robert Juliat www.robertjuliatamerica.com

Strand www.strandlight.com

Syncrolite www.syncrolite.com

Tait Towers www.taittowers.com

Vista Systems vwww.istasystems.net

Wybron www.wybron.com

XL Video www.xlvideo.com