It borders on sheer idolatry. From the very first note of “Start Me Up” to the last chord of “Satisfaction,” the fans are on their feet cheering for Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Ron Wood, and Charlie Watts. The energy both on and off stage is overwhelming as The Rolling Stones put on one of their best shows ever. The current tour, A Bigger Bang, is not simply bigger, but also more sophisticated in terms of the design and technology. The key members of the design team, Patrick Woodroffe (lighting) and Mark Fisher (sets), have collaborated with the Stones since the wildly successful 1989-90 Steel Wheels tour and have given this year's show an elegant, yet technically challenging production design.
Knowing that there would be both indoor (arena) and outdoor (stadium) shows on the tour, the decision was made early on to have two different looks. “We decided not to make a common theme except in terms of the video,” says Woodroffe. “The focus is more on the band this time; that's where they are. It's a case of confidence. After 40 years of playing together, they are relaxed into, and know they are still good at it. We tried to reflect their comfort with being on stage.”
The key to Woodroffe's lighting is to “light the band really well at all times and go for spectacle when it's called for or intimacy at other moments,” he says. To design two different shows, he assembled a large rig: the same fixtures in different configurations for indoors and outdoors, with separate cabling and patching for each show. In the outdoor stadium situation, Woodroffe finds that lighting the sets is not the challenge, but lighting the band on a big open stage can be as hard as it is to find the proper front light and side light positions and get enough light in front of the drum kit.
The outdoor solution for A Bigger Bang solved that problem nicely. “There are 200 people sitting on stage,” explains Woodroffe. “This is very exciting for the audience and gave us great lighting and video positions on huge cantilevered seating pods.” The multi-layer design of the stage seating areas, which flank the central LED video screens, made life a lot easier for Woodroffe, programmer Dave Hill, and associate lighting designer Ethan Weber, who also serves as lighting director running the lighting Wholehog® 3 console.
In designing for outdoors, Fisher referred to La Scala and The Globe Theatre, looking at how the audience boxes are arranged around the traditional horseshoe shape. “It's as if the audience on stage is watching the band perform in an opera house,” says Fisher. “The analogy doesn't really hold up, but we had to start someplace. We went through Baroque, Mad Max, and decayed-industrial to an expressionistic piece of 1950s streamlined modernism.” It has been suggested that the pods, which echo opera house seating “are like angel wings over the stage with the video screen in the center,” Fisher adds. One set of production scenery travels to every show: it is fixed to one of the two identical constructions of StageCo steelwork that leapfrog from one outdoor tour date to the next.
The five levels of the 200' wide × 90' high seating pods include two levels for audience, one for followspots, and two for automated luminaires. The steel frames built by StageCo are covered with 90 fiberglass composite panels built by Brilliant Stages. These attach to custom aluminum trusses built by Tomcat that wrap around the steel armature. “The shapes of the fascia panels are complicated and match the curves of the facade,” notes Fisher. Tait Towers built the main stage and B stage units.
Working with PRG, lighting supplier for the rig (except the Syncrolites), Woodroffe and Fisher added 420 Chroma-Q™ Color Block DB4 fixtures from A.C. Lighting to uplight the audience seated behind the stage and the set itself. These RGB color-changing LED fixtures are mounted in narrow troughs along the bottom edge of the fascia panels for even color washes at any angle to self-illuminate the balconies.
The outdoor rig includes 66 Martin MAC 2000 Profile spots fitted with the Woodroffe-designed collection of gobos, 82 MAC 2000 Wash units, 36 VARI*LITE VL5™ Wash units, 22 VL5 Arcs, 256 ACL PARs, 28 Molefays, 28 Molemags, 24 Martin Atomic Strobes, eight Syncrolite 7kW luminaires, 23 Syncrolite B52s, 40 Palco LED fixtures, six Hungaroflash units, 34 ETC Source Four® PARs (to light the audience on stage), six Lycian M2 followspots, eight Strong 3K Gladiator followspots, and 12 MR16 flood battens. As the rig is continuously morphing from the arena rig to the stadium rig, PRG helped streamline the process by providing a detailed equipment management system. Color-coded packaging helps the crew retrieve the proper gear for each show.
Among the changes for the inside show, the number of MAC 2000 Profiles jumped to 72, the MAC 2000 Wash luminaires decreased to 75, and Woodroffe used four of the Lycian M2 followspots while adding six Lycian Stark Lites to the mix. The layout of the indoor rig includes several series of trusses: parallel to the stage; perpendicular to the stage out over the audience; and circular above the B stage. There are also five square lighting pods overhead on stage, with a mix of MAC Profiles and Wash units. “We scattered the inventory over the trusses,” says Woodroffe, who also added additional truss behind the video screen to make a wider stage picture.
Woodroffe's lighting for A Bigger Bang can be described as song-specific, or as he says: “Give each song its own identity. There is a feeling of freshness for each song. The environment on stage changes to another world every four or five minutes. You can even take away the use of color.” Even though the song list varies from show to show, Woodroffe had a shape in mind for the show very early on, referring to the numbers as “the first red song, the big spectacle song, or the first song with video.” Some songs have very big looks while others are bathed in white light of various color temperatures — what Woodroffe calls “the Stones' signature look.”
The energy of the band also helps define the lighting. “You can use one look for a few minutes,” Woodroffe notes. “The band has so much energy; you don't have to support it with flashing lights. You can be visually quiet. The older I get, the fewer cues I put in, and that's not a bad thing.” One of the quietest moments in the show is a solo number by Keith Richards. “It is very poignant,” says Woodroffe. “There is a small, postage stamp size image of his face that gets bigger and bigger until it fills the screen, and the stage is bathed in blue light. Mixing with the video and LEDs, the lighting shoots from cherry red, hot pink, chrome yellow, and an electric blue to black and white and sepia tones. Woodroffe, who also designs for opera, musicals, hotels, and the opening of Disney Hong Kong, knows how to play with color and dynamics. “It's all how you play those cards,” he says. “You have to know what you are lighting.”
Woodroffe's use of the 5kW Syncrolite B52s adds power to the lighting, both indoors and out. “They have a huge beam that adds a different texture,” notes lighting director Ethan Weber. For the inside show, the B52s are placed strategically throughout the rig, including the upstage truss, the side trusses, and the stage floor. The 7kW Syncrolites are used for the outdoor show only. Weber also directs the eight front of house followspots used indoors, with two for Mick, two for Keith, two for Ron, one for the bass player, and one for the backup singers.
In the arena show, the stationary band members (Charlie Watts, keyboards, and horns) are lit with no-color ETC Source Fours. “I ride the intensity of the white light to change the intensity,” notes Weber, who remains busy at the console throughout each show, “hitting cues, as the song list changes almost every night, and they can pull from hundreds of songs. Half of the challenge is figuring out which song can cover for another. I know the music well enough, but you still have to figure out where you want to go next,” he adds. He is also the only board operator for the show, running both conventionals and moving lights from the Wholehog 3.
Fisher's design for the indoor shows is also entirely different. The video screens were the same but used in what he calls “a more theatrical presentation.” No audience is on stage, but instead, a front curtain is used with an audience painted on it by Chris Clark, a London-based scenic painter. The opening act plays in front of the curtain; then it flies out during the show. To create the sense of a proscenium, Fisher added a portal on either side of the stage. Built by the Stephen Pyle Workshop in London, these were also painted by Clark, using gold leaf and metallic blue paint.
THE VIDEO CONNECTION
Woodroffe and Fisher worked with Sam Pattinson, a UK video producer, to curate the video clips used in the show. “He worked with Willie Williams and me on U2,” notes Fisher. For A Bigger Bang, Pattinson solicited existing video from over 100 video artists, which differed from past tours where all content was custom-created. “This meant we were able to review finished video with the band, rather than talking them through storyboards and ending up with something that didn't look like what we planned,” Fisher explains. The band would say yes or no, then video director Christine Strand and Woodroffe would work the material into the show. “This meant we could have a wide variety of video, from clips of the band's career from established artists to pieces by students.” The clips include some juicy versions of the band's lips and tongue logos.
Woodroffe enjoyed the luxury of being able to look at the video in rehearsal while the band was playing. “I've worked with Christine Strand for many years, and she is one of the best video directors,” he says. “She makes it all seem so effortless and not too obvious. She knows when to cut fast or let it play.”
Strand points out that the video screens differ from indoors to outdoors. Indoors features a 34' wide × 20' high-resolution LED screen by Panasonic in front of a 67' high × 36' wide lower resolution LED screen by Screenworks NEP. The main outdoor screen, also by Screenworks NEP, measures 42' high × 42' wide. To the left and the right of main screen (behind the seating balconies) are the (70' wide × 50' high) SLR (Screenworks Low Resolution) LED screens. Video playback is via a DoReMi hard drive system with a Panasonic PBS 9000i switcher.
For the indoor shows, Strand sits backstage and is out front during the outdoor shows, where she has better control of levels to converge neatly with Woodroffe's lighting. And like the lighting, the video is also song-specific. “In rehearsal, we worked closely together to mesh the color schemes and the dynamics of the lighting and the video,” explains Strand, who mixes live I-Mag images with the recorded video segments. “It is pretty much the same content indoors and outdoors but used differently.” Indoors, the low-resolution screen often has abstract images or video clips that encircle the live images, like a kinetic picture frame around the Stones as they play.
How big is A Bigger Bang? Fisher says it is probably the biggest thing anyone has ever moved for a rock tour (65 trucks without the t-shirts, he claims). With veteran director of production Jake Berry at the helm, it all moves smoothly. “It is the most effortless production in the 20 years I've been working with the Stones,” says Woodroffe. “It all comes from the band and a lot of people who have worked with the band for a long time. After the first show in Boston, we said this is too good to be true.” Maybe Mick has finally gotten the satisfaction he certainly deserves!
Rolling Stones A Bigger Bang Crew
Production designed by Mick Jagger, Charlie Watts, Mark Fisher, and Patrick Woodroffe
Overall director of production: Jake Berry
Architects and stage design: The Mark Fisher Studio
Technical director: Jeremy Lloyd
Lighting design: Patrick Woodroffe
Lighting director: Ethan Weber
Lighting programmer: Dave Hill
Video production director: Sam Pattinson
Video director: Christine Strand
Head rigger: Jez Craddick
Pyrotechnician: Pete Cappadocia
Production manager: Dale “Opie” Skjerseth
Stage manager: Antonio Giordano
Head carpenter: Seth Goldstein
Staging company and custom steelwork: StageCo Inc.
Staging design: Hans Willems
Structural engineering: MG Mclaren Engineering Group
Other steelwork by Sheetfabs Ltd.
Fabric engineering: Architen Landrell Ltd.
Main (rolling) stage: Tait Towers Inc ‘B’ stage truck
Mechanical engineering: Andy Edwards 3d Ltd.
Construction and Cladding construction: Brilliant Stages Ltd.
Cladding trusses: Tomcat Global Inc.
Arena stage portals: Stephen Pyle Workshop Ltd.
Crew chief: Kenny Ackerman
A Bigger Bang Tour Equipment List
|Outdoor Stadium Gear|
|82||Martin MAC 2000 Wash|
|66||Martin MAC 2000 Profile|
|22||VARI*LITE VL5 Arc|
|34||ETC Source Four® PAR|
|5||48-Way ETC Sensor® Racks|
|62||Bars ACL PAR|
|28||Mole 8-Lite Blinder|
|28||Wybron Eight Light Coloram II|
|6||Lycian M2 Followspot|
|24||Martin Atomic Strobe|
|40||SGM Palco LED|
|1||Flying Pig Systems Wholehog® 3|
|420||AC Lighting Chroma-Q™ Color Block DB4 (for audience seating set)|
|Indoor Arena Gear|
|75||Martin MAC 2000 Wash|
|72||Martin MAC 2000 Profile|
|8||Martin Atomic Strobes|
|12||VARI*LITE VL5 Arc|
|40||SGM Palco 3 LED|
|3||48-Way ETC Sensor Racks|
|2||24-Way ETC Sensor Racks|
|7||Mole 8-Lite Blinder|
|7||Wybron Eight Light Coloram II|
|4||Lycian M2 Followspot|
|6||Lycian Stark Lite Followspot|
|8||Bars ACL PAR|
|1||Flying Pig Systems Wholehog 3|