“There is always some pressure to do something new and different, but the band arrangement on stage is pretty locked in, and there are some clear requirements for the way Bruce and the band appear to the live audience—from a lighting standpoint but also how they appear on the I-Mag screens,” says designer Jeff Ravitz of Intensity Advisors about Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band’s Wrecking Ball Tour. “This is really born of a love of serious cinematography on Bruce’s part, and he certainly instilled the bug in me a long time ago.”
Ravitz notes that the manner in which Bruce and the band are revealed visually and emotionally are keys to his lighting design goals. “I must be prepared for anything at any time,” he says. “So, the lighting system has to be optimized for maximum flexibility and maximum power. When this band kicks into high gear, our lighting has to follow suit. But, it’s often all about angle. It’s not a casual, accidental thing. I work out the precise angles that light each band member, so I can reveal them in a multitude of ways, from open-and-broad to mysterious-and-selective. I give myself as many options as possible, but it’s worked out somewhat meticulously, and I fight to keep those angles sacred when other show elements threaten to make them secondary.”
Ravitz’s main lighting rig for the tour, which he describes as “like 20 or 30 mini-plays that each have a story line and feel,” is a mix of gear from Morpheus Lights, Ayrton, Clay Paky, Martin Professional, Philips Vari-Lite, Chauvet, Philips Color Kinetics, ZAP Technology, Robert Juliat, and ETC. The foundation of his design consists of broad color washes that he says set the tone. “And since Bruce loves the warmth of tungsten, those washes were accomplished with the Morpheus FaderBeam, a tungsten moving wash light with a color-mixing scroller built in,” Ravitz says.
Two major shifts, however, occur in this tour, compared to past outings. The first is a move toward using LED fixtures. “We decided to examine the possibility of changing [the FaderBeams] to an LED source this tour, but it had to meet several requirements,” says Ravitz. “It had to be capable of natural, tungsten-like warmth, which is not necessarily a normal component of an LED light. It needed to have significant punch and brightness and, hopefully, not too much apparent pixilation to appear too ‘skittle-y.’ Morpheus found a French manufacturer Ayrton, and after an exhaustive testing process with many similar products, we agreed to change out the FaderBeams with Ayrton’s Wildsun 500. As a result, the show has a new vibrancy of color, especially in the deeper saturates that normally go quite dark when mixed subtractively.”
The second change is the added verticality to the stage. Vertical trusses, 20’-high, each hold six Clay Paky Sharpy units, which Ravitz says create graphics that this show has never had. “I also have many lights built into the stage risers that help create ‘background’ for a show with no real vertical surfaces to light because we can’t block views,” he adds. “I replaced almost all of those built-ins with more Sharpys and Martin Professional MAC Auras. These fixtures are both very compact and punchy, so when they are needed for accent and strong graphic looks that complement the basic song cues, it works like an explosion of color and strength.”
Ravitz uses Philips Vari-Lite VL1100 tungsten spots with shutters to keylight the band, which he describes more as specials than keylighting, with each band member claiming at least two VL1100s, or one VL1100 and one ellipsoidal, for what the designer calls “really precise sculpting from one angle or another.” Each band member also has a VL2500 as a dedicated backlight that can change color and intensity, with or without a gobo. “No matter what else is happening, lighting-wise, they each have a backlight standing by and available to me,” says Ravitz, adding that every band member also has his own uplights—ETC Source Four PARs and MAC Auras—while Springsteen himself has four additional Sharpy units. The riser and runway fascias are lit with various Philips Color Kinetics LEDs and Morpheus Panabeam XR2+. VL3000s are used to texture the stage and players.
For audience washes, Ravitz wanted to move away from the look of an 8-light with color scroller that he’s used on past tours. Since the performances feature quite a bit call-and-response interaction, the designers had to create appropriate levels of audience coverage. “I felt certain we could find a ready-made LED product to do this, but instead we decided to take the Chauvet COLORado LED PAR and mount seven of them on a round frame to create an audience blaster that reaches the farthest depths of the audience, colors the entire arena with bright, rich additive color mixing, changes color with blinding speed, and looks very different and interesting. Morpheus also did a great job of designing the yoke and wiring system to be as tour-friendly as a massive, heavy fixture can be. It’s been named the CP-7 Blinder, and I believe Morpheus intends to make them commercially available.”
As Ravitz is rather fond of using large sources, having included Morpheus BriteBursts, Zap Technology LittleBig units, and Syncrolite fixtures on previous tours, this time around was no different. His design includes Zap L2D2 RGB LED units that can pan and tilt on a Zap one-arm yoke. “It also zooms to spot and flood focus,” says Ravitz. “It’s fast, bright, and makes for a very powerful, but curious, looking effect.
Stay tuned for more from Jeff Ravitz on the Wrecking Ball Tour.