One solo performer, a single instrument, a great voice: Alicia Keys on her June 2011 four-city tour, Piano & I, celebrated the 10th anniversary of her breakthrough album, Songs in A Minor.
Each city displayed a slight variation on a theme by lighting designer Bryan Barancik. “Since the gear did not travel, each show had slightly different makes and models of equipment to accommodate what was available at the time,” he says, noting the rental shops paired with each city: Paris/Arpège; London/Royal Albert Hall house rig and Neg Earth; Los Angeles/Epic Production Technologies; and New York City/Scharff Weisberg.
The basic rig comprised 32 Philips Vari-Lite VL3000 Spots, eight VL3500 Wash FX units, 34 Martin Professional MAC 2000 Wash fixtures, 20 Clay Paky Alpha Beam 700s, a Lycian M2 rear truss spot (London), two Reel EFX DF-50 foggers, and two Martin M1 consoles. “The show started behind a curtain,” Barancik explains. “When the curtain opened, there was a single VL3000 Spot on Keys. I used the VL3000 as backlight for better control of color temperature and steadiness. I could make slight adjustments to the color.”
Fixtures on the floor—14 of the VL3000s and the eight VL3500 Wash FX units—added multiple beams and additional movement. “With the VL35000s, I used the wide zoom to make a wash wall of color from the ground behind her or opened the lens for a fat column of light, a very powerful beam, and also used the gobos. It was like getting three kinds of light in one fixture,” notes Barancik. Gear added at the Beacon Theatre in New York for an AOL Sessions shoot included 12 Martin Professional MAC 301 Wash units, 12 VL2500 Spots, and 16 ETC Source Four PAR MFL fixtures.
As Keys performed alone at the piano the entire evening, she wanted to make the stage seem more intimate and welcoming. “She took a bigger stage and made it smaller by surrounding the piano with candelabras,” says Barancik, who added real candles to his gear list. “We had permission to use them on stage, and the special, long-burn candles lasted just about the 90 minutes of the set.” The flickering flames added special warmth to the performances.
The color palette depended on the mood of each song. “Alicia made a good rehearsal tape that I was able to use to preprogram 22 songs in the ESP Vision suite at Upstaging in Sycamore, IL, in two-and-a-half days,” says Barancik. “They were tremendously helpful in the organization of it all. I just locked myself in the studio and went for it.”
Barancik’s goal was to create stage pictures to complement Keys’ style. “There is a lot of energy in her playing and singing, and there were subtleties in the transitions with color and intensity fades that reflected what she was doing on the piano. My goal was to make the lighting as musical as her performance,” he says. “The lighting evolved throughout the show, creating an arc that followed the music, with peaks and valleys building and growing from start to finish. The number of lights and the complexity of the cues went from smaller to more elaborate by the end of the show. My biggest goal was for the lighting to be musical and fluid.”