The moment Annie Lennox walks on stage, the standing-room-only crowd greets her with thunderous applause. It's been four years since her last solo tour, and those lucky enough to get tickets to her current tour of intimate theatres have been waiting in anticipation. The crowd at San Francisco's Masonic Auditorium got Lennox on the second date of her Songs of Mass Destruction tour and heard four new songs from the newly released CD of the same name. Once she opened the show with “No More ‘I Love You's’” she had the crowd at her mercy the rest of the evening, and for those Eurythmics diehards, she played several songs from those years including such favorites as “Sweet Dreams” and “Here Comes The Rain Again.” She closed the show with the hauntingly beautiful “Why,” leaving the crowd knowing they witnessed one of the truly rare performances of a gifted artist.
We spoke with lighting designer/director Simon Sidi, who is also pulling tour manager duties. Sidi has worked with Lennox before, as well as on the briefly reunited Eurythmics tour. Sidi literally stepped off one tour — the So You Think You Can Dance tour — before jumping onboard for this one. We also talked with video tech Jason Varner about the show.
LD: How did the planning for this tour unfold?
Simon Sidi: I had a number of meetings with Annie to discuss ideas about her tour. I listened to the new CD and worked with her to create what we hope will be a fantastic experience for the audience. We decided to include video, so it's about creating a link between the video and the lighting. We wanted to remind the audience about Annie's history and past music, so we picked through the set list and dusted down her videos from the 80s and 90s, and then added songs from the new CD. We played with them, did a little reediting, and treated them to give them what we hope is a fresh new look, complementing them with lighting.”
Jason Varner: The content is mostly up to Annie and Simon. The idea is to use the most iconic images and clips from her past work for the hits. For the new songs, the content is primarily comprised of strong images that convey the theme or tone of the song and hopefully provoke an emotional response. We were in rehearsals for about a day-and-a-half. It can be challenging to establish a rhythm in that environment, and so after the first show, it was obvious that some things worked better than others. The content is definitely evolving as the show continues. In Boulder, we decided to do IMAG, a first on this tour, for “Ghosts in My Machine.” It looked great, so we'll probably continue to use that for the rest of the tour.
The heart of the video system is a beefed-up 24" iMac. I can use Adobe Final Cut, Photoshop, and MPEG streamclip to edit the video and still assets and then assemble them in Keynote for the show. This is great because our screen is 8'×24', so any content is going to have to be cropped, stretched, split, or tweaked to make it look right. The iMac does the work of several boxes by itself. From the iMac, the signal goes to a Barco/Folsom ImagePro-HD, where the signal is converted to HDSDI before being sent to a pair of converged Barco FLM R20 projectors. We need a lot of projector punch on stage to cut through all the light and make the video pop. We also have a 25'×50' silver curtain that we use during Annie's acoustic piano set that we project onto using a Digital Projection Inc. Lightning 28SX.
LD: What about the lighting setup?
SS: I'm using Vari-Lites [VL2500 wash and spot fixtures] on the tour. It's been a long time since I've used them, but they're fantastic. I love them. They look great and are very reliable which makes the crew happy. I'm using a [Flying Pig Systems] Wholehog 2 desk. It works, and I know how to use it. I know there are bigger and better desks around, and I will move on one day, but I like desks to be simple and easy to use. I'm also using the Coemar Super Cyc, which I love. No other light will do what that light can do. When I place it behind the band, focused downstage, you get a wall of light that cannot be produced by any other light that I know of. If you remember Genesis in the old days, they did a song called “Afterglow.” That's the kind of effect I want. Then I have a few Coemar PARLite LEDs to light the mini beam truss. I think LEDs are great for lighting set and scenic pieces. Then I have a beautiful Silver Brilliance Plus drape downstage of the band, which looks fantastic when we project onto it and, of course, wonderful when lit. [Also on the rig are ETC Source Four ellipsoidals.]
We also have a great crew with us. Jason has worked very hard as the video guru — a real pleasure to have on tour — and thanks to our lighting crew, Attaboy and Tyrone, who work hard and have the best attitude.”
JV: It's great to work with Simon again. I worked with him last summer for the first time on the American Idols Live tour as the video engineer. This tour thus far has been delightfully civilized. We've got condos on the bus; 'nuff said.”
Songs of Mass Destruction Tour Credits
Tour Manager: Simon Sidi
Production Manager: Yard Gavrilovic
Video Tech: Jason Varner
Techs: Jason “Attaboy” Stalter and
Tyrone “Pumbaa” Arnold
Lighting vendor: PRG
Video vendor: Nocturne