What's black, white, and red all over? Susanne Sasic's lighting design for the White Stripes' Icky Thump tour is nothing short of a modern miracle, given the limited color palette and minimalist approach the band takes to live shows. Vari-Lite's new VL3500s and Martin's Atomic 3000 Strobes with custom red scrollers play a key role on the tour, which features only a seamless red backdrop with three staircases, a catwalk, and one giant disco ball hanging stage left. Four carefully placed custom painted 1kW baby Fresnels with custom floor bases cast giant shadows of the band at specific moments, making them seem larger-than-life.
Sasic first went on the road with the White Stripes in support of their 2003 album Elephant, and they absolutely insisted on having zero moving lights, so this was somewhat of an upgrade, technologically speaking. “We had a lot more freedom to do different things this time,” Sasic says. “You definitely have more flexibility with moving lights, although we keep referring to it as the ‘analog show’ because it deliberately has no video, no LEDs, and it's fairly dark.” A technology-infused spectacle it's not, but nobody seems to be complaining about the art of it.
After a round of festival shows in Europe this summer, with a handful of headliners thrown in, the band embarked on an unusual journey, stopping at every single province in Canada and playing a series of surprise shows in unlikely venues with no lights at all. “The B shows they did were in a daycare center, a flower mill, on a boat, in a bowling alley — all these weird places,” Sasic recalls. Once back in the US, they did 10 days down the East Coast.
One thing the shows with lights do not feature is a set list, so Sasic's got to pretty much light each and every show on the fly. “He [Jack White] calls it when they're on stage,” she explains. “I don't have specific looks for every song, which I think is sometimes obvious. A lot of songs share the same looks, and other songs have specific things, but I try to do it so I don't have to scroll through 10 or 20 pages of cues. I really only have seven pages of cues, and that's it.” Working on an MA Lighting grandMA for the first time, Sasic says this is a great tour to get to know the desk because it's such a small rig. “A good portion of the right-hand side is fixed template faders that are the same on every page — shadow lights and the audience lights — so it's not that many cues, and they are repeated, so I just have to watch him and pay attention to what he's doing,” she says. “It's not as precise as most tours.”
Lighting equipment was provided by PRG, including four six-bars with ETC Source Four MFL PARs, four 1kW baby Fresnels with floor stands (bodies and yokes painted red, floor bases painted white), six PAR36 Pinspots, three 5kW Fresnels, nine ETC Source Four 36° ellipsoidals with Iris, 10 4-Lights with DWE lamps (2×2), four Vari-Lite VL500s, 21 Vari-Lite VL3000 Spots, nine Vari-Lite VL3500 Washes, five Martin MAC 600 Washes (all MAC 600s are floor fixtures), 21 Martin Atomic Colors 3000 Strobes with White Stripes custom scrolls, all operated on MA Lighting grandMA and grandMA Light consoles.
“I can't really speak for the color mixing on the VL3500s because I use open white and only two shades of red: a bluish red and a more orangey red, but I love the beam, and they do interesting things when the beam changes shape from narrow to wide,” Sasic notes. “I feel like I'm just scratching the surface of all the interesting things you can do with them because the show is so simple.”
Rigging equipment — which is all black — includes one 10' T-pipe boom stand, thirteen 10' A-type truss, two 8' A-type truss, eight 10' mini beam truss, three 24' mini beam truss, one 40' outrigger pipe, one steel base plate, and two 1/4 ton motors. Additional gear includes a 3' mirror ball, one ReelEFX DF-50 Hazer and fan, two 40' black truss borders, a 40'×28' black drape, and eight Kabuki solenoid units. The entire set was built by Accurate Staging, including a custom-sewn red trapeze backdrop and red Lonseal flooring.
With numerous awards under their white belts, (including three Grammys), this duo continues to prove that less really can be more.
Lighting Designer: Susanne Sasic
Production Manager: Steve Gordon
Rigger/Carpenter: Pat Boyd
Lighting Systems Techs: Greg Gore and Jason Winfree
PRG Account Executive: John Lobel