Montreal-based indie rock band Arcade Fire hit the road this summer in support of its album The Suburbs, working closely with lighting/production designer Susanne Sasic and video designer/director Richard Stembridge for this US/Mexico leg, now playing in Europe. The collaboration produced a powerful stage look that perfectly supported the band’s musical take on life in the American suburbs.
Sasic, working with Arcade Fire for the first time, notes that the band was interested in creating a suburban landscape in line with the theme of the CD. “They wanted a video-heavy show, specifically, ‘not a big moving light show,’ while they were also interested in finding a way to streamline the stage setup, which includes eight band members playing multiple instruments at different locations,” Sasic says. Essentially, her lighting and production design had to incorporate a lot of elements. “I needed to bring the band’s vision of the suburbs to life, incorporate video and projection into the overall design, create a festival-friendly lighting rig, and provide a design that could grow through different stages of the tour, including the warm-up club shows, one-offs, festivals, and finally, the full-blown arena tour.”
Sasic began the production design with the stage set. “I helped the band create an overall stage layout which included a single stage-wide custom-built riser with translucent grey Textilene® skirts, custom built keyboard stands, and Marley flooring,” explains Sasic. Textilene is PVC-coated polyester mesh normally used for covering outdoor concert scaffolding and speaker towers. At the band’s request, the unifying color for the physical objects onstage, including the set pieces, flooring, risers, and band gear, is gray. The lights, truss, and associated hardware are all black.
Sasic’s overall production design includes a large surface for front-projection as well as an additional smaller scale video screen that supports the suburban landscape theme. “The band was interested in seeing a billboard image onstage, so I made the centerpiece of the design a billboard framed with LEDs and strobes that doubles as a video screen. Behind it is a 60'x28' backdrop printed with an image of a highway overpass. The billboard is offset by what we call our ‘stadium lights,’ consisting of 16 Wybron beam projectors arranged in a 4x4 grid atop a 20'-high aluminum pole set piece.”
The stadium light rig and the LED video billboard actually hang from chain motors; the ground supports are simply set pieces designed to look like supporting poles. Accurate Staging supplied the risers and backdrop, and Shock Studios created the custom keyboard stands, billboard, and stadium light pole set pieces.
For the lighting, Sasic says she wanted to keep the band well lit from the front and especially the side, as all eight members are meant to be featured as equal players. “I also wanted to keep fixtures and trusses up high, on the floor or far offstage, framing the backdrop projection surface, not blocking it,” she says, adding that the band had specific requests for the lighting and video color palettes that referenced faded Polaroid photographs, as well as the washed out acid oranges and greens of sodium halide street lighting. “I made sure the lighting is dynamic and fast moving to match the pace of much of the show, and the [Philips Vari-Lite] VLXs give me the washed out greens and oranges that were a key part of the original color concept,” she says.
The beam projectors that are used as the stadium lights and the Chromlech Jarags are tungsten sources. “The stadium lights should have probably been color-corrected to a higher temperature to really give that bright, harsh parking lot at night feel, but I wanted a big block of tungsten light from above to go with all the Jarags, which are low floor tungsten sources,” says Sasic, who likes to mix color temperatures in her lighting designs.
The lighting designer singles out a few pieces of gear that she felt were key choices in supporting her design. “The VLXs gave me that washed out color palette, as well as the brightness and large beams needed to cover a large number of stage positions, as well as audience lighting,” she says. “The Jarags gave me floor tungsten lighting with interesting built-in rhythmic effects—great, versatile fixtures.” Sasic programs and operates her own shows, using an MA Lighting grandMA console. The lighting for the US tour was supplied by Upstaging. (For the initial early summer rehearsals in Montreal, Solotech supplied the lighting.)
Sasic notes, “I like the all the linear framing elements—the two upstage vertical strobe towers, the horizontal row of i-Pix BB4s beneath the riser, and the LED PARs [Coemar ParLite LEDs] and strobes that frame the billboard. All the chasing marquee effects go so well with the pace of much of the band’s music, especially the more synth, moog, and keyboard-based songs. I’m also happy with how the set turned out; the billboard, stadium lights, and backdrop all tie in well together. I’m fortunate to have the opportunity to work with such a creative band on such a comfortably large scale.”
Michael S. Eddy owns Eddy Marketing & Consulting, which handles marketing, media relations, and events. He also freelances as a writer on design and technology, and can be reached at email@example.com. He has worked in the entertainment technology industry for over 25 years with ETC, Rosco, Barbizon, and Kliegl Bros., and as a lighting designer and technical editor.