Four-letter words played a large role in LD Butch Allen's life on the road this past year--and we're not talking just expletives. The designer began working with Hole last year and finished off this past summer touring with slightly more soft-spoken Seal. While both lighting systems feature Light & Sound Design Icon(R) automated luminaires and High End Systems Studio Colors(R), the similarities pretty much end there.
Hole is a four-person band, but lead singer/songwriter Courtney Love certainly steers its course. Allen began doing lighting for the band late last year and served as lighting director for LD Roy Bennett's design during Hole's short-lived co-headlining tour with Marilyn Manson earlier this year. "The first time I was in rehearsals with Hole was at a radio show in Boston. And Courtney gets up onstage and is chit-chatting with the rest of the band. Then, out of her microphone, I hear her say, 'Forget it. Chaos is good.' So, that was the whole idea behind it," Allen explains. "They give you a set list, but it's really only there to throw you off the scent. You could go through and massively program this incredible show, but you'd never get the first three notes of any song in.
"She'll start three different songs sometimes and then finally choose what to play, or they'll play a Quiet Riot or Guns N Roses song instead of one of their own," he continues. "So it's just as much about taking care of the hit songs as it is about being prepared for anything."
The LD imparted this bit of wisdom to lighting director Dan Boland in the 24 hours they had to program the show before the band began its North American club tour. "I told him he should just be prepared for it not to be so much a trip through theatre, as much as it is spontaneous performance. While we did program looks for every song before I left, I heard the next night they played 'Cum on Feel the Noise' by Quiet Riot, (which was really by Slade, originally). How do you have something programmed for that? Fortunately, we had the Icon desk, so creating on the fly is pretty easy. Especially since Dan is all over that thing. He's a very talented programmer--actually, young designer. I felt that it wasn't too much of a stretch for him. It's Courtney, so you just don't ever know what's going to happen. Really, that's the best part of that job."
"There was definitely never a dull moment," Boland concurs. "They certainly kept me and everyone else on the crew on our toes, but it was a lot of fun."
The lighting system included the aforementioned Icons and Studio Colors as well as strobes and PAR cans. The band also retained the drapes Bennett designed for the Manson outing. "One of Roy's drapes was a white bounce, which was really cool and useful," Allen says. "He gave it some fullness and picked this great material that was shimmery and very much in keeping with glitter makeup and shiny clothes. We started off with the bounce because I liked the big shadows of the band up on the cyc. It was really clean and fresh-looking. Her entrance is powerful, to say the least, and she comes out working hard. Anything else would have been lost behind her personality."
There was also a garden drop and a midnight cyc. "We made use of all of the drapes and tried, however best we could, to give the show somewhat of a structure," Allen says. "The middle part contained songs like 'Dying,' 'Use Once and Destroy,' 'She Walks Over Me,' and 'Doll Parts.' All have a moody side to them. They're quite a bit darker than the punk songs, so the garden scene fit beautifully there. Later we lose that scene and slide in the midnight drop. We also used Roy's cool rose petal confetti, which was really beautiful. Plus, we also had silver Mylar confetti that we shot into the crowd, oddly enough during 'Dying.' It was weird, but it was perfect."
That effect and its timing were chosen by the band's bass player, Melissa auf der Maur, who directed much of the show's visual looks. "Melissa really is the person who takes care of everything to do with the live show," Allen says. "Courtney has a lot to say about it, but Melissa is the driving person conceptually. That effect for 'Dying' is so opposite the song, it's almost wrong, but that's what made it a keeper of a moment. I was actually surprised how well some parts of the show worked, especially since we had so little time to put it together. I consider it something I started, but Dan deserves the credit for making it into the great-looking show it became. He did an amazing job. Plus, it was just a two-person crew out there and they had to reconfigure it every day for all the different venues they went into."
At every venue, audience lighting was a show priority, and Allen's design incorporated several different techniques to keep the mainly young crowd covered. "Courtney loves audience lighting and she tends to talk a lot between songs. Those are actually the best parts of the show sometimes, when she just goes off on a tangent. Obviously we could use the Studio Colors and the Icons and we had a couple of Molefays up there. We also put a lot of ellipsoidals in the rig with leaf patterns, so that between songs during the garden scene we could bring them up all over the audience and keep in context with the scene. That was one of my favorite looks--and not just because it freed up all the other lights in the rig to get ready for the next song, whatever that may be. It was truly a pain to focus, because the ellipsoidals were underhung, so you had to hang from your harness. But it was worth it because it was cool and unusual and looked really good."
Auf der Maur also liked to see the audience, but she wanted to control when that happened. "Melissa has mirrored pick guards on her bass guitars and she likes to use that to shine light on people she wants to see in the crowd," Allen explains. "When I was touring with them, I always had a difficult time getting that light turned on at the moment she decided she wanted to look at the kids. No matter what signal she gave me, I just never got it. So, LSD made us a foot switch for a little PAR can and she could walk over, step on it and turn it on, and it was aimed right at her bass. It was simple, just on and off, but it was problem-free. It was a fun little gag that personalized the show quite a bit."
Allen also consulted auf der Maur about gobo choices for the tour. "You had to be careful about what patterns you put on the floor around her and the band--that ended up being one of the most challenging parts of this design because we put this tour together very quickly," says the LD. "We left the Manson tour and we were out on this a month later. That gave us about two weeks, so I sent her some tearsheets and gobo patterns. We were working with a very tight budget, so customizing anything was pretty much out of the question. So we went with stock, and it all turned out well with beams in the air and images on the drapes.
"We had lots of strobes and floor lights," he continues. "There was nothing very unusual or custom-made in the rig. I was doing this and Seal's design at the same time, and I chose all stock glass and metal gobos, which are available through your local Icon distributor. I picked really kooky pieces of glass that you couldn't really tell what they were. Although I commend the talented programmers who can take two different gobos and make something special out of them, I'm not big on rotating this and that to make a Star Trek energy blob."
The tour didn't carry spotlights, but Allen set up single spot illumination on Love, as close to center as possible. "She's very aware of her lighting and she spent a lot of time talking to the DPs on the movies that she's done. She knows color, direction, and intensity, and she'll call you out on it in a heartbeat if you're not on top of it. We didn't use a front truss because any colored light pouring down from there would either be too toppy or wouldn't photograph well. Since the new album is called Celebrity Skin, that led me to make sure they looked really beautiful. We used a lot of backlight. It was all rock show when it needed to be, and we key-lit a lot of songs from the floor. Every punk song was done that way--strobes and white light. It ended up being a really fun show. That's what it had going for it."
Allen had based his lighting system for Hole's tour on the trim for the drapes Bennett had designed, which was 26' (8m). "That's the lowest I've ever used, but I came to like it, so the Seal trim came in at 28' [8.5m]," he says. "Doing Seal's tour was actually the culmination of three years of working with his tour manager Bobby Herr and production manager Mark Spring on TV shows and one-offs that Seal did. They were instrumental in getting me in there and making sure Seal had the time to deal with this and get this show designed so he would be happy with it. Every single concept went through them first. I believe it came in $38 under budget, and those two guys made the difference on this project for me."
Seal was very involved in the tour's design process from the beginning as well. "He wouldn't draw anything out, but you could show him ideas and he would pick what he liked," Allen says. "I spent a lot of time at his house working on this project, which is why it turned out so well. He likes everything to have a very monochromatic appearance, and big color statements. Over the course of the tour, it came out that he is also very much a fan of white light, but he has a real problem with spotlights. If they blind him and he can't make contact with the audience, it totally wrecks his evening and definitely affects the performance."
So key-lighting Seal became quite a challenge. "He moves around quite a bit, and he works really hard," Allen says. "He has become a wanderer, though. That made it a little difficult because he wasn't really walking around very much during production rehearsals. So we had programmed some really cool looks to model him, and then he's out there sprinting from side to side while we have all these subtle changes going on at the center mic. The mic looked great, but there was no one standing there."
While none of those patterns included custom gobos, the LD spent a lot of time going through LSD's stock gobo patterns for this tour. "They were really helpful--because I changed my mind more than once," he admits. "They were very patient with me. LSD tech J.R. Edgington helped me out with all that. They have a rose gobo with little bits of colored dichroic glass on it, and I used that like crazy. It's got me wanting to glue dichroic glass on everything. The support I received from LSD on both of these tours was above and beyond the call--they really were incredible. My two crew guys, Ron and Dave, were great--hard-working and very funny. They also helped me change with the original configuration of the system, which made putting it up and taking it down every day so much easier."
Part of Allen's rig included pods with Icons in the middle. "I was in Australia for the Big Day Out festival with Hole and they were on one stage while Marilyn Manson was on the other. I was looking at Ethan Weber's rig for Manson, which had all those underhang bars holding [Vari*Lite(R)] VL6(TM) automated luminaires, and it was the coolest design I'd seen. It inspired this design."
The pods were originally half Japanese paper lanterns, but the more time he spent with Seal, the more the LD realized the artist didn't like them. "Mainly, he just didn't see the purpose they served in the show," Allen says. "He'd say, 'How do these glowing domes fit in?' They really didn't--he was right. I had shown him the concrete backdrop, which he liked, so I suggested we make the pods match the concrete too. That was it. Plus, you could see the technology hanging down, the Icon, which Seal thought was really cool. And it was all painted like concrete. So once the concrete drape revealed, it had a more industrial feel, whereas the first part of the show was more lush."
The pods also served as scenery. "When I saw the underhang bars I realized they would work really well in the design because we were playing a lot of sheds, and in those venues they always put a camera in the pit that shoots right up the singer's nose," Allen says. "Normally all it gets is this big black void behind their heads with an occasional light cutting through. I put all these pods up there and lit them, and it looked great on those camera shots because at least there was something up there.
"The pods were fun and they gave a lot of dimension and depth to the rig--thanks, Ethan, good idea--and it really broke up the picture," he continues. "It also made all the backdrops look taller. They seemed to make the whole picture look bigger."
All Access Staging constructed the pods, which were made of welded aluminum with painted muslin velcroed to the front. "They also did all the drapes and the underhang bars for the pods," Allen says. "I walked in there with renderings and measurements, and then left to do a club tour with Smashing Pumpkins. Erik Eastland handled all this himself, and they did an excellent job. It was on time at the prices they quoted. When I came back, it was done. Ron Strang of Superior Backings did all the scenic painting--including the concrete drop, which a lot of people had to look at twice. Without the drapes there was no show, because it all took place up there. It really gave a great environment for Seal to work in."
Unlike Hole, Seal does pretty much keep to his set list. "When we started, he had about 30 songs that he intended to rotate through the set," Allen says. "For the first couple of weeks the set list changed day to day. Then it settled into a groove for a little while, but there was always a little change here and there and they would rearrange songs constantly, so we were always editing and reprogramming because they would also change their playing style. It was really interesting and it would surprise the hell out of me sometimes."
Again, Icons and Studio Colors formed the basis of the lighting rig. "These tours were my first experiences with Studio Colors, and they never malfunctioned," Allen says. "The Icons also behaved admirably--it's all in how you talk to them. Plus, Icon programmer extraordinaire Kille Knobel ["Spotlight," LD January 1999, page 14] came out to set up the system for me. She put all of her files in the desk, which was really helpful, and she also showed me some of the finer points of the console. There's a combo palette, which isn't new, but it was to me. It makes a great desk greater. Other people have tried to teach it to me, but when Kille showed me, I finally got it. It's a very intuitive piece of software that really speeds up the programming process. There are focuses Kille built in the one little night that she spent with us in production rehearsals that stayed in for the whole tour.
"Coming back once again to LSD, they gave both of my clients service that was outstanding," Allen concludes. "Nothing was a problem or a pain, they just did it. Great crew, gear came in prepped beautifully, and it went up and went right back out. There were no learning curves on the load-outs. Nothing bummed me out. You just can't ask for a better experience."
Production manager Dug Wuest
Lighting designer Butch Allen
Lighting director Dan Boland
FOH Sound Jacques Von Lunen
Monitor engineer Mike Prowda
Carpenter Terry "Biff" Wade
Lighting technician Tim Schivone
Sound technician Jim Hores
Main lighting contractor Light & Sound Design
Lighting equipment (8) Light & Sound Design Icons (12) High End Systems Studio Colors (63) PAR-64s (18) ETC Source Fours (6) Mole-Richardson 8-light Molefays (2) Light & Sound Design Molemags (5) Omni Lights (18) Diversitronics strobes (1) Light & Sound Design Icon Console (1) Avolites 72-channel dimmer (17) 8' sections D truss (1) Reel EFX DF-50 haze machine
Tour manager/accountant Bobby Herr
Production manager Mark Spring
Production assistant Paul Mavromatis
Stage manager/drum technician Tom Mayhue
Lighting/set designer Butch Allen
Set construction All Access Staging
Lighting crew chief Ron Crume
Lighting technician Dave Convertino
FOH sound Stuart Bennet
Monitor sound John "Roscoe" Protzko
Sound technician Dave Lagodzinski
Carpenter/rigger John Kinal
Main lighting contractor Light & Sound Design
Lighting equipment (20) Light & Sound Design Icons (30) High End Systems Studio Colors (12) Mole-Richardson 8-lights (12) Light & Sound Design Molemags (11) 500W footlights (1) Lycian 1200 truss-mount spot (1) Light & Sound Design Icon Console (1) Avolites 72-channel dimmer (1) Reel EFX DF-50 haze machine (18) Columbus McKinnon 1-ton chain hoist motors (12) 8' sections D-type truss (4) 4' sections D-type truss (13) 10' sections A-type truss (4) 5' sections A-type truss (1) 4' section A-type truss (6) A-type cubes Grapple A-type wheels to fit