British rock band The Darkness has taken full advantage of its Permission To Land in the U.S. The band's spring theatre/club tour in the States was so successful, many of the original venues were upgraded to larger houses — and they still sold out. Recently, the London-based quartet (Justin Hawkins, Dan Hawkins, Frankie Poullain, and Ed Graham) returned to the States for about a month of amphitheatre shows and is currently making the massive festival rounds in Europe. The band's highly praised Atlantic Records debut (which debuted at #2 on the U.K. album chart) offers original power-rock songs — with an unapologetically retro vibe — complete with guitar solos, killer hooks, and sing-along choruses. Critics have compared them to Queen, AC/DC, and even Spinal Tap — perhaps that latter due to song titles such as: “Get Your Hands Off My Woman” and “Love On The Rocks With No Ice.” But on the band's website (www.thedarknessrock.com — Men What Do Rock, Baby), singer/guitarist Justin sums it up this way: “It's good-time stadium rock. Bombastic, undeniable music that connects with people.”

Lighting designer Rod Clay (Stereophonics, Robbie Williams) has been augmenting that connection for the ever-growing concert audiences since he was asked to light the band's Carling Homecoming show at the Astoria in London last fall. “From that initial gig, I was asked to design the next tour,” he says. “So I've been working with them from then on in.”

The show starts off with a classically dramatic reveal. “We've got a white kabuki drop up in the beginning,” Clay explains. “There is an introduction of music played, and then, as soon as the first chord of the guitar is struck for the first song, ‘Black Shuck,’ the singer is lit from behind with an ETC Source Four® 50° light on the floor and a very tight edge circular spot, which reveals him in silhouette. That lasts about 20 seconds, and then drums kick in, and the kabuki drops. Then that's it. Then we rock! It's brilliant.”

VLPS Los Angeles supplied the entire rig for the band's U.S. tour. “I use them a lot in the U.K., so they were the natural choice really,” Clay says. “Curry Grant has been our account manager here, and he was really helpful. This last leg is a bigger project since we only toured with half production on our first American leg. The rig consists of 60 [VARI*LITE] VL5s, which make up a very large back wall, and they are all on individual circuits. There are three overhead trusses with five Martin MAC 2000 wash lights, 28 VL2Cs, 26 VL6Cs, and 6 VL2Cs on the floor. And the generic portion of the rig includes 12 standard bars of 6 PAR64s and 12 bars of ACLs (aircraft landing lights).

“The main thing is the back wall — it's about 30' in height and 30' wide,” Clay continues. “Because the lights are on individual circuits, we can spell words out in the wall, as well as have complete control over color and movement and intensity. There are lots and lots of chases that the back wall does. The lighting has lots of big bumps and certain color bumps. The gig is about an hour and 20 minutes long, and there are only two ballads, and they are pretty much power ballads. (Who could resist ‘Love Is Only A Feeling’?) There is a very rocky feel. It's a big rock show so there are big looks for a big band.”

Clay controls the lighting via a Virtuoso VX console. “I've been involved with the Virtuoso since its first big job, which would have been the Royal Ministry II back in 1999-2000, in London,” he says. “That was its first big job at that point. I'd been using it from a crew chief's point of view, and it's been my desk of choice ever since. I was brought up using the Artisan, having worked for Vari-Lite for about 11 years, and I was always a fan of the Artisan. It's kind of a summation of all of the good things about the Artisan and all the other good things that are on the other lighting consoles on the market at the moment. I find it very quick and easy to use, personally.”

Clay has used a Virtuoso on every leg of The Darkness's tours. “Ever since their very first video — and we used it on the first European tour, where it proved its versatility,” Clay says. “It was great because we were picking up the production rigs locally, every single day. One day, you'd have one type of moving light, and the next day, you'd have another type. By the end of that four-week tour, we ended up with maybe 40 versions of the show, all with different elements: Vari-Lite lights one day, Martin the next and then sometimes Clay Paky, High End, or Coemar lights. The board dealt with that really well. In the limited time that I had to program every day — and there are about 14 numbers — I knew the desk had to be adaptable, and the Virtuoso certainly is.”

Clay works closely with the band to adapt everyone's input into the design. All of the band members contribute ideas for the show's look. “Everything is conceived by ideas that we have together,” Clay says. “There isn't just one driving force. Everyone contributes ideas, although, obviously, I have the most technical influence. Certainly, we have plans coming up for the end of the year so I've suggested a few ideas. They ask if we can do certain things, and I let them know what the technical reality side of it would be for day-to-day touring. We'd obviously like to do something even bigger, but we're trying to get as many gigs as we can in the time allotted. So we've got to limit it to a certain amount of equipment so we can load in in the morning and be ready for doors at 7 p.m. and then do the show that night and load out and do a show the next day.

“But I'd say everyone is pretty involved in the whole look and the whole vibe,” he continues. “The guys are really nice to work with; we socialize with them as well, which is nice. We kind of play off each other in regard to making new looks and creating new ideas. The creative input is all through the gig.”

One of Clay's most obvious design decisions was to exclude video from the show. “I deliberately made the decision not to put video on the show because you see video every single day. And it's not that type of band — it wouldn't work to show images,” he explains. “I've got plans to have video in the future, but it won't be showing images — it will actually be showing the band. We'll either have a [Sony] Jumbotron or some big video screens left and right, but no video walls or screens with Catalysts or anything like that. That may be incorporated in times to come but certainly not at the moment. It's a big rock band, and it deserves a big rock look. At the moment, I don't think video screens would really suit them.

“Obviously, for our stadium shows, we have video screens but, again, not the kind that are going to generate images like you see at other gigs,” he continues. “It was a deliberate decision of mine not to go down that route and to do something a bit richer and a bit different, really. And the single-circuit VL5s give me a lot more scope for intensity chases, color chases, and movement chases. I find it's a lot more versatile than video; plus, the back wall is at my fingertips as opposed to being run by another operator from another console, which is running video. So, everything is a lot tighter because it's being run from one source, which is the Virtuoso. There is no second cuing for me: I'm not telling some guy to run video off another desk, and this isn't another operator trying to keep it in time with the music. There are so many false endings and so many guitar solos, which are different every night, depending on what Justin's feeling off the crowd. There are lots of little pauses and nuances. The guitar solo may go on for an extra two seconds, or it may stop short because they stopped to talk to someone in the crowd. I think that needs to be controlled from one point, which is me and the Virtuoso. If you were trying to spread the cues across two or three desks and video, I don't think that same feel would be possible.”

No video hardly means that that the band members don't spend their fair share of time in the spotlight. “There are three spotlights that take care of Justin, Dan, and Frankie: Justin being the singer; Dan being his brother, the guitarist; and Frankie, the bassist,” Clay explains, “and then, there are a bunch of keylights in the floor for Ed, the drummer — they are ETC Source Four Profile Spots. There are also some ETC Source Fours to back up the followspots. For the numbers that are a bit heavier rock, I don't use any spotlights at all. It's just really heavily back lit, mainly with the VL2s.”

And no big rock show would be complete without smoke. “There are a couple of DF-50s and a couple of fans and that's about it,” Clay says. “They run pretty constantly from the top of the show. There is no pyro at the moment, but that is going to change. We're going to have some of that later in the year. Right now, the stage set has a standard 8x8 drum riser upstage center and about 3' in front of the back wall. The Marshall amplifier stacks and the backline cabinets for the guitar and bass and Justin's guitar run about 6' high, so to get the full impact, everything else has to sit above that. So, the wall starts at 6' and is at least 24' in height, so about 30' all together. And the rig trims in around 32', depending on where we are going to be.”

Wherever they've gone, the crowds have certainly reacted with great zeal. “On the spring tour, it was jammed to the max every single night with people queuing up as we were loading in at 8 o'clock in the morning, which really shows the dedication of the fans,” Clay says. “It's a testament to how good the band is! You have to want to see them very much to do that. The band is really great. They all write their own material and play their own instruments, and they can all play each other's instruments as well because they are such talented musicians. So long may it continue! This is definitely my biggest LD job here in the States — probably not in Europe — but let's hope it gets bigger. We're planning to keep touring this year until December 14. That's our proposed finish date, and then we'll see what next year brings.

“It's a great gig. Justin works the crowd really well — they really love him and he's a fantastic showman, as are they all,” Clay concludes. “They really have their hearts in it. They're a great group of individuals and great friends and musicians. They take themselves and the music very seriously, and I think that has shown in the progress that the band has made in a reasonably short space of time — from supporting Robbie Williams at Nebworth to headlining festivals this year. It shows the commitment of the guys, and certainly, I'm happy to be associated with them. So, let's hope it goes on to become bigger this year and the next.”

Darkness Permission To Land 2003-04 tour

Lighting designer
Rod Clay

Production manager
Chris Taplin

Lighting crew chief
Nick Barton

Rigger
Steve Belfield

Lighting technician
Simon Cox

Lighting contractor
VLPS/Curry Grant

Lighting equipment:

6 Martin MAC2000 Wash Luminaires
22 VL6C Spot Luminaires
24 VL2C Luminaires
60 VL5 Luminaires
9 ETC Source Four® Lekos
5 3K Diversitronic Strobes
12 6 Lamp Par Bars
12 4 Lamp ACL Bars
6 4 Liters
3 Lycian Starklite Followspots
1 Virtuoso VX Control Console
(96') 30" Pre-Rig Truss
(180') 24" FlipBox Truss
4 CM 1/2 Ton Hoist Motors
10 CM 1 Ton Hoist Motors
5 CM 2Ton Hoist Motors
2 CS 800 Motor Controllers