In the late 1960s, Eric Clapton was declared god. In today's music scene, which some might argue is dominated by soulless, pre-fabricated pop, no one has to declare that Clapton is god. It's a given. Out on the road on a grueling 11-month world tour, Clapton is back, once again asserting his rightful place in the world of rock and blues. His current tour is supporting his album Reptile, and it's definitely a night out for music connoisseurs.

Along with Clapton for this possibly final ride is lighting designer Dave Maxwell. “I've done the last two Clapton tours,” Maxwell explains. “The first time I worked with Eric, I was taking over for someone else, so actually this is only the second tour with my own lighting design,” he adds.

Pre-production on the Reptile tour began while Maxwell was with Clapton in Tokyo. “When we were in Japan about a year and a half ago, I tried out the system we're using now,” Maxwell reports. It was during the performances at the Budakon that Maxwell began to refine the truss configuration. “I thought about the rig for a long time when I was in Japan, and because I had the time, anything I wanted to change, I did,” Maxwell notes.

Overall, the look of the rig is streamlined and fairly minimal. “The rig is a piece of cake,” he says with a smile. “It's three 60' upstage trusses with the same amount of lights on them — eight Icons and eight Studio Beams. We have the same basic configuration on the floor as well as the front truss,” Maxwell adds. Contrary to most shows, what's notable about Maxwell's design is his lack of a midstage truss. “If you have the lights directly above the band, especially in the new arenas, the a/c sucks all the smoke, and you lose any looks from the lights,” he explains.

Even without the smoke issue, midstage isn't one of Maxwell's favorite lighting positions. “When you have your truss midstage, all the shots you get are straight down and, in my opinion, you don't really notice them. If the shots come from the rear, whether the smoke is being sucked up by the a/c air ducts or not, you're going to see something. More often than not, you're going to see quite a bit,” he adds.

While the downstage truss remains at a 42' trim, the three trusses upstage actually move, from a high trim of 36' to a mid position of 24' and finally a low position of 12'. Above is a “supergrid” that is used to hang the onstage lighting truss, as well as the spotlight and soft goods truss. “We didn't have the supergrid in Japan and we thought it would be a quick way of getting the system in and out — basically it's designed with America in mind, because we're out here so long,” he adds.

Working with the lighting rig are two backdrops — a gray custom 3D drop, fabricated by Atomic Design in Lititz, PA, and a black, 58'-wide (17m) Austrian from Drapeage Limited in Dublin. “We made the custom drop especially for this tour,” Maxwell explains. “It's similar in principle to the drop that Atomic created for The Who last year — it uses sticks and stretch material, but it's in a different shape, a different color, and a different fabric,” he notes. Although soft goods design and lighting design don't always go hand in hand, Maxwell did work extensively on the design of the custom drop. “Over the course of a few months we had JPEGs going back and forth. We settled on this design, and it's turned out well,” the designer remarks.

The custom drop and the black Austrian, which is located downstage of the custom drop, work in tandem to create a myriad of looks onstage. “The soft goods are actually a large part of the show,” Maxwell admits. Depending on the song and the mood, the audience might see simply the custom drop, the Austrian, or a combination of both. “When we were in Japan, we didn't have the Austrian and we didn't have the custom drop, we just had a cyc with a similar truss system,” he explains. Using two drops has given Maxwell a bit more creative license. “We have a lot of freedom with the Austrian as well,” he says. “Rather than having this static drop at the back, the Austrian goes up and down quick and easy — I simply run everything from the desk.” The pair of goods also work with the songs themselves. “For the uptempo numbers, we can have it black like a normal rock concert, and for the newer stuff we could do some projection on the custom drop. Finally, for the bluesier stuff, I can drop the Austrian so that it's black until the lowest truss — you can see the custom drop from the lowest truss down, which gives it kind of a clubby atmosphere,” he notes.

The look of Maxwell's system is clean and refined, a rig that is very appropriate for someone of Clapton's legendary status. “I think we have a lot more moving lights than we've ever used in the past,” Maxwell comments. For his automated lighting package, Maxwell relies on two instruments: LSD Icons® and High End Systems Studio Beam PCs. “I've been told that, in the past, Eric's had a problem being too hot onstage. The Icons and the Studio Beam PCs keep it quite cool, so that's one problem that never arose,” he confides. Icons are a favorite of Maxwell's, and last time out he used them in conjunction with High End Studio Colors®. “On the last tour, I had Studio Colors and it was a struggle trying to get a white out of them, and even to get the same color in all of them,” the designer notes. “I looked around for a new light and the Studio Beam PC blew me away. It's absolutely a super light — I saw it about 10 months ago at LDI and I'm sold on it.”

Although Maxwell is more than satisfied with the Studio Beam PC, he did have some issues to work out with the instrument when he first began using it. “It took me quite a while to get used to the color variations,” he admits. “They're very different than a lot of the High End lights. In fact, it took me quite a ways into the European leg of the tour to get a good color palette from them.” Of course, Maxwell is a longtime fan of the Icon and had no problem finding his palette there. “I've always had a good color palette with the Icons because I use them so much. The Studio Beam PCs did take me a while, and there are some colors that don't read very well, but a lot of them do,” he concludes.

Reptile is a mix of pastels and saturated colors, and it's a mix that Maxwell continues to tweak throughout the tour. “I find myself changing things an awful lot, just to keep myself on my toes,” he admits. “On double show dates, I'll go back in and putter about, and suddenly something will be completely different,” he adds. The songs range from traditional big arena-rock numbers like “Cocaine,” “Layla,” and the psychedelic blast of “Sunshine of Your Love,” to the slow, emotional blues of “Hoochie Koochie.” “There are some songs that I end up changing so much, like the slow blues set, that I'm still not quite happy. On the other hand, there's other songs that I haven't messed about with at all,” he adds.

One of the reasons it's easy for Maxwell to putter about is that he's using an Icon Console, and he's quite the fan. “The Icon desk is the best, in my opinion. I've been using it for years, pretty much since it came out, and I don't use anything else,” he explains.

Reptile is a show that is continuously changing and evolving, so every night is slightly different. “I love the show,” Maxwell concludes. The tour is slated to continue until December, winding up what may be Clapton's last year-long world tour.

Contact the author at sstancavage@primediabusiness.com.

ERIC CLAPTON REPTILE TOUR

Lighting Designer
Dave Maxwell

Crew Chief
Paul Solino

Studio Beam PC Technician
Steve Haskins

Icon Technicians
Terry Archer, Nick Becker, Charles Cochran

Tour Supplier
Light & Sound Design

Lighting Equipment
62 Light & Sound Design128 Icons
52 High End Systems100 Studio Beam PCs
16 Molefay 8-lights
8 Wybron101 Mole scrollers
3 Lycian110 Starklite medium-throw truss spots
3 Reel EFX129 DF-50 hazers
1 LSD Icon Console
1 LSD Icon Mini Console
8 Drapeage130 8' Austrian black roller truss
1 Drapeage Austrian DMX control system
28 8' D-type black truss sections
18 8' A-type silver truss sections
6 2' A-type silver truss sections
6 A-type silver truss cubes
16 S-type black MiniBeam truss sections
18 1/2-ton motors
18 1-ton motors

Circle Number on Reader Service Card