Sitting in the parking lot at the Long Beach Arena waiting to exit after Green Day's American Idiot tour gives one significant time (about an hour and ten minutes, to be exact) for reflection.

What makes a great concert? Well, obviously great sound and lighting help enormously. Purists would argue that the music and how well the band plays matter most. There is, however, the argument that a band's antics, personality, and general theatrics, along with some great production, contribute as much as the music.

“Putting on a great show for the kids is really important to the guys in the band,” says Green Day's lighting director Marcelo Cacciagioni. “The high production values and high energy of the show are all about the band giving the audience a great time.”

That might sound simple enough and, in fact, could be a dream job for many a lighting designer; however, there are caveats attached. Having previously had a bad experience with video, the band has an aversion, if not outright disdain, for this key element found in most high-production-value shows currently touring.

In order to resolve this design conundrum, Green Day turned to production design specialist Justin Collie of aRtfag. “Video felt like too much for this band in the first place,” remarks Collie. “In the original design, we did think about having some projection elements. But then having seen the band perform, and then learning of their adversity to video, we decided to use something more appropriate.”

“More appropriate” turned out to be Main Light Industries' Soft-LED drape, which uses Color Kinetics' Chromasic tri-colored LED nodes in a radical re-invention of the star cloth. “It seemed to make much more sense to use the Soft-LED curtain,” says Collie. “It allows for much simpler graphics, and it could be used more as a sign than a video screen. We felt that it was a far more appropriate approach.”

Collie uses the Soft-LED drape sparingly, to say the least. However, certain instances stand out: a large “Green Day” sign for the song “Holiday,” a rotating gobo image during “Minority,” and most effectively for a photo montage — complete with a “bubbling” effect — during “Boulevard of Broken Dreams.”

The Soft-LED drape is raised and lowered throughout the band's performance, sometimes filling the stage and, at other times, disappearing completely from sight, thanks to four of the 13 Vario-Lift motors used throughout the concert.

DICTATING DESIGN

From the opening moments in the show, the dominant theme of Collie's production design is obvious. “I was made to tone it back a bit; otherwise, I was going to get into trouble,” laughs Collie. “‘Fascism’ was the brief from the band. It's just a single word, but it is very powerful stuff to work on. My take on fascist structures and columns was to make the stage design very vertical. All the structures that I researched seemed to have that common element in them, like they were towering over you with ridged lines.”

From the start of the show, this theme is immediately apparent. Four black columns define the stage upon which flags slowly and dramatically rise. The high trim height and vertical lines are particularly accentuated by the relatively low ceiling in the Long Beach Arena. The rear of the stage is covered by three red and black kabuki drapes that fall during the opening number, “American Idiot.” Revealed behind the kabuki drops is the core of Collie's design: three mini-trusses each with three rows of three Martin Professional MAC 2000 Profile fixtures.

The uneven numbers of fixtures used in the matrix extends throughout the lighting rig, with all fixtures grouped together in either threes or sixes. As anyone who programs or lights shows for a living will tell you, using odd numbers dramatically increases the creative workload, but it was a task that Collie embraced. “Three is a magic number,” he says. “It forces you to think differently. The thing about symmetry is that it makes programming very easy, but it can be a bit boring. An odd number is much more interesting.”

Collie's use of this nine-by-nine matrix as the centerpiece of his design goes beyond a quirky choice in numbers. The features of the fixtures themselves are invoked sparingly, thereby avoiding visual overload to the audience. Even when something as simple as a split color is used, it seems dramatic and fresh.

Control for the show is via an MA Lighting grandMA, whose layout and bitmap effects tools partly explain some of the more intricate chases seen on stage. “I love the grandMA,” says Cacciagioni. “The guys at A.C.T Lighting are always there for me as I'm sure they are for everyone else, too. When I'm using the grandMA, I do miss some features that you get on other consoles, but when I'm not using it, I realize how much I come to rely on its fantastic hardware and software tools.”

SIGN OF THE TIMES

Nowhere are these tools more obviously in use than when the large “Green Day” LED sign, made up of 314 Color Kinetics LEDs, is flown in at various points during the show. At one point during the show, the matrix at the rear of the stage and the LED Green Day sign are running the same, extremely fast effect.

The Soft-LED drape, which is used in front of the matrix, is particularly effective when only partially raised from the floor. Blocking the bottom row of nine MAC 2000 Profiles, the Soft-LED drape provides a video backdrop that is juxtaposed with the remaining fixtures of the matrix.

“Any time Billie [Joe Armstrong, Green Day's front man] thought people weren't looking at him the whole time, things had to get trimmed back a bit,” says Collie. “It was weird how using the Soft-LED drape evolved. I used it more to start off, but the band is very hesitant to use anything that detracts from them. In club shows, they like to have a big Green Day sign up, and really, we just use the Soft-LED drape as a variable backdrop.”

A fluid and ever-changing punk rock set list in combination with production elements that need to be preset do not make for the best of bedfellows. “This is really the first time that Green Day has ever used production on this scale,” says Collie. “We ultimately had to come to a compromise with the band because they wanted to be able to play any song at any time. With this much production, you can't do that. Now, we have mapped out certain areas of the set where they can do anything without causing huge problems.”

With 43 MAC 2000 Profile fixtures, 27 MAC 2000 Wash fixtures, and 41 Atomic strobes, as well as the Green Day LED sign, squeezing the whole show into seven DMX universes is impressive. Something that is not taxing on the DMX channel count, however, is the Martin Maxedia Media Server being used to deliver the aRtfag-produced content.

“What I like about the Maxedia is that you can get a lot of variety in the imagery quickly and easily without very much raw material,” comments Collie. “If I bring in a still image, there are a lot of tools I can use to animate it quite easily. What I don't like about it is on the playback side — it is too simple. Martin wanted it to be simpler than the other media servers to playback, but I think they've gone too far. You need to have a little bit more control of the playback side, but the programming side is great.”

Lighting supplier for Green Day is Los Angeles-based Ed & Ted's Excellent Lighting. “I can't say enough good things about Ed & Ted's,” says Cacciagioni who, in the past, has worked as a crew chief for Ed & Ted's. “They are just the coolest guys in the world. They helped make a complex rig easy to put up every day.”

Cacciagioni was actually hired as lighting director for the American Idiot tour before aRtfag was brought on board to design the production. “I operated a television special for Green Day earlier in the year,” remarks Cacciagioni. “I guess they liked what they saw, because they asked if I'd come on tour with them.”

Cacciagioni's operation is dead on, with every accent being hit without the look on stage, or the general impact, becoming muddy. The show is visually clean and at the same time, visually complex — elements that are mutually exclusive in many shows.

The antics of the band aside — such as inviting three members of the audience to perform one of their songs on stage — this was more than just a great theatrical experience; the American Idiot tour shows that lighting can still be a visually exciting medium. Video, while it has its place, can happily be relegated to the realms of an interesting effect in the larger scheme of a great lighting design.

Green Day Crew: Lighting Company
Ed & Ted's Excellent Lighting

Lighting Designer
Justin Collie (aRtfag)

Lighting Director
Marcelo Cacciagioni

Set Designer
Justin Collie (aRtfag)

Lighting Techs
Silas Flores-Crew Chief
Greg Walker
Armondo Figueroa
Oscar Canales
Scott Grund

Production Manager
Marc Immerman

Tour Manager
Doug Goodman

Green Day American Idiot Gear:

43 Martin Professional Mac 2000 Profiles
27 Martin Professional Mac 2000 Wash
4 Martin Professional Mac 2000 Profile follow spots
41 Martin Professional Atomic 3000 strobes
314 Color Kinetics LEDs used in the Green Day sign
7 Fagpod w/CXI scrollers (6-DWE 1-3k strobe)
1 Martin Professional Maxedia video server
10 Fibersource QFX for star drop
1 Main Light Soft-LED curtain 40' wide
1 MA Lighting grandMA Console (with 2-active NSPs)