The "less is more" approach to rock lighting design is usually embraced by LDs working with bands whose touring budgets preclude grand statements. Yet lack of money was hardly the reason for the stripped-down look of Page & Plant's current Walking into Everywhere tour.
"When we first started out in February, the production manager, Roy Lamb, said I would only have half a truck for the lighting rig," explains LD Tom Kenny. "We were doing places like Turkey and Romania, so we really didn't want to have five trucks running around in those countries. We did it with two trucks, and the band loved it."
When it came time to put together the American leg of the tour, Robert Plant mentioned to Kenny that he would like it to look similar to Peter Gabriel's 1987 tour (designed by Jonathan Smeeton), which didn't have a lot of lights. "He said, 'Why can't we do it like that?' And that was fine with me, because we could have gone either way."
Because the band had originally wanted a set design for the tour's American leg, Kenny had come up with a few ideas. "I rang up Tom McPhillips [of Atomic Design] and he sent over some drawings of an Arabian tent. I had this idea of it concealing the stage and then lifting up during the show. But when I showed it to the band they told me they didn't want that--they wanted what we'd had in Eastern Europe."
The lighting rig is composed of a 40'x30' box with 96 PAR-64s, 33 LSD Icons(TM), 12 LSD WashLights(TM), ten 8-light Molestrips, four nook lights, two HMI 1200 truss spots, six Molemag color changers, and two Reel EFX DF-50 foggers. There are also 18 Molefays--five are on the five upright trusses, which are the only set pieces.
"We've had the cheapest union bills in every single building because they decided from the word go that they wanted it to be very minimalistic," says Kenny. "That's why the lighting rig was so small. If you save money someplace, Robert and Jimmy let you spend it someplace else. So I spentabout $8,000 on LSD's new laser-etched gobos for the Icons. I had a lot of custo m designs made, including the ZOSO logo, which they had requested."
The tour used a small stage in every building, which, added to the fairly small rig, made load-outs and load-ins go quickly. "It makes you think a bit more about the design when you've got less," Kenny says. "Normally, bands want you to light everything, and make sure that they're well lit and always in spots, but these two guys have gone a different way altogether, which suits them. It's more dramatic."
As the Icon board operator, Alastair Bramall-Watson helped Kenny flesh out the visual drama, until he left the tour to get married. "So I used the Icon tech, Jason 'Sarge' Hudgens, even though LSD wanted to send out another operator," Kenny says. "He was very nervous about it, but he wanted to do it, and he did a great job with it. Everybody gave me a chance when I was starting out, so I believe in doing the same."
During the show, Kenny operates an Avolites Diamond console and calls spotlights. "I like having another person out there, so you're always covered from both sides. Plus, I like the generic desk because it's more hands-on and if the show feels different on a given night, I can manually change cues; I couldn't do that on an Icon desk. With live music, you program as much as you can and wait until you're a couple of days into a tour to see how the audiences are reacting to it and let it settle."
Kenny also works closely with the tour's video director to make sure the farthest audience members have a good view of the band on the tour's three video screens. "The band is great to work with," Kenny says. "If you tell them it would be better if Robert stood in one place over another, they'll listen to you and be happy to do it. They're very behind the production, and they're on time every night, they're always innovative in their music, and they haven't gotten jaded.
"The best part about this design is we can go in anywhere and do a good show," Kenny continues. "We're not restricted by a set and it's just a four-piece band rather than the orchestras we had out last time. They wanted to keep the big looks for the big songs and they wanted new songs [from Walking into Clarksdale] to look really different. The band is such an anthem-type band and the audiences are practically delirious--especially during all the Led Zeppelin tunes--so it's very easy to make it look small and almost intimate, even in arenas. As long as it's dramatic and they have certain basics--like seeing the audience a lot--they're happy. They can play anywhere."
The tour has taken the band from clubs to arenas and even Kenny's own wedding reception, which took place in Ireland during a tour break in August. The rest of the tour's lighting crew includes crew chief Ian "Dobbo" Dobson, Icon programmer/technician Drew Findley, and dimmer technician Russell "Bits" Lyons. The tour will finish up in Europe this month.