On clear days (yes, Seattle does have some), the observation deck of the Space Needle offers spectacular views of the Cascade Range and Mount Rainier, Puget Sound, and even the King Dome, but on July 21, there was also an interesting dichotomy of humanity to be seen directly below. Because the tower is adjacent to the large park/entertainment area known as the Seattle Center, hordes of concertgoers could be seen streaming into its environs. On the northeast end, thousands were flocking to see hometown band Pearl Jam perform the first of two sold-out benefit concerts at Memorial Stadium. Yet 17,500 more fans, most of them preteens, were heading for the other end of the park to the Key Arena to see Hanson: Isaac, Taylor, and Zac.
Even from a distance, the Hanson fans were easy to spot. Predominantly preteen girls, most were with their parents, and many carried big poster-size signs, which upon closer inspection proved to be collages of the boys' faces and/or slogans such as: "Ike for President," "Tay's the Man," "I'm having a Zac-Attack!" "After Hanson I'll be Sleepless in Seattle!" "Here's the Love," and my favorite: two girls holding a "Free Roadies" sign with an arrow pointing down toward themselves.
Those two are most certainly out of luck for obvious reasons, but also because the road crew is having so much fun that no one would willingly leave this tour. The schedule has generally been one show on and then three days off, so there is much discussion about golf and bike-riding expeditions. Yet for the Hansons, the shows are the fun part.
"They've been busy doing their album," explains lighting director Erick "Yoda" Dismuke. "They work really hard, even on a day off. It's a fun show to do because you just can't do anything wrong," Dismuke says. "This audience will like anything as long as the band's onstage."
The upcoming album in question (still untitled) was recorded live at the Seattle show and is due out in early November. That show was also taped for video and the subsequent show was filmed. LD Stan Crocker relates that ever since the band achieved success they've been determined to tour like a regular rock band.
"Originally, this was only supposed to be a six-week tour, but they kept extending it," Crocker says. "They really wanted to experience being on the road with their own production and crew and ride in the buses instead of continually doing promotional appearances. A lot of people thought they just should be in the studio instead, so they compromised. They're making it work both ways. They just keep adding dates, so they're obviously enjoying it, and ticket sales have been phenomenal."
Crocker was first introduced to the phenomenon that is Hanson when he was in New York last October. Right on the heels of finishing up his work on Sessions at West 54th Street (see "Studio shadows," LD April 1998), Crocker was recruited by that program's producer, Jeb Brien, to do a video shoot with the band at the Beacon Theatre.
"Jeb was directing this video, so I had to throw together a set and lighting design at the very last minute," Crocker says. "But it was almost the entire Sessions crew--some of them were already in the building with the rig. The Hanson folks do video on almost every show, and feed it into their website on the internet. So they already had massive amounts of tape, and then we took this live show, and worked it in to make one big tape."
For the Beacon video John Trowbridge was the gaffer, Monica Hardiman the producer, and Billy Steinberg the video engineer. Crocker then did a few more one-offs with the band with the understanding that he'd design the lighting when they finally started touring. "They also brought in the amazing Bruce Rodgers [of Los Angeles-based Tribe], who did an incredible set design," Crocker says. "We had never met, but he's a blast to work with. He really enjoys what he does."
Rodgers took input from various production team members including Crocker, the band, and tour manager Paul Chavarria. "But Bruce is the one that took it and turned it into an amazing piece of work that was so much fun to light," Crocker says. "The cones and the upstage spikes give you all kinds of shadow possibilities--you'd just throw a light on it, and the light would find its own way."
Crocker also incorporated a Skjonberg motion control system into the design and uses it at the beginning of the show. "The way we approached the show was that I knew that they wanted a harsher look," explains the LD. "They wanted it to be less pretty than they feel people had been making them look. They wanted a little bit harder edge to it. So for the first three songs, we used no color. It's just white-white-white, and lots of shadow play, so that's where we decided to move the truss down. We compressed the stage, and it made the stage look like a club. It kind of suggested 'Hanson: The Club Years,' instead of 'Hanson: Working in the Family Garage and Then Suddenly in the World's Arenas.' Plus, they start off the show with 'Gimme Some Lovin',' a classic from the 60s."
During the design process, Rodgers put fascias onto the trusses which made them about 7" wide. "It looked like a massive steel structure out there instead of just a nice, compact roadworthy aluminum truss," Crocker says. "And at one point, when we had the middle truss down to work on the light, the smoke level was up in the room and the beams were looking solid, we all looked at the truss and with the spikes there near the truss it almost seemed like a big machine. We were a little bit nervous about truss moves, because all of us who have done truss moves at various points in our career think of that as such a heavy metal idea. But then we thought, 'Well, how would anybody in this audience know that?' These are all, for the most part, really young kids, and it's very likely their first concert. Their parents might recognize it, but for them, it's a whole new experience."
Taking their cue from this realization, the designers followed it for the rest of the production. "We certainly did our best to incorporate new looks and stretch ourselves out creatively," Crocker adds. "But if we rehashed some ideas, we felt okay about it, because it was new for the audience."
One of Crocker's new ideas was not only to use white light on the first three songs, but also to eschew followspots. "I liked the shadow play and I was enjoying the fact that the girls, who had been there lined up for 6-7 hours that day waiting to get into the theatre, and screaming at anybody who looked like it might be a Hanson, had to wait just a little bit longer to see the boys clearly. I wanted to build that mystery.
"Then we started to add the color. What I wanted to do was to give color on the first new song of the set, called 'River,' because in the first three or four songs, where it's all no-color, it's primarily a couple of their older songs. But my plan was to introduce some color on the song that would be new to the audience, because it's off the new album. That first color look creates a rush and such a change of energy, because suddenly these harsh spikes onstage become almost forest green. Plus, we've moved the truss back up and opened up the stage, and the color carries the rest of the show through to the end."
Crocker and Rodgers also worked on certain staging specifics once the LD had the lighting system in place. "We talked about how we could light the cones, and he definitely designed it per my desire to get a certain Vari*Lite in there," Crocker says. "Plus, the oil derrick towers on the side were designed specifically for VL2s(TM) to rest comfortably on them, and the interior was designed to hold VL5s(TM). So he was very much in tune with what we were doing lighting-wise and he made the practical aspect of it work for us. Aside from giving us something to throw light on, he gave us a way to throw it. The introduction of set designers has got to be one of the best things that ever happened to the touring music industry, because it moves us away from doing only beams and graphics. Not that those looks don't still have their place, but it sure is fun to be able to throw light on the soft goods sets."
To program those cues, the crew went to Port Chester, NY, in April for production rehearsals. "At first I had a mixture of conventional and moving lights, but once we got into it, we started realizing that we weren't getting that much use out of a lot of the conventionals, like the 8-lights and some of the ellipsoidals," Crocker says. "They were pretty much one-purpose instruments, so they just didn't seem to be necessary. I got really excited about the idea of it becoming just an intelligent lighting rig. With an all-Vari*Lite rig, every light could have 20 purposes, and it would be less gear on the road.
"Then, of course, Yoda, my board operator, gets out there and sees it a little bit differently," Crocker continues. "Because as you get further into the process of touring, and you start realizing that while one light could do 20 different applications, it's ended up doing only one. At some point he realized that he wanted to reintroduce three or four ellipsoidals, and bring out a couple of 8-lights so that he could dedicate them to the audience. That was really helpful to me in Seattle, where we ultimately shot the tour video, because they didn't want to bring any additional light in. So he saved the day, as he always does."
When Crocker originally designed the lighting system, Dismuke was in Hong Kong, so he had less input at this time then he normally would have. "Yoda's been kind of running Vari-Lite's office there for the last year, but we managed to talk him into going back on the road again for this," Crocker says. "I had washes and spots in mind when I was bidding it, so the different companies had the option of providing what they wanted."
The lighting system is now 26 Vari*Lite VL2C(TM) automated spot luminaires and 48 VL5 automated wash luminaires. "A lot of custom gobos definitely are a big part of the looks, so I would have preferred to have some VL6s(TM) out there, just for the scrolling capability," Crocker says. "I wanted the wash luminaire primarily for coloring, and the spots for the gobos. But the combination of the numbers worked out great. I would have loved to have a couple of VL7s(TM). They're great for zoom-ray shots--just amazing. I don't care much for spinning gobos in most applications, but that rotation quality really can create some great looks."
Many of those looks include custom gobos for the VL2Cs, including designs created by Isaac Hanson: the circle Hanson logo and the Albertane moniker. Albertane, for those not in the loop, is the capital of Mars, according to the Hanson boys. "I don't know that there is actually a government on Mars, so I'm pretty sure they haven't got a capital yet," Crocker laughs. "But if they want to believe that, they can. If I'd come up with that, I'd get put away, but they're entitled to a youthful fantasy."
When Crocker did the video shoot with Hanson at the Beacon, he converted their previous logo into a gobo. "I just played with that on the walls, and they loved it," says the LD. "They got the idea real quickly that they could have some fun with it. They're all artists, and they're definitely interested and very vocal about the lighting, but they gave me a lot of creative license. I like it when I get input, but it's fun to just be able to run with it, too. So in their case, Yoda and I would just get out there and start playing. They were really fascinated with the technology. All three of the boys and maybe some of the other kids in the family learned how to play with the Artisan(R), and were out there following each other around with a VL2 on the balcony. They really got into that, but after a while it got boring, and they started cranking the volume on the P.A.
"They appreciate learning about the technology, and they can speak intelligently about all the equipment," Crocker continues. "They know the difference between a VL2 and a VL5 but as far as having much to say about cueing, that didn't happen all that often. There was only one song, which I lit predominantly red, and Taylor came to me and said, 'I can see where you would think of this as being red, but in my head, when I was writing it, I always thought blue.' That was easy enough--blue it is. And he was right--it worked."
The band showed off its new looks for the first time on one of MTV's Live at the Ten Spot shows. LD Allen Branton and his crew came in to handle that shoot. "I was trying to anticipate Allen's needs as much as I could," Crocker says. "For instance, when we were using graphics, I'd try not to affect the subject area too much. So in rehearsals, while we were looking at the show primarily as the live project that it was going to be, we also paid attention to the video needs, because we could then rework it afterwards to get our live looks back."
Tuning up looks and programming the show during production rehearsals causes Crocker to admit his love/hate feelings for the process. "I love that groove that you get, although I don't like the idea of having to be awake all night," he says. "It's an unfortunate part of our business that on most tours there are so many daytime needs that the lighting crew gets pushed into working overnight. So at the time when you should be at your most creative, you're getting all the energy sapped out of you because you feel like you're suffering from jet lag in your own time zone. It's really frustrating.
"But having said that, there is something really magical about being in these theatres at night when there's nobody else there--there's no sound, no folks bugging you, no other crew people. It's just the lighting crew, and your mission is the same. You're trying to get as many good looks out of the stage as you possibly can. Everybody is just focused on that. And when you're running out for a 3am trip to Mister Burger, and getting the last call at the local coffee house for espresso, and trying to stay awake all night, it just gets really crazy and fun. I just don't like being tired."
When the tour went off to Europe for three shows last spring, Crocker left the show in Dismuke's capable hands. "Only one major change happened after I left, and I was really grateful for that," Crocker says. "I did not use followspots for those first three songs where I wanted the shadows, but the manager came up and asked Yoda to start using them--for a very good reason that I had not considered at all. Photographers are only there for the first three songs, so you've got to have the boys looking good. I just wasn't thinking about that, because I was in a rehearsal where there were no photographers."
The video crew in Seattle included gaffer Jocelyn Smith, director Scott Lochmus, producer Ken Druckerman, and video engineer Billy Steinberg. When Crocker joined them, he found another reason to feel all right about the followspot decision. "I was there to help light it for video and to protect the integrity of the production design, so I was working with Rick Siegel, the DP, to make that happen," Crocker says. "Even so, I still might not have wanted to use followspots, but I was more inclined to go with them then than I otherwise would have been."
After the video shoots were finished, Dismuke relates that the band became more relaxed. "They don't give us a set list anymore and they're just bopping all over the place," Dismuke says. "It's spontaneous and it keeps you on your toes. They're fun people to work for."
Tour director Paul Chavarria
Tour manager Patricia Chavarria
Lighting designer Stan Crocker
Lighting director Erick "Yoda" Dismuke
Lighting technicians Joey Chardukian, Seth "Chef" Robinson
Vari*Lite technician/rigger (Europe) Ward Wouters
Set design Bruce Rodgers, Mike Rhodes/ Tribe, Inc.
Technical stage manager Tye Trussell
FOH sound engineer John "JB" Blasutta
Monitor engineer Brad Wright
Systems engineer Dan Sheehan
Sound technicians (Europe) Leen Frijters, Fred Kignatelli
Musical stage manager Mark "Kahuna" Candelario
Tour assistants Ashley Greyson, Joshua Jones
Set construction All Access Staging/Production Main lighting contractor Vari-Lite, Inc./Kevin Forrester and Eric Hanson
Lighting equipment (26) Vari*Lite VL2C automated spot luminaires (48) Vari*Lite VL5 automated wash luminaires (1) Vari*Lite Artisan Plus console (13) Columbus McKinnon 1-ton chain hoist motors (3) ETC Source Fours (4) Thomas 8-lights (1) Skjonberg computer hoist control system (2) Reel EFX foggers (2) Reel EFX fans