Tina Turner tours like the best of them. The rock-and-roll veteran is out there strutting some pretty fantastic stuff on her current 24/7 World Tour 2000, which began with a grueling schedule that most young performers would find too punishing. Six of the 14 trucks that carried this big tour from city to city on the initial US leg of one-night stands were dedicated to a sophisticated set with myriad moving parts.
Designed by British architect/set designer Mark Fisher, whose credits range from the Rolling Stones, Janet Jackson, and Pink Floyd to the Millennium Dome in London, Turner's set is an encompassing environment that adds extra punch to the power of her performance. "She wanted something that was modern, cool, sleek," says Fisher. "Several conversations took place over sketchbooks before we were clear about what she meant by this."
Fisher says the end result is "hugely complicated and one of the largest arena shows to ever go out and tour back-to-back," adding, "It has been described as a stadium tour in an arena." The designer developed Turner's initial idea of "cabins" and access ramps for the six-piece band into an "apartment building," which consisted of a double set of risers with visible staircases and a front drop that creates six compartments for the musicians. The staircases stretch to 25' above stage level, for a vertical as well as horizontal appeal. Backstage, this height is echoed with platforms that hold lighting equipment and fog machines, including four Le Maitre Neutron Pro units and two F-100 Fogger MK2 units.
Fisher also came up with the idea of splitting the set in two for what he calls the "volcano" reveal for "I Heard It Through the Grapevine," in which a red flame backdrop replaces a sculpted silvery black drop in use for most of the show. The drops were added to make the set "look pretty," notes Fisher. "Tina was going for spectacle." Tait Towers in Lititz, PA, built the set, under the expert guidance of Michael Tait and Jim "Winky" Fairorth.
Dave Perry, whose studio is in Birmingham, England, created both backdrops. He worked from Fisher's designs, using an assortment of fabrics, including voile, gauze, lame, and satin, to get the desired effect. "We create the shapes, then stitch the fabrics together to get a three-dimensional depth that catches the light; that's our specialty, really," says Perry. "There are no set rules or techniques. We create each design on an ad hoc basis, with an air-brushed [painted] enhancement on the fabric after the drops are made."
The set split into two pieces twice--once for the volcano effect and once again for the unplugged portion of the show--with the video screen dropping between the two sections. During these moments, the video screen continues to move and also splits into two parts, adding an incredible visual impact to the production. Video director Christine Strand used all of the screens to add another layer of visual interest throughout the show.
Fisher describes the action of the set for the "Grapevine" reveal: "The band apartments split open, creating a 20'-wide gap ablaze with gold and red pyro and revealing the video screen upstage. An 18'-long ramp rises out of the floor as soon as the apartments are clear. It meets an upstage entry platform (above Turner's backstage quick-change area) behind the curtain. Tina and the girls are standing on the roof of the quick-change, upstage of the video screen. The screen splits open and they shimmy down the ramp."
Meanwhile, the screens continue to move. "At the end of 'Grapevine,' they lift up high as two separate screens to do the video for 'Private Dancer,' " explains Fisher. Also during this song, the backup singers perform downstage on specially designed chairs that they can stand on. The chairs (built by Brilliant Stages in the UK) have wheels on back legs to make them easy to move around the stage.
At the end of the show, a 2'-wide section of the stage floor lifts up as a 60'-long arm rises into the air and swings out over the audience, with Turner perched in a "pulpit" at the end. "She has used cantilever arms before," explains Fisher. "I first did one for her in 1990 [called "the Claw"]. So this much-improved and much longer arm was a hard sell, just because she had done it before and did not want to repeat old gags. But in the end, the video animation persuaded her that this one was very different. Which it is; she can sweep out over almost half of the arena floor with it."
Hydraulically powered, the arm is fixed cantilever-mounted on a car, which runs on a track under the stage, and counterweighted by 7,000lbs of lead, which prevents it from falling over. "The car can drive from one side of the stage to the other while the arm turns around on top of it," Fisher explains.
The hydraulics for the arm were subcontracted by Tait Towers to Donnie Wright of Beyond Imagination in Newburgh, NY. "We usually do our own hydraulics, but this was a very tight span and we needed a specialist," says Tait.
The initial leg of the tour (which opened in Madison, WI) included a series of four back-to-back, one-night stands in cities that were within driving distance of each other (after four nights, there were three nights off). The normal load-in time for the production is six to seven hours.
The Massive Load-In
Production manager Jake Berry supervises a rather complex load-in. "In the first hour, the whole floor of the venue is covered with stuff," he explains. The lighting grid gets assembled on the portion of the floor where the stage will be placed, while the boom arm and the band risers are also getting assembled nearby. All of the band's gear is placed on the risers as they are being built.
Once motors lift the grid, the top level of band risers is rolled into place and lifted by motors in the grid. The lower level is rolled into place underneath and connected to the top level and the completed structure lifted. Finally, the stage and the cantilever arm are rolled into place.
The crew includes 36 local people as well as supervisors who tour with the show. Tait and Fisher worked out the quick method of assembly for the set. "There are no nuts and bolts," explains Tait. Instead, they used big latches as were first used on the arch for U2's POPMART tour [see TCI November 97]. "The set is well built andthe construction embodies some new quick-fastening techniques, which mean that the crew also likes it because it goes together easily and, for its size, quickly," says Fisher.
The set must come apart even faster than it is put together, as the entire show needs to be back in the trucks within a four-hour crew call. The hydraulic arm is disassembled first, then the stage rolls out of the way and the grid is lowered.
"The last truck out is the first one you want in," explains Tait. "That is the paradox of touring. The roof that comes down last goes in first. A set can be technically interesting, but it also has to look good. This set is a perfect blend. It never upstages Tina, yet it looks great. Nothing is superfluous."
Fisher is also pleased with his set. "It looks good and works well for Tina. She likes it, and the audience likes it," he says.
For Tina's outdoor shows this summer, extra video screens have been added underneath a 120'-wide roof on the stage set, and the audio system has been integrated into the set design, tied in by a clean, modern header for the roof built of rigid aluminum panels. In addition, the cantilever arm has been increased by 20' (to 80'), giving Turner an even longer perch to strut her stuff.
Tina Turner is one of the only divas on the music scene today who will actually take time out of her show to thank the people behind the scenes of what is being billed as her last major concert tour. Without question, this rock legend, backed by her 40 years in the music biz, appreciates the production talent it takes to deliver the kind of rock spectacle that has become synonymous with her name.
When you consider the scale of the 14-truck show, an abbreviated rehearsal schedule of a little over two weeks, and the feat of delivering four back-to-back shows right off the bat, it's no wonder the crew, led by production manager Jake Berry, is held in such high esteem. Many of Turner's designers and production crew members had worked on her previous tour, including Fisher, lighting designer Roy Bennett, video director Christine Strand, and FOH sound engineer Dave Natale. Lighting director Jeff Pavey has also crew chiefed for the singer's world tours in his native Australia. Pooling this collective experience, they crafted a stage setting where the sexagenarian could do what she still does best--rock the house. "Tina likes big strong rock looks," says Bennett. "She always likes to feel the heat of the lights."
Fourteen Lycian 1200 followspots operated by lighting crew chief and Pavey's right hand Jim Straw delivered Tina and her dancers into the rock-and-roll light she loves. There are six on the front truss, two on each side of the stage, and four upstage with 10 of those focused on Tina alone. This heavy use of spots became a balancing act between lighting the live performance while capturing striking video images, another crucial design element. "Tina likes to have a ton of spotlights, but that doesn't work so well for video because then you have to start to crank the iris down on the cameras and suddenly your background goes away on video," says Bennett, who worked with video director Strand and lighting director Pavey to get levels right.
Meanwhile, Strand's challenge was to command the three screens--one 19' x 12' moving LED screen centerstage and two soft screens, all supplied by BCC. On Turner's last tour, Strand created frames that moved around the screen to change the shape and size; this time out, the center screen itself not only moves up and down and upstage and downstage, but also separates in two. Directing from backstage, she relies on a spy cam at front of house to give her the big picture. "The most challenging aspect for me is that the screen keeps moving and splitting in two while there are other images on the side screens, and I'm doing this without being out front and seeing it all," Strand says. "The spy cam becomes pretty crucial to coordinate the timing."
In addition to the spy cam, there are four Ikegami 35 manned cameras and three point-of-view cameras on the musicians, which also help them see each other with in their separate apartments in the set. Milwaukee, WI-based Mind Pool created the graphics and animated images that alternate with the live footage. "In pre-production I spoke a lot with Mark Fisher and Roy Bennett about how the show would look and from there tried to conjure up ideas for images that could work," says Strand. Animated images include a shimmering water effect positioned behind the set for "Let's Stay Together," a psychedelic kaleidoscope for "Acid Queen," and flames for a volcano effect during "Grapevine" in which both set and screen split in two.
The complex movement of the screen relied on a tracking system, which Strand says carpenter Robert Hale was instrumental in constructing. This LED tracking system also impacted the lighting truss design. "Because of weight issues, there were very few lights we could get in that area overhead," explains Bennett, who compensated in part by designing two horseshoe-shaped lighting pods placed at either side of the stage. Fisher referred to the truss design in the horseshoe-shaped set piece, which flies Turner downstage Thunderdome-style for "We Don't Need Another Hero."
Light & Sound Design (LSD) was the lighting supplier, and Bennett credits LSD's Nick Jackson for pulling the system together. Equipment includes seven LSD Icon luminaires on the video-tracking grid. Each horseshoe-shaped pod has four LSD Icons, four High End Systems Studio Colors(R), four MR20s and two ETC Source Fours to light the pods architecturally. There's also one custom Lycian HMI medium throw followspot which "the operators love being in," according to Pavey, who is in charge of the lighting on the road. "They've got full racing car-style seats in them and the followspot operators don't have to climb, the lights come down to them."
The lighting system also includes a downstage truss equipped with six Icons, eight Studio Colors, 10 Diversitronics strobes, and six medium throw Lycian HMI followspots. High End's new PC Beam makes its concert debut on the two upstage scenic trusses, each of which is equipped with 10 of the new instruments; one upstage truss is also augmented with 10 Icons. "I thought the PC Beams were great. They were very bright," says Bennett. "But like anything from a first run, there were a few software issues, because we were running them off the Icon console, but we sorted that out. There were also a couple of color issues at first, but High End is always good about sorting everything out after the first round and then you never see the problems again."
Five PC Beams were also used on the floor downstage left and right to highlight the dancers. On the floor upstage of the set, there are eight PC Beams, six Icons, seven 8-lights with Wybron Colorams, and four double Diversitronic strobes with Colorams.
When it came to lighting the set and the band members inside it, the lighting crew got creative. "It was easier to light the band members in the three apartments on the top level because they were out a little bit further than the ones on the bottom, who were buried back further in the set," explains Bennett. "There was a walkway for the second level that went downstage of the set and made it very hard to get light into the bottom apartments, unless it went straight off the floor inside." "It is very hard to light the bottom guys, because of the catwalk on top of them so you can't actually light them from the front," adds Pavey. "I'm using the downstage PC Beams to shoot into there."
To light the apartments from within, there are also two High End Studio Spot(R) 250s and one Diversitronic 3000 in each, and "a bunch of Arri 650 fresnels mounted downstage for key light," Bennett says.
For the climactic volcano effect during "Grapevine," a centerpiece of the production design, pulsating lighting, flaming video images, and a healthy dose of pyro by Pyrotek conjure the illusion of an eruption. "We put fans on the backdrop so it undulates and moves," says Bennett. "The backdrop was also backlitas well as frontlit so that you get a little bit of depth. We did a very bright yellow pulsing light on the backside of it and an undulating warmer glowy feel to the front side and it would shift back and forth so you would get this sense of heat and fire out of it."
And for Tina's finale, her trip over the masses in the pulpit, two Studio Spot 250s and a couple of short-nose PARs attached to the scenic piece tone the trussing of the extended arm and light the way. "Truth be told, and this doesn't have anything to do with the video, my favorite part of the show is when Tina goes out and dances down the very narrow arm over the audience," says Strand. "I can't believe she does it every night. It's very inspirational."
Rock-and-roll vet Dave Natale, one of the best sound engineers in the business according to almost anyone you ask, has been working for Tina Turner since 1985. It's a working relationship that has given him a fundamental understanding of her sound. "Her manager Roger Davies stands out front with me, as he has done for all her tours, and he and I work it out," says Natale. "I know basically what he wants and then he tells me what he wants specifically for new songs or if he wants to do something a little bit different for old songs."
On 24/7, Natale used his standard tools of the trade, supplied by Clair Brothers, including S-4 Series 2 cabinets in a configuration of 16 long-throw Model Ps and 20 short-throw Model Fs on each side. His console is a Yamaha PM4000. "It's the console I've been using for as long as they've been out, and they're reliable, which is the main criteria," says Natale. "It has no automation in it, because if it has automation, that means it's smart and it might do something without me telling it to, and I don't want anything changing unless I know about it."
For Turner, who can just as easily rock out as take the volume way down, Natale opted for a Manley electro-optical limiter on her vocal. "Tina can go from a whisper to sounds louder than you can imagine in less than one microsecond," he says. "Her dynamic range is pretty amazing, so to get her vocal loud enough at the quietest parts--but not have her blow the system up one microsecond later when she decides to go to full power--you have to have a limiter to contain it and keep it safe.
"There are limiters on the Clair Brothers crossovers on the S4s for system protection," he continues. "Now if I wouldn't have a limiter on her vocal, the limiters in the PA would kick in and that's not a very good sound, because her voice would determine how loud the whole show is. With a Manley limiter on her, I can run the show at a higher average level and not worry about the big peaks that might crush the system."
For the backup singers, Natale has no processing except for a TCN5000, a two-effect unit in one box. "It's one reverb and the other channel is a harmonizer that gets put on only if it needs it," he says. "Basically, if there is enough reverb, which there usually is in these large places, then I don't use it very much."
When selecting mics, Natale not only thinks of the performers, but the audience that comes to see them every night. "You have to use the right mic to make it sound good for the people who pay the money to come," he says. Turner uses a Shure UHF wireless mic with a Shure SM58 capsule. The two background singers use Shure UHF wireless mics with SM87 capsules and the three dancers have headset mics, using the Shure wireless system with a Countryman headset mic. All the wired vocal mics for Turner and the band are Audio-Technica 4054s.
Mics for instruments include: a beyerdynamic 88 on the bass drum, Shure SM57s on two snare drums, AKG 414s on the high hat and overhead mics for the cymbals, Sennheiser 409s on the tom-toms and drum kits, Countryman direct boxes on the acoustic bass and acoustic guitars, Audio-Technica 4047s on the electric guitars, Audio-Technica ATM35s on congas, and Audio-Technica 4041s for the percussion overhead and organ. Keyboard outputs are BSS Audio direct boxes. There are also several line-level output devices onstage consisting of Clair Brothers transformer isolation boxes and Jensen transformers.
When asked what part of the show he enjoys the most, Natale says it's during the slow songs when, ironically, you can almost hear the sound of silence. "The slow songs have more air so you can hear well," he says. "It gets really quiet for the beginnings of those songs and then the audience gets completely quiet. To be in buildings that size with 15,000 people and nobody's breathing is pretty amazing."