Italian recording artist Zucchero "Sugar" Fornaciari recently embarked on the first European leg of his Blue Sugar world tour, also due to visit the US, Canada, Japan, Korea, and Australia. With its unique Mediterranean slant on funky R&B, English lyrics by U2's Bono on one song, and aguest appearance by Steve Winwood, the Blue Sugar album has been hurtling up charts all over Europe. The regional concerts were suitably cutting-edge, with set and lighting designed by Vince Foster (and supplied by Brilliant Stages and Neg Earth, respectively) and a high-tech video megascreen topping things off.
The three-arch set included the videoscreen and a riser for an all-female string quartet, flanked by two huge angels. Foster, who also designed Zucchero's last tour and has worked with Peter Gabriel, Seal, Erasure, Phil Collins, and Massive Attack, says, "Zucchero was very much involved in the design. For example, he had the idea for the angels, which were to look like the Rolls Royce 'Spirit of Ecstasy.' We tried to achieve a combination of techno, classical, and kitsch--a lot of the components were made from vacuformed plastic to keep weight down, then given a metal paint finish." The string section riser, built of slatted metal reminiscent of 1960s automobile radiator grilles, was at one point transformed into a huge cake with red, white, and green icing.
Twenty-nine Starlite Mk5s, 36 High End Systems Studio Colors(R), five Mole-Richardson 8-light and two 4-light Molefays, 20 PAR-64s and two 5ks, all with Wybron Coloram color changers, were used to great effect for stunning electric looks, saturated washes, and starlit skies according to the song performed. The set's arches and its legs played an important role: The curves' "knuckles" were linked with electroluminescent strips supplied by Howard Eaton Lighting Ltd and lit by fixtures at all levels, including outriggers. A 70kW unit by Lightning Strikes under the riser, 31 dimmable Anytronics Death Star strobes strategically placed throughout the rig, and a 3'-diameter mirror ball helped create the "rave" effect Sugar wanted in the up-tempo songs and got the packed crowds bopping.
The show's Wholehog II, from Flying Pig Systems, was manned by programmer Tellson James, who explains, "I've worked with Vince for over 10 years, including Zucchero's last tour. Since the original programming, I've been changing things here and there as we go along--as you get to know the songs better, cues become obvious within songs, so when the schedule allows it, I program an effect, whether it's a strong bang or a color fade. You follow what the music suggests, and even if the tour was a year long, I'm sure I'd still be adding stuff at the end of the year."
Along with Andy Saunders, owner of OneFourFive Films, Foster also produced the film footage used on the show along with other film and cartoon material and abstract images, projected to great effect (thanks to a SMPTE signal) on a 15-sq.-m (161 sq. ft.) LED megascreen by UK firm Unitek. Two more will be used in the bigger stadium and outdoor gigs later in the tour.
With an effective width of 4.06m and just 200mm deep, this screen has a resolution of 160 pixels/144 lines and can handle PAL, NTSC, or SECAM signals. The set-up was supplied by PSL and helmed by Richard Shipman, who explains, "We've got a Dataton Macintosh G3-based control system, with a computer operated matrix switcher controlling a selection of source systems, including three Fast Forward Omega Hard Drive video storage systems, a Sony Betacam tape source and, in conjunction with Belgium's ArKaos, an Iceberg On Stream Image manipulation system. The system includes a dedicated pro version of Steinberg Distribution's XPose, MIDI, and a real-time visual sampler." More than enough, in other words, to put Zucchero in bowls all over the world.