Chris Isaak is one of America's best-known retro rockers. During more than 20 years in the music business, Isaak and his band Silvertone have recorded ten albums, including the just released Best of Chris Isaak, starred in their own cable television show, and entertained fans all around the world. The performer recently launched the 2006-2007 version of the Chris Isaak Tour, which will take him and his band to nearly 100 cities on three continents. This season's tour will find him in a variety of venues ranging from arenas, amphitheatres, and concert halls, to wineries, botanic gardens, and clubs.

Painting With Light

As lighting designer and director, our first objective was to give the show a new look for this year. While his fan base keeps growing, Chris has a loyal following of people who return to his concerts year after year, so it's important to give them a sense that they are seeing the show for the first time. Therefore, it's imperative that we have a new visual look for each tour as well as a system that is easy to set up and take down.

Each year, we create a new design for the concert. Fortunately, Chris is a super-creative guy, great to bounce ideas off of, and a lot of what you see on stage, as well as hear, has his stamp on it. He's got amazing energy and puts on a fabulous show, so the design for the tour had to reflect and support that.

Chris often performs in venues that provide just two straight, overhead trusses which results in a look that tends to be very similar and utilitarian. We tried to get away from that by adding moving lights in different positions and hanging at different heights to break up the similarity. We specified a house plot that hangs the PAR bars at 90° to the truss in an attempt to get away from the standard 60 PAR double-hung truss because we want Chris' audience to feel that the Chris Isaak show is something special and different.

The Chris Isaak show is all about Chris, the band, and the music. The focus is on the music and the performers; the setting and visual effects are all achieved through lighting. We had to incorporate a simple scenic element to give the stage some definition and make the most out of as few lights as possible; we have gone through a lot of different backdrops and gags over the past years.

The scenic element this year is five sets of pillow-wall modules from Atomic Design hanging at different heights. Chris is not into asymmetric designs, so Atomic-made aircraft cable lines to facilitate the staggered heights, giving us five columns of panels at three different heights. The panels take light beautifully from the floor or the rig, back or front, and have a great texture when side lit. They are beautifully built but still a very simple and clean look.

We had seen a lot of tours in Europe going out with the smaller Martin lights and wanted to try the MAC 250 Wash as the only flown moving head for this year. We designed a very hard-edged beam and gobo-heavy show for last year's tour and wanted to deliberately get away from that look for this year's run.

Entertainment Lighting Services (ELS), our lighting vendor, purchased brand new MAC 250 wash units for the tour, and we were amazed at how bright yet compact they were — perfect for a run of this size. We wanted to hang them in groups of three, so ELS made some great custom brackets that enable the three MACs to hang underneath each other and staggered so they can move freely. The vertical element ties in with the set and gives an interesting layered look from the wash sources, and the small size of the units give more of a cluster feel with the sources very close to each other.

Last year, ELS provided us Color Kinetics ColorBlaze 72s, so we incorporated six this year to uplight the pillow-wall. The LED source and primary color rendering make the metallic weave in the drop really pop and give the show a great source that is low profile and low on current draw. Having patched the battens as individual cells, we are also able to shift colors horizontally along the drops for some great cross-fade shifts, including a flame effect in one song.

We put four MAC 2000 Performances on vertical towers for some medium high-side light. These are the only hard-edge lights in the show and provide shuttered looks on the band, as well as gobo and texture painting on the stage. The animation wheel provides some beautiful dynamic looks on the backdrop to give the show another layer.

There are also four MAC 2000 wash units on the floor upstage to backlight the drop, layer the backline, or light the upstage black curtain. We have always loved the “cannon” narrow beam in the MAC 2000s, and we get to use that too.

Due to budget and truck space, 20 moving lights and six LED battens is the biggest system the tour can sustain, so it was fun to be challenged with a small rig again. We have lit Chris's songs many times, so it was also fun to have a different palette to start with as well as a different set of instruments to enable the songs to be reinvented visually. Tyson Palmisano from ELS was instrumental in bringing the custom elements of the design together with some new fixtures and packaging the entire system in a clean and compact rig perfectly suited to this tour.

On The Road

This is one of our biggest tours yet, and the best looking design that we've carried in quite a while. We're touring nine weeks over the summer and fall, a couple of weeks in Europe, and five or so weeks in Australia. In between tour engagements, we do corporate shows, too. Like every touring concert, we have limited time to get in, set up, break down, and move on to the next venue, so portability and rapid setup capability are key to getting this show on the road from city to city.

For this tour, we created a modular system that breaks down into manageable crates, aiding the setup and tear-down. The vertical trusses, for example, are left on their bases and drop right into their crates, and the cables are loomed together and tied, making them easy to load out fast.

With our fast-in/fast-out staging, we can rig, power, and check the focus preset much more quickly. Then it's show time, and we're ready to run the lights from the back of the house. Tear down is equally efficient. The small, modular lighting system creates a great effect on stage yet allows us to breakdown, crate up, and move on to the next venue quickly. And with nearly 100 cities on our tour, that's a real benefit.

Australian-born Paul Guthrie of Toss Film & Design Inc. has served as lighting and video/projection designer for a variety of concert performers including Sheryl Crow, Crowded House, kd Lang, Billy Idol, and Fleetwood Mac. (

With 28 years in the business, lighting director Lane Hirsch has spent a lifetime on the road with some of music's most famous acts, including Pat Benetar, Fiona Apple, Ringo Starr's All Stars, and Robin Trower, among others.

Lighting Gear

4 Martin MAC 2000 Performance Spot
4 Martin MAC 2000 Wash
12 Martin MAC 250 Wash
6 Color Kinetics ColorBlaze 72
1 Flying Pig Systems Whole-hog 2 Control Console, with Expansion Wing
4 8' GP 12"×12" Trusses
4 Truss Bases
4 Custom Pipes for MAC 250s
1 Reel EFX DF-50 Diffusion Hazer


Atomic Design

Color Kinetics

Entertainment Lighting Services

High End Systems


Reel EFX