Tuesday, April 03, 2007


So the tour was cancelled. 2 weeks prematurely. Singer had a sinus infection. Not much else to say about it. It was a welcome calamity as it was getting pretty grim. I am in the midst of a few weeks off at home, and then I fly to NY for rehearsals with a new band for a new tour. I am looking forward to this one. I'll keep you posted

Thursday, March 22, 2007


Two days at L'Olympia. A big room 2 levels below the street that looks quite a bit like a movie theatre. The stage is a good size and it sounds pretty alright, which is more than you can say about Brixton. In London, if you stand in the center of the floor, where the crowd is, and clap or yell or, as the band did, play a french horn as loud as possible, ytou can hear an echo that last for between 30 to 45 seconds. It is pretty unreal, and often turns the stomach of any sound engineer. Paris, as I said, was alright. I ended up setting up on the balcony, in a tiny space reserved for front of house. We spent two days literally on top of eachother. In about a 17' X 7' foot space we fit a sound desk (one of those big, new pro tools guys) a lighting desk or two, a pair of Barco (12) projectors and a rack of video gear. It was madness. The projectors, for front projection, are huge and tend to get very loud and very hot before too long. We also did a huge, seven camera video shoot for Canal Plus (French TV) which involved hiring in 50 or so extra lights to highlight the crowd and key light the band on stage. I also spent the second show staring more at a monitor then the stage to make sure the deep reds and blues weren't washing out the band's faces on stage. I stumbled into a conversation between band members about how they were discontent with how ordered and choreographed thing had gotten. The band thrives on spontinaety, and tour is all about monotany. They felt the show was starting to be a bit contrived (which happens when you play the same set in the same venue every night for a week, I'm just saying). So, that means big changes and crazy things ahead. The band has really brilliant, on the spot ideas, that are rarely seen through and often totally impossible given circumstances. The video guys had spent a few days working on one in particular. The singer had the idea of, during a slow number where he plays an organ and sings alone, having a life size cut-out of himself somewhere in the theatre, and having a video of him singing live on stage projected onto the face of the cut-out. I love it, but it is one of the most impossible things I have ever seen anyone attempt. It involved getting a small, wireless lipstick camera attached to a mic stand, and, of course, a life size model of the singer. This came together surprisingly quickly. The trick came in getting him to stand absoultely still while performing the song and getting the projection just the right size on the cut-out's face. We spent several hours fielding questions like 'why does my neck look so fat?' and 'where did my eyes go?' We tried this in Paris and it was passable, although the challenge was really being able to light to cut-out without obscuring the projection. Also, after everything, the figure ended up living on the balcony (our production manager ran up and set the damn thing in place half way through the set) where no one saw it. It was a brilliant moment where 1,000 people on the balcony were staring intently at the stage, and the vidoe guy and I are waving for them to turn around and look at the stupid cardboard cut-out. No dice. The other concept, which I also thought was great, and impossible, was to have the five round screens on stage project live video of five band members playing in the opposite direction. So, the band turns their backs to the audience and the screens facing out show images of the band facing the crowd. Crazy and great, but terribly difficult. This one involved andother half dozen cameras, more standing still and some dreadful noises from the monitors because the band faced the wrong way. We scrapped it the other day. To be attempted later, I'm sure. To aleviate the boredom the band has played in a freight elevator and in the middle of the crowd so far. Can't wait to see what happens next. We are in Stockholm, at The Cirkus, which is a fitting name for a band that travels with this much crap.

Saturday, March 17, 2007


At the tail end of four in a row at Brixton Academy. Things are pretty easy so far on this tour. I have a solid week in a nice hotel in Kensington opposite Hyde Park. I have four shows in a big, old theatre with space for days and not too many problems otherwise. Load in on the first day was really early. 7am for no good reason other than it was just me and the new tech on lights. Everything went up pretty quickly. The crew there are really great. In Manchester the band had some serious issues with the rounded proscenium of the stage. With the barricade in place the crowd was 10 to 12 feet away from them. For a band the gets off on diving into the crowd and dragging kids onstage, this was a nightmare. To alleviate this problem we pushed the band as far downstage as possible putting them about six feet from the first row. The only problem was the position of the downstage truss ended up being directly overhead the mic line. There were two possible positions for the truss, one overhead and one 20 feet out into the crowd, both were less than ideal. I went for the overhead option. It makes it really hard to front light a band. Even with moving lights and cross-focusing and such, it's hard to keep the faces from looking shadowy. I have a row of footlights out on this, with helps a bit with filling in the unlit parts, but the band hates them, so I use them sparingly. The other main issue the last few shows was the band not being able to see the crowd. Brixton Academy has a general admission floor that packs about 3,000 kids into it. It gets pretty hectic during a good show. I went in to the venue a day early the first time I did a show there, just to check out the space. System of a Down and Dillenger Escape Plan were playing the night before. It was one of the most insane things that I have ever seen. The floor looked like liquid; a sea of people swaying back and forth. It really is a shame for the band to miss out on seeing a crowd in mutual appreciation of their music. It is also a real shame to blind the crowd and light up the room like a circus ever 2 minutes. I think it completely kills the atmosphere. Obviously I have been out-voted. When I was doing Belle and Sebastian last year, they seemed to have the same problems. Generally complaining about not seeing the crowd and feeling uninspired. This escalated into doing shows with the house lights on at 50%. It was miserable. This time around I've gotten by with flashing some blinders here and there and turning them at full whenever the band talks to the crowd. Let's hope it can stay that way.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007


It has all turned into a bit of a shambles, really. Unfortunately the tech who was out with me on this tour, and who is the best I have ever worked with had to leave the tour because his mother passed away. He is so spot on with everything he does that I took him to the states with me a few years ago (although he is employed through a lighting company in the uk). He never stops working and generally does it with pleasure. The only time I have ever seen him make a mistake was when the band we were with decided to do a second encore after doing only one encore for six straight months. After the band walked off stage he immediately killed the power to the lights and started pulling things off the stage, workaholic that he is. He turned completely white as the band walked back on stage for another song. He quickly powered everything back on and actually managed to get it up and going before the song was done. So, he lost his mom and had to leve the tour straight away. I finished the load in, and basically had to decipher the esoteric color-coding system that is attached to any lighting rig. I got by alright, but had to make do without someone keeping an eye on things on the stage for me during the show. There was a bit of a mess of cables run here and there as I was trying to figure out what went where with absolutely no space on stage at all. All in all it was alright. The lighting company sent out a replacement tech who was someone that I had toured with years ago when I really had no idea what I was doing. He put up with me then, and he dealt with this present situation rather well too. The band decided that they wanted to see video of some of the shows. While these shows were the least accurate representation of the actual tour, we decided to tape them anyway. Back to London for proper shows in a proper venue. Also with proper pressure to make some big shows look really great.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Redemption Manchester

A total turn around, I have to say. I was really considering a career change after our first Manchester show. After 2 production (lighting only) days, weeks of discussion and hours upon hours of programming, the show was total crap. Last night was spectacular in comparison. Although average, but a decent start, it was the show we needed to have. Following the first show the band's major concern was a set of four Mac 250 wash lights that were placed on either side of the stage, 2 downstage and two midstage. These provided mostly a good cross-wash for the band, and as there are ten on stage on an amalgamation of risers key light is pretty important to pick out individuals instead of just a mass of heads and instruments. The problem was the nightmare the band is currently having with the sound on stage. As I've mentioned, it's no treat to mix a band of that size with the number of bizarre instruments that anyone can pick up at random. That coupled with the fact that 5,000 or so capacity theatres are pretty new to them (as is their monitor engineer) and they are suddenly reliant on a set of monitors to hear someone even standing next to them on stage. They are getting there (bar the fact that the singer asked for more xylophone in his monitor for some reason, and the drummer asked for more viola...not sure why), but it's a process. The four side wash lights effectively blinded the band from the sides so they had difficulty seeing and communicating with their monitor engineer on stage left. There is an intricate set of hand signals that crop up from sing to song, and not having a visual confirmation that someone understood their request for more cowbell freaked them a little. I had a very similar thing happen when I was working with Wilco a few years back. I got brought on to do some smaller shows on the East Coast that ended with a pair of shows at Radio City in New York. They had never traveled with a lighting designer and had actually gotten an old theatre-stlye lighting plot from some old lighting design book and were passing it around as their preferred lighting rig in most rooms. When I started advancing the Radio City shows I realized that they had asked for about 10 lekos gelled in various shades of brown. On a stage of that size you would find it difficult to light a puppet show with that amount of lighting, so I added a few movers to their plot, a number of which were on the floor along either side of the stage, and so it comes back around. The look was completely new to the band and they found it difficult to see eachother and anticipate changes in the songs. As Nels, their guitar player said: "I've gotta see my boys." Same thing this time around. So I scrapped the lights and hung them from the downstage truss, providing a bit more traditional front light, and added that into cues for each song. I also cut back on a hazer which is essential to using moving lights to really see the beam, but it was starting to look like an enchanted forest on stage the first night. The Apollo is a strickly non-smoking venue, but as it's in England everyone smokes, so there was little need for haze on stage. I also tossed in a lot more audience looks as there is quite a bit of band-crowd interaction that the band seems to feed off of. Those little things, and taking a different approach to the songs that were really reliant in video helped a lot. Speaking of, we actually got it up and going partially. Enough, at least, to make a difference. There were some really great moments. During the song 'rebellion' the band was lit almost entirely by a projected video of a fire from front of house. It looked really great. During 'ocean of noise' there is a video of synchronized swimmers projected onto the backdrop and these silver reflective skirts for the risers that we are carrying. All is all it was a winner. Everyone was very happy. Next we are off to Glasgow at the legendary Barrowlands. I've done some really amazing shows there in spite of a notoriously difficult load-in and low head height and stage space. There are no points to hang a midstage truss either, so everything on it will have to move to the upstage. All of that, and a lot more, aside, the shows tend to be really electric. I'll spend my day reprogramming a bit to accomidate the shifting positions of lights. We have a second video tech coming out to lend a hand, which will be a good thing although it means we need aother bus equipped with more bunks as we have all 12 filled on the present one. Maybe someone can help our production manager hang a 7' tall, 300 pound pipe organ facade from the roof as well. I can't wait to see how that turns out.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Manchester, For Real This Time

A complete and total disaster on all fronts. Tonight was the first show with the full lighting rig, full pa and on a proper sized stage. The day went as planned. I was in at 9am, hung the lights and had some time to fiddle about with a hazer (again, I'm becoming quite adept) and program some stuff for the songs that the band surprised everyone with. I was really looking forward to the show. Sure there was the usualy 2 hour soundcheck where every conceiveable form of feedback was directed, at full volume, towards anyone on the stage, but that is to be expected. Everything was set up. Everything worked for the most part. Our video guy had a total shitstorm on his hands by the time the venue opened doors. It would appear that the catalyst was crashing. It sounds like some stargate-type nonsense, but it's really just a means to manipulate and control video playback, much in the way that a lighting desk controls lights, except when it doesn't work. I skipped dinner to help re-focus the projectors (8 in total) and get everything going. I don't really have much to do with the video on this one, and I must say I'm pretty glad. I have nothing to do with content, set-up or running it, just have a say in what goes on in relation to the lights. I have, however, been the video guy and the lighting guy at the same time. It's pretty rough, but I hate to have the variable of another person involved in running a show with me. Even being a second off on a cue totally ruins me. That aside, I have slaved over video content. Getting it to be the right size, stripping audio, cutting and looping it. It's meticulous, boring work, but I have derived some satisfaction from a finished product before. It absoultely takes ages to do. By the time doors opened we had successfully gotten the projectors and screens set-up, but not the show programmed. The video rendering began at 7pm when the crowd entered the building. During our two production days nearly a week ago it was the same scenario. Spend ages getting the hardware side of things up and going and then sort of slack when the actual running the show part takes place. Thus was the case tonight. As the designer said to me the other day, this show is 70% video. That's a lot to assume. I had my reservations about a lot of things. The design is great, but lacking in a few things like, say, lights, for the most part. It is different, I know, and that's the intent, but it can also look great as well. This is truly and excercise in restraint, and an opportunity for me to let go a little and have someone else design the show, have a hand in programming it (or at least a say) and have someone else who is responsible for 70 % of the actual show. I hate to say that I was right in my apprehensions, but I was right in my apprehensions. The shit didn't work, and wasn't ready even if it did. What do you do if the cue (the single cue) for a song is 2 white lights on either side of the stage while 2 massive projectors lay a huge image onto the band and backdrop, and there is no video. Suck, that's what. I did my best to compensate, but the whole show was truly based around the idea of mostly video. There were meant to be a number of cameras on stage, both wired and wireless, that never panned out. There was a projector for the kick drum head that never made it to the stage, and while I think he's immensely talented, our video guy totally lost the plot when things stopped working and just threw in the towel a few songs into the set. Not so great. So tomorrow I get to go back in to the same venue that I've spent a number of days in in the last week and try to salvage a show in the event that tomorrow night the same thing happens. I don't really know what else to say. I'm pretty bummed that it didn't go down very well, but those are the breaks. The most frustrating part of it all is that most of it is out of my hands. At least I can say that I did my best. It may have looked awful, but it was all that I had.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Still More Dublin

First show last night. It was a corker. When everything got up and running the band was great and the crowd was climbing up the walls. Team audio had a bit of a nightmare situation. I don't do sound, and often the wants and needs of audio guys and lighting guys are diametrically opposed. Where they want to put PA or monitors I want to put lights. When they want to turn an AC/DC record up to 11 to make sure the pa sounds like a giant stereo I need complete silence so that I can communicate with the guy hanging upside down, 35 feet in the air focusing lights. It's a constant struggle for space on stage and sometimes power issues. Lights always make things 'buzz' on stage. The old retort is that people don't go home humming to lights. Also, people don't pay $30 to stare at a PA. Whatever. Yesterday I watched the audio guys sweat for 6 straight hours trying to get it together. The circumstances were far from ideal. Our monitor engineer is brand new. Not brand new in the sense that he hasn't worked before, but that he doesn't know the band at all. They have about a dozen mixes on stage. In theory that means there are twelve spots where a musician can stand. Each of those spots needs a different mix of things blaring out of them. Singers like to hear their voice. Drummers like to hear the drums, and generally keyboard players like to hear a perfect, auto-tuned mix of the backing vocals, the bottom snare mic, the underside of a xlyophone and the sound of a cricket's wings gently rubbing together. You get the idea. It's a rough job. With this band in particular, once you get everything dialed in, and about ten people are happy, it all changes. Each song is different. Each song introduces a new instrument. Often at random, musicians will walk over to a rack of guitars and pick anything they fancy, plug it in and go. A stratocaster sounds different than a ukelele, usually, so it takes time to get it together. Yesterday it was not so much together. The band's soundcheck ran 30mins past doors and the support band didn't get a soundcheck, which isn't the end of the world. However, when they line checked nothing, and I mean nothing, worked. There was a mini harpsichord that, when played, made that sound in The Matrix when someone travels through time or whatever through a telephone, only through the pa at 104db. Ugly. Again, I don't know a whole lot about it. I spent the day before slaving over a lighting desk so that I could come in yesterday, put my feet up and watch people run around like maniacs. Oh, I did fix a hazer which involved me truning it off and on five or six times, kicking it, scratching my head like an ape and then taking the filter off of the intake tube, rinsing it off and putting it back. It worked. Today is the second show. Backline and audio guys are in early today to make things work properly. I think I might stroll in around 4pm. Tomorrow we fly to Manchester (back to Manchester for me) for a day off. Thursday begins the tour proper with, in theory, everything as it had been planned. Hopefully it all works and looks great. The band has been really busy doing promo and such so there has been very little feedback about the visiual elements of the show, which is strange because the band seems to be very visiually oriented. Plus there is lots of video. There could be absolutely anything projected on the screens behind them. Really. Although in saying that, I did a hellish Belle and Sebastian tour not long ago that had some low-res video projected onto a backdrop. It ended up being some short video loops that I made, and lots of still images. It looked pretty cool, but the band had absloutely no opinion what so ever about what was projected 40' wide behind them. Curious. Here's to back to back shows in the same venue. I'm looking forward to 4 in London.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

For the technophile

This is what front of house is looking like these days. Bear in mind there is no audio equipment at all.

How it's looking so far

It's complicated, really.

Olympia Theatre

Today I slept in a little and walked over to The Olympia at around 11. It was a cold, rainy day. Best spent indoors working, I say. The theatre is really amazing. The room is really narrow and increadibly tall. The third balcony, about 50 feet up, is raked at such an angle that it gives me vertigo just looking at it. I couldn't imagine sitting through an entire show up there. The house set up turned out to be the remnants of a touring theatre production that we happened to interrupt with our two shows. They decided to leave their gear in place, rather than load it out and then back in. I didn't complain. I don't remember what it was called but it's about an Irish football player, and it's set in ancient Rome. Sounds magical. So the stage was pretty cluttered with tons of pre-rig truss tipped on end and filled with frenels for key (side) lighting. There was also a huge cyc (cyclorama) drop which I discovered while poking around the fly system. A cyc is, quite literally, a blank canvas. It's a white, stretched curtain that commonly covers the upstage wall and spills out to the sides. It's a simple and stunning effect to set a row of lights in the truss or on the floor at the cyc and change the color of the entire stage. It's a great silhouetting effect as well. The Strokes did a New Year's show at The Apollo Theatre in New York a while back and they had a huge cyc drop there. I toured with one for a year after that because the band liked it so much. It was also nice to see a bunch of newer intelligent lights and a pretty dark, moody set of gels already in place. The not so hot end of things is the console, an older Avolites Pearl. Avolites was an industry standard maker mostly in the 80's. They are still pretty common in the UK mostly because they are made here, like most lighting equipment. They are also made of steel and wood, unlike most newer, aluminum/molded plastic desks these days. They are pretty much bullet-proof. I usually ask for one when hiring conventional lightining locally to suppliment a touring system (often due to budgetary or truck space restrictions) because you can drop one down a flight of stairs and it will still work. The newer Avolites desks (Diamond IV or 2005, which Coldplay had out) have updated software, but pretty much the same layout and physical design of the original desks. The one glaring exception is their lower end club desk that is covered in a composite rubber sheath so that you can spill a beer on it and it will work just fine. It's pretty colorful, and resembles a children's toy. It is totally impossible to patch and program, and I would like very much to bury them all in a pit in Taiwan where they were made. They have one of them at Irving Plaza in NY, or did the last time I was there. Shame really. The last tour I was on I requested an Avolites Saphire 2000 because it's pretty rare, extremely old and absolutely massive. It is larger than newer digital sound desks and looks so out of place next to 'modern' technology. It was a joke, but one turned up in Philadelphia. It took four guys to lift it out of it's case. Neg Earth, one of the biggest lighting suppliers in England has one on the wall of their shop, as a work of art. The one they have has a slide out cocaine mirror as well. How's that for rock? So, the avolites desk today was no fun at all. I am fine programming it, in fact I started out with one, but after spening years with a hog II and now hog III it seems absurd to use faders for every single fixture instead of numbers on a keypad and touch screens. I spent several hours setting up palattes in a rather counter-intuitive manner on the desk and programmed some bits and pieces for the show tomorrow. I didn't do pages for songs, but instead split the desk up in 3rds of the show and hot/cold looks. It's almost like being bilingual. Anyone who has ever dabbled in any form of programming knows that to shift formats or languages is a challange. Lighting is no different. So I set up some go to scenes and have each element on the stage on a handle. If you are accustomed to it you can run a decent show on the sixty or so faders on the desk. It's a royal pain in the ass, but it works. So, it's a busking type show. It takes time to get used to, while running a show, selecting a group of lights, putting them in a position, giving them a color, maybe a gobo, maybe making the gobo rotate, making them move and/or chase and then giving them intensity last. I prefer theatre stacking on a hog, or maybe just a day off. It'll be marvelous, I'm sure. I've seen some great shows in Dublin. Everyone in the crowd gets pretty fired up, and bands generally feed off of that energy. When The Strokes first played a show here (at the same theatre) Julian pitched a 50lb monitor off the stage into the photo pit and then tried to climb into the box seats on the side of the stage. The local electrician said that they recently had The Stooges (or maybe just Iggy Pop) in and he lassoed the balcony rail with his mic cable and sung out into the crowd. I expect to see some more guitar smashing antics tomorrow.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Dublin 2

Hellishly long day today. Lots of waiting around for video to appear on a massive, dark stage. It was pretty frustrating as the show is really shaping up to be a 50-50 lighting/video type thing. At the moment we only have the appearance of it. Merely a concept, at best. The lights look nice though. I am letting go of a lot of my pre-conceived notions of what is visiually pleasing. I used to mock certain color combinations that tend to crop up in small clubs when careless, colorblind operators are at the helm. It has taken me years to accept that both red and green can exist on the same stage at the same time even when there is nothing involving either Christmas or a Mexican wedding. Sometimes it coveys a sentiment. It's grating, for sure, but the right hues can be alright. It seems to be a fine line between different and garish, clever and stupid, genius and stupidity. We'll see. I have 2 shows here in Dublin with a house rig and even worse, a house desk that is most likely in all manner of disrepair. I forsee a challenge or two tomorrow, although if there are 2 candles and a maglight on stage that will still be the most I have had to work with for this band. The 2, week-long stinits at churches in Montreal and New York were really a means for me to learn some songs and get a feel for the band. I did the simplest, and most effective (considering the total lack of space with all of the absurd crap on stage and the shaky power in a couple century-old churches) design that I could think of. It came out as a dozen or so leds of various makes to light, in one setting, a velour drop upstage of the band, and another, to light a marble alter and a few stained glass windows. That, coupled with some frenel tv-ish lights for some front glow and a gobo of a bible projected onto a backdrop was pretty much the show. There were mostly some steady color changes until an inevitable (make that 3) film crews turned up to complicate things. It all worked out, which is a miracle, as usually film crews aim to totally destroy the atmosphere of a live show in order to get the 'look' that they want. Some camera operators fail to realize that there are methods of shooting in low light with fantastic results. One of my favorite anecdotes is from Radiohead's tour documentary 'Meeting People is Easy.' The band is doing a show at the Hammerstein Ballroom in NY and MTV is out filming it for their, now defunct, 'live at the 10-spot' program. Andy Watson, Radiohead's lighting designer is really the most talented guy out there these days. His shows never cease to amaze me. So, there is a scene in a remote truck where the director from MTV is staring at a set of monitors showing the band onstage, presumably live. Through a faint green haze you can barely make out the shape of people on the stage. The director is yelling about it being too dark and someone comments that neither the band nor the lighting guys really care how dark it is, and they said so. It is their show. Take it or leave it. That said, I did a DVD shoot for Interpol a few years back which aired (still does occasionally) on Showtime. That was a remarkably dark show lighting-wise, and the director knew it, yet failed to prepare for it. It's a pretty embarassing show because you can't see a damn thing for 60 minutes. So it goes. I hadn't really thought that I would end up with so much stuff about lighting here. I intended this to be a vaguely more technical explaination of my work. As I am just beginning a tour this seemed a good time to begin this type of thing. It will get geeky from time to time. I can deal. I am fortunate enough to, at the core, really enjoy the work that I do. I find it rewarding, sometimes exhausting and miserable, and apparantly can talk about it for ages. Not everyone can really say that. I was inspired mostly by one of Harley's blogs and Dave Ratt's tour diary. Both of which are audio guys who can talk a blue streak about combinations of letters and numbers that you have neither heard nor could hope to comprehend. I knew it was great when I spent a half hour reading about how a near-microscopic change to a drumstick can affect an entire arena show. Nice. I'm just in to Dublin. Room service. Glass of wine. Sweet, sweet, long overdue sleep.


Tonight I'm off to Dublin for the imaginary start to this whole tour. We begin with 2 shows at The Olympia theatre there. It's a gorgeous old theatre that I've worked in before, but due to the cost of shipping equipment over many bands, this one included, tend to just carry instruments and leave the lighting and pa and such behind. It always makes for an interesting day when you being a tour that you've spent months preparing for without any of the things that you had imagined working with. Sometimes it's fun to walk into a theatre and just have a go with what's there. It's cool to dig through closets, find weird old shit, plug it in to see if it works and stick it on the stage somewhere. In this particular case I think everyone is anxious to make the show what it should (and in a few days, will) be. These 2 shows are going to be a write off. I do like Dublin though, and since there is a production day (my third in a row without musicians getting in my way) and 2 shows at the same venue I'll get some time to wander around town. I have been trying for several years to take a tour of the guiness factory and go on this literary pub crawl that was recommended to me a while back. Maybe I'll find the time, although when in Ireland in winter my inclination in to lie around a hotel room watching movies avoiding the carnage that spills into the streets on a nightly basis.


I'll try this out. Here lies a record of where I am/have been and what it is I usually get up to in terms of this current tour. Sometimes it's mundane. Sometimes it's awe inspiring. Mostly it's a challenge coupled with escalating frustration.
This is how it all begins. I spent 14 hours indoors at the Apollo Theatre setting up and programming a lighting rig. I have seen nothing of this fairly miserable city, which is how it usually goes. There is video for days. Seven projectors and a half dozen cameras on stage. 2 Barco projectors the size of a pair of small elephants out front. It's bound to look pretty amazing. Drawing Restraint is the title of a Matthew Barney/Bjork work that I'm rather fond of. The title has been kicking around in my head for most of the day. It;s something that I feel I am learning these days. I am not the designer or creator of this show. It's a position that, at the moment I am neither familiar nor comfortable with. The designer is someone (one of the few in this weird world of lighting) that I deeply respect and admire. He began with The Pixies and the Sugarcubes and has of late been designing for Bjork and The White Stripes. He's been at it for twenty years, and has a really good idea of what he wants to see and how it can be accomplished. The design for this particular show began pretty busy and crowded. Above the ten musicians and countless instruments and gags there was meant to be a big, tangles mess of artifical neon that, through the use of multiple motors on a number of points, would change shape every few songs and morph into weird things and colors. It all fell apart, both literally and, well, financially a few weeks back, so the look is pretty stark, in comparison as we start the tour. I also haven't had so little to work with on a stage of this size (5,000-7,000/night) in a while. So, beginning with a dozen moving lights and some leds and a bit of fake neon we've cobbled toghether an interesting look. There is, as I've said, video everywhere. I have done a handful of tours with video, all of which I have either run myself or directed throughout a show, and all content came from me. This time lighting and video and separate and distinct, fighting over space and attention to the same end. Yesterday I began programming, which is something that I don't always have 2 days dedicated to with a full, empty stage, but for the lights in front of me. It's a bit of a luxury, I suppose. On the flight over I listened to the band's 2 records, 1 e.p. and slew of covers and demos. I made pretty careful notes on each song regarding color schemes, who does what and where on stage and where the major changes occur. My own shows tend to be very cue-intensive in that I program at least one page for every song in a band's rerpertoire consisting of 20 or 30 cues per song and somewhere in the neighborhood of 600 to 1,000 cues per show. It's a labor of love sometimes, but usually it's a labor of, well, labor. It's what I'm good at, really. Sitting in front of a glowing computer and making a bunch of things that move around and blink on and off look the way I think each moment of each song should look. My instincts are, generally, to have a visual change to correspond to each significant auditory change in a song. It's almost always a rock song, in 4/4 and you'd have to be a mongoloid to not recognize a verse from a chorus and be able to anticipate it live. As it is commonly said in this business, it's not rocket science. It all appears rather intricate and technical, but at the end of the day most people respond to a combination of bright and loud in a positive manner, regardless of it's eloquence or refinement. So, drawing restraint. I usually sit back with my ipod and visualize how I want a song to look. When I don't have the luxury of staring at a real stage I sometimes stare at a 3D rendering of the stage and go from there. When life is really brutal I do it all in my head 'blind' and hope it looks the way it should look by the first show. I had began programming as I would, cue by cue, but the designer had a different vision, I think. Where I had envisioned 20 cues per song he saw one, maybe two. When the guitar player changes keys I had seen the back wall swept with color, and when it really picked up towards the end I saw the lights turning out into the house and scanning the crowd. That's usually how it goes. I ended up with one of the busiest songs in the set being lit by four amber lights from the side of the stage. It took several hours for me to rationalize a theatrical view of this particular show. It is different, for sure. There is more of a focus on the show as a whole rather than each particular element of each song. We literally spent hours concocting unusual color combinations and being sure to never use the same 'look' (i.e. color and position) more than once. It's a different aesthetic that I'm used to, and the added element of almost being directed in many of the creative decisions makes this an interesting learning experience, for sure. It will all pile together with the video to be a pretty interesting thing, no doubt. So, today I'm back at it. The video guy was up until 4am editing together a bunch of clips synchronized swimmers, as you do. We'll all get together this afternoon and run through a mock show and hope nothing catches fire before the official start next week.