Well and truly shaking off his teen-pop label, the Canadian star, fresh from his latest album release, set out to show the world how he has matured as an artist. TPi’s Stew Hume met the hard-working crew of this outrageous live show.
It is hard to imagine that an artist at the mere age of 22 could ever be classed as a ‘seasoned professional’, but after releasing his first single in 2009, Justin Bieber has become a touring machine. Playing to sold out crowds the world over, building a cult following and becoming one of the most well known names in pop music, the young star is certainly a name to reckoned with.
After a turbulent few years and a famously contentious relationship with the press, the Canadian singer has been on something of a comeback-trip. Since the release of new material Where Are Ü Now, What Do You Mean? and his follow up album, Purpose, the singer has adopted a more mature voice in his music, shaking off the label of a teen star and no doubt leaving some of his former critics backtracking.
With the new record comes a more diverse fanbase and a relentless US tour – 64 dates all in all. Bieber and his whole crew travelled across the Atlantic with the same rig to give European fans a carbon-copy of the American leg.
THE TRIFECTA OF PRODUCTION
Leading the charge and overall design of this goliath production were three gentlemen; Bieber’s Production Manager, Chris Gratton, Creative Director, Nick Demoura and Lighting Designer Cory Fitzgerald. TPi met two thirds of the trio (Gratton and Demoura) to get the inside story of the Purpose tour.
“From the outset, the goal was always was to bring forth Justin’s vision of the album into the live arena,” began Gratton. “In the earliest stages of this campaign we used the album’s title as the starting block for the design for the tour. The title of the record always had a dual meaning. The first was that Justin wanted to show the world his purpose, which was to entertain while simultaneously giving a message of hope to his fans.” Demoura added: “In many ways Justin’s journey as an artist has been a real underdog story. For me the Purpose tour is really a revival for him. After the negative things people were saying, he has come back stronger than ever!”
Throughout the show there were some clear stand out moments from a giant trampoline being lowered over the crowd, Bieber performing a drum solo on an automated lift to the climax of the night with the full squad of dancers and the singer performing in a man-made rain shower! Many of these ideas were brought to the drawing board by Demoura, who has been involved with Bieber for over eight years, working his way up the ranks from dancer to head choreographer and finally Creative Director. He commented: “What has really helped me during this tour is the working relationship I have with Chris. Both he and I really like to push the limits of what is possible. Even though this is the first time he has worked with Justin we have really clicked. When I would present something from scratch he would find a way to improve it. In this business sometimes you get people who only think from the budget standpoint and often squash on idea before they even come to be. Thankfully Chris is not the guy!”
The crew was made up of newcomers and veterans, however, according to Gratton, the whole crew had become a tight family very quickly: “I have a long-standing relationship with Scooter Braun, Justin’s Manager, and have worked with several other artists at his company SB Projects including Kanye West and Ariana Grande. When I got this gig I brought on a lot of people who had worked with those previous two artists which certainly helped. ”
Two returning members included Jessica Sheehan, the PM’s Personal Assistant and Eric Johnson, Production Assistant who kept the production office ticking over. “This first year has been really good,” commented Sheehan. “Everyone has meshed really well and the fact that many of us knew each other before hand really helped us get into our groove.”
Another familiar faces is Timmy Doyle, Stage Manager who discussed his experience on the road with Bieber: “My main role is to ensure that the 25 trucks worth of gear get to the right spot and in an efficient time. I am the guy who makes sure everything is kept to the tight time scale.” Doyle explained that the success of the tour was thanks to their great crew chiefs. “A good stage manager is only as good as the crew chiefs; we are really good at utilising our labour. When one department finishes they turn their hands over to one another and keep the flow going. There are some tours where there is rivalry between departments but thankfully that is not the case here.” He added: “What has really helped is just how many of us have worked together before.”
As well as building a crew of many familiar faces, Gratton also compiled a list of suppliers he has worked with before including, VER who catered for all audio, lighting and video needs. “It has been an honour to work with Chris Gratton collaboratively across our sound, lights and video divisions as well as across our many global locations,” said Susan Tesh, Executive Director of VER’s Global Lighting Division. “As one company providing multiple services on the same tour, we bring a cohesive team to the table while still proving the individual expertise of each department. We’re the only global production equipment company that, with a single phone call, can bring together the best of all departments for the benefit of our clients, and ensure the same quality service and support wherever they go.”
Also on the supply roster were Strictly FX providing lasers and pyrotechnics with The Power Shop delivering generators. Shockwave Cargo provided freighting and The Appointment Group worked as the tour’s travel agent. Stage Truck and Beat The Street were on transport duty, while Eat Your Hearts Out kept everyone fed.
Gratton concluded by highlighting what he thought made this tour so successful. “First and foremost, you have to make sure everyone is taken care of. There is no hierarchy here.”
I’LL SHOW YOU
While discussing the look of the show, Gratton described how he and Demoura took control of different areas. While Gratton oversaw the set building in Las Vegas with SGPS, Demoura along with Lighting Designer, Cory Fitzgerald oversaw the development of the content. The visuals were created by Possible Productions’ LA office. The content played an integral role throughout the show with several video surfaces begin situated around the stage. “One element I was always keen to introduce was having both Justin and the dancers interacting with the set,” began Demoura. “Rather than having loads of stairs on the stage it is all one piece. We also have a ramp that leads to the higher tier which houses LED screens underneath. We were able to produce to really clever effects such as Justin using a trap door on the top level and then seeming to appear in to ‘video world’.”
Mike Drew took on the role of Video Director: “For anyone who has seen this show, one thing that will stand out is the sheer amount of video on the tour,” he began. “But what is great is that, despite all the content, we are able to maintain a focus on Justin and the video simply complements the show and narrates each song.” For the video ramp, VER supplied the crew with the WinVision Air 9mm LED tiles, whereas for the upstage wall, WinVision 9mm was used. “Although they are the regular square LED panels, the look of the upstage wall is actually triangulated. It’s very much a twist on an existing product and the angular backwall has really become one of the dominant looks of the tour.”
Driving video content was a d3 Technologies media server. “I am still shocked about just how powerful the d3 server is,” expressed Drew. This show has so much content and yet we are able to produce it using just one box. We only have a spare with us for emergencies. A few years ago this would have been impossible, which is a testament to how far d3 have come.”
The video department brought in PRG’s unique V-Thru panel. Set out in an octagon formation, the panel cage was lowered over Bieber on the B-stage area before completely covering him. “When the screen lowers, the crowd can still see Justin through the gaps when there is no content, then when we stream content on the LED he is partially obscured from sight. From my position I am able to produce some great shots for the IMAG as I still have a camera on him and the look shown on the LED is projected onto his face,” commented Drew.
All together, the tour deployed six Sony HXC-100 cameras with three robotic cams that where spread out across the stage to intersect some musician shots as well as images of Bieber. Drew directed the footage from a Ross Vision 3-ME HD with four Barco HDX-20 PJ’s for the IMAG screens. “This has been my switcher of choice since 2008 and it works really well for me. I’m a big fan of the Ross equipment.”
TPi met up with touring LD, Nick Van Nostrand. Working with Bieber on his last tour, Believe, Nostrand was more than familiar with the artist’s work, but commented how the look of this show had a different feel to previous outing. “The whole show was designed by Cory Fitzgerald along with the help of associate programmer David Martinez,” stated Nostrand. “This was the first time Cory had ever worked with Justin which was always going to separate this tour from previous shows. However, the real difference in the look of the show has been how much his music has changed since the Believe tour. From a lighting point of view the design has really reflected this change in style.”
One of the biggest challenges that Fitzgerald’s design had to overcome was to match-up with the incredibly bright video and laser elements. Despite the potentially competing worlds, Nostrand insisted that both video and lighting worked harmoniously: “I personally love the content that Possible created. There is a lot of negative space within the video which can easily be filled in by lighting. The creatives who designed the show have done a great job ensuring that one department doesn’t take over or trump the other.”
Nostrand talked TPi through some of the various workhorses that had to go toe-to-toe with the LED. “The main workhorses we use are the Claypaky A.leda B-EYE K20’s for our main wash and for profiles we have utilised the Mythos. We also use the Philips Vari-Lite VL400 beam washes on the underside of the trampoline, they have been very useful as they are able to fill the role of supplying a big wash as well as doing some interesting aerial looks when you switch them to beam mode and drop a gobo into them.”
Nostrand stated that in many of Fitzgerald’s designs, he is keen to implement some of the latest technology from the professional lighting world. The Purpose tour was no exception rolling out the Ayrton Versapix. “Essentially they are miniature bars placed at the front of the truss. They are a static LED but they can all be individually controlled so throughout the show we have great chase effects where the light seems to travel across the rig. I believe this was one of the first ever tours to have them permanently on the rider.” Another Ayrton product that was also rolled-out was the MagicBlade, which wrapped around the video wall. Fitzgerald also deployed several Ayrton MagicDots throughout the set including on the underside of the trampoline that continually rotated as the set piece descended to hover over the ground and Justin and the dancers performed the song Company.
For the octagon V-Thru Fitzgerald placed several GLP impression X4 Bar 20’s, which worked both as a wash when it hung above the b-stage as well as worked as a key light when it descend to surround the singer. Several X4’s were also placed on the water truss are hundreds of feet away and we really need the power the 4K provides. For this show today it’s a slightly smaller so we have put on a neutral density in front of all of them and taken them down a notch – they are great in all size of venue.” Finally for effects, the lighting department opted for the Tmb Solaris Flares.
Fitzgerald programmed the whole show on an MA Lighting grandMA2 console, which Nostrand then inherited for the live tour, although he was more than happy with the desk: “I am more than comfortable on the grandMA. Almost 99% of all shows I do these days use grandMA. They are just so powerful and to get around, they certainly make my life a lot easier.”
KEEPING THE FIRE
With such an audacious lighting and video show, it stands to reason that Bieber’s production also made a notable investment with its special effects department. The result – six committed special effects crewmembers manning a total of 485 effects throughout the two hour show. The sheer size of the special effects department has caught the attention of many in the industry and even saw Strictly FX walk away with Best Pyro Company accolade at this year Parnelli Awards.
Heading up the team was Rob Bleggi, Crew Chief. “I think that without question, this is one of the biggest tours in terms of its special effects set up. All together we have 60 Co2 jets, 18 laser system, a pyro waterfall and, for his last song, we have a big rain effect which dumps over 850 gallons of water over Justin and the dancers.”
With so many elements to the show created quite the challenge for the team although Bleggi insisted his crew were more than adequately prepared: “There have been a few issues that we have had to overcome. For example the rain effect created was a bit of a headache when we came on the European run. During the states we played a lot of hockey arenas which had facilities to heat the water tank as well as areas where we could dispose of the water at the end of the night. We don’t want to dump gallons of cold water over they guys on stage! Our solution for Europe is to heat up the tank throughout the day with external heaters. We also had to find a solution so the rain wouldn’t flood the stage and potentially damage to electronics below deck. So we put a large blow-up pool to catch the water. Justin really fell in love with the look as the dance routine also produces loads of splash.”
In charge of the intimidating arsenal of lasers was Nick Curry, who over saw the 18 various systems. “From the start, Chris told us that one of the main goals was to make the tour feel like a club show. For me, this means that for seven songs we have lasers going. It certainty creates a real EDM feel to the proceedings.”
As is the case with all special effects departments, the safety and well being of both the performers and crowd was of central importance to the SFX team. “We have a lot of performers up on stage through various parts of the shows which can obviously be a hazard,” began Bleggi. “For every show we have Tony Alaimo, are Head Pyro Shooter, set up on stage right watching the whole show with two other guys watching from the back of the stage. Until he hears the all clear and he feels comfortable, the effect does not happen.”
It was clear that the special effects team certainly had its work cut out on his tour but Bleggi put it best: “If we are going to be away from your loved ones for months on end, we had better make sure we are delivering a big show!”
MARK MY WORDS
As well as providing all the visual and lighting elements of the show, VER also delivered a complete audio package. TPi met FOH Engineer, Ken ‘Pooch’ Vandruten, and Monitor Engineer, Alex Macleod.
Both Pooch and Macleod used DiGiCo SD7’s for audio control. “We choose DiGiCo for a few reasons, but the biggest one is sound quality,” commented Pooch. “With the digital snakes running at 192kHz and downsampling to 96kHz at the consoles, they are just phenomenal sounding digital desks. Beyond that though it is about flexibility. With the Optocore system we have the ability to run huge numbers of input and output channels and customise exactly what that means for a given show. We often say that the show has to sound like the record, but it has to feel like a live show. And to that end, the Bieber show has more than 120 inputs.” The FOH Engineer was recording via a Waves MGB onto a Reaper DAW. “I have used many other pieces of recording software and I haven’t found anything better than Reaper, which is amazing as it is so affordable,” commented Pooch.
For PA, VER supplied Pooch and the audio team with a complete Meyer Sound system consisting of 32 Meyer LEO-M, 54 Lyon and 24 Meyer Sound 1100 SFCs low-frequency control element. “During this tour I can safely say that the Meyer system has become my favorite PA. For this show, it is perfect.” He continued: “Many PAs have a crossover point that is right in the mid-range where guitars and vocals usually sit. This would be a problem for this show as those two elements are vital. This is not a problem with the Meyer system with its two-way box.” Pooch also complemented the systems “flexibility” as it had a throw that had been able to deal with the wide variety of venue sizes they had gone through on the Purpose tour thus far.
Taking up the story, Monitor Engineer Macleod talked through the stage audio set up. In the age of the IEM it is not rare for monitor engineers to have to deal with a large number of mixes, but few have to deal with quite as many as Macleod who has over 40 individual channels to focus on. “The reason for such a high number of mixes is a result of a decision we made early on this tour to put all the dancers on IEMs as well as Justin and the musicians. For the show we use Shure PSM1000 with Jerry Harvey Audio in-ears.” The ultimate decision to make this investment in IEM was to make the routines as tight as possible. However, one of the first challenges that the audio team had to consider was to make the packs as sturdy as possible. “We had to get a little creative and find the right type of belts and pouches to hold the receivers. Once that was cracked we have found that the Shure moulds have been incredibly robust. The only thing we always have to watch out for is making sure the cables are continually in good condition.”
Despite the abundance of IEMs the stage was far from silent with an array of wedges and side fills including d&b audiotechnik J8’s with six boxes per side along with eight d&b M2’s along with several V-Sub- Bass mix sub. Also on deck was an L-Acoustics DV Sub from the drummer’s mix. “That’s what is great about using a company like VER,” interjected Pooch. “They have such a wide variety of stock that you pretty much get your choice of audio gear. The fact that we have three different audio suppliers is only really possible after working with a company like VER.” Macleod added: “It certainly is a massive benefit. You can pick the exact tool you need to complete the job.”
With the legions of dedicated Beliebers all clamouring to hear the 22-year-old’s voice, the choice of microphone was a decision the audio team did not take lightly. “We went through almost every microphone brand on the market before we eventually landed on the Telefunken M80 with a Shure Axient wireless transition system,” explained Pooch. “When we first started we had Justin on a head-set but early on he decided he would rather have a hand held. This has created a few issues as he does so much more than sing in this show. It’s a challenge for us to make his voice as consistent as possible. On my end I have a few tricks up my sleeve with various compression plugins. Both of us also have the issue of the thrust that he performs the majority of the set from, which has him right in front of the PA. I never want the microphone to pick up too much from the system as it would wash out my mix so I have to constantly keep and eye it. Also, due to the demands of his routine, he sometimes drops the mic. Through the show I keep and eye on him through a visual monitor, meaning I can try and mute the channel before it hits the ground.
“This show is certainty not for the faint hearted but I know for me, it’s the challenges that makes this show so exciting!”
In charge of all backline requirements was Stephen ‘Ruff’ Stewart, Backline Crew Chief and Guitar Tech. “We have five musicians on stage not including Justin although he should be included in the list as it is not just singing and dancing. He does an acoustic set halfway through along with a drum solo.” Along with Justin’s musical additions the show also had a DJ, drummer, guitarist, bassist and keyboard player. “Every input is on Radial DI boxes. We are in a fortunate position to have all our own gear out with us with our backline flown over from the states run. It certainly creates less of a headache when you change continents to have all the same gear and not having to re-jig anything.”
SET THE STAGE
It was not only VER that provided multiple departments for the Purpose tour. Las Vegas’ Show Group Production Services’ (SGPS) ShowRig provided the set, rigging and automation for the entire world tour. A long time supplier for many of Gratton’s productions it was a natural fit for the PM’s latest outing.
Heading up the rigging department was Ryan ‘Rylo’ Merfy. “What’s really nice about this tour is that just like VER supplying lighting, video and audio, SGPS similarly is providing a services for three departments. The fact there are not too many ‘bits’ to the tour mean all departments co-exist nicely,” jokingly adding that the only issue is that there is a need to clearly mark all their boxes as they use the same flight cases.
“The show itself is large. We have scaled it back slightly from its first iteration but we are still working with 160,000lb (almost 72,600Kg),” continued Rylo. “In total we have 160 points. This show is slightly different from other tours as it has been designed not to have the B-rig set up. Most shows out there have the ability to scale back the production to fit into smaller venues but it’s not possible for this one. Each department from automation to video are all co-dependant on one another and losing one would really effect the look of the tour. We also want to make sure that we give each audience the same experience.”
There certainly were several challenges for the rigging departments and was not your standard rock ‘n’ roll show. Rylo discussed some of the challenges: “My mentality, no mater what show I work on is that I never want to sign off on anything were there is even a question of potential failure. It would kill me if someone who had saved their hard earned cash for a show and were expecting to have the best night of the year could be hurt if something had been overlooked. We do not cross our fingers out here.” This mentality led the Head Rigger to make all the various elements full proof. “The trampoline is the best example of this. It required a fair bit of brainstorming to ensure it was safe. Once it descends from the roof and Justin and the dancers make their way on to it, you can’t just take in consideration of their weight and that of the frame. You have to think about the shock-load when they are all bouncing on it. At the moment I have made it so it can handle three times the weight of all the dancers on there.”
Jeremiah Anderson, Automation Crew Chief added: “We have several automation elements out on this show,” he began. “We have a winch system that lifts dancers in front of the video screen for the songs Where Are Ü Now and The Feeling. We also have a glass box that we fly in with Justin inside for the opening track. We also have two catwalks that come in to get the dancers and Justin to the trampoline that descends from the roof. The final pieces we deal with is the octagon structure which holds the PRG V-Thru and descends to surround the singer during the song I’ll Show You.” For automation controls the department utilised Niscon’s Raynok software.
Anderson agreed with the statement the Rylo made regarding the advantage of having all three departments utilising the same supplier. “It does make things much simpler. If any of the three departments has an issue we can always request help so we can more effectively jump on a problem. It’s a common theme on this tour that everyone is a team play and always willing to help one anther out.”
Finally, responsible of putting the massive set together each day was Sammy Herrington, Head Carpenter. “We have six guys out on the road and then each day we have 14 local crew for load-in with 24 for the load-out,” he commented. “We have really got into a groove on this tour and are loading out in about two and a half hours. Logistically it is a hard show to get everything in quickly to give all the other departments time to set up their words. The rolling stage has several elements of automation built into it making it rather difficult roll. I have to give credit to my number two carpenter, Ryan Snyder, who very much delicates jobs to the rest of the crew which gives me more time to deal with the logistical elements of the stage.”
TRAVEL AND CATERING
The responsibility of moving crew and production from stop to stop fell to Beat The Street who provided 12 busses and Stagetruck moving the massive production with its convoy of 25 trucks. “We have worked on a few Bieber tours with different Production Manager over the last few years and have worked with the current Production Manager Chris Gratton since the late ‘90s when he worked with various rock and metal acts,” commented Beat The Street’s Jörg Philipp. “Since Chris took on the role of Director of Touring for all Scooter Braun we now supply all the acts on their European legs.”
The real challenge for Beat The Streets on the Purpose tour came with a special request from the artist that there be a dedicated bus for his personal chef who would have the ability to cook any time. No a simple task while pelting down the various motorways of Europe! “To run a full stove and hot plate needed a stronger power supply that we usually supply on out busses,” commented Philipp. “Our in-house electricians got to work straight away putting several gel batteries in any available locker room. The A party also wanted to have the ability to stop whenever they wanted. Many of the stops were unlikly to have a power supply so we needed to make sure all the busses could be self-sufficient.” The solution Beat The Street came up with was to build a trailer with a purpose built generator that was towed by Justin’s chef’s bus. The generator had the ability to power all three vehicles for the A party providing each with 32amps. “The trailer also doubled up as extra kitchen space for Justin’s chef,” commented Philipp. “It’s an extremely long tour, especially from a European standard. It was quite a logistical change and was only made possible with the great relationship and teamwork between our lead drivers and the production team.”
The the rest of the crew and performers on the Purpose tour were kept fed by the wonderful catering team from Eat Your Hearts Out throughout the European run.
During early stages of the Purpose tour, one of the goals was to make sure Bieber fans across the globe were treated to exactly the same show. To ensure this was possible Gratton brought in Shockwave Cargo, a company he has worked with on several other projects through the years. Catherine Healy from Shockwave commented: “We have worked closely with Chris and crew throughout the 2016 International tour dates. Shockwave and it’s global network of agents have provided Cargo via Ocean Freight, Air Freight and Air Charter from the US to Japan, UK, Iceland and Germany to date. Team Bieber is an organised well oiled touring machine, a pleasure to work with all of them.”
Handling all the travel for crew as well as dancers and musicians was The Appointment Group (TAG). Rachel Gosling discussed the services it provided for the lasts run: “We have worked with Chris previously when he was in the production manager’s chair for Ariana Grande, and our Los Angeles office have looked after the Justin Bieber Purpose tour in North America also.
“Work began immediately to source the European hotel requirements, which we needed to focus on first and foremost due to the scale of the tour. There were 64 hotel bookings throughout the European leg of the tour and a total party of 104 on the road for us to take care of. We have also sourced and scheduled private air travel for both travelling parties throughout the length of the tour. Our ground-breaking Global Touring App software was made available to Chris and his Production Coordinator Jessica Sheehan, offering them a high-tech solution that is available at all hours of the day to keep close control over their travel arrangements. TAG Global Touring also provided an experienced team member, Tiffany Cathcart, to provide full-dedicated support to the party out on the road. Tiffany travelled ahead of the group to advance the hotels, liaise with on-site hotel contacts, handle any late changes and supervise the group check in process in all cities. This is all backed-up by our dedicated 24/7 emergency team who are always on hand for all of our clientele. It has been a privilege to work with Chris and Jessica and we are loving being a key part of such a fantastic tour production.”
At the time this issue goes to print the European tour only has a few more dates left on the schedule, with Bieber and his crew now winding down after their intensive year on the road. But with plans to move into stadiums next year, it is clear the both the singer and the production are not quite ready to close the book the on Purpose campaign. With an already packed arena show it is yet to be seen what the Bieber machine will roll-out for the next leg…guess we will just have to wait and see.
Photos: Andrew Benge, TPi