Setting New Standards in Automation Technology
The west coast four piece rolled out the world’s largest, tourable kinetic lighting installation in support of their latest album, The Getaway. TPi’s Stew Hume reports from Manchester Arena…
One of the most awe-inspiring elements of the live events industry is the constant quest to raise the bar on what is possible. It’s an industry that strives to deliver the unthinkable. The latest tour to shatter expectations is none other than Californian funk rockers Red Hot Chili Peppers (RHCP) who, with the help of TAIT Towers and long-time Creative Director and LD, Scott Holthaus, have produced the largest-ever tourable kinetic light installation.
Heading up the production is Narciso Martinez, who came into the fold during the RHCP’s I’m With You tour in 2011, having already worked with some other groups on the Q-Prime Management roster. “It’s a great gig, heading up this production,” began Martinez. “In this camp it’s the band who set the standard of how to act and behave, which permeates the whole organisation. They have a huge amount of respect for the crew, which makes a huge difference, and their positive mentality certainly affects everyone else. I remember during last festival season, we were on the way to a show and I had a conversation with Flea [Bassist]. He said the real joy in this gig is not playing in front of thousands of people, but that he helped to make sure a group of hard working people get their day’s pay.”
Crew welfare is something that Martinez also applies to his Production Management role. “I really care about my guys out here. Even though on a tour we are split into very defined departments, I try and create a lot of unity between each division. For example, everyone on this tour helps with load out and that includes everyone in the production office. In fact my production assistant and I always load out the first two trucks with the barricades and the subs. When you have everyone on board it makes the tour a much happier place, and this run has such a great vibe. We make huge sacrifices to be out on the road. If we can’t create an environment where everyone is successful and happy then I am doing something wrong!”
Despite a career spanning over three decades and a collection of key crew members tagging along for the majority of the ride, one resolute fact that TPi took away after meeting the crew was their desire to continually push the band’s live performance. With an impeding album release, the race was on for Holthaus and Martinez to create a new live experience for the RHCP fans around the world. “I guess if you were to turn the clocks back enough, the origin of this show came when I saw a YouTube video of this LED kinetic system at an automotive show,” began Holthaus. “I sent the video to TAIT to see if they thought it would be possible to produce a similar product for the tour. Coincidentally, they were already developing a similar winch-operated LED structure.”
At the time, TAIT’s current project only required between 50 LEDs, whereas Holthaus’ idea required a few more… 880 to be precise! “The initial idea was to have the massive system hang from the above the band all the way out to the centre of the audience. Then throughout the show the structure would morph into various shapes and arrangements,” he said.
To take up the story, TPi spoke to TAIT’s Brian Levine, Head of Project Management and Touring: “The Nano Winches had been in development for some time, however it had never been used in a touring environment at this scale. Prior to this we used them at the Ford Auto Show for Cadillac, which included kinetic chrome spheres as the connected fixtures. The fixtures themselves can carry a 10lb payload and move at 10ft per second with all the safety features we would see on any other type of winch, setting this product apart from all other kinetic products currently on the market. The biggest challenge for us was the sheer quantity and how the system could repeatedly and reliably set up and take down every day. Other projects with this number of axes usually require a pre-rig day and many long days to load in and out! However, we were able to design and deploy a system that allowed the crew to be able to load-in in three to four hours and load out in two.”
Ensuring all the automation elements worked each night was Paul Sapsis, Automation Operator. The backbone of the system relied on the data distribution to each LED node via TAIT’s Navigator interface. Sapsis elaborated: “We take an ArtNet feed from FOH, which directs each of the fixtures to move in unison to create the various looks and shape configurations. This information is taken by the Navigator system, which is converted into EtherCAT which is the technology that communicates to each individual winch.” During the show, Sapsis controls the Navigator with a back-up run simultaneously with fellow automation specialist, Mclane Snow. “We have got into a really good rhythm in terms of our day-to-day set up,” continued Sapsis. “I’ve been really impressed with the winches themselves, which are able to move incredibly quickly. One aspect that is rather innovative about them is that they are constantly active; which is unheard of in most automation departments where the breaks are usually put on after each movement.”
Ensuring everything overhead was secure and stable was Head Rigger Gabriel Wood and his ‘number two’, Charles Anderson. “For this tour we have just under 100 motors with about 104,000lb of load,” began Wood. “The biggest element that I have to worry about is obviously the Nano Winch system. The automation team does a great job of maintaining the kit but I have to keep an eagle eye on the maximum loads and keep all the venues in the loop. From a safety stand point I am not having anyone flying in the air which always makes things slightly easier, however with nearly 1,000 miniature lights flying overhead of a large proportion of the audience you need to keep on your toes.”
Supplying rigging, Five Point Production Services. “Personally, I am always pushing to use them on any tour I’m on,” stated Wood. “They take a great deal of care and attention when packaging a rig to make sure it’s as tourable as possible. They maintain their gear which is always the number one priority for me.”
Giving his final thoughts on the Kinetic system, Holthaus stated: “There was a certain pressure during the development stage as the band and the management had seen the idea and loved it so there was no other choice but to make it work. Thankfully it has worked out incredibly. I have never had so many stage-hands take photos and videos of a set, which I think is a great indicator of the show we have got on our hands. I feel this is the coolest travelling show out at this time … as do most who have seen it fly!”
At the time of writing, The Getaway tour is currently doing the rounds in the US where production and TAIT have added to the system, which now comes to a total of 1,040 winches. Holthaus said: “The feedback has been so well received from the production side and the fact that they have continued to add to the system is the ultimate validation.”
Alongside the visual spectacular of the TAIT Nano Winch system was yet another design from the mind of Scott Holthaus. The LD has been with the band for 17 years; although the way he joined the extended family was rather peculiar. “To make a long story short, I was working on Jane’s Addiction and at the time Flea was playing bass for them. One day his bass tech came to me to ask if I knew how to change a speaker in a bass rig. At the time I didn’t know that he was also the Production Manager for the Peppers. So in a roundabout way, I got the title of Lighting Director by changing an audio speaker!”
For this current run, Holthaus opted for a slightly reduced rig from previous runs. “The lighting show [besides the massive Nano Winch] is really quite minimalist. It’s almost a third of the size from what we usually have with only three main workhorse fixtures. Upstage, we have 11 torms each of which have 5 x Ayrton MagicBlade-Rs, Tmb Solaris Flares and Claypaky A.leda B-EYEs.” Additional floor lighting consisted of 20 x Claypaky A.leda B-EYEs K20’s. The stage show also had two side trusses housing four PRG Bad Boys and utilising the company’s GroundControl followspot system. “This is my first time using it but I have to say, it’s amazing. I really enjoy the spot location on the stage left and right but it’s not the most conventional location to have a spot operator so the remote option solves a lot of potential issues. The beauty of having your operators just pan and tilt give us the ability to have a huge amount of control out at FOH.” Providing control for Holthaus was the MA Lighting grandMA2. ”We have now used grandMA for 20 years! As this is the most ambitious project I have come up with to date, I saw no reason to change from what has worked so well,” he added.
Supplying the complete lighting package for the tour was Premier Global Production. The band’s production had brought the company out on the last world tour and PM Narciso Martinez was more than happy to do so again. “I have had a lot of success with them in the past and I really like the way they do business. They always supply great equipment and their crew is always really good.”
Standing alongside Holthaus at FOH was Leif Dixon, Video Operator, also known as ‘The Screen Overlord’. Dixon further elaborated on his place within the tour. “Basically I look after all the media servers, FOH Tech as well as programming the show. During the show I am constantly taking notes and fixing and tweaking certain elements to ensure the bigger picture is great.”
As any avid follower of RHCP will know, the band changes their set list most nights, often locking in an order only a few minutes before they hit the stage. As is the way with the style of music, the band will not play the song exactly the same every night often adding in various improvisation and creative flourishes. Being very much a ‘live’ band also has a knock on effect with the lighting department. “I think the Peppers would be one of the last bands in the world to ever switch over to the timecode way of doing things,” stated Holthaus. “With most of the songs we have stacked cues but each one has a proportion of bendable parameters to give the lighting show the human touch.”
It is not just the changing order of the set list that the lighting department have to contend with, as the band often like to throw in new songs throughout the tour. Dixon walked through his and Holthaus’ approach to designing a new song on the fly. “Typically when we build the look for a new song it’s completely manual. The band doesn’t soundcheck so the first time we see the look is in front of thousands of fans. During and after the show we make various notes and tightening up areas that we think we could improve but we know the guys and the material so we are usually pretty close first time around. Our treatment varies depending on the song. For example we may have new content that may drive the look or similarly we might have a dominant lighting look that will then be mirrored with the IMAG.”
The content in question was provided by the team at Moment Factory, which included Producer Daniel Jean, Creative Director Jesse Lee Stout and Multimedia Director Mariano Leotta. Stout discussed the company’s involvement with the show: “Scott Holthaus and the band talked to us about developing an iconic, minimalist statement using large blocks of colour that was very glacial in movement. We looked at everything from James Turrell to Josef Albers to Victor Vasarely works for inspiration. Through a 3D visualiser that we built, using the Oculus Rift, we were able to quickly identify the movements in the kinetic structure that were most impactful. From there, we went back and forth with Scott and the band until we had it perfect.” As well as Moment Factory’s content, the band was also keen to have Dave Hughes, creator of the Adult Swim show, Off the Air, to be brought into the creative process. “Working with Dave and his talented pool of collaborators from Off the Air has been smooth and prolific,” stated Stout. “When it was about aesthetic extravaganza and hand drawn motion graphics we counted on them to bring us to the infinite meanderings of psychedelic world.”
The screens used for the show came courtesy of Colonel Tom Touring. The company supplied the last tour, for which Holthaus had been looking for a near transparent screen, however no company really had what the production we were looking for. Martinez continued: “It was during this time the Colonel Tom really stepped up to the plate stating that they would purchase the screen for that tour. I was more than happy to have them back on board for this one.”
Backstage, in charge of the extensive IMAG, was George Elizando, Video Director. Via his control package that consisted of a Ross Carbonite 3’s, Elizando managed the content that came courtesy of eight camera package: “I have been with the band for the last three tours and, I must say, they are a dream to work for. They supply a huge amount of energy which makes my job much easier.”
Holding down FOH audio responsibilities for the past 25 years for the RHCP has been David ‘Rat’ Levine of Rat Sound Systems. With a quarter of a century’s experience behind the console, there are few that know the band’s sound like Rat, having seen them outgrow the club gigs of the Blood Sugar Sex Magik to the stadium shows they are known for today. Standing alongside his trusted Midas Heritage 3000 desk, he talked TPi through this tour’s audio set up.
Once again Rat opted for an L-Acoustics PA: “Our audio set up for this tour is very similar to the one we had last time, using the K1 as the main hang,” stated Rat. “One of the biggest changes was that we swapped out the KARA speakers for the K2 range of underhangs and primary side hangs. The K2’s have been working really well for us. They are a little more powerful and smooth compared to the last model, which I enjoy.” The other big change to the PA set up for this run is the lack of a centre cluster due to the inclusion of the TAIT Nano Winch system. However according to Rat this played into his hands: “Because the overall lighting rig is thinner, this meant that I could move the two side hangs closer together and simply cover the centre stage area with L-Acoustics ARCS.” Also deployed on this tour were the new L-Acoustics SB28’s. “They are definitely louder than previous models,” enthused Rat. “The fact they don’t have a grill in front of the port means the speaker can move much more quickly. I’m really happy what we have got out of them.” In total 36 SB28’s were distributed across the stage with four sets of three across the front and 12 either side of the stage. The left and right subs were even very much incorporated into the set itself with the staging team building an aluminium platform the was placed over the speakers allowing the musicians to run out on to them.
Taking on the role of system tech was Jim Lockyer, a position that he did not take lightly: “The band’s management has always been committed to quality audio on tour. They know this is how the artist reaches their audience,” explained Lockyer. “To that end, they move about the arena during the show to listen in different locations, making sure the paying ticket holder gets their money’s worth. If there is ever an issue, I’ll be the first to know about it. Thankfully that is very rare.” The system tech went on to explain why L-Acoustics was the way forward for this tour. “We had used it on the previous Peppers tours and always had great results. As far as fidelity, controlled coverage patterns and high, full-range volume without the need for additional flown subwoofers goes, it fits our needs perfectly. Also, the excellent software prediction tools that Soundvision provide allows us to accurately map venues for amazing coverage.”
For the European leg of the tour, High Lite Touring supplied the PA package along with four audio engineers. Martinez commented on his relationship with the supplier: “I first got to know the High Lite guys while I was on tour with ZZ Top. I was immediately impressed with both their crew’s work ethnic and the gear they provided. So when it came to the Peppers’ 2011 tour I asked them if they would like to put in a pitch. I honestly cannot say enough about their team and have no reservations in saying they have one of the best crews in the world. Just one example is our Audio Crew Chief Radek Lesa (HLT KSE Qualified System technician). From what I understand he is the second highest qualified L-Acoustics engineer in Europe and is an incredibly hard worker.”
He described some of the notable points of the audio set up. “We fly all the PA amp racks within the arrays and use a 7m long truss system to drop all cabling up and off stage allowing very short speaker cable runs. We use a Rocknet based digital drive system we are able to deliver both AES and backup analog signals to the amps. Overall it’s a very clean set up and the sound quality and coverage of the system is really quite amazing. Front to back, side to side, the voicing of the systems are identical, which makes it very easy to replicate the FOH mix anywhere in the arena.”
High Lite’s Michal Siska commented on the company’s involvement with the tour: “We were delighted that Narci decided to choose us as PA supplier for their 2011 tour and that he has continued to put his trust in us. The band has full confidence in their audio team and their sound.” He concluded: “I believe the best comment is sometimes no comment. If the band is enjoying playing and they don’t have any problems, you generally don’t hear much from them.”
Audio control for the tour was supplied by Rat’s very own Rat Sound Systems. The FOH Engineer’s control package was a complete analogue set up from his Midas Heritage 3000 to his arsenal of outboard gear, all of which was positioned at a 90° angle to the stage. “I really like having nothing but the barricade between myself and the band. For me personally this whole job is about using tech and hardware to connect the band to the audience and with this layout I get the most accurate representation of what an audience member is feeling. The great thing for me is that their musicianship is second to none so my only concern is to make sure I grab it correctly.”
For this current tour Rat explained how he had some goals from the outset: “Compared to last time, this run is a lot more stripped back. Last tour we had a separate percussion player, which meant a lot of open mics on stage creating a wash of sound coming at the audience. For this run I wanted to focus a little more on making every element as clear as possible, really putting a spotlight on each of the musician’s talent.”
The highlights of Rat’s outboard gear included a Lexicon PCM60 and an Eventide H3500. “I use the Lexicon for all the reverbs for vocals and drums and then the Eventides take care of any delays, phases and flange I might need,” stated Rat. The engineer also had several compressors including the Empirical Labs Fatso Jr for vocals alongside five BSS by Harman DPR-404 four channel compressors, which are used for most of the instrumentation. “To tune the system I use the Meyer Sound CP10,” said Rat. “I like to do most things manually and I don’t want to leave things up to processors. This includes trying to manage the temperature within each venue. We always shut down the AC and heaters about an hour before showtime so we can stabilise the temperature. To be honest chasing temperature differentials is my biggest headache of the day.”
BY THE WAY
Keeping a check of the band’s monitor requirements was Mark Vanderwall. For the last tour the monitor engineer had followed Rat’s lead in opting for an analogue console. However for The Getaway tour Vanderwall had swapped in a DiGiCo SD10. “I have always loved analogue but it’s hard to argue with the size to capacity ratio that you get with a digital console. I first used a DiGiCo around eight years ago and have been really happy with them. For the set up we have out here an analogue console would not have enough routing capabilities.” However, despite being on a digital desk, Vanderwall stated how his style of mixing was still very analogue. “I don’t rely on a lot of snapshots because with such a varied and changeable set list you need to be able to adapt quickly. Instead of having to hunt through a bunch of snap shots I simply run the same scene and bend to whatever they are doing on stage.”
For onstage sound, the Peppers made use of seven of the new SuperWedge from Rat Sound Productions. The wedge in question features four independent speakers consisting of a 10 and 2-inch speaker and two 12-inch speakers. “I designed the SuperWedge prior to the tour but now it has become a staple in our package,” stated Rat. For guitarist Josh Klinghoffer to ensure he had the a near-perfect replication of his amp tone for his monitor mix, one of his 12-inch speakers from his SuperWedge was replaced with a 12-inch Celestion guitar speaker. “This is the same speaker in his amp, which means he gets a fairly close representation of his actual guitar tone, an added benefit as he is the only member not to use IEMs,” stated Vanderwall. Elsewhere on the stage, lead singer Anthony Kiedis made use of a pair of Rat L-Wedges, which he has used since the ‘90s. Also on stage were EAW MicroWedge 12’s, dial drum thumpers and a drum sub.
A total of 10 Powersoft X4 Amplifiers were chosen to power the entire monitor system. “In the case of the SuperWedges, the Powersoft X4 sends a signal to all four speakers using its Armonía software to separate frequencies into the four separate speakers,” stated Rat. “The X4’s were chosen because of the extremely high power density and four channels capable of 5,000W each in a single rack space, combined with their versatility of input matrixing. I originally brought the X4’s out to power the SuperWedges but Mark liked them so much he opted to used them to power the whole system.”
Despite the abundance of stage monitors, three quarters of the band still made use of Shure PSM 1000’s. “Apart from our guitarist Josh, all other members of the band, along with the keyboard player, are on IEMs,” stated Vanderwall. “The wedge mixes add a certain physical re-enforcement to the players but they also give me a failsafe option if the IEM were to drop out or get damaged. We also have a hard wire that both Chad (Drummer) and our keyboard player can switch to in case of emergencies.”
With such a high frequency of LED on the stage it is no surprise that this created some teething issues for the monitor engineer with his wireless frequencies. “At the beginning of the tour the sheer scale of LED did bring up some issues. It was at that point I switched to a Palm Scanner which I now use every day on the tour to make sure all frequencies are clean. I then plug that information through a Shure Workbench.”
For microphones, an Audix OM7 was once again the go-to choice for lead vocals. However for this tour there was a substitution for Josh Klinghoffer adopting the Electro-Voice ND96. “We had been looking for something with a slightly different proximity effect that suited his style of singing into a microphone. The Electro-Voice model has been working out really well,” stated Vanderwall.
STAGING AND POWER
Looking after the TAIT staging elements were carpenters Scott ‘Yogi’ Badeau and Joshua Perree. For the run the staging specialist provided a fairly standard kit for the group including a 40×60 rolling stage with band risers and stage left and stage right with Mojo Barriers providing barricades. Yogi went on to describe the make-up of the set: “The stage is really quite low especially for an arena show of this size. This preference of size has come straight from the band who like to be as close to the audience as possible. This also effects the barrier location which allows the audience to be much closer then your standard set up.” Perree went on to talk through the carpenters’ day-to-day responsibilites: “In terms of touring carpenters there is just myself and Yogi. Then for stage hand we bring in five for load in and 10 for load out.”
Providing power solutions for the European tour was The Power Shop. The company’s Managing Director, Jan De Meyer, commented on its involvement: “We have worked with the Peppers since 2011 and it’s always a great pleasure to work with them and collaborate with Narci and his team. They are one of those bands that always come up with an exciting new show – the effect of the Nano grid in their new show design is definitely awesome.”
For the production, The Power Shop provided a package of transformers, distro and cabling to ensure that all North American equipment was powered efficiently with the European grid.
De Meyer continued: “One of our electricians, Tom Delbaere, joined the team on the road, and became known as ‘Power Tom’. Every day he made sure that everything was connected safely and according European regulations.”
AROUND THE WORLD
Handling all freighting needs for the production was Xpeditious Unlimited. Martinez commented: “I have worked with Xpeditious’ Paul Stacy several times. During the tail end of the last cycle I brought him into the production to help us complete the leg. I really like the way he does business. He is incredibly transparent which means I am assured we are getting the best deal.” For the start of the European tour Martinez opted to ship the tour over from the states. However, due to a mere 13-day gap between the Dublin show and the first US show meant only one option; take to the air. “Aside from the PA, almost everything else is flying over for the next leg,” stated Martinez.
Meanwhile, with their wheels firmly on the ground, Transam who provided trucks for the European run. “The Transam relationship was one I actually inherited from the previous production manager of the tour. The band already had a solid relationship with the company, which continues. They always send a great team of drivers.” Collectively Transam provided 14 flat floor megacubes for the tour lead by Kevin ‘Barney’ Barnes.
Joining Transam on the roads was bussing specialist Beat The Street. Martinez also has a strong bond with Beat The Street that dates back to the mid ‘90s. “I have no issue saying that Beat The Street have some of the best buses out there, not to mention some of the best crew in the game. They are always a clear choice.”
TELL ME BABY (WHAT’S FOR DINNER)
Keeping everyone fed and nourished for the European tour was a job split between two catering companies, Sarah’s Kitchen and Rockpool Tour Catering. First up were Sarah’s Kitchen who were commissioned to keep all the crew happy, as Sarah Nicholas explained: “We first met Narciso when we catered for Florence + The Machine. We were delighted to be considered for the RHCP European tour. Throughout the run we had 110 hungry mouths to feed but, as is our style, we always made sure there were healthy options as well as something for the people who needed calories to burn!” Along with Nicholas the rest of the catering crew was made up of Vickie Lee, Paddy Cullen, Gordie Watt and Richard Irving. Nicholas concluded: “We really enjoyed being part of their European Tour Family. Definitely one of the friendliest and nicest touring families we have been part of.”
Providing personal catering for the band was the responsibility of Rockpool Tour Catering. Since finishing the Muse Drones Tour in September 2016 the business was asked to supply two personal chefs for the RHCP. The start of the contract involved Pete Bailey flying out to New Orleans to cook for the band party. From then on Stuart Jackson and Tanya Collyer were working together on the tour. Rockpool’s Charlie Dillamore-Bailey discussed the company’s involvement with the tour: “Rockpool provide pre-show meals for the band party, management and family. A variety of post-show menus are supplied at the venue or hotels. Healthy food was requested for this tour. We always endeavor to source the finest ingredients to create healthy meals, tailored to each client. We have a database of suppliers and speciality food providers which have been updated after each tour. It has been a real pleasure working with the RHCP team. We look forward to the future.”
With yet another European tour under their belts, both band and crew headed Stateside to continue The Getaway mission on their home turf. With plans to expand on this already jaw-dropping production, it’s clear that both the band and crew are still as passionate as ever about using innovation to create truly unforgettable moments.
Photos: Andrew Benge