Squeek Lights’ ADJ VS3 LED panels help realise Coheed and Cambria’s sci-fi stage vision

Lighting Designer, Ben Jarrett taps into 144 Squeek Lights-supplied 144 ADJ VS3 LED panels for Coheed and Cambria's  first major US tour in five years. Photo: OJC Photography

Coheed and Cambria travelled across the United States over the summer with its A Window of The Waking Mind Tour. The 25-stop trek, which took in a mixture of outdoor amphitheatres and indoor arenas, featured an impressive production that was anchored by a giant inflatable set piece flanked by a pair of large video walls constructed from ADJ VS3 modular LED panels. The screens played a central role within the show, displaying custom animated content that depicted scenes from the fantasy world by which the band’s music is inspired.

The task of working with Coheed and Cambria to bring this fantasy world to life on stage this summer fell to Lighting Designer, Ben Jarrett and lighting and video vendor, Squeek Lights.

This was the second tour that Ben had worked on with the Coheed and Cambria, but the first to incorporate video. However, from the outset, there were two core requirements brought to the table by the band for this run of dates. The first was the inclusion of the custom inflatable, known as The Quintilian Speaker’ a 28ft tall alien monster that was to be positioned at the dead centre of the stage with long tentacles that stretched out towards the audience.

The second was a pair of large LED video walls to sit at either side and display the visual content that had been commissioned for the tour, which provided the backbone of the show’s aesthetic. Therefore, at the very start of the design stage, Squeek Lights founder Victor Zeiser came up with an efficient layout that allowed those elements to be easily flown overhead in a way that was flexible, because the tour took in a wide range of venues and stage sizes. The rest of the lighting rig was then built out from there.

The choice of LED panel for the tour was an easy decision for the Squeek Lights team, as the company had invested in almost 300 of ADJ’s Vision Series VS3 units at the beginning of the year. Having already used them for a variety of one-off events and smaller runs, Zeiser and Jarrett were confident they were up to the challenge of a large-scale tour. They deployed a total of 144 panels on the production, split across the two screens.

Featuring the highest quality LED binning as well as bright, clear output, the VS3 has a 3.91mm pixel pitch (128 by 128 pixel density) and features 3-in-1 RGB SMD2121 LEDs with a brightness of 1000 NITS and a high refresh rate of 3840Hz. It offers a wide viewing angle of 160° (horizontal) / 140° (vertical) and a high contrast ratio of 5000:1, allowing for the delivery of exceptionally vibrant video reproduction. The system also features an innovative magnetic locating system, which pulls together the top of one panel to the bottom of another, allowing a technician to hold the new panel temporarily in place with just one hand while using their other hand to engage the pin-locking mechanism. This means that a single crew member can quickly and easily erect a full wall of panels.

“The panels are very easy and quick to fit together,” confirmed Jarrett. “The magnets which hold them in place while you lock in the mechanism are very useful and the whole design has clearly been well thought out, which meant that it took no time at all to show our local hands what to do. On the tour our load-ins usually started around 9am and our Video Tech, Andre Dionne, would usually have both walls built, flown and ready to go for around noon. And then on the tear down it was even quicker. VS3 is definitely easy to work with, and I can’t say that about every video wall system out there!”

Jarret highlighted the importance of VS3 LED panels. “It’s very bright, to the point that we always have to dial back the video walls so that they aren’t brighter than everything else on stage! Although we didn’t use it for this tour, more generally we’ve been really happy with the Vision Series ground support system. It is very easy to set up and great for smaller clients and applications where flying isn’t an option. So far, we’ve also found the VS3 to be pretty resilient and easy to service, which is always important. It does the job it needs to do, consistently from show to show, which is what we are looking for on tours.”

All the panels in the ADJ Vision Series – which also includes 2.97mm pitch VS2, 5.95mm pitch VS5 and 3.84mm pitch IP65-rated VS3IP models – are based on the same robust frame, allowing panels of different resolutions to be used together and meaning that the same rigging bar and other accessories can be utilised for all VS models. Each panel consists of four individual modules, which are front serviceable, allowing for convenient maintenance and repairs. All the panels also feature in-built articulated protectors, which fold out from the back of the unit to provide protection to the corners – the parts of the panels most prone to damage – during transit. The panel frames themselves are solidly constructed to withstand the rigours of a life on the road, to which Jarrett can testify from personal experience.

“Before our third show day, our truck driver had to slam on the brakes overnight and a road bar ended up popping off, which meant all the gear shifted, including the video panels. At the time we were transporting them assembled on carts (we ditched them for road cases soon after), which meant they weren’t very well protected,” he reported. “When I saw the carts rolling off the truck in the morning I started freaking out, losing my mind, when I saw the state of the panels. Lots of the modules had popped out and it looked like a lot of damage had been done. But when we went through everything and slotted the modules back in, we realised that even though this stuff had taken a major hit, it was all OK!”

At the heart of the lighting rig for the tour was the Artiste Picasso moving head luminaire from ADJ’s sister company, Elation Professional. However, a supporting role was played b 32 HEX Panel IP LED wash panel fixtures. Each featuring a four by eight array of 12W HEX (RGBWA+UV) LEDs, six of these compact and robust fixtures were utilised on the tour to illuminate The Quintilian Speaker inflatable as well as a set piece depicting the band’s logo, The Keywork, positioned in front of the drum riser.

Coheed and Cambria hit the road with Squeek Lights and Artiste Picasso

“I really like the HEX LEDs chips,” commented Zeiser. “Having red, green, blue, white, amber and UV for colour mixing gives you so much flexibility to get just the right colour for any look. I only had six of them on this tour, but I’ve used 32 HEX Panel IPs a lot on other tours and very much enjoy using them. They are very versatile fixtures; they are great wash lights, but the pixel zones make them useful for eye candy too and they are bright enough to also use as strobes or blinders. The magnetic frost is also a great accessory. There are a lot of times where you suddenly realise that you need just a little more coverage to hit a set piece and being able to just snap that frost quickly onto the front for a wider beam angle is very useful. Then the IP rating adds to that versatility – it just has everything you could want!”

A Window of The Waking Mind Tour traversed North America from 12 July to 17 August and marked Coheed and Cambria’s first major headline tour in five years. ADJ video panels and lighting fixtures used for the production, as well as the Elation Professional fixtures, proved reliable for the duration of the run, allowing Jarrett and his team to bring the band’s sci-fi fantasy world vibrantly to life on stage each and every night.