Without hesitation, he replies, “Never!”
I nod in agreement.
On the success of their latest release, 10,000 Days, Tool has embarked on a world tour that started with a warm-up tour in the United States followed by a full-scale European tour. Their first album release in five years has their fan base eagerly awaiting their arrival at venues across the U.S. In fact, the spring performance, at the Fox Theatre in Detroit, Mich., sold out in less than three minutes. And while the band certainly didn’t disappoint, the lighting and video production was something to behold for any professional in our industry—it’s the vital ingredient, as is evident in their design philosophy for the spring and summer tour.
Lighting and video designer, Breckinridge Haggerty asserts, “The band was looking for a system design that would make it easy to get in and out of festivals. The video aspect of the show is very important to them, especially to (guitarist) Adam Jones, who creates all the music videos. So, that was not an optional element, and they wanted it to be consistent. They didn’t want their video content to be projected on whatever video walls they happened to have at wherever they were. I came up with a four-screen, five-tower design so that we could use standard equipment, roll in and out real quick, using nine set pieces across the back.”
The tour started with 16 stateside theatre dates and continued onto Europe for the summer festival season. The system had to be scaled to fit theatre size shows, and even some “dingy” clubs in Europe, where, according to Haggerty, they “had to shoehorn it in a few places over there. It worked out really well.”
More importantly, it had to look big enough for the 20,000 plus festivals goers at larger venues.
He continues, “The program cloned out very nicely to the bigger rigs like Roskilde and Donnington. We added in their video screens and lighting system, on top of what we carried with us. The results were fantastic. We were prepared to put on a real Tool show without any support, so the festival rigs were always icing on the cake.” Aside from some striplights, a few scoops, and fixtures for the drum kit, the entire rig was comprised of automated lighting and video.
Dark, Dark and Back
Another key feature: No Spotlights. Lots of dark solos. Most everything backlit. Haggerty states, “This design puts all the video behind the band. I also moved 15 lights back there to support the video. This meant we could push a lot of light through the band and into the audience. On the last tour, we had one screen behind Maynard (James Keenen) so he could be lit less, as a silhouette, and be seen as a shape instead of a lit person. So it’s kind of a combination (of the previous tour). We used the same size screen as was behind Maynard, behind each of the four band members and then filled in the spaces with lights. It was a natural progression.”
It’s true that it would be hard to recognize a band member walking down the street—even for some of their most ardent fans. Because video is the key production element, the dark spaces used in the design are an essential bridge the between band and the production. They also provide much needed personal space for the artists themselves.
Haggerty explains, “The dark spaces are mostly for Maynard. A lot of the songs are a personal journey for him and he has a hard time with the glare of the lights when he’s trying to reproduce these emotions for the audience. He needs a bit of personal space, and he feels more comfortable in the shadows.”
It’s hard to explain the depth of what goes into the production at a Tool concert to somebody who is not in our industry. Much like their music, the production is intelligent and progressive—the interplay of video and lighting is the key aspect of the entire performance. And it has been since mid-‘90s, when Haggerty created a device, later known the NEV System, for triggering content long before media servers, as we know them today, existed.
“Tool has never allowed the use of followspots or live cameras. All of the video is playback. It’s all looped clips that aren’t tracked to a song like a music video. The band has never used any sort of timecode. They’ve always made sure the video can change on-the-fly, in a way that can be improvised. That’s a big important part of the production,” says Haggerty. “The show is never the same twice.”
“One of the things that’s important in keeping it improvisational is the ability to use loops—perfect loops—that don’t end. The NEV System can loop clips easily and it’s very clean so you don’t notice it going back to the beginning of the loop as long as the content is built right.”
“So when you’re in a loop you can sit in it until you figure out what you are going to do next. It’s not entirely thrown together on the fly every night. We know what we want to try to do, kind of like the band kind of knows what they want to do, but the band isn’t on any sort of track, so if they get out on a tangent, the video can follow because we are not limited by the length of our clips or any sort of edit.
“We had a guest artist, Kirk Hammett of Metallica, play with us in Hawaii. He played on “Sober”. It was unrehearsed so nobody knew what was going to happen. As you can imagine, it got a little weird in the middle but we had the ability to let things loop and it worked out fine.”
Since Tool has been building and using content as a fundamental aspect of their production since the mid-‘90s, their library of material is quite dense. “It’s a collection of so many different things,” says Haggerty. “On the Omega drives in the NEV System there’s somewhere around six hours of material; probably 700 different loops that we can call up. It’s accumulated over the years. At first, it was all on VHS tape and we transferred everything onto the Omega drives in 2000/2001. There are several different people—Adam Jones, his wife Camella Grace, Chet Zar, Meats Meyer and myself—who create the bulk of it. And there are four or five other people, plus all the people who are involved in the music videos that have been involved in making the content. When we do a tour, we try to pull together as much new stuff as we can and throw it on there to freshen it up. And, we dig back into the old stuff and try to find new ways to use it.”
After working on major tours like Korn, Rob Zombie, Beastie Boys, Sting, and Blink- 182, Haggerty reflects on his relationship with the band that inspired his NEV System. “I feel really lucky because I enjoy and respect the music they put together. They’re genuinely nice people to work for. And they know what they want as far as video goes.”
He sums hit up in more simple terms, “They know what they want. They’re cool people. They’re very talented, obviously. What else could you ask for in a client?”
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