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Lighting the Audience at THE WHO’s Final Concert

Source: Lighting Dimensions, Jan./Feb. 1984

Lighting the audience can be an integral part of the show providing a visual bridge to the band.

For nearly 20 years The Who has enjoyed a staying power known only to a handful of other rock groups. Through several evolutions of design, look, and sound, The Who has not only held on firmly to its early fans but has acquired legions of new, young followers. In a previous article (LD-Jan/Feb 1981) we referred to The Who’s sound as “a combination of sonic onslaught and melodic delicacy is like chamber music in the middle of a commando raid.” The Who hasn’t lost its touch.

In December of 1982, The Who gave their last concert ever in North America. The Who production management was emphatic in saying that “this was it.” The Who’s “Farewell Concert” was intended as a one-of-a-kind production of historical significance. The production team knew that the live concert at Toronto’s Maple Leaf Auditorium would be the key to successfully producing a live American and Canadian television event.

During the pre-production planning sessions, Jack Calmes, the producer of the event made it clear, “We won’t have any problem making the live audience of over 17,000 at the Maple Leaf Auditorium respond to the Who. The real magic will be to include the nearly 500,000 viewers in 38 locations from New York to Los Angeles and the cable viewers for a live pay-per-view rock concert. Everyone watching the show, whether at home on a 19-inch box or at New York’s Ritz with a giant screen and a highly sophisticated sound system, should feel that they are part of the show. By giving them close-ups — the sweat, the drums, the guitars — and the overhead shots of the stage and audience, they’ll feel the spirit of the show that even front row seats wouldn’t afford.”

Click to view detail – Lighting rig diagram

Click to view larger version Lighting rig diagram from article (277kb).

During the preliminary concept development of the “Farewell Concert” was the fundamental question, “How do we translate this show into a great television event?” The Who had long enjoyed superstar status. Their show was highly refined and they were able to give the live audience everything they wanted and expected. So the real question that came into focus was what elements of The Who production could the video cameras best capture and use to give the viewer the sense of real participation?

It was agreed early on that the fundamental look of the show would remain the same as it had been for their entire North American Tour. It as about this time that Alan Adelman of Imero Florentino Associates was called in as a lighting consultant. With less than a month before the show was to happen, Adelman met with the entire production management team, including sound and light personnel, as well as Larry Hitchcock of FM Productions and Ian Knight, and English staging consultant well-known to the band.

The “visual” look of the show was never dictated to the video production group. After that initial meeting Adelman, Calmes and Video Director Richard Namm spent two weeks on the road with The Who to learn the show, develop ideas, and get to know the band and their staff. A show of this magnitude required great chemistry among all those involved, so a certain amount of mutual trust needed to be built up between them. Also it was important for the new members of the team to know the show well enough so that any additions to the show could be made without appearing indiscriminate in the final product. So Adelman went to Dallas, Houston, Orlando, Lexington (Kentucky), and Syracuse (New York). “We went on tour with the band with no real preconceptions of what to expect,” says Adelman. “One of the first things I noticed was that there really no backgrounds, other than Kenny Jones’ drum kit and all the black amp boxes. It seemed that something was needed that could be lit and controllable. I ended up making a few initial suggestions; then we bounced them off one another to see what might be most appropriate.”

The Who really had two basic shows — and indoor show and an outdoor show for very large stadium venues. An important element in the look for the outdoor venues were the three large letters — W, H, and O. the inside cross section of the H was actually the stage, and on either side of the stage were the W and the O. The whole set covered a 200-foot span with the letters themselves, nearly 35 feet in height, as the essence of the look.

Since the “Farewell Concert” was to be held indoors at Toronto’s Maple Leaf Auditorium, the designers felt that the idea of the letters could be used indoors as well to provide the missing backgrounds behind the band. What they ended up with was basically a modification of the letters used in the outdoor shows. They agreed on a wrap-around cyc design for the indoor stage that included the basic shape of the three letters, W-H-O. FM Productions made them from a translucent opaque material so that only when the letters were lit from behind would they show up. Adelman requested that a black scrim be put in front of the letters so that there was a choice of two looks — either a black background or the lighted letters.

It should be pointed out that Alan Adelman was brought into the production as a lighting consultant for the video. During the two weeks that Adelman spent touring with The Who, he was introduced to their lighting designer, Roger Searle, who has served the band for many years. It became apparent to Adelman that Searle’s lighting was highly explosive and dynamic, reflecting accurately the character of the band. According to Adelman, “The lighting was always changing — red, blue, amber, green, white, blue, magenta. There were really no specials on the band. It was mostly color, color, color — full stage washes bumping to the beat of the music, many of them in rapid succession. So much was visually happening on stage — the audience was being constantly bombarded with color changes. It was not a subtle show. When I first saw the show I had the feeling — wow! With all these colors and aircraft landing lights punching onto a white floor there was so much happening. All I could see were horrendous video contrast problems. I had a lot of thoughts on how to simplify the look of the show to ensure good video pictures. Then, I came to the brave realization that all the color and the chases were integral to what this band is about, and my job was not really to try and change the look of the show but to try and figure out a way to balance the look of the band in close-up with what was happening around them. I actually had to extend all this color and movement into what I wanted to be arresting wideshots.

“At this point, I felt my biggest contribution could be to concentrate my lighting on the audience. Video audience lighting is rarely explored to the extent that it could be and I hoped to make the ambience in the room an integral part of the show. I had reservations about obtaining the quantity of equipment and the degree of control I required on relatively short notice. However, Tasco Lighting was able to fill the order within our time frame.”

In effect, Adelman was helping to create a two-hour rock video. The only difference is that most rock videos are only three or four minutes long and are done within all the comforts and safety of a studio. With 17,000 fans paying megabucks for tickets, conventional techniques were simply not going to work. Adelman kept the video audience’s vantage point in mind at all times. He felt it was essential to keep the relationship between the band, the arena crowd, and the home viewer very close. An essential element to home viewers is the feeling of “being there.” To include the camera in the inter-relationship between the band and the live audience is of critical importance in allowing the video audience to “feel” the same things that the live audience is feeling. “Through the use of imaginative audience lighting we were, in a sense, using the live audience as scenery for the video audience,” says Adelman. “But the live audience was obviously more than just scenery. They became a dynamic part of the total show. In essence we were all part of each other’s visual environment.”

After two weeks on tour with The Who, Adelman knew that his audience lighting should be as dynamic as Searle’s on-stage lighting. The key problem then became, “How do you do it?” Since the video camera “eye” has a fairly narrow contrast range, the lighting balance problems were going to be critical. For the most part, balancing the lighting really refers to the proper ratio of light on the performers (usually the followspots) in relation to the other objects in the camera’s vision. If the audience is to be seen in the same shot as the band, a relative amount of light must be focused directly onto those audience areas.

Adelman early on concluded that the audience lighting could best be achieved by rigging the Maple Leaf Gardens with box trusses set up around the perimeter of the main floor. He says, “The audience lighting was to be divided into some 54 zones representing the different seating sections of the arena. There were two 100-foot plus box trusses, a 40-foot truss at the opposite end of the coliseum, and four 20-foot satellite trusses in the corners. We used the basic Who system supplemented with 12 additional PARs at the other end of the house to fill in the box.”

There were 144 PAR cans on each truss, 24 more at the far end of the coliseum, and 12 on each of the comer trusses. Add to that The Who’s 350/400 light system, 14 Vari-Lites, ColorMaxes, Sky Trackers and other support lights, and suddenly the lighting system became very complex. In all, there were two Avolite 96-channel desks, two ColorMax controllers, the Vari-Lite controller, Sky Tracker controller, and three lighting console operators. Adelman adds, “In addition to the more than 350 PAR lights we used for audience lighting, we added 24 PARs with ColorMax changers and 24 aircraft lights focused on the letters from behind. On stage, the band was touring with 14 Vari-Lites. We were very successful in creating a series of spectacular ambience looks featuring those units amidst changing washes of color. This is another good example of the importance of my time spent with the band in that it gave me a clear understanding of Roger Searle’s fine lighting and allowed time for me to suggest new Vari-Lite moves and actually experiment with color corrections, substitutions, and balance that are key to any live music video translation.”

Adelman created and programmed 16 basic surround “looks,” including 10different chase sequences. “Since the audience lighting was divided up into sections and carefully focused and color coordinated, I could go through a series of different chases on an incredibly large scale,” he says. “When I pictured it in my mind I really had no concept of how strong and how powerful it really was going to be. It was wonderfully exciting, after we had spent an entire day putting up this audience rig, to see it all focused and hooked up — we had color and area control over all these pods of light.”

Most of Adelman’s color selections were in reaction to what was happening on stage. The Who colors were the basic primaries and secondaries — reds, blues, ambers, magentas, blue-greens, with an added white circuit to the rig. The colors that Adelman selected for audience lights were ones that gave the best cue selection for many separate pools of light that could be focused in close proximity to each other. These pools of light more often retained their own color definition, but could also be used to blend with one another. “My choices,” says Adelman, “were designed to try and give in that overall ‘up look’ a certain amount of color differentiation to the pools of light on the audience. But the lights were also focused so that I could gang the individual pools into different vertical, diagonal waves going up and down the grandstands and extending into patterns on the floor.

“Once we had completed the programming of the chases we really began to understand the real impact of what we were doing. The ‘look’ on the audience was as powerful as the ‘looks’ that were happening on stage, and often more so because we were lighting an area that was significantly larger than the stage area. Only after seeing repeated viewings of the wide shots on the videotape could one really begin to understand all the different lighting changes that were going on in that room. What the viewer saw was a stage at one end which appeared very small, and when the whole room went through a succession of rapid lighting changes it almost looked like a model. Some people have commented that it seemed like they were looking at a painting,” according to Adelman.

“And the live audience really responded to it,” he continues. “They went wild with every change that happened. There was a random color chase I am fond of which appeared best on ‘Who Are You,’ as well as a linear, yellow, three-circuit chase in the seats around the hockey dasher in ‘Eminence Front.’ For the other looks I had a basic sweep from the floor up to the higher grandstands then back down to the floor, while another sweep went around the coliseum clockwise, then counter-clockwise. Yet another sweep I used went diagonally up the coliseum. Every time I tried a different move I was just amazed at the excitement in the audience’s reaction. You could actually feel the emotion as the light was sweeping. It was quite dramatic and exciting to witness lighting on such a grand scale, especially from my vantage point since I was in the middle of it, on the floor, in the center of the house watching the video monitors simultaneously with the live performance. It filled me with an unexpected sense of the contribution I could make to the energy level around me in the room. But since the audience was primarily there to see the band, I had to be constantly careful not to detract from the performance. In effect, the audience lights became a ‘visual linkage’ to the band. And the band loved it.

“The first night we experimented with the audience lighting system, Townsend (The Who’s band leader) came up to the microphone and said to the audience, ‘It’s great to see you like this.’ He never thanked me personally, but his comment over the microphone was all the thanks I needed,” reflects Adelman.

Adelman talks about the cameras. “In a show that is as light-oriented as this one, we knew that we would need cameras that could avoid streaking and flaring. Richard Namm insisted on using Ikegami HL 79A’s. Even though we were pointing them right into some very hot lights, there was a minimum of comet tailing. And when the Vari-Lites came sweeping along the cameras didn’t rebel in the least. Most of the time the light levels in the color washes were averaging about 60 footcandles. This meant that the camera lenses were being set virtually wide open so the subtle details were not being lost.” Adelman says that on the band’s lighting rig, most of the aircraft landing lights required either neutral density filters, different color filters, or light diffusion to keep the light levels balanced.

Communication between the key production members was an interesting problem. The primary system was a 30-station RTS Model 801 with six channels. They also had 10 Motorola VHF’s and VHF walkie-talkies along with two HME wireless intercom headsets for the stage manager to communicate with the truck. The six-channel headset system was utilized for crane communications between crane cameramen and their boom men as well as for the standard production line between cameramen, lighting, tape operators, and director.

In addition, The Who people had their own Chaos system for the ten follow spot operators. Although an interface box between the two systems was attempted, Adelman felt that it was preferable to maintain two separate isolated systems and to wear two headsets, or a small earpiece and one headset.

In the beginning, Adelman had more than just a tough lighting assignment. His experience could be likened to a newcomer trying to adjust an opera in repertory at the Metropolitan Opera House. The Who is a well-managed band and has the reputation of being one of the most precise and smoothly operating shows in the business. They’ve been performing for nearly 20 years and have some pretty clear ideas as to road protocol and procedures for approaching new elements in the show. Since Adelman was a major contributor to the video portion of the concert, it was important to ensure the trust of the Who’s production staff. The degree of success is represented in the final product.

As the cost of touring for the super groups becomes astronomical and the logistics become nightmares, a peek into the future of rock-and-roll might have been offered that night. The Who was able to reach 10, 20, or 30 times the audience they could have reached at a single venue. With imaginative video and high production values, tour management and producers such as Jack Calmes are taking a closer look at the staging of these super events as video events. This may offer a highly attractive alternative for groups who simply don’t want to tour. There will be a continuing concern for the video directors of photography to create “environmental looks” for these live events. And this responsibility will necessarily fall largely upon the shoulders of the lighting designers and lighting directors. By bringing the live audience into the video picture through the use of a large number of cameras, the super event may never be the same again.


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