A Rock Show Is Born Here

By Warren Gerds, Green Bay Press-Gazette, September 3, 1982, transcribed by pwrwindows

Some rock music shows are extravaganzas.

Their aim is to be spectacular, mixing roaring music with splashy visual effects.

These elaborate productions are happenings unto themselves.

Once completed, they hopscotch the countryside.

But where do they begin? Where are they put together?

In the case of the band playing in town tonight, Rush, that place is right here.

Rush rented Brown Country Veterans Memorial for the week. Some crewman arrived Sunday. Others and the band itself came Monday.

Together they've been putting in place all the pieces necessary to take Rush's show on the road for the next six months.

"Just the way theater people have to rehearse for weeks and weeks, we must do that as well," said Kevin Flewitt, the band's media intermediary. "It's just like any other means of entertainment. The fellows in the band are very adamant about wanting to put on the best possible show that they can put on."

Flewitt added, "They wouldn't be happy unless their show was 100 percent right there, and they're prepared to spend the time and money seeing that it gets exactly the way they want it to sound and look."

The band arrived from Toronto. Lighting gear came from New York City. Sound equipment was transported from Virginia.

Green Bay being a rock show production center is a rarity. But Rush is beginning its tour here and the arena was available, so it was as good a place as any for putting the puzzle together.

A few statistics to give you an idea of how big these things are:

The first number is small: Three. That's how many player are in Rush. They are Geddy Lee, lead singer, bass and synthesizers; Alex Lifeson, guitars, and Neil Peart, drums.

These three guys generate a traveling crew of 31, four 40-foot semi-trailer trucks and one 28-foot truck to carry all the show's gear, three custom-built buses to carry everyone, at least 22 hotel rooms a night to house the travelers.

In each town, Flewitt said, the band will hire another 20 persona to help pack and unpack the gear, plus at least eight more to run spotlights.

"It's not simply a matter of getting your guitar out and going up on stage and flailing away," Flewitt said. "Everyone on that stage has certain steps he goes through every night.

"So these guys have to work on cue. They have to be in a certain place at a certain time, so (the work here) is a real big deal."

The players spent two recent weeks in a studio rehearsing and organizing their music. Then they came here to insert that music into the vast assemblage that makes up their touring show, which in the past has drawn more than a million people on a run. Tonight's show is a sellout.

When not working, Flewitt said Lee and Lifeson played tennis and Peart, who carries a typewriter with him, did some writing. On past visits here, Flewitt said Rush played baseball and had a barbecue.

For this tour, some of the equipment, both instruments and support gear, is new. So part of the work was checking for bugs.

The arena looks like an electronics plant. There are big banks of amplifiers, some poised ominously above the stage. The lighting configuration handing over the stage looks like the bottom of an alien space shop. Rivers of wires run everywhere. Rows of boxes with wiring looking like robot guts skirt the stage.

The safety of all this has to be checked. And the rigging for the hanging equipment has to be sturdy.

"You have to be sure you're in a hall that the roof can support all that stuff," Flewitt said. "You can play only certain halls. The larger your show gets, the larger your halls have to get."

Other key work here included synchronizing the music and the lighting and special effects.

Howard Ungerleider, lighting designer and director and tour manager, started work on his lighting design months ago. "The design comes together as the music is coming together," he said.

Ungerleider has been with Rush for nine years, and he and the band work in close coordination on visual ideas even as songs are being written.

Much of Ungerleider's gear is extremely sophisticated. Huge consoles with scores of knobs, levers and buttons control something like 1,300 lights, along with film projectors and other razzle-dazzle effects.

Like many other businesses, rock music is in the computer age. Some are in Rush's instruments (the synthesizers), some help run the light show.

Computer programming of the lighting was done here, with lights timed to the timing of songs.

Once done, Flewitt said, "Just by touching a few buttons, Howard can come up with some incredible effects, and it hardly looks like he's doing anything."

The programmed lighting means the band has to somewhat toe the line in a performance, Ungerleider said, but the computer has a variable control so the music and lights are in the same time.

So many intricacies go into the lighting design and execution that Ungerleider said it would take days to explain. He said, "It's like asking Walt Disney, 'How do you make your movies?'"

Ungerleider's role is something of a science in itself. And another thing:

"I'm definitely musically inclined," he said. "I think you'll find most people who do lighting and are really good at what they do, ar4e musicians. It's very much timing, and timing is key to a successful light show."

Flewitt said the production that was assembled and rehearsed here will remain much the same for the rest of the tour throughout North America.

Come the end of the show tonight, all the week's work of dry runs and testing and coordinating will vanish. Every single piece of gear will be packed away and driven off in the trucks.

Saturday night, the whole package will be up again as the Rush army plays La Crosse.