March 1997 - Rush's LD Howard Ungerleider has been working with the Canadian power trio (lead singer/bassist Geddy Lee, drummer Neil Peart and guitarist Alex Lifeson) for 23 years, so perhaps you can't quite blame the fans who sometimes mistake him for a touring band member. "I think the audience thinks that the band triggers the lights themselves," Ungerleider says, laughing. "They think I'm playing keyboards, or doing sound. Someone's always telling me to turn it up."
While Ungerleider left the sound levels to the band's veteran FOH engineer Robert Scovill, he did raise the level of visual technology for this latest tour, Test for Echo, which shares the name of the group's 16th studio album. "I personally wanted this tour to look a lot different than the shows have in the past. This is the first time I'm using almost all computer lights and very few conventionals," Ungerleider says. "Basically the band came to and said they wanted something really powerful. What they really said was: 'Just do what you do best.' They've always trusted me with the lighting design."
The lighting system was supplied by See Factor Industry Inc., the main lighting contractor, and Vari-Lite. High End Systems and Vari-Lite equipment includes 48 [High End Systems] Cyberlight automated luminaires, 48 [High End Systems] Studio Color automated luminaires, 12 VL6 automated luminaires; the conventional equipment is 30 MR-16 strips, 60 ACL color changers, and 12 5c Berkeys. "That's pretty much the whole system," Ungerleider says. "I chose the fixtures that I did because of road-testing them and knowing what they can do."
The LD had road-tested the Cyberlights on Queensryche's 1995 tour ("They work so well from way up high and I was impressed with their reliability"), but this is the first time he has used the Studio Colors. "It's just so amazing and so bright - it's incredible. It was very, very pleasant to use this light source on this tour," Ungerleider says. "And I run them through their paces, too, with all the coloring and the strobe effects - and running the strobes simultaneously. Their R&D department was freaked out after seeing the show."
For the rig's structural layout the LD went back to his design for the 1981 Moving Pictures tour. "I had the three pods custom-made, but for that tour they were packed with conventional lights-PAR-56s, PAR-64s and lekos," explains the LD. "I have a warehouse of material I haven't used in years, so I thought it would be really cool to bring them back, but this time load them up with technology: new automated fixtures and pentographs inside with a VL6 on the end of each."
The LD explains that he chose the VL6s for a very specific reason. "They're interesting because we're using them with the DMX capability. That light has a feature when you don't run them through an Artisan console, which is a bad DMX feature - but it's great," Ungerleider says. "It starts shaking and that makes it look almost as if it's animated. There's no other light that really can do that, and I really enjoy that effect. I also like a lot of the VL6's gobo patterns. As much as I chose the High End Systems products I needed to do the job, I feel that certain lights have certain uses. That's why I really wanted to incorporate Vari-Lites into the show."
The LD then added a few extra trusses to create asymmetrical elements. "I liked the angles, so I wanted to create contours. I'm very big on creating different levels of lighting by choosing lights from different areas and mixing and matching the levels," Ungerleider says. "It does make a little bit of light seem like a lot of light, and it adds to the sense of depth perception as well when you're creating walls of light with different modes and different angles. And, if you use the right colors properly with the floor lighting, it looks like you're looking down about 30' down the back of the stage when it's really only 10'."
The band is currently taking a break, but plans to hit the road (and the aforementioned sheds) again this spring. Ungerleider can hardly wait. "I really appreciate all these new companies coming out with all these new lights, which give people like myself more opportunity to be creative and to do a lot more out here. It makes my job a lot more fun."