Rush is currently into the second leg of four on their 30th Anniversary Tour, which finds them in A-markets across the US in June and July. A three-hour forty-minute tour de force, Rush’s catalog of favorites has been augmented with an eclectic range of cover tunes recently released by the band. In outdoor amphitheatres, the first half of the show occurs before the sun goes down, allowing lighting designer Howard Ungerleider the opportunity to introduce a huge variety of elements (laser, pyro, LED, moving truss, Catalyst, etc.) over the course of the evening. If you haven't seen this Rush tour, get to a show as fast as you can. This one started with a short film with actor Jerry Stiller portraying a manic Rush fan who actually manages to coax the band onstage to perform.
Production manager Craig Blazier (who also handles stage management duties) is assisted on this tour by his wife, Karen. Liam Bert is Rush's tour manager. Blazier has toured with Rush since 1996; he also PM's for Chicago and worked with Bob Seger for many years.
"I actually met them back in 1975; I was monitor engineer for KISS, and they opened two tours - so I had to mix their monitors as well. In 1976 they left the tour, and I didn't see them for 20 years, until I came back as their production manager!"
At 8am it's rigging and lighting call. "We've found it's more efficient, rather than just doing an hour long rigging call and nothing else, we can off-load lighting as well and get that moving."
Craig says lead rigger Brian Collins and assistant Frank Aguirre, Jr. are on top of their game. "Most people don't know this," Blazier adds, "but Brian started out young - his father Billy Collins was the lead rigger years ago, and Brian tutored under him - it's the only tour in history with a father-son legacy!"
Locals for the load-ins are usually 26 hands, a fork lift op, an electrician, four loaders, six riggers up and three down. 40 stagehands are used on the out's. "With dock space and plenty of stage space you're looking at a 7 hour setup," Craig explains. "We start at 8am and are usually done by 3pm. Outs are anywhere from 1:45 to 2:30," he says. Trucking and bussing is by Ego Trips and Hemphill Brothers.
Blazier says having his wife onboard helps him better perform the double duties of PM and stage management. "Karen takes care of the office so I have time with the stage," he offers, "and I'm a 'hands on' type of person. It helps with the camaraderie of the crew - I've gained their respect and we've all become friends.
"As we all know, it's like a band of brothers and sisters out here - if somebody goes down, we all step in to help them out. Like today, Rick our guitar tech has a slipped disc, and we all set up his gear while he went to the doctor. Tonight he'll sit and tune guitars, and somebody else will pass them off to Alex."
The audio package for the trio's anniversary tour is being provided by Clair Brothers (www.clair-audio.com). Back at the FOH mix position is 42-year-old Brad Madix, whose golden ears and mixing skills produce a crisp-but-fat sound that doesn't fatigue, even after 3.5 hours of material. Madix, who has also toured with Shania Twain, Def Leppard, Marilyn Manson, and Queensryche, wouldn't trade this gig for anything, but says he'd still like to mix AC/DC and Nine Inch Nails.
Brad studied music production engineering at Berkeley College of Music and did some studio work after graduation. He got his first road mixing experience in 1984 with Scorpio Sound, and later hooked up with Electrotec; he worked on the crew and mixed the opening acts for Presto, mixed the last leg of Roll The Bones, and returned full-time for the Vapor Trails shows.
Though mixing a trio doesn't sound inherently laborious, Rush is no ordinary trio, and the keyboard, percussion, and guitar/bass elements must form the perfect environment for Geddy's vocal. Madix carves a sonic masterpiece, especially in the nuances of Alex Lifeson's guitar sound. "It's particularly important in that range that the vocals also occupy - that mid- and upper mid-range," he says.
While line array technology became popular during Rush's five-year break between Test For Echo and Vapor Trails, Clair Brothers' system has been preferred since that time. "Clair's boxes are each a fixed number of degrees," Brad explains, "as opposed to systems which allow you to adjust the straps on the side or the bar on the back to change cabinet angle. There are obvious advantages for Clair Brothers' method; the front of the box is actually curved - for a 10 degree box, it's a 10 degree curve - which in my opinion makes the high end a little more coherent.
"There are some adjustments we make - we tend to lock the two top 2.5 degree cabinets together - it throws the high end a little further to the back of the shed."
The main Clair hang uses a 12-deep configuration of I-4 cabinets - six 2.5 degrees, four 5 degrees and a pair of 10 degrees - resulting in a J-shaped array he calls a 'spiral array'. Next to each hang are ten I-4B's, and four Prism II subs live underneath each array on the floor.
Front fills are a row of six or eight Clair P2s. "We time align the P2's to the arrival time of the PA in the front row. I think time aligning a system is really important - just so you're hearing all these things hit you as close as possible to the same time - that really helps the imagery. Anything more than a few milliseconds has a way of getting smeared in your head."
Finally, to cover the edge of the amphitheatres, the audio team hang a pair of I-4's sideways and feed a reverse image to the outside rows, which Madix says accomplishes two things: "It gives the people off to the side a bit of stereo image, and because I'm mixing in stereo, it reduces imaging problems. If I mixed mono, you'd walk through some phase anomalies - because of the distance between the two arrays. It still occurs with signal mixed in the center - like the bass guitar and kick drum - but their wavelengths are so long, it's hard to notice phase problems."
Madix uses Metric Halo's SpectraFoo to further control his aural environment. "I first used Spectrafoo because I'm a Mac user, and there was a time I was seriously considering buying a PC just to run Smaart," he offers. "But I visited the Metric Halo booth at a tradeshow, and was thoroughly impressed. I really thought it was a good platform, and would allow me to stay on the Mac. Since then I've used both, and I really sort of prefer SpectraFoo; I feel like I'm watching things much more in real time."
Joining Madix on the Rush audio team are monitor engineer Brent Alexander, crew chief Jo Ravitch, and Beau Alexander, who does the stage as well as assist Alexander at the monitor position. "Jo Ravitch is a really great asset to the tour, as he's an engineer in his own right," says Madix. "It's nice to have someone who can relate to what I'm doing on technical and creative levels, and can offer legitimate comments on the mix or EQ properties."
Madix also relies on his Clair I/O, Lake EQ and Gateway wireless tablet to secure the best mix for every seat in the house. "It's so nice to be able to walk and EQ at the same time," he laughs. "I spent years being the guy who 'didn't eq very much', but it's given me the freedom to do basically anything I need it to."
As Brad employed the Yamaha PM1D console on the last Rush tour, it remained a natural choice for these shows. "The alternative at that time would have been two Midas XL4's," he points out. "On Roll The Bones, I learned that there's no time to walk over and EQ the snare drum. My main concern was being able to get over 60 inputs and effects returns into an area where I could actually reach everything - and the PM1D was the rock solid digital platform."
The board also handles communications routing, as well as the shotgun mics used to pick up ambient crowd noise for the band's in-ears. Naturally, Madix uses both external processing and the internal capabilities of the PM1D. "We use a few pieces of analog compression that are very specific to a certain sound," he explains. "We use the Distressors with the 'British mod' on drums, and Manley Elop's on vocals. And we use all eight of the internal effects for one thing or another. I have a Lexicon 960, which does the crystal clear reverbs - it does that very well. We also have an Eventide DSP4000 - for a little harmonizing. There's an 'amp farm' in the PM1D I use twice in the set to distort the vocal. And I have a TC Electronics 2290 delay which gets used a few times. It's a great sounding unit - everything sounds better coming out of it."
A Smart C2 compressor gets run across the master buss. "I use a 30ms attack, and the fastest release - it's very slow, and just sits on things," Brad adds.
Geddy's bass signal uses a triple setup and a hilarious decoy set of dryers. (Ed. Note: The vending machine added on this tour did not appear to be an integral part of Lee's tone.)
An Avalon DI, Palmer simulator, and a distorted Sansamp line are mixed by Madix. "That line is heavily distorted," he admits, "but it has a way of moving the bass forward in the mix. Also, bass right up the middle can have a rather narrow image, and distortion has a way of spreading it out."
The engineer says the microphone complement for Lee's dryers does change with the times. "Right now we're using a pair of Audio Technica 4047's, an EV 504, and a mic we bought on Ebay that looked cool."
The acoustic set offers a nice volume break, finding Lifeson and Lee playing Epiphone and Taylor acoustics through Countryman DI's. It kicks up a notch again when Peart rejoins the group onstage. "In rehearsals I tried bringing the drums back in, and that thundering kick doesn't really work - so we had to give it a lighter treatment!"
Mic'ing the mighty drums of Neil Peart is practically a conversation in its own, but Madix says it was easy this time out, as many of the decisions were made on the previous tour.
"Although it's a different kit, it's the same size and number, so we started where we left off," Madix explains, "and the only change is this year we're now using Audio Technica's new dual-element kick drum mic. Neil also has a new kick drum; we put the AT in and it sounded great."
Three mics capture the snare - an AT23AG and SM98 on top, and an AT 4041 on the bottom. This started with a desire to pick up the side stick, and by accident Brad left it on once, and really liked the sound mixed together. "There are certain tones from the drum that are hard to get from one mic - plus you get a larger pattern or area of the snare drum, and a more consistent tone as well," he says.
Hi hat is a Neumann KM84, ride is a KM84, four rack toms use three AT35s and one AT3000, floor toms all have AT4050's, overheads are AT 4060 tube mics ("they're nice sounding, not too brittle or bright"), and splash cymbals are mic'd with SM98s underneath. With kit and Roland V-Drums, drum inputs and effects returns total 36. Ten lines of sampling the group triggers and a Roland D-50 round out the package. No sequencing or Pro Tools is employed; in this respect Rush are decidedly 'old school'.
It could be said that Brad's mix sounds louder than it is. "I came from that 'as loud as it can be' school, and maybe I'm getting old," he laughs, "but I think around 102 is enough. I've learned to make the perceived volume a little higher by manipulating the dynamic range of the mix. There's a bit less range, but seems more 'in your face' without knocking you over. Plus, we may hit 105 by the end of the set, as opposed to starting there - I like to have somewhere to go at the end."
TP US also spoke with monitor engineer Brent Carpenter, last encountered on Linkin Park's Meteora tour. "It's the same console," he says, "Show Console #105!"
Brent utilizes the dynamics onboard the Show Console, and also runs a TC Electronics D2 for guitar, a TC M5000 (one engine for drums, the other for Geddy's vocal), and a number of Yamaha SPX990's. "I use one SPX990 for Alex' vocal, another for a delay on the audience mics - to make them bigger and wider sounding - and another for basic reverbs that show up in the acoustic set."
Carpenter is handling around 65 inputs from stage - with audience mics, guitar splits and talkback it totals 79 inputs. He caters to three musicians on stage with in-ear monitors, provides stereo mixes for the keyboard and bass techs, plus there are MB15 sidefill subs, and one 12AM mono wedge for the guitar tech. The Clair stage gear is powered by Crown VZ3600 amps.
Wireless monitoring includes three Sennheiser 3054 transmitters and Ultimate Ears UE-7's. Carpenter also wears three wireless beltpacks and uses a Butson box to switch between signals, allowing him to hear exactly what Geddy, Alex and Neil do! "Because Geddy's the singer and has so much other technical stuff going on, I listen to his mix most of the time, but I do switch back between Neil and Alex several times a song."
Carpenter says their current in-ears offer an average 24db cut, and he employs a technique that boost Geddy Lee's noise floor to a 32db cut from the outside world. Four Audio Technica 3300 mics handle the vocal chores. Lee has 'regular' and 'keyboard' positions. A 'spare' picks up the acoustic set, and Lifeson uses the fourth to contribute vocals, including a most memorable segueway during 'La Villa'.
Video has played an integral role in the Rush concert experience for years, and Production / Lighting Designer Howard Ungerleider has been an industry leader in using new technology for mixed media. On this latest tour, Rush takes the jump into the world of LED video, and Howard uses the medium to full potential. With I-MAG video, HES Catalyst, Derivative software, and Ungerleider as the 'gatekeeper', the anniversary tour's video is displayed upon a central 22' x 12' LED display framed by 14 of what Howard calls his 'windchimes.' Lounging up north at 'the cottage', Ungerleider was inspired to replicate the windchime motif in video presentation.
The jaw-dropping video package was created by Screenworks NEP (www.screenworksnep.com). "Danny O'Bryen used to be our electrician out here - so we go way back," Howard says. "Screenworks did an amazing due diligence on these windchime columns; they really delivered what I designed.
Touring video director is once again David Davidian, who spoke with TP US about the integration of the various video constituents. "In 2002 we had a main center screen with three elements Catalyst, Derivative, and live IMAG. For this tour Howard wanted to expand the size of the screen, and also break it into three different sections and control different elements on each section, i.e. the windchimes. And the best part is that it's not low-resolution video; they're strips from a normal Sony 15mil screen with a 19" gap between each strip."
Davidian mixes with a Grass Valley 200 and works with three unmanned and two manned camera systems. The two manned units are Ikegami's - a 70 to 1 lens for the front and an 18 to 1 in the pit. Two POV's - one with pan/tilt and zoom - mounted it in the truss provide Neal's drum looks, and a stage left camera with zoom and focus picks up Geddy's keyboard position.
Joining Dave on the video team is system engineer Bob Larkin. "He's a fabulous engineer," Davidian says. "He not only does the shading - but he's a computer expert as far as digital control for the DMX talking to the routers and the Catalyst, in making sure all the tools are there to help execute Howard's vision - as far as full control and imagery are concerned. Bob makes great pictures, and I want to show 'lit for the eye', and then we'll go find the shots that are right within that."
The video team included Alan Weinrib (video coordinator), Norm Stangl of Spin Productions (film animation) and Greg Hermanovic of Derivative (video animation). B-roll was pulled from DoReMi hard drives. Most enjoyable was a bevy of classic Rush footage employed on the main screen and windchimes. While one would assume a live DVD to be in the works, to date there hasn't been any archiving going on in video world.
Besides HES Catalyst and IMAAG, the third critical element of the Rush show involves VJ Marcus Heckmann using Derivative software for live manipulation. Ungerleider adds,
"Once we open the gates to let it through, you have the live element of the VJ mixing in time with what we're doing - and I love that we can control the 'in and out' times."
Three Derivative channels, two Catalyst channels, the live feed and DoReMi footage are fed into the Pinnacle DVE Extreme router; three outputs are produced to the left, center and right areas, and the WholeHog lighting console controls the routing, so Howard ultimately selects what goes out.
Larkin says he uses a pair of Folsom Viewmax units on the VGA outputs of the Catalyst system to bring them into system time, and his Derivative outputs arrive through three Sony 1024's (to convert to composite) and a fiber optic cable. He adds that even more flexibility is afforded by Davidian at the Grass Valley, who can send the center image out to house IMAG screens.
Few designers are fortunate enough to work with a particular artist year in and out. But it could be said that Howard Ungerleider grew up lighting Rush. Through the years he's continued to refine his art through work with his main client, pursue other touring and architectural avenues, and simultaneously build his business, Production Design International (www.productiondesigninternational.com) into a major production player. And yes, PDI provided the lasers out for this tour!
Howard and Rush have introduced thousands if not more to the glories of the laser, and PDI continues to further this mission in a wide variety of applications. And while a designer must continually strive to outdo all previous work, Ungerleider may have just done it this time. There will always be lasers on Red Sector A, but on the whole, the effect is subtle - even calming - and is used most enchantingly in conjunction with his moving pods for some staggeringly beautiful looks. The lack of nightfall at outdoor amphitheatres during the first set allows Howard to slowly build a show where all the elements are unveiled to work together in creative synergy, with no cookies blown before their time.
Lasers appear in the second half; Pangolin laser software and a Jands controller enable PDI's Scott Wilson to assist Howard in creating Rush's latest laser statement. Four 3w YAG's - two in the truss and one each stage left and right, are fitted with scan heads and machitas for the full range of devastating green effects. Wilson says the beauty is in the integration of lasers with lighting and video cues, "to make it all one huge effect."
Similarly, pyrotechnics are employed just once - in tandem with a video cue, and serve to unanimously catch even the most attentive attendee off guard. Kevin Hughes is on hand to baby-sit the Pyrotek (www.pyrotekfx.com) system - six Dragon Heads and two Dragon Tails behind the band and two fireballs stage right.
With lasers, pyro, and multi-form video behind us, we're now free to discuss the meat n' potatoes of Howard's lighting toolkit, which he pushes to its limits to create limitless cues of color, texture and depth, not unlike the way notes just poured from Stevie Ray Vaughn.
The lighting package was supplied by Premier Global Productions (PGP) and once again crew-chiefed by Rich Vinyard. Joining Howard and Rich on tour are right-hand-man Keith Hoagland, tech extraordinaire Jamie Grossenkemper and master electrician Norm Sliwa. As is the custom, Howard was assisted in show programming by High End's 'Catalyst Guru' Tim Grivas. This year, Catalyst would serve not only as a visual tool, but also a video controller. Ultimately, it is Catalyst that Ungerleider uses to control I-MAG, Derivative and Catalyst images on the three screen areas.
Just like on the last tour, Premier delivered the goods, including a Catalyst Pro media server, 50 x.spot Xtremes, 36 Studio Beams, 24 Cyberlights and three Wholehog II consoles. Ten Coemar Panorama Cycs handle Howard's 'fireplace' mesh backdrop, forming the ultimate frame for the windchimes and band. Around forty Martin Atomic strobes in the rig are still standouts when called upon. A pair of curved horseshoe trusses wind to meet the line array hangs, and form an architectural statement in their own right. Cybers on the floor meet Studio Beam and x.spot firepower in the air to create exceptional depth in the Rush space. Twenty-eight MR-16 zip strips form the only 'conventional' color other than six Lycian M2 spots in the truss. Ungerleider also specified Color Kinetics Color Blaze 72 LED fixtures, which he uses to great effect in the truss and on his custom x.spot pods. Controlled via a Skjonberg system and two Branam motors, each of the five pods hold a Color Blaze and four x.spots. Like any good articulating system should, it makes the stage appear to have a new lighting system.
Ungerleider has commented he thinks this is his best Rush design to date; TP US asked him how the parts become a whole: "The use of LEDs on Rush is new, as well as the moving pods. I've only moved a truss piece on one Rush tour in 30 years; I guess you could say I've shown some restraint," he laughs. "To build the show over three hours and forty minutes, you really have to pick and choose your moments, which is something I worked very hard on - putting myself in the seat of the spectator, and designing from a multi-dimensional perspective. The curve of the truss helps it all look like one piece; I did this to give myself what I call 'the maximum window' - allowing lighting effects to come out without obstruction.
"Catalyst is a beautiful thing - anytime you can take a logo and wrap it around glass - or have live video wrapped on a rock - it's a no-brainer. It's amazing what you can do with it - we haven't even explored a tenth of what it can do. And I've been installing a lot of Color Kinetics in people's homes over the last year - and have had good experiences with their products. But when they gave me a demo of the Color Blaze 72, I said 'I have to have this on the tour'. And they've worked out very well."
The x.spots, Studio Beams and Cybers give Howard's rig its muscle. "I'm going for punch and power here," he says, "especially as I'm kind of eliminating conventionals, although I do have my MR16 zip strips - one of my favorite signature lights!"
The pods bring multitudes of robo-excitement when they are allowed to travel.
"I really like the pods, not only because they allow me to change the configuration and make a new system, but for their capabilities for dramatic movement - for example, on one song I use them coming through a laser effect, which I think looks spectacular."
At the end of the day, the production designer's gig is to merge all the available elements into a cohesive statement. There's absolutely no denying that Howard has succeeded. "I've always put together multimedia shows," he recalls, "even on other tours - with Queensryche we had a duet take place with the on-screen character and Geoff Tate.
"To me it's natural to combine the media - laser systems, lighting, video, etc. There's a tendency to use them as individual items, but it's the marriage of all disciplines into one snapshot - and I think it becomes much more effective that way."
In closing, Howard reiterates thanks to the team and crew that helped him achieve this marriage of media. "It's a really great group out here. I've been very happy with Premier Global - it's our second tour together, and I have to tell you, everything I put down on paper materialized on the first day of set-up! "
TP US thanks Howard, Production Manager Craig Blazier, the rest of the crew, and of course, Geddy, Alex and Neil for a night of music and an Anniversary Tour to remember.