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Foo Fighters ‘Concrete and Gold’ Tour

by Steve Jennings (Photos and Text) • in
  • Cover Story
  • January 2018
• Created: January 11, 2018

FOO FIGHTERS © Steve Jennings

Longtime lighting designer and director Dan Hadley is back on the road with Foo Fighters on their current tour in support of the band’s ninth studio album, Concrete and Gold. We caught the band at the beginning of the third U.S. leg of the tour. Singer-songwriter, musician Dave Grohl and bandmates Taylor Hawkins, Chris Shiflett, Nate Mendel, Pat Smear and Rami Jaffee put on an amazing, uplifting and energetic marathon three-hour show. “You’re always tempted to try and top the last design you did, but at this point there’s no re-inventing what the band does, which is play a long, loud, and live rock show,” says Hadley.

“We want to make sure that, first and foremost, we deliver what people want, so we can keep the audience from last time and hope to bring in some new folks, too. There’s a funny dance we do when we discuss the upcoming tours — everyone in the band has a great love and appreciation for all the great rock ‘n’ roll stagecraft, but we have to be aware of the ambiguous line that can be crossed, where you go from being in on the joke to being the punch line. We do a bit of joking around about all the ridiculous stuff we could do, and somewhere in that conversation we actually zero in on our comfort zone of how over-the-top we can go without betraying the essentials and feeling too much like goofballs.”

FOO FIGHTERS © Steve Jennings. Audience trusses played a big role.

‡‡         An Evolving Show Design

According to Dan, “We had a unique start this year, where we did a smattering of summer festivals, mostly in Europe before the record came out. We had to keep it pretty agile to allow for some late load-ins, and we also didn’t want to do something huge for a few weeks, and then have to do another different huge something once the record came out in October. Then again, we were also headlining the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury, so we didn’t want to turn up empty-handed.”

Vari-Lite VL6000 Beams shine from the floor. FOO FIGHTERS © Steve Jennings

According to Hadley (he tried to be honest), the original design didn’t fully gel with the band, so in the course of an overnight programming session in Latvia, they made some major changes — striking much of the dressing, increasing the I-Mag portion of the video wall, and adjusting the hang of the lighting rig. Hadley adds, “As if that challenge weren’t enough, the I-Mag was now being an increased portion of the show, and our screens maven Andy Babin (Control Freak Systems) took the plunge and reprogrammed all the I-Mag processing using Notch. It was a big jump, but my confidence in him nosed ahead of any apprehension, and it all worked. We haven’t looked back since. It’s such a powerful system that I know we’ve barely scratched the surface of Notch’s capabilities, but you also don’t use every ingredient in the market to make a great soup. We’re still finding the secrets and will continue to do so for the rest of the tour. It is endlessly remarkable.”

Some of the rig transferred between the two tours, including the MagicPanel FXs and Solaris Flare Q+ LR. But little of the actual programming was kept, as Dan wanted to give the new design its own clean slate.

FOO FIGHTERS © Steve Jennings

‡‡         Adding Lasers

One new element for Foo Fighters is the addition of lasers, notes Hadley. “I had the opportunity to work with Howard Ungerleider and Production Design International on a small show in 2016 and was easily convinced that he and his team would deliver something unique. A few conversations led us to having three systems — two on the upstage corners of the stage as usual, and one on the front truss pointing toward the band and backline. The operator, Scott Wilson, wasted no time in exceeding my expectations, and he continues to surprise me with new looks as we go on.”

FOO FIGHTERS © Steve Jennings

Howard Ungerleider mentions that he met Dan back more than 10 years ago, when he was lighting Queens of the Stone Age. “We met though some mutual friends in the Tool camp and have just become friends over the years. I was thrilled this year when he called to say he had a place in his design for some lasers. Everything I hear about the total show is amazing and PDI is just glad to be a part of Dan’s tool box and give him the support he needs.”

Hadley presented the band with renderings of three entirely different concepts. “When I got to the one with the video diamond lowered into the roof position, they all locked on it, and the decision was made.” He then had to work out how to get the drum kit tucked in tight for that portion, so Eric Pearce and the SGPS team put together an elevator to get it down, and a creeper deck to get it forward. “I asked SGPS to send the larger size elevators in hopes that we could get Taylor to go for the big elevator gag and get him centered in front of the video diamond. Luckily, he went for it.” The tour recently added two Chauvet Geyser smoke machines to give it a blast-off effect, per Taylor’s request.

FOO FIGHTERS © Steve Jennings

‡‡         The Lighting

Hadley broke one of his own guidelines about keeping the number of fixture types down on this design. “The patch looks like a warehouse inventory sheet,” he admits, adding that he loves the MagicPanel FX, especially its zoom. “The animated looks that are possible across your grid is a lot of fun, and the square face of it fits in with the rest of the 90-degree elements of the design” (which originates from the album cover and FF logo for this record).

FOO FIGHTERS © Steve Jennings

Along with the standard front truss, the tour has two audience trusses with Solaris Flare LR Q+, PRG Bad Boys, and Chauvet Strike 1 LED wash lights. “Possibly the second most common phrase heard from Dave’s mouth (coming in behind ‘motherf****r’) is ‘Dan, light ‘em up,’ as he likes to see the crowd and keep an eye on the mood of the room. With a show clocking in at upward of three hours, a flashing row of 8-lite moles on the front truss gets exasperating, so I was intent on having multiple options on filling his order. The Strike 1 is a nice fixture, even dropping the color temperature at low intensity, you’d never know it was LED if I didn’t strobe them once in a while. The Solaris Flares are an amazing tool for saturating the air and audience, with the option for sudden abuse always there, and the Bad Boys will get into all the corners and make sure I have everyone lit up when necessary, also adding motion into the mix with their nice gobo selection.

“For followspots, we’ve exclusively employed PRG’s GroundControl system, using five Best Boys on the front truss, one in the grid for backlight and a GC Long Throw on a truss above FOH to cover the ever-mobile Mr. Grohl. The ability to have such control of intensities and limit spill is a dream. I can get the stage to much lower levels while still keeping enough light on the guys to get a camera shot. The floor fixture package is a danger to retinas, with 12 [Vari-Lite] VL6000 and 16 [GLP] JDC1, I can’t wait to see them play in the stadiums.”

FOO FIGHTERS © Steve Jennings

‡‡         The Video

“Our ‘flying diamond’ is Winvision Air 9 video tiles, and the back wall is a ROE Hybrid 18,” says Hadley. This gives him another option for blasting the crowd with light. The spotlight pixels come in really handy in one song for a star field, and gives the designer some great options for layering looks on top of one another. The pitch difference between the two walls forces additional depth when they’re stacked in front of each other, and paints quite a pretty picture.

“Andy Babin controls video on my left, and Scott Wilson does lasers on my right at FOH, with Colin Nevins running automation from stage right and taking cues over headsets. Then back in the bowels of the venue somewhere sits our video director, Josh Adams, serving up all manner of tasty shots for Babin to put up on the screens. It’s great to have such level-headed pros around, especially when things can and do change in an instant. Dave will sometimes even try to stump the band with which song he’s about to start, so you can imagine the level of calm needed to keep up with that, from a production standpoint.”

Electronic Countermeasures made the custom video content, “which is not an easy task for this band, or this designer.” adds Hadley. He was overjoyed with the art they provided, as the band is not about sunsets and road signs and jellyfish. It’s really tricky to find the creative pocket that works for the band and doesn’t force some banal narrative, which the designer feels can easily betray the audience’s own personal connection with the songs.

“It can be a challenge to get this band talking about production early. I got the first kernels of album art in May, by which time we already had the festival design built and loaded in for programming. I took that into my lab at home and toyed with it, using bits of foam core and paper on a [scaled-down] stage mockup, until I found concepts that I liked enough to start doing the more boring Vectorworks rendering. If it sounds like arts and crafts, that’s because it is. There are pipe cleaners and straws and hot glue guns involved.”

FOO FIGHTERS © Steve Jennings

‡‡         On their Toes

Hadley has a cue sequence for the songs that he knows will get played each show. “But even within those songs, the band will take it in a different direction without warning, so I always have to leave myself an out or some way to work my way around what they’re doing. All effects get linked to speed masters so I can follow them, and I know very well where the GOTO button is in case I need to jump around the sequence. It’s because of this that I originally wondered about foot pedals, which inspired the construction of a foot switch and a volume type pedal that I use, built by Breck Haggerty (video designer/director for the band Tool, head of Diagonal Research, NEV System creator, all around smart guy badass). I have them controlling button 101 and fader 1 respectively on the MA2, which depending on the song will control a speed master, a ‘Blueout’ cue, a bump, a stab, etc. Basically, they are tools to free up my hands in case I need to get myself out of a tight spot without too much visual carnage.”

In addition to being lucky enough to work for a great live band that keeps it interesting from night to night, Dan praises the talents and tireless efforts of a dream crew. Spearheaded by Bret Chin-Quan and Andy Pollard (PM and SM),” A great attitude runs throughout — hard working, good humored, and serious about delivering the show that the fans made an effort to come see.”

Foo Fighters Concrete and Gold Tour

Crew

  • Lighting Designer and Director: Dan Hadley
  • Lighting: PRG
  • Lighting Crew Chief: Jason Winfree
  • Lighting Techs: Jason Fugitt, Douglas Eder, Mark Chancellor,
  • Eric Marshall
  • Video Maven: Andy Babin
  • Video Director: Josh Adams
  • Video Brawn: PRG Nocturne
  • Video Brains: Control Freak Systems
  • Video Crew Chief: Sean Harper
  • LED Tech: Steven “Waffle” Lemahieu
  • Video Engineer: Dave Vega
  • Handheld Camera: Tim ‘Fly’ Clohessy
  • Video Crew: Tom Mathews, Colton Carrol, Chris Campbell
  • Tour Manager: Gus Brandt
  • Production Manager: Bret Chin-Quan
  • Stage Manager: Andy Pollard
  • Production Assistant: Salar Rajabnik
  • Production Coordinator: Jane Donald
  • Riggers: Jim Allison, Matt Durham
  • Staging: SGPS
  • SGPS Automation Programmer: Colin Nevins
  • SGPS Automation Crew Chief: Len Purciful
  • SGPS Crew: Derek Purciful, ‘Sonic’ Veal, Alex Ward
  • Carpenters: Rommel Martinez, John Gordon, Frank Fucile
  • Electrician: Matt Dixon
  • Lasers: Production Design International
  • Laser Operator: Scott Wilson
  • Kabuki/Soft Goods: Sew What? Inc.
  • Trucking: Upstaging

Gear

Lighting:

  • 2          grandMA2 lighting consoles
  • 36        Ayrton MagicPanel FX fixtures
  • 17        PRG Best Boys
  • 12        PRG ICON Edges
  • 16        PRG Bad Boys
  • 6          PRG Ground Control Best Boys
  • 1          PRG Ground Control Long Throws
  • 27        Solaris Flare Q+ LR’s
  • 16        GLP JDC1’s
  • 6          GLP X4L’s
  • 24        GLP X4 Bar20’s
  • 52        Chauvet Strike 1’s
  • 2          Elation Cuepix WW2’s
  • 12        Vari-Lite 6000’s
  • 3          PDI Laser Systems
  • 4          DF-50 Hazers
  • 2          Glaciator LSG’s
  • 4          JEM ZR44 Smoke Machines
  • 2          Chauvet Geysers

Video:

  • 1          32’ x 64’ ROE Hybrid 18 wall
  • 1          20’x20’ WinVision Air9 on custom flying frame
  • 1          12’x16’ WinVision Air9 I-Mag screen
  • 1          disguise gx1 server
  • 1          Notch Live Video FX Engine

 

More Foo Fighters Concrete and Gold tour photos by Steve Jennings:

 

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