The Killers Battle Born Tour

in Production Profile

The Killers Battle Born TourFor more than a decade, The Killers have been pumping out hard-driving, danceable and emotionally-charged rock music, with glimmers of techno pop. Through his eight years (and counting) as a member of the band’s production team, lighting designer/director Steven Douglas has kept the visuals as fresh as the music.

An “Uncluttered” Edict

For their 2012/2013 tour, in support of their album, Battle Born, the Killers issued an edict to Douglas: to keep the live show design “uncluttered” with a bold and stark approach. “The band “wanted to keep this tour really simple, visually,” he notes.

That approach also ties in, visually, with the Battle Born album art showing “mountains, big sky, and the Las Vegas desert,” adds Douglas. (The album title is the same as Nevada’s state motto.)

LD Steven DouglasDouglas got an advanced look at the album about three weeks prior to its Sept. 2012 release, and noted how its graphics tie in with the music as well, which leans away from techno and more toward “the Bruce Springsteen end of the musical spectrum.”

“Ironically, even though this is more of a stripped back design, it probably has the most gear we’ve worked with,” Douglas continues. “Last time when we went out, it was much smaller. We had really low-res video and not a lot of fixtures. We were playing arenas, using maybe 40 or 50 fixtures.

“For this tour, we are not using every light for every song,” Douglas notes. “Some songs are lit by spots, others by LED fixtures. Some songs are lit by wash lights and others by Sharpys. This time out, it’s about using gear sparingly.”

Along with the combination of a paradoxically bigger fixture count for the leaner visual design, Douglas faced the challenge of “drastically different” set lists with “a lot of re-programming” as the tour kicked off in U.S. and U.K. arenas last fall. The Killers have since whittled down their nightly performances to a total closer to 20 tunes.

“I’ve been with these guys a long time now — this is the fourth album I’ve done with them,” Douglas notes. “With each new tour that comes around, it’s a case of learning new songs and re-imagining the old ones, because you have already done three or four different tour versions of them.”

 The Killers Battle Born TourNew Fixtures, New Looks

One way to ensure that your design won’t be able to slouch toward complacency is to use new gear. “I’ve used the same combination of fixtures for the last three or four tours, and I was getting a little too comfortable with them,” Douglas says. “It all started to look the same.”

A visit to Martin Professional headquarters in Denmark opened his eyes to some new visual possibilities, and he ended up adding 22 of the new 1000W Martin MAC Viper Profiles into the Battle Born touring rig. “I saw them when they were in production — I was very impressed.”

The Viper’s virtues, Douglas says, include the “flatness” of its beam, distinctive gobos, fast zoom function, compact size, and the fixture’s ability to hold its own against powerful washes and vibrant video. “I can wash a whole stage with three Vipers,” he says, adding that “they really come in handy, because we really need something to stand up against the video screen.”

Along with the Viper Profiles, other fixtures framing the main video screen’s 6,000 NITs of potential light output include Martin’s MAC Auras, MAC 2000 Wash XBs, Atomic 3000 DMX strobes with Atomic Colors heads, Thomas 2-Lite DWEs and Clay Paky Sharpys.

The Killers Battle Born TourSplit Screen, Straight Truss

The screen itself, an XL Video-supplied semi-transparent (15.6mm pixel pitch) Pixled F-15 screen measuring 48 by 22 feet in size (WxH), splits horizontally during the course of the show. The upper 16-foot section flies up, separating from the six-foot-high floor-mounted portion.

The screen split reveals a straight truss with “Vipers top-rigged,” says Douglas, “and 14 MAC Auras outrigged from the scaffolding piping. This wall of moving lights gives the video screens dimension.”

The design evolved from earlier legs of the tour, where the split screen revealed seven Vipers mounted atop seven, three-meter-high upstage truss towers, which also secured the 14 MAC Auras. “The move toward straight trussing was done to allow for more crossover space upstage, behind the stage,” Douglas notes.

Video content reflects the band’s collaboration with top talents including Tim Burton, whose video for the song “Bones,” flashes on the upstage screen. Other content creators include Warren Fu and Chris Callister.

“Having a number of artists generating content takes a little bit of the burden off,” notes Douglas. “They’ll turn up with files that you can just drop into a media server. That helps, so I can concentrate my energy on other things. I don’t have much involvement with video creation, but I do get shown the rough cuts, just to make sure they all tie in color-wise with what we’re doing on stage.”

Show Control and Video

Douglas uses an MA Lighting grandMA2 Light console, with a second as backup, to control the lighting, video, live camera  feeds and lasers. The console is using 2.6.8 software and is connected to an ArKaos MediaMaster Pro 3 server via ArtNet protocol.

“We don’t really need another video person for this particular tour, but I’ve done [Killers] tours where we’ve had video teams at front of house. My front of house and media server tech [Mike Kapler], who keeps an eye on things for me, goes everywhere with us.”

For I-Mag, there are six static “lipstick” cams and four robo-cams. Working with Douglas, XL Video’s Chris Isaacson used a Grass Valley Kayak for switching, while also operating the four robo cams. The video design also allows for the use of a Thundering Jacks Video Dust system for distinctive looks.

The Killers Battle Born TourAlong with the flown and floor-mounted video screen elements, band risers are outfitted with a total of 618 Barco OLite video panels, and frontman Brandon Flowers’ keyboard stand is behind a lightning bolt-shaped set element.

In addition, the band is surrounded with two-meter tank trap stands (with scaffold piping) topped with ETC Source Four PARs, and eight of the nine d&b M2 monitor wedges are faced with XL Video Pixled F-11 video panels so they can blend in, chameleon-like, with the rest of the set.

“Some of the bandmembers don’t like in-ears monitors,” notes Douglas, “so we have wedges all over the stage.” While the video screens hiding them are usually understated, with “subtle texturing and coloring,” there are moments during the show “when they get pretty bright.”

The LED camoflage adds a new twist to previous monitor speaker cloaking strategies that included silver Mylar in 2005 and neon strip cases in 2009, Douglas says.

The “lightning bolt” keyboard stand (resembling the logo appearing on the cover of the Battle Born CD booklet) is another new twist on a Killers touring tradition.

“A unique keyboard stand is something we do for every tour,” Douglas says. “The bulbs in the lightning bolt are Philips Color Kinetics iColor Flex with marquee frosted lenses on them. There’s also LED tape lining the outline of the bolt.” That single set element requires about 190 DMX channels to operate, he adds.

A Fresh Approach

“The band wants to keep things interesting for themselves on stage and for the audience,” Douglas continues. “They don’t want to just churn out a particular set list every night. There’s something new to program almost every day, really. There are four or five versions of every song. If a song gets moved from the second spot to the ninth position in the setlist, the elements change, because in song two there’s a backdrop and no video, but in song nine, there’s a split video screen with a wall of lights revealed and no backdrop. You get the point. The band likes to change arrangements. Things are constantly changing.”

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Lighting Designer/Director: Steven Douglas

Lighting Co: Christie Lites

Video Co: XL Video

U.K. Shows:

Lighting Crew Chief: Andy Beller

Lighting Techs: Damo Coad, Mike Bowerman

Dimmers: Jim Mills

FOH/Media Server Tech: Pete Siller

U.S. Crew:

Lighting Crew Chief: Tim Solar

Lighting Techs: Olivier de Kegel, Allyson Solar, Pete Siller

FOH/Media Server Tech: Mike Kapler


2 MA Lighting grandMA2 Light consoles

37 Martin MAC Auras

30 Clay Paky Sharpys

27 Martin MAC 2000 Wash XBs

22 Martin MAC Viper Profiles

6 Martin MAC III truss spots

3 Martin MAC III Profiles

14 Martin Atomic 3000 DMX strobes w/Atomic Colors heads

10 Thomas DWE Molefay 2 Lites

7 Thomas DWE Molefay 4 Lites

8 ETC Source Four PARs (on tank trap stand)

4 MDG theOne smoke/haze machine

2 Pixled F-15 LED screens (48’x16’; 48’x6’)

618 Barco OLite LED video panels

1 ArKaos MediaMaster 3 with VideoMapper extension