Michael Bublé’s "To Be Loved" Tour

in Production Profile

Michael Buble tour photo by Lauren MitchellRight up there with “jumbo shrimp” and “army intelligence,” the phrase “arena intimacy” appears to be an oxymoron of head-scratching proportion. Yet this skeptic was won over one Saturday night in September when Michael Bublé’s To Be Loved tour stopped to play St. Louis’ Scottrade Center.

While no stranger to arenas (Bublé noted at this show that St. Louis was the first arena he played back in 2006), he told the St. Louis Post Dispatch that he was purposely making this tour “more music-heavy and more into the production — it’s a massive production, my biggest yet.”

Indeed. The set, designed by Stufish and built by Tait, supported 22 musicians. Along with plenty of pyro and moving lights, the show was animated by Solotech’s SL-Pro 8mm video wall — close to 1,800 square feet — in a seven-part tracking configuration.

Tait flippers moved in wavelike patterns. Photo by Lauren MitchellOther automated elements include Tait’s 13 kinetic stage “flippers,” each about 3.5 by 12 feet in size, that angle upward from their flush position to the stage and can move in a rapid-yet-smooth wave-like pattern. The stage also features rolling mobilator band risers that bring backing musicians in and out of focus during the course of the show.

The main stage appears on one end of the oval hockey rink; the B-stage, which encircles the FOH tech crews, is at the other. The 45-foot-wide-and-deep B-stage design, featuring scenic LED trim, incorporates custom stairs ascending from the 12-foot catwalk to the eight-foot upper level, all designed to put the artist and fans in closer proximity.

Production manager Dean Roney, left, with video director Kevin CarswellDean Roney, who first worked with Bublé back in 2005 and was there for his first arena show, is the production manager. Roney had gotten off the road, taking on the position of VP of touring for Solotech, but Bublé personally asked him to come back out with him. Solotech is providing the tour’s video and sound gear. Christie Lites is the lighting vendor, and the pyro company is Pyrotek Special Effects.

“I haven’t been ‘on the bus’ since handling Britney Spear’s 2009 tour,” Roney says. “And while sleeping on the bus again took some getting use to, it’s been an amazing experience, with a great crew. The tour is going smoothly — which is something, because it’s the biggest tour I’ve ever done.”

LD Kurt WagnerOrganic Growth

The creative team huddled in London where the entire show was put together in a mere three weeks. Bublé sold out 10 consecutive shows at the O2 Arena before the rig was scaled back a bit for five shows at the O2 in Dublin.

Now the tour is making its way across North America, wrapping up at Oakland’s Oracle Arena on Nov. 30. An international leg follows in January 2014, with more shows in Europe and Australia.

Show co-designer/LD Kurt Wagner has been in the business 25 years, most of it spent in Australia and Asia. Wagner eventually returned to his hometown of Vancouver, and first worked with Bublé for the It’s Time tour in 2005.

“This is my fourth world tour [with Bublé], and my time has been really interesting because the growth has been really organic,” he says. “His is not an act one have thought would develop into being arena-level, but Michael has brought something back to concerts: the entertainment aspect. The show is about emotions — happy, sad — and it’s quality from start to finish.”

Michael Buble tour photo by Ric LipsonWagner credits Stufish, led by Ric Lipson (company founder Mark Fisher passed away in June), and Tait, led by James “Winky” Fairorth, for creating an amazing set. “They had the ball rolling when I became involved and threw my two cents in,” Wagner says. “Then they brought in Sam Pattinson from the Third Company to create original video content, and the creativity really flowed. It was tight to come in three weeks before the first O2 show, but it came together.”

There were several other ways the visual team were able to effectively transform a cavernous hockey arena into a hip and stylin’ lounge. “The difference with this show is, we brought in more of the audience,” Wagner says. “It was easy for me because, first of all, as a performer, Michael breaks the wall. That’s important, because some artists create a wall, but he wants that interaction.”

Early on, Bublé got the audience on his side by complimenting the St. Louis Blues NHL hockey team and pointing out that Blues legend Brett Hull was in the audience (house lights came on for that one). Bublé constantly made eye contact with individuals, joked about one dancing with his beer, and even brought siblings up on stage. This is all in addition to venturing into the audience to get to the “B Stage,” where opening act Naturally 7 also performed.

A catwalk between the main and B stages enabled the artist to interact with the crowd. Photo by Lauren MitchellPlaying with the House Lights

Whether they were illuminating the band, the artist, or those in the audience, there were plenty of lights in the toolbox. The rig included plenty of Martin gear — 141 MAC Vipers, 36 MAC 2000 Wash XBs and 14 MAC 3000s — along with 174 Chroma-Q Color Force 12s, all driven grandMA2 consoles. Lighting vendor Christie Lites also supported the needs of the tour with its swing wing truss.

“I’ve been using [Christie Lites] since I moved back to Vancouver,” Wagner says. “I like that they are just a lighting company, and their consistency. I pick up 200 lights of a brand and model in Orlando, or Toronto, or New York, and it’s all the same quality. I maybe go through needing to replace one lamp out of doing five shows a week.” He adds that their modest selection of lights is actually a plus. “I have learned to respect that — their ammo is keeping the product in great condition.

“The new Martin Vipers blow me away,” Wagner adds. “The trim is at 75 feet in the air, and the reliability aspect is so important to me. You don’t want guys fixing lights all the time on the road — you spend all day doing that and it doesn’t leave time for your creative side.”

Special effects helped punctuate the show's big moments. Photo by Lauren MitchellThe show as a whole had an Art Deco theme, which Wagner reinforced with a series of stylish monochromatic looks — red for “Fever,” blue for “Haven’t Met You Yet,” and other songs dominated by orange, purple and green hues. “We like to keep the color palette simple to make sure Michael is always the main focus,” Wagner says. “I’ve always believed in keeping that color palette to as few colors as possible.”

Wagner also made audience lighting an important part of the show, helping remove another barrier between Bublé and his fans — although it’s not as easy as one might think to incorporate cues involving a venue’s house lighting system into a staged production’s lighting design. “It has been a challenge, but we seem to be winning the battle these days. Once the venues see what we’re trying to do, they seem to be on board.”

Another aspect to the show that Wagner thinks about is the vibe that the audience gets while finding their seats. “I really want to make sure the venues had a sexy visual as people entered — something that created a feeling of anticipation.”

Michael Buble tour photo by Ric LipsonMoving Stages, Moving Video

The Martin-dominated lighting rig, as noted, wasn’t the only dynamic aspect to the show’s visual design. Staging and video also got to stretch their wings and legs, respectively.

A seamless part of the show, the brass and rhythm section would be upstage for the big parts of the show, and sometimes while they were, the downstage kinetic video flippers from Tait were moving like a wave, making the brass section disappear completely. Then, suddenly, the screens were gone and the entire band was whisked downstage.

Michael Buble tour photo by Lauren MitchellThe 13 downstage “flippers” are artfully integrated into the main stage, providing a powerful tool for the visual team, particularly Pattinson, whose arresting and imaginative video content created set pieces that wowed the audience. On “Cry Me A River,” it gave a James Bond-esque feel that the audience clearly ate up.

Video world with Kevin CarswellBehind the visual magic is Tait/FTSI’s Navigator Control System, which maps the movement of the flippers and outputs data directly to the video controller. The communication software allows the show’s video content to automatically adjust depending on the flipper placement. Bianca Mauro handles many of the show’s automated elements.

Solotech’s LED video elements were another big attention-grabber. The panels moved in the air, changing the look of the show song-to-song, and serving as yet another dynamic canvas for Pattinson’s classically-themed video content.

Asst. Lighting Director/Programmer Gary (Sport) Waldie“We’ve been using Solotech for the last two tours as our vendor for video, and when they showcased this fantastic new product for us, we were excited by the opportunity of being the first tour to take it out on the road,” says video director Kevin Carswell, who has been working with video for 20 years, a director for 17. Carswell, who has also been supporting shows for Metallica and Beyoncé, has been with Bublé for seven years. “This is my third tour with him, and it’s always a pleasure,” he says. “He’s quite the artist to work with.”

Along with the custom video content developed for the tour, I-Mag plays a key role in terms of putting a larger-than-life Bublé “in the room,” Carswell notes. “Michael is one of those performers that everyone wants to be able to see.” The Solotech-supplied video system also includes d3 media servers, Christie’s Spyder X20 for processing, Barco’s FSN-150 for switching and a full complement of cameras and lenses for I-Mag.

“This tour, Michael added a string section, and it’s a breath of fresh air, creatively and musically,” Carswell says. “We’ve had a lot of fun during that four-song segment, because the violins allow me to go at it at a different angle.”

Wagner credits his fellow crew members, most of whom hail from either the U.S., Canada or the U.K., along with production manager Roney’s prowess at fostering a “a good family environment — we all pitch in, no matter what is needed.” Each night, the crew tweaks the show. “The best show is still to come,” says Carswell.


CREW

Production Manager: Dean Roney

Lighting and Show Director: Kurt Wagner

Asst. Lighting Director/Programmer: Gary “Sport” Waldie

Lighting Crew Chief: Ryan Kell

Lighting Techs: Darren Knorr, Dan Devloo, Kelsey King,  Alex Jeffrey,  Matt Richard, Arnold Pereira

Motion Control: Bianca Mauro

Video Director: Kevin Carswell

Video Crew Chief/Engineer: Serge Bergeron

LED Lead/Camera Op: Martin Perreault

Video Servers: Sebastian Cousineau

LED Tech/Camera Op: Barrie Roney

Projection/Camera Op: Louis Lefebvre

Camera Ops: Marco Magnan, Lenyn Barahona

Lighting Co: Christie Lites

Video/Sound Co: Solotech

Set Design: Stufish/Ric Lipson

Set Fabrication/Automation: Tait/FTSI

Pyro: Pyrotek Special Effects


GEAR

3 grandMA2 consoles; 4 NPUs

3 d3 media servers

141 Martin MAC Vipers

36 Martin MAC 2000 Wash XBs

14 Martin MAC 3000s

12 Martin MAC Auras

174 Chroma-Q Color Force 12s

66 Christie Swing Wing Truss (10’)

8 Christie Swing Wing Truss (5’)

63 Chain Master 1-ton motors

7 Reel EFX DF-50 hazers


VIDEO GEAR

Solotech SL-Pro 8mm video wall (33’ x 54.6’)

Christie Spyder X20 (video processing)

Barco FSN-150 (video switching)

Ki-Pro and Blackmagic Design: H.264 (recording)

Sony HXC-100 cameras w/Fujinon lenses

Panasonic AW-HE120 and HE60 robo cams

Toshiba IK-HR1S POV camera