Pet Shop Boys 'Super' Tour

by Steve Jennings (Photo and Text)
in Designer Insights
Lasers and Martin MAC Vipers break up the beams. Pet Shop Boys 'Super' tour photo by Steve Jennings.
Lasers and Martin MAC Vipers break up the beams. Pet Shop Boys 'Super' tour photo by Steve Jennings.

The Pet Shop Boys’ Super tour has been wowing fans in the U.S. and Europe with visual splendor from the creative minds of Es Devlin, the tour’s creative director; and Rob Sinclair, the lighting designer. Both have been collaborators on past Pet Shop Boys tours with the band’s own Neil Tennant (vocals & guitar) and Chris Lowe (keyboards). We spoke at length with Devlin, Sinclair and Jack James, the video & projection creative director with Really Creative Media, and touched base with ER Productions’ Andrew Turner and Marc Webber on the laser looks for this tour (see sidebar, page 28) which will continue into 2017.

Solaris Flares dotted the stage. Pet Shop Boys 'Super' tour photo by Steve Jennings.

Es Devlin

Creative Director

“Neil and Chris told me Super is about the depth that resides in surface. So the show design is based on this principle. I’ll start with the music and the brief from the band, then I come back to them with initial images, references and sketches, and from there I evolve it with my team into a preliminary design, which we then get costed by various builders. We then refine once we realize the first version is impossible — which it usually is. I mainly work in sketches, cellophane tape and string to begin with, and then I hand it over to my much more sophisticated studio team who work up CG models and renders.

“Often the initial ideas get battered into submission by the brutalities of touring pop, and it’s punching parameters. However, I’ve learned to hold onto the fundamental intent of the design when the peripheral ideas get washed away in the process, which often leads to a more streamlined gesture anyway.

“It’s always a collaborative effort. Lighting designer Rob Sinclair and I worked closely on all aspects of the design as well as working with Ben Cash on the lighting programming and cues. Also valuable to the team was stage director Lynne Page and our visionary costume designer, Jeffrey Bryant. I’m very happy with the outcome.”

A Unique look from Creative Designer Es Devlin. Pet Shop Boys 'Super' tour photo by Steve Jennings.

Rob Sinclair

Lighting Designer

With a band like the Pet Shop Boys, things always evolve and there’s no set palette. With new arrangements of their songs it’s always a blank sheet as the content, costumes, set, vibe and songs are always changing, as lighting designer Rob Sinclair explains.

“The object is always to be different and better. It’s a challenging but great working environment, and nobody rests on their laurels. Pretty much everything goes through Es as the Creative Director. She’s the hub of the wheel and makes all the big decisions. She has a remarkable talent for spotting what is good and what needs to be changed. Quite often, one has to make bold decisions to shift gears or course
dramatically, but it’s always for the better. I’ve learned a lot from Es about many, many things, but I think the main one is not to live with something that isn’t quite right. Always have the courage to change the picture for the better.”

Pet Shop Boys 'Super' tour photo by Steve Jennings.

On programming and directing the PSB show...

“Ben Cash did all the legwork for me in rehearsals, and I’m massively grateful for all his patience and hard work. He did all the programming and timecoding. Then, at the directors’ helm, is Jon Barker, lighting the show again and doing a great job as ever. They are both immensely skilled designers in their own right, and so much of the credit for the show should be taken by them.

“The whole show runs to code. We wanted something that could never be run by people pushing buttons. The interplay between lights, video and lasers is so tight that code is the only way.”

Colored balls decending. Pet Shop Boys 'Super' tour photo by Steve Jennings.

The tour has custom LED rings from Total Solutions.

“The LED rings are great. We never see them in the touring show, and only briefly in the original Royal Opera House show. They give a wonderful diffuse range of colors behind the revue drape and look beautiful. Otherwise we’ve stayed with some old
favorites, as this show needs to tour worldwide and I needed to maximize my use of a budget. We have MAC Viper Profiles and Performances and a lot of Solaris Flares for that wonderful field of color they give.”

ER Productions provided the incredible lasers. Pet Shop Boys 'Super' tour photo by Steve Jennings.

On balancing the lights, projection and lasers...

“Projection shows are always tricky, but the simple rule is to always make the projection king when it needs to be, and attenuate all the other levels to meet it. It can’t become a lighting, video, lasers pissing contest… I’ve been trying to break the laws of physics for years, and I still can’t quite manage to do it.

“It’s always a pleasure to work with the band, Neil and Chris, Es and long suffering tour manager Andy Crookston. I’ll also keep thanking Ben Cash, Jon Barker and Mike Bowerman [the returning crew chief] to the end of my days. I adore them all!”

Six Panasonic projectors were used for video. Pet Shop Boys 'Super' tour photo by Steve Jennings.

Jack James

Video & Projection Creative Director

Really Creative Media managed the video and projection side for the PSB Super Tour. Jack James, creative director at Really Creative Media, managed the overall vision of the tour, while James Adkins is currently serving as video director, managing production of the live shows.

“During show rehearsal period, we made use of Blackmagic Design’s HyperDeck Studio Pro recorders to record numbers with timecode. This helped all the tour departments enormously with timecode-accurate references of what happened and what to change.”

James used six Panasonic PT-DZ21K 20,000 lumen projectors to create the stunning visuals, with a mixture of lenses to suit different venues for the projectors while touring. Two of Really Creative Media’s custom Catalyst V5 media servers ran the content. The media servers are based on Apple’s flagship Mac Pro 6.1, and they output frame synchronized HD-SDI signals. A grandMA2 command wing controlled the servers over Art-Net.

“We also are using our own Timecode Changeover Device. Designed to help with programming changed on the fly, it allows for changes between local timecode from a programmer’s laptop and with Production’s timecode. Monitoring and changing the TC source really helps us get frame-accurate programming changes done without bothering other departments for yet another timecode play, or having to wait for everyone else to be ready.”

Outsatnding laser breakups from ER Productions. Pet Shop Boys 'Super' tour photo by Steve Jennings.

Lasers Add to the Looks

ER Productions are a big part of the tour with their stunning laser content throughout the show. ER recently were awarded four times at this year’s prestigious ILDA Awards ceremony in the Best Live Stage Show category. Andrew Turner designed the laser content for the tour.

“We devised a way of splitting one of our new Cyclones in half, situating each part behind the white, spherical pods, which contained the Boys” says Turner.

Another visual feature was an array of colored LED rings. To give the rings a glossy, shimmering finish, ER mapped laser systems to the automated LED rings, controlling the reflections in order to create the impressive sun-halo effect seen on stage.

“We’ve worked with the Pet Shop Boys and their talented production and management teams for many years now, and it’s always a pleasure,” says Marc Webber, ER co-founder. “Creating a look that’s a perfect balance between art-installation and pop is challenging, but our technician/laser programmer Tom Vallis and laser designer/programmer Andrew Turner did an outstanding job as always.”

Pet Shop Boys Super Tour

Crew

  • Creative Director: Es Devlin
  • Lighting Designer: Rob Sinclair
  • Lighting Director: Jon Barker
  • Lighting Programmer: Ben Cash
  • Lighting Co: Upstaging/Dan Curley
  • Lighting Crew Chief: Michael Bowerman
  • Lighting Techs: Travis Robinson, Colleen Wittenberg
  • Video Co: Really Creative Media
  • Video & Projection Director: Jack James
  • Video Design: Luke Halls, Hal Rosner
  • Video & Projection Director: James Adkins
  • Custom LED Rings: Total Solutions
  • Tour Manager: Andy Crookston
  • Production Manager: Olli Windprechtinger
  • Production Coordinator: Danielle Dowden
  • Stage Director: Lynne Page
  • Stage Manager: Ringo Landowsky
  • Lasers: ER Productions/Marc Webber
  • Laser Designer & Programmer: Andrew Turner
  • Laser Programmer & Tech: Tom Vallis
  • Set Carpenter: Michael McGuire
  • Trucking: Upstaging

Gear

  • 2               grandMA2 Full Size Lighting consoles
  • 23           Martin MAC Viper Profiles
  • 18           Martin MAC Performances
  • 7               Martin MAC Auras
  • 26           TMB Solaris Flares
  • 6               Altman Q-Lites
  • 4               Custom LED Rings (Total Solutions)
  • 6               Panasonic PT-DZ21K 20,000 lumen projectors
  • 2               Custom Catalyst V5 media servers
  • 4               Reel FX DF-50 Hazers

More tour photos by Steve Jennings: