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Comer, who is also serving as tour lighting director, programmer and stage manager, says the “greening” of Browne began four years ago with then-LD David Davidian, production manager Dennis Scrimo and Browne himself, when each PAR can was switched out for an LED unit. Comer was the lighting tech then, but rose through the ranks when Davidian left to pursue various video projects (he’s now out again with Rush).
Comer started out in the industry as a sound guy, but found it “too technical” for his tastes, and opened his eyes to the creative possibilities of light. “Lighting is an art form, an artistic release. It clicked. I saw the big picture.”
After tech-ing a few years, he became lighting director at a house gig in Indiana, then hit the road with Wynonna Judd and Jack Johnson, with whom he still works. Jackson Browne is his main gig at least six months of the year.
Besides saving energy, Comer can pack more LED fixtures into his restricted eight feet of truck space. “I’m 100 percent LED on tour, although I do use the house front lights. I appreciate LEDs in a different way. Their intensities snap on. LEDs are more functional — you get more punch with LEDs. They have an extensive color palette and color intensity.”
Working with an all-LED rig has also changed his perspective on how massive lighting rigs as a whole can be pared down. “I see shows with 200 lights in the rig, and only half of them would be on, and many were not used until the encore,” he says. “With LEDs you don’t have to have everything on all the time like moving lights,” he adds.
Comer says he and Browne agree on a lighting philosophy. “I light the music rather than the artist — I don’t like flashing-in-your-face lighting. At first, Jackson didn’t want any rotating gobos or strobes. He didn’t want light to be on cue; he wanted it to be music driven. He would tell the spotlight ops to turn them off, as he felt like a train was coming at him. Finally, we just cut spotlights three years ago.
“Jackson stays in two positions all night: on the guitar or at the piano. So we do soft angles on him. He wants to look good and wants no lighting distractions from the music. Jackson trusts me.”
Each night is different. Browne might change his tune with an audience song shout-out, switching guitars or leaving the songwriter stool to perch at the piano if he pleases.
“I have no idea what’s coming. He’s got 200 songs in his catalog, and he’ll take audience requests. I program only two songs — ‘Running on Empty’ and ‘Take it Easy.’ I programmed intensity groups, but the rest I can do on the fly. I thrive on that.”
Browne is touring with five other musicians, who leave the stage or disappear in darkness, depending on the mood of the song — so the lighting does the same. “Darkness is a big thing in theatrical shows. Darkness needs to be used as a tool. It’s just as much your friend as the light is,” Comer says.
When he has time, Comer attends other shows for inspiration. “I’ve always looked up to LD Chris Kuroda of Phish. He accents what’s happening with the band, he likes to make a few lights look huge.”
What about his own shows? Any memorable moments over the years? “Jack Johnson in Hyde Park in London,” Comer says. “It was huge. The house lights went down, and Jack hit the stage. It was a ‘tingles down your spine’ moment. I felt a sense of responsibility toward all the people there for the show. You feel a sense of what the artist feels.”
Jackson Browne’s U.S. acoustic tour runs into 2013.
“Movember,” held in November, is a mustache-growing charity event to raise funds and awareness of men’s health issues, specifically cancer. Some members of the Swedish House Mafia (SHM) crew have taken on the challenge to become “Movember Mo Bros,” sprouting creative facial hair to raise money for the charity.
Tour manager Michael “Curly” Jobson, whose father-in-law was diagnosed with prostate cancer, encouraged the crew to join him in making the upper lip a no-shave zone for the month. Joining Jobson were LD Ian Tomlinson, FOH engineer Wayne ‘Rabbit’ Sargent, monitor engineer Carlos Herreros, production manager Mark Reuben, advance production manager Robin Scott, stage manager Rob Lister and VJ Sam Hodgkiss. “When Curly raised the idea, we could not say no to creepy faces and crew bonding,” says Hodgkiss. Between them, they hoped to raise more than £5,000 ($8,000) for the cause.
LD Tom Kenny has designed The Who’s Quadrophenia tour, which started Nov. 1 and runs to Feb. 26, 2013. The band performs 1973’s rock opera, Quadrophenia, in its entirety, along with other classics. Original surviving members Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend are joined by other musicians including Ringo Starr’s son, Zak Starkey, on drums. Kenny will miss a few shows while he prepares for the (Dec. 12) 12-12-12 Concert for Sandy Relief at Madison Square Garden (also featuring The Who). “We came up with the look for Concert for NYC in a minute, so this will be a no brainer,” he says, of the benefit concert (also staged at MSG) in response to 9/11, staged on 10-20-01.
Olivia’s More than Mellow
Olivia Newton-John may be associated by many with a mellow musical vibe, but André Petrus, LD/programmer from her ongoing North American tour, is going beyond shades of beige. “I wanted to make Olivia’s show pop,” he says. “When I programmed it, I really wanted people to get a real concert experience and take her production to the next level. I think we really accomplished that — we have received nothing but compliments, and Olivia claims this is the best her show has ever looked.”
Petrus began working with Olivia in August when the tour started; it wraps up in mid-December. A short run in Europe is planned for early March 2013. Production manager is Stephen Smith.
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