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Tool “Fear Inoculum” Tour

Rob Ludwig • February 2020Production Profile • February 9, 2020

Tool “Fear Inoculum” tour photo by Todd Kaplan

How does one describe attending a Tool concert to someone who hasn’t been to one? Concertgoers on sites such as Twitter have proclaimed, “It’s a feast for the ears, eyes and soul!”

So it follows that, in addition to musicianship, there are three elements that everyone always seems to mention when discussing a Tool show: lighting, video and lasers. And like all great bands that are a sum of their musical parts, the production value of a Tool concert can be traced back to three talented individuals who are responsible for lighting, video and lasers: Mark “Junior” Jacobson, Breckinridge Haggerty and Scott Wilson, respectively.

No tour does it quite like Tool. At most concerts, followspots or hard edge movers are used to highlight band members for most of their time on stage. But for many years, one of the band members wished to remain hidden from the eye — just catching ambient light for the most part. Vocalist Maynard James Keenan welcomed the dark spaces on stage. Times have changed on the current tour.

Jacobson, who has been Tool’s production designer for 23 years now, expands on his lighting. “After 18 years of requesting no light, the timing this time around just felt right to start lighting Maynard. He has come to me and requested certain times that he wishes to be lit. I think if he is expecting the light to come on, it’s fine. We try not to surprise him and throw him off balance.”

While Keenan has been known to be in character when he hits the stage, his unique look with a Mohawk and makeup is now brought to light. Still, I-Mag video is rarely used to capture the band members on the video wall. Original content is an integral part an evening with Tool.

The custom string curtain takes light and projection well. Tool “Fear Inoculum” tour photo by Todd Kaplan

‡‡         Looking at Lasers

Unlike many other tours, lasers are not used exclusively for rear sourced eye-candy effects. Rather, the design called for lasers to be placed in positions that allow cues to be written for projection purposes, blurring the lines between laser and video content.

The lasers are supplied by Howard Ungerleider’s Production Design International. PDI was one of the first production supply houses in North America to offer more than dry hire laser equipment to large scale tours. Mark expands on his long relationship with Howard. “I was using Howard’s lasers dating back to my Limp Bizkit and Linkin Park days. So 13 years ago, when Tool decided to employ lasers on their 10,000 Days tour, it was only natural we turned to the Toronto-based company for their expertise.” They have been working together ever since and the results speak for themselves.

Wilson expands on his work. “With this act, you have that freedom to know that you can do something new in the show, put something fresh out there, and you know that you’re not necessarily going to get criticized for it. (Instead), you’ll get good feedback and get direction from two other people that you’re working with to create this visual experience.” Wilson is aided on tour by his longtime PDI colleague Brian Wilkinson as his laser tech.

Tool “Fear Inoculum” tour photo by Todd Kaplan

‡‡         Video Ventures

On August 30, 2019, after 13 years without the release of new material, Tool dropped a monster of an album, Fear Inoculum. The highly anticipated release topped the Billboard charts. Earlier in the month, (around the same time their entire digital catalog was finally added to most streaming services), a limited deluxe edition was made available for pre-order. It included a 4-inch LCD screen that featured new video content that would also be used on the forthcoming tour. The hype machine was firing on all cylinders, and fans were ready for what promised to be at least a year to a year-and-a-half of live dates.

PLSN caught Tool early in the tour, at Little Caesars Arena in Detroit, at a time when Jacobson and his team were still busy merging their looks into parts of the show. Haggerty, in particular, was still working the video side on his off-days and felt he had more work to do. He’s busy fine tuning the updated playback system he’s using.

On top of the creative collaboration, Haggerty has developed new video technologies for Tool over the years. He is the owner/operator of all the video equipment at FOH at this point, developing everything himself. This includes the new NEV9 Universal Controller that he’s built with Bill Hewlett. “We’re still developing the NEV series of DMX video controllers with both NEV8 and NEV9 working on this show,” Haggerty says. “Now I’ve partnered with Derivative in Toronto to develop my own media server called LUPO, based on their TouchDesigner toolset. It’s been a long road but the results are amazing. Instead of forming the show to fit an existing server, I was able to build a server to fit the show.”

As for his source of new content, Breck notes, “I’ve been working with a number of extremely talented content creators over the last year. Some with Matt Santoro, who created the video inside the CD package, and mainly Dominic Hailstone, who is directing new content for ‘Fear,’ ‘Pneuma’ and ‘Invincible.’ We’ve gone through a number of revisions, and it is maturing very well. In every department, every show, all three of us have improved things, fixed things, and usually added some new element. It’s a constant evolution.”

Tool “Fear Inoculum” tour photo by Todd Kaplan

‡‡         Timing and Teamwork

To some, it may seem surprising to learn everyone at FOH is required to trigger every cue without the use of timecode. Even if that results in a few rim shots every now and then — after all, it’s rock ‘n’ roll. Jacobson spells it out. “The band doesn’t play to a click, so we don’t have a bitstream we can latch onto; hence, we’re responsible for making everything happen on time. If something visual has to be in time, it has to be done by hand.” He later adds, “As consistent as this band is from night-to-night on tempo, they are not machines — which is a good thing.”

Because most songs have intricate timing changes, it adds to the challenge. Says Wilson, “Cueing lasers is a combination of small timed segments that are triggered and then also some free-time clips…., that I manipulate based on the feel or timing of the music.”

Breck expands on his methods. “My normal process for cueing always begins with an analysis of the songs and the creation of a cuelist that covers all the important moments and transitions. Then I’ll go back and start layering content on top of that structure. Some cues may never have programming attached to them; they purposely remain empty to keep me locked in with the song.”

It is apparent that the “feel” is integral to the production as they continue to try new things. It helps that the trio is comfortable with one another and share a mutual respect. Experience does that — led by Jacobson, the FOH triad has been together for a combined 53 years. As Wilson makes clear, “the advantage of working with the same unit year-after-year is that you can anticipate each other. I will say that we’ve worked together for a really long time, so some of it comes naturally and a lot of it is unspoken.” Experience has also taught them to trust each other, which has freed them to try things that others might not, while working with such a high profile act.

Tool is one of the most successful touring acts to come out of the 1990’s. Older die-hard fans remember them on the B-stage at Lollapalooza 1993 which, in terms of production, was a stripped-down affair. Things were a lot different in the early days, as Jacobson points out. “Going back, historically, we’ve run most of our cues on the fly, but as the shows have gotten bigger, we’ve needed to integrate cue lists to make things look cohesive. So it’s not an impromptu situation now, although there are some moments we try different things to see if they work. Sometimes they do; sometimes they don’t.”

Sporting intricate changes and varying time signatures, Fear Inoculum is a progressive body of work with songs that will appeal to a variety of music fans. In addition to Keenan’s rhythmic vocals, it contains long instrumentals and several songs exceed 10 minutes. In order to make these epic songs look great night-after-night, the team have programmed lengthy cue lists to follow each song with appropriate timings provided. But each operator notes that there are some manual flourish cues on most song pages — for clips or lighting accents. Haggerty acknowledges the lengthy cue lists, “We have at least a half dozen songs with more than 50 video cues.” With a running time of just under 12 minutes, the song, “Pneuma” contains 42 video cues, 70 lighting cues and 20 laser cues.

Delicate provided the lighting gear. Tool “Fear Inoculum” tour photo by Todd Kaplan

‡‡         Adding to the Production

There are several new features to this Tool tour, one of which is a wraparound traveler track system provided by All Access that envelopes the stage in 270°. Rose Brand built the tour a custom “string curtain” to ride on it and take projection. It’s an idea that had been hanging around (so to speak) for several years. Jacobson explains, “The curtain has gone through several evolutions (and) de-evolutions. The first ideas for it date back to 2015 — that one was too ambitious and didn’t quite materialize. So four years after the initial idea, we have brought this concept to fruition.”

Projection surfaces have always been an idée fixe for Tool’s design team. They’ve even used the stage decking material as a projection surface. “By spring 2019, we had a new plan — to wrap the stage,” Jacobson says. “By the summer of 2019, the current idea was starting to take shape and the material was decided on — It’s made out of strings, similar in nature to the tassels on a mortarboard.”

“We started using Big Picture out of Australia for our video needs a few years ago and they are still out here with us,” Jacobson continues. “They provided the rear LED wall of ROE MC 12H tiles that is about 63 feet wide by 40 feet tall. Breck does the majority of his work there. We start the show with the curtain closed, but by illuminating the band you can still see them playing behind what we project on the string. There are some trusses about 30 feet from the stage that are equipped with eight hi-powered Barco UDX-4K32 laser projectors. We use them in pairs to make sure all sides of the stage take projection.”

The curtain stays in play for the first two or three songs (depending on the day’s set list). Jacobson explains, “We use it, then lose it. It will reappear for the half time break in the show. The lasers run a countdown clock at this point. Tool then starts the second half with a drum solo behind some projected images. Scotty uses his lasers to project some cool imagery on them as well.”

Tool “Fear Inoculum” tour photo by Todd Kaplan

‡‡         Illuminating the Tour

Jacobson started working with Ayrton fixtures about four years ago and they play heavily in his latest design. “We’ve cut down on the amount of MagicBlades we used in the past, but I still like their look. I do like using their Khamsin fixtures as backlight on the band members. I depend on [Martin] MAC Auras for the front wash; they do their job well enough and do not blind the band.

“New this tour are some Robe MegaPointes, which are used in beam mode most of the time,” Jacobson adds. “To be able to cut through everything else that is going on, we cue them in white light, often going over the band’s heads. We still use some regular Pointes as well.”

“The risers have grown a lot this tour,” Jacobson adds. “Maynard’s risers either side of the drums are now five feet tall and the drum riser has been raised. We don’t have a lot of room for floor lights this time around.” Six MegaPointes are used to uplight and frame the stage from the rear deck, as well as a row of 28 MagicBlades. Tait supplied the set.

The aerial lighting consists of some trusses and a dozen pods, with lighting supplied by Delicate Productions out of the Los Angeles area. The pods are mobile, as the automation plays a big part in the show. Each pod contains two of High End’s TurboRay fixtures, a JDC1 strobe and an Ayrton MagicRing R9 fixture. “I have to give some thanks to High End Systems for getting the TurboRays in my hands in time for this tour,” Jacobson says. “I really wanted them and it was a close one on production time. We may be the first ones to use them in arenas. I am really pleased with the light fixture as well as the company.

“I also have to give big kudos to Delicate for stepping up to the plate to take care of us on this tour,” Jacobson continues. “They either owned or bought everything we requested, no lights or truss needed to be sub-rented. Using the new grandMA 3 has been fun as well…, of course now I have to remember where all the buttons are on the 2, when I go do other shows.” Jacobson also wishes to give thanks to the guys from Show distribution and their 38 Tour Lift hoists for the fine job on automation of the pods, trusses and the moving Star, which reappears this tour.

In closing, Haggerty says, “I know I can speak for all three of us in saying that we are so grateful to the band for their trust and love. The majority of our fellow crew have worked for this band for a decade or more so it feels very much like an extended family. I arrived as lighting crew chief for Junior in 1998, and 22 years later, here I am, still supporting him in a different role. I’m proud to be a part of this creative team with Junior and Scott and grateful for a band that trusts us to represent them.”

All Access built the custom traveler track. Tool “Fear Inoculum” tour photo by Todd Kaplan

Tool Fear Inoculum Tour

Crew

  • Lighting Designer: Mark “Junior” Jacobson
  • Video Director: Breckinridge Haggerty
  • Lighting Cos: Delicate Productions (U.S.), Neg Earth (Overseas)
  • Delicate Reps: Jason Alt, Angelo Viacava, Joe DiCarlo, Smoother Smyth
  • Neg Earth Reps: Dave Ridgeway, Stephanie Smyth, Andy Beller, Alex Peters
  • Lighting Crew: Graham “DB” Jelly (Crew Chief), Mary Wistrom, Paul Mundrick, Eddie Viveros, Greg Nunz (2019), Armando Figueroa (2020)
  • Video Cos: Big Picture, Breckinridge Design
  • Lasers: Production Design Intl. (PDI)
  • Laser Techs Brian Wilkinson (PDI)
  • Laser Operator: Scott Wilson
  • Automation: Show Distribution/Frédéric Jacques, Jérôme Labonté
  • Traveler Track: All Access Staging/Fumi Okazaki (U.S.), Jesse Thayer (Australia/NZ)
  • Soft Goods: Rose Brand
  • Set: Tait
  • Production Managers: Matt Doherty (2019), Chris Kansay
  • Stage Manager: Mark Candelario
  • Load Master: Brian Kountz
  • Accountant: Jeff Mauss
  • Production Coordinator: Libby Dostart
  • Carps: Eric Fox (Lead), Ryan Kittlitz, Lee Freeman
  • Riggers: Hector Mimoso (Lead), Scott Orton
  • Catering Coordinator: Alex Grant
  • Video Crew Chief: Nathan Barnier
  • LED/Projectors: Phil Keller
  • LED: Fraser Kerr
  • Projectionist: Kevin Morris
  • LED tech: Jerry Rogers
  • Big Picture Account Rep Principal: Joe Bonanno
  • Big Picture Account Mgr: Jeremy Moore

Tool “Fear Inoculum” tour photo by Todd Kaplan

Gear

Lighting:

  • 1       grandMA3 Full (Mode2)
  • 1       grandMA2 Full (spare/tech)
  • 24     HES TurboRays
  • 57     Ayrton MagicBlades
  • 24     Ayrton Khamsin-S fixtures
  • 12     Ayrton MagicRing R9’s
  • 8       Ayrton WildSun S25’s
  • 7       Ayrton MagicDot-R’s
  • 36     Robe MegaPointes
  • 24     Robe Pointes
  • 24     GLP JDC1’s
  • 20     GLP X4 Bar 20’s
  • 13     Martin MAC Auras
  • 2       MDG theOne hazers
  • 38     Tour Lift chain hoists

PDI provided the lasers. Tool “Fear Inoculum” tour photo by Todd Kaplan

Video:

  • 2       MA2 Full consoles
  • 2       Breckinridge Design LUPO Taichi 6000 SDI servers
  • 2       Breckinridge Design LUPO Taichi 4000 SDI servers
  • 2       Breckinridge Design NEV9 controller/videohub driver
  • 2       Blackmagic Videohub 40×40’s
  • 2       Breckinridge Design NEV8 controller/Hyperdeck driver
  • 2       Blackmagic Hyperdecks
  • 2       Breckinridge Design NEV9 DMX camera shaders
  • 2       Blackmagic URSA Mini Pro 4.6K G2 w 24mm Prime
  • 750  ROE MC 12H panels in Tait touring frames (U.S.)
  • 750  ROE MC7 panels in ACASS touring frames(AU/NZ Leg)
  • 8       Barco UDX-4k32 projectors with lensing
  • 2       Panasonic AW-HE130 PTZ cameras w/AW-RP50 remotes
  • 3       Riedel MicroNs
  • 1       Lightware 16×16 Matrix units
  • 2       Barco Folsom ImagePro II units
  • 1       Barco EX w/TriCombo cards
  • 1       Fiber signal distribution/fiber network

More Tool “Fear Inoculum” tour photos by Todd Kaplan:

 

 

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