Age of Destruction: John Broderick Lights Metallica's Load Tour

Lots of bands wear all black and perform music that bears the label "heavy metal." Lots of bands even tour with huge stage sets, lighting systems, and pyro effects. But few bands consider their fans so heavily when they design their touring productions. And no band in recent memory has sacrificed the opening drama of every show by starting off with all the house lights on, so they can greet the audience first.

Metallica, obviously, is not just another heavy metal band. For many fans of the genre it's the only one--the one the rest are measured against. Although the band members are only in their early 30s, Metallica has existed for 15 years, and they are veterans of the touring circuit. John Broderick is also a touring veteran. He has worked with the band for the past eight years and designed all three of their major world tours.

Every outing has spanned the globe and been a marathon event at about two years each. They've all been theatrical and big, so naturally this one had to top its predecessors.

Without a doubt, they succeeded. After headlining Lollapalooza last summer, the band began its Load tour in Europe last September. Currently burning its way across the US, the tour will end next month, although future dates in South America, Australia, and Asia will be booked for either the end of this year or the beginning of 1998.

The staging is in the round, but there are two stages connected in a figure-eight shape with an open area in between, and enough room for a few hundred wrist-banded fans to view the show right from the perimeter. Broderick explains that its conception was an extension of previous tour stages. "The 1988-89 And Justice For All tour was an end stage, but it was very theatrical with the whole statue of Justice being built up throughout the show," Broderick says. "And then I had the trusses splitting apart. The falling truss as the metaphor of obstructed justice came about at the end of the show."

For the next tour, Roam, extending the front row was the motivation for the snakepit stage which went out to almost the center of the arena. "I wanted to have the stage jut out from the end of the arena, a sort of diamond shape," Broderick says. "Then Peter Mensch, the manager, came up with the idea of putting the audience in the middle of the stage. So for this one we wanted to go even further. We wanted to get as close to as much of the audience as possible, and to give the band full access to that. We had toyed with putting a mini-stage up in the seats, about halfway up in the arena--we're actually still toying with that. I don't like the restriction of the dasher and the restriction of the hockey oval. I wanted to break that shape, but we weren't successful in doing that, because it's just fiscally not possible in a lot of places."

Production manager Dan Braun remembers that the band and the managers on the production design team began sketching out the ideas while the last tour was still going on in 1994. "We had three-ring binders full of ideas and we slowly came up with this one," Braun says. "And we also did a lot of research on the destruction of stages. A large part of my input was making sure it could work in every venue, whether flown or ground-supported, and load in and out of five cities in five days straight, some with 500-mile overnighters. There is no B version of this show. We wanted to give all the kids the same great show in a user-friendly environment."

Once the production team had their ideas together, they sent their concept out to several set designers, and Mark Fisher got the nod. "We came up with the way the stages would configure and how this show would work: The band would work from one space to another in the back, and play right down on the floor and in the barricade," Broderick says. "We also explained that there would be no underworld for any of the gear: It would all be exposed."

Then Broderick explained his lighting ideas. "I told Mark I didn't want any lights in the air, or almost none, and I wanted some sort of tower to light--because I needed some lighting higher than floor level, or else you're just blinding people 100% of the time," Broderick says. "So he came up with the idea of the radar towers, and then the transmission towers. Peter Mensch wanted this whole destruction scene for the finale, so we evolved the design from that. Mark came up with several great ideas about how to move these towers and to bring up the transmission towers and to make them fall."

Brilliant Stages built those two hydraulic ram towers that rise 32' (10m) up out of the second stage, which is constructed like an inverted bowl divided into petals. That and all the rest of the staging was built by Tait Towers. Per Broderick's design vision, none of the towers hold much lighting equipment in relation to the amount of staging there is to cover. The Obie Company, with John Wiseman as the account manager, is the tour's general lighting contractor; the company went out of its way to get Broderick's luminaire of choice, High End Systems' Studio Color(tm), for the tour. Altogether, the system contains 106 of the lamps, but only 32 of them hang in the air over the 136'x56' (41x17m) area.

"The Studio Colors were secondary to the way I wanted to light this show," Broderick explains. "For the lighting design, whatever I did had to be unique and go with the whole concept. I didn't want any lights in the air, originally. I wanted to do it totally with floor lights."

The minimal amount of lighting accounts for the LD's liberal use of spotlights. "This band goes everywhere at once, so it's necessarily a spotlight show. Plus, they're theatrical in the way they start their songs. A guitar player will come out and play a melody, then the bass player will come in, then the other guitar player will come in on the next measure, then the drums will come in--many of their songs are like that. They won't go to a mark to start those songs."

This is why the LD's spotlights--especially the truss spots--are so vital. "A spot that's 150' away or more than 100' away has a really hard time fading in gently and carefully and hitting a mark, whereas a truss spot is 30 to 40' away," Broderick explains. Though renowned throughout the industry for his spot-calling abilities, Broderick rejects the notion that this is any great talent. "There is no mystery or art to it; it's a craft that you just have to work at. You let your operators know that you're in charge, and you give them all the information that they need without specifically spelling it out for them. If someone messes up a cue or screws up a color, it's already history--you don't dwell on it, you just keep going."

Broderick never holds spot meetings ("I don't want to be a person to them, just a voice"). His crew members get the operators into their harnesses and explain the trickiness of the foot-operated, 360 degree spinning spot baskets (which were custom-designed by The Obie Company) and how to operate the douser on the Lycians.

Broderick also runs the Avolites console (and the strobes at certain points) while calling the spots. "You have to balance spot calling with board operating: Get your board cues together first and then you work on spots. Or vice versa. But you can't ever lose your concentration, because there's so much going on."

Besides the spotlights, there are 24 eight-light Molefays (each equipped with Wybron Colorams) above the two stages. "Including the audience lights, that's all I have, but it helps give some accent and kick onto the stages," Broderick explains. "It also helps me when the audience is lit to light everything seamlessly. There is no separation between the band and the stage at that point."

Broderick also uses the Molefays to help him light the audience in 360 degrees. "The band is big into audience interaction, so lighting them is really critical," Broderick says. "But because of the way the PA is hung everywhere around the trusses, the audience lighting had me very, very concerned. Somehow I managed to squeak by, using some tricky positioning and focusing."

Broderick likes his focusing on the soft side. "I don't like that hard-edged look of moving lights, because once you use it, what can you do with it? All you can do is put a gobo in it, and then rotate it or change the color," Broderick says. "So, to me, a lot of shows look similar. If I had used one of those types of moving lights--a Cyberlight(r), an Icon(r), a Vari*Lite(r)--the stage would just be a big gobo patterning dish. At that point you really don't need me there to do it; you can just unleash it on some programmer and walk off the tour."

While Broderick is still very much a presence on the tour, so is his programmer of choice, Ben Richards. Richards, who works in the programming department at High End Systems, had worked on a few televised ice shows with Broderick in the past. Broderick had convinced the band and management to give him three weeks to program the show at Birmingham's NEC arena back in August. But then he realized that the staging probably wouldn't be complete in time for production rehearsals, and true enough, they didn't see the entire stage until the first show in Vienna. So the LD dispatched Richards to research using the WYSIWYG system to program the Studio Colors.

Richards contacted London-based SpotCo, which sent Nick Porter to help them out. "Nick received the CAD drawings from Mark Fisher, and he made sure that the actual drawing of the stage would be to scale and size," Richards says. "He got it looking so good in WYSIWYG that it was just a piece of cake for us to visualize what we could do with it."

"It was great," Broderick agrees. "We were able to do all the 3D visualization, and they put in all the parameters of the Studio Colors. We got a little stereo in there and locked ourselves into a room; Nick spent two days making sure that all the lights were where we needed them to be in the rig, because we were dealing with all these weird levels. For example, some of the floor lamps were 2' (61cm) off the floor and some were 5' (152cm) because the stages' radar dishes had a concave aspect to them."

Broderick and Richards programmed about 24 songs this way. "The one thing I have learned about WYSIWYG is that you have to give the program what it needs. You really help yourself by measuring where the lights are," Broderick says. "And every time a set piece came in and we installed lights in it, we would go out with tapes, and to the inch we would measure where they were, and adjust the pre-focuses and the cues. Once we got to that level, it was really brilliant."

The two LDs spent 22 nonstop days programming the show this way, putting in more than 800 cues. So it was only natural by that point for Richards to stay and operate those cues on the tour. "It's not a show where you can look at a sheet of paper or run it on a cue list with the same Go button every time," Richards says. "I'm very happy to be able to operate this very complicated show every night. People think sometimes that the operation part of lighting is easy, that anybody could push buttons, but in this case you need your full concentration. A lot of it now is automatic; I don't even think about it. The console is like a Braille console to me. But it takes a while to get to that level."

As the tour's pyrotechnician, Doug Adams of Pyrotek adds a completely different level to the show; he also designed the pyro effects for KISS's ongoing tour. "In this show we have 258 effects, ranging from flame projectors to fireballs to directional shorting caps, short-circuit simulators, flame troughs, silver jets, remote effects, and a burning stuntman," Adams says. "We use our own system, the Pyro-Design System. It's a digital control system capable of 150 scenes."

Adams and Broderick worked together to create the show's pyro effects. "John sent me off a list of potential ideas that he had, including the destruction scene, and they asked me to script something out," Adams says. "I came back to them with a design and demonstrated everything that we were doing, and we just tweaked it from there. It's quite an elaborate destruction scene, though."

Throughout the show, Adams is right in the center of the pit area between the two stages so he can control the effects while having a clear view of both stages. "If anything goes wrong, I just take my hand off the firing switch and it kills the system. All our pyrotechnic effects are in racks, so they just slip right into the grilles and they're all concealed."

Adams' background is in the movie industry, which is why he's enjoying this tour so much. "This show is a totally different approach toward pyrotechnics in the concert touring industry. It's more of a movie set as far as I'm concerned," Adams says. "They've given me carte blanche to come up with my own creations. I've always wanted to do something like this, but I've never had the chance. It's always been the regular glittery effects. So I love tying in the flame projectors and the flame troughs and the big explosions and everything. It's unpredictable: Nobody expects to see what they're seeing in this show."

It's probably safe to say that only in movies has most of Metallica's audience seen a man set on fire. As part of the final destruction scene, one of the pyro technicians goes up in flames. "As far as I know, it's never been done before," Adams says. "Fire marshals are quite intrigued by it. 'You want to what? You want to set a guy on fire?' So we show them everything: When you actually see him walk by very calmly, fully engulfed in flames, then you get a sense of safety. He has three Nomex suits on, and our own technicians put him out. We use CO2 extinguishers because of the electrical equipment--we'd have a real destruction scene if we used powder."

Many of the audience members are truly fooled by the finale, which couldn't please Broderick more. "We wanted to make the destruction very random-looking, like electrical malfunctions," Broderick says. "When the hinges on one of the radar dishes start to compress, that crimps a wire and causes an explosion. When the pyro goes off and they're trying to stop the flames down there, somebody catches fire, and then he ends up down at the base of one of those towers--that's why the tower falls. That was all in the script."

Broderick, who scripted the chaos, adds that those in the audience who talk to him after the show "think that half of it was supposed to happen and the other half is not supposed to happen. One thing they don't believe is fake is the guy falling out of the truss. It looks like a spot operator running down a ladder because he's panicking, and halfway he just falls off, a good 10 or 12', upside-down, where his head ends up maybe a foot away from the stage."

The band members and the backline crew get into the act as well, as the sound engineers create suitably horrible effects. The lighting crew pulls the plug out of the console, so they really have lost power. "The beauty of working with a band like Metallica is that the management is very theatrically oriented, and the band is very smart and very experienced," Broderick says. "It's this collaboration that has made it all happen."

After everything has been destroyed, the band comes out and performs two more numbers on the A stage. Broderick has a few high-pressure sodium parking lot lights turned on along the sides, and four pull-string 150W bulbs fall from the trussing above. "It takes them a minute or two to warm up, which is part of their look," Broderick says. "At first, it's just these little yellow pinpoints, then all of a sudden they start to wash and bathe the whole area in this yellow emergency color.

"I haven't seen anyone leave this show not thinking that they got their money's worth, which is very important to me, because it's very expensive to go to a concert," Broderick concludes. "Ideally, in the months afterward, when they see their friends, they won't say, "Well, it cost me this much." They'll just say, 'You really missed something.' That's how we know we did our jobs."

Lighting/production designer: John Broderick Set design: Mark Fisher Production manager: Dan Braun Band manager: Peter Mensch Tour manager: Tony Smith Stage manager: Gary Perkins Moving light operator: Ben Richards Lighting crew chief: Ian Cameron Assistant Lighting crew chief: Steve Roman Lighting technicians: John Duncan, Jeff Gregos, Mike Hanson, Chuck LaRoux, Tom Mayer, Victory Mirabel, Terry Smith, Storm Sollars, Gary Waldie, Jeff Wilson Pyrotechnician/Pyro supplier: Doug Adams/Pyrotek Pyro crew: John Arrowsmith, Phil Dibello Head riggers: Bobby Savage, Scott Ward Riggers: Michael Gomez, Chuck Melton, Ken Mitchell Showpower crew chief: Carlos Oldigs Showpower crew: Joel Richards, Ian Smith Set construction: Tait Towers, Brilliant Stages Lighting supplier: The Obie Company

Lighting equipment: (106) High End Systems Studio Color washlights (4) Strong 2k xenon Super Troupers (27) Thomas 8-Lights (18) Lycian Starklite 1,200W spotlights (27) Wybron 8-light Colorams (8) High End Systems AF-1000 DMX strobes (12) Optikinetics terra strobes (2) High End Systems F-100 foggers (4) Reel EFX DF-50 crackers (6) Reel EFX fans (39) Columbus McKinnon 1-ton chain hoist motors (6) CS800 8-way motor distribution units (1) 32-way controller (1) ETC 48x2.4kW Sensor dimmer rack (6) ETC 6x6kW Sensor dimmer racks (2) Avolites QM-500 90-way consoles (2) ETC Expression 24/48 consoles (1) 600A floor distros/4-way (5) Propower racks (2) High End Systems Status Cue control consoles (24) sections 10' HD truss (12) sections 5' HD truss (14) sections 10'x12" box truss (6) sections 5'x12" box truss