Chinese Takeout

Like the band itself, the brief summer Guns N' Roses tour was both a long time coming and hastily arranged, a mix of old parts and new components that by all rights shouldn't have worked but somehow did. The current GN'R lineup, consisting of Axl Rose (the only remaining original band member), plus members from such groups as Nine Inch Nails, The Replacements, and Psychedelic Furs, played several sold-out shows at New York's Hammerstein Ballroom in May before heading to Europe for the festival circuit and other arena gigs throughout the summer.

This mini-tour is based on the aborted 2002 Chinese Democracy tour, designed by the ubiquitous Roy Bennett (see features on the Madonna and Tim McGraw/Faith Hill tours later in the issue), which played several dates before a certain lead singer decided things were not going the way he would have liked. Now that the long-awaited Guns N' Roses album, also titled Chinese Democracy, is rumored to be nearly ready for release after nearly a decade in the making, plans to tour were revisited. Enter Gary Westcott, who was the lighting director on that earlier tour with Bennett; he was on vacation when he got the call to take over design duties and was only given a couple of weeks to prepare. As a result, some quick thinking was in order.

“The basic idea was to take the original tour from 2002 and update the show using elements from Roy's original design,” Westcott explains. “The time limits created a case of designing a comparable system — put the artwork for banners and soft good package together, and go. Everything was put together in two weeks so; there was no time to waste.”

One snag in the plan: the original lighting rig was programmed using an Icon console, the all-but defunct board used only by a few diehards. “We had a week to recreate the original show, as it wasn't feasible to take the old Icon system on this journey,” Westcott explains. “We did this by taking the original Icon program and converting it with the visual system from Prelite to an MA Lighting grandMA console using the same lighting layout, but with different truss configuration and stage layout,” he says. “We basically compressed everything to a three-truss system, plus torms and cyc.” Dave Hunkins from Prelite worked with Westcott to help with the translation of the Icon to the grandMA. Robin Wain is giving Westcott a hand on the tour.

On the stage, Westcott placed several Hexa-Pods from Fourth Phase on either side of the band, and a 60'×40' red cyc behind them to give the stage a Chinese-pagoda look, in keeping with the leftover Chinese Democracy theme. The rest of the rig features 32 Martin MAC 2000 Profiles, 62 High End Studio Color® 575s, eight Vari*Lite VL2416 washes, 20 Wybron 8-Lite color scrollers, 18 Martin Atomic strobes, and 50 Color Kinetics ColorBlast® 12 LED fixtures, which line the stage and trusses. The ColorBlasts are the only real new addition to the rig.

Prior to the Hammerstein gigs, the tour loaded into nearby Sony Studios for prep work, where Westcott added touch-up programming from the Prelite sessions. The system at the Hammerstein was essentially the same as the one used for the European leg, though compacted to fit in the more intimate space. The challenge in balancing the two parts of the tour for Westcott was, as he says, “trying to make it a simple rig, but accounting for the dynamics of old songs and new, and also making sure there was enough coverage for the eight band members.”

After the four warm-ups in New York, the tour decamped for Europe and the summer festival circuit, starting off in Spain and then heading to points north, finishing up with a string of arena dates in England at the end of July. The festivals only feature a minimum floor lighting package, and so the tour has been using locally supplied systems based on the original design. “Festival vendors have been very effective in recreating our system and supplying a full complement of fixtures, which we then clone into the grandMA and run our show program,” says Westcott.

Once the tour ends in July, what's next? Could Chinese Democracy, the album, actually get a release date? The word on the street is it could, in fact, see the light of day before the end of the year, which would mean a full world tour — barring a change of heart from a certain lead singer, of course.