Chemical Analysis

When Ethan Weber was contacted to design and program lighting, and Atomic Design's Tom McPhillips to take on production design for My Chemical Romance's The Black Parade Tour, they knew they were looking at the band's biggest outing to date. This was to be the first time the group was setting out to conquer the arena world, having performed as the opening act for larger tours, but only headlining at theatres and smaller arenas. While fans know the band for its openness offstage, lead singer Gerard Way “really wanted to appear more like heroes onstage,” says Weber.

Originally conceived by Way — a trained and former professional artist — the set was tweaked and built by Atomic Design. Two distinct sections of the show are evident. The first set incorporates the more theatrical The Black Parade theme based on the band's videos and songs from the new album, as well as ideas from the band and McPhillips, working with associate Mike Rhoads, also of Atomic Design. The set design was a result of collaboration between Way, McPhillips, and Rhoads. “The band had a vision that was anti-technology and pro-theatrics,” says McPhillips. “To meet this vision, we designed and fabricated a set that was dramatic and theatrical.”

A second, more simplified section of the show harkens back to the band's punk-inspired set, with a single backdrop. “The band's look has a strong Eastern European vibe — a cold walk along a black silent Danube, a sinister Viennese waltz, or Prague's Charles Bridge in the depths of a tragic winter,” says McPhillips. “We put all that together with German Expressionist cinema and the film-gris look of ‘Delicatessen’ and ‘City of Lost Children.’ What resulted was an insane asylum in a city of inflatable zeppelins during the long dark night of the soul. Or to put it another way, Gerard had some very groovy ideas, and we had no problem in running with them as far as they could possibly take us!”

The main set piece, a 30' Hitchcock-inspired building, was originally conceived to front some simple projections, but in the end, the band decided the show didn't need any video, eliminating video entirely in favor of a cityscape backdrop from the “Welcome to the Black Parade” video.

Atomic Design provided all of the soft goods and scenic control, and created two 12'-long, 6'-wide, helium-filled blimps, which are painted to look like World War II ships. Also among the set pieces are a gurney, on which Way lies as he enters the stage at the opening of the show, back-dropped by a kabuki constructed from hospital bed sheets; a Paris cityscape background of scenic flats and sculptural carved bits; a 9'-wide by 6'-high one-handed clock that continually rotates to represent the passage of time; and a large dark and blotchy star cloth. “Tait Towers provided the high-tech, snap-together structure on which we mounted our old-school carved Styrofoam bas-relief, reminiscent of a rooftop view over Paris,” adds McPhillips.

For Weber, lighting the set meant making artistic use of shadows and not just overpowering it with illumination. “The set is strong and an integral part of the show, but I think it has more impact if it isn't lit all the time and when it is, is lit in different ways — flat from the front truss at times, up-lit for shadows at others,” he says.

As lighting designer, lighting director, and fifth man on the lighting crew, Weber was not able to get started until the set design was complete. The stage is dominated by a 60'-wide, horseshoe-shaped truss for a curtain reveal and a 56'-wide upstage scenic truss, all fabricated from various sections of Tomcat truss. “It seemed like a set that needed to be lit, not one that needed lights built into it, so my conversations with Mike at Atomic mainly regarded logistics — where I could put trussing, lights,” says Weber. “This all led to putting in a fair amount of trussing and really trying to spread the lighting out, both horizontally and vertically — make it big without encroaching on the set. I put in a couple of pods offstage of the horseshoe to get some ¾ lighting in and really fill out the space and six upstage verticals to fill out the vertical.”

Weber wanted this design to be really different from other shows, especially in using no video. For the first set, the band performs titles from the new CD, and Weber translated the monochromatic and sepia tones from their music videos in the live show. “I'm pretty tired of seeing LEDs on every show,” he says. “They have their place, but I don't think they're appropriate all the time. I also get a bit sick of the whole media server thing. People spend enough time watching TV and staring at their computers. I wanted to return the focus to the band and their show.”

To achieve this different look with the technology available, Weber took an unconventional route and used many conventionals on his plot, noting, “It's kind of ironic that conventionals can now be considered an effect light.” His rig does include about 100 moving lights (a variety of Martin MAC 700s and 2000s, both profile and wash units), along with ten BigLite 4.5s and 38 Atomic 3000 Strobes, four 5kW Fresnels, six 8-Lite Moles, six Wybron 8-Light color changers, 16 4-Lite Moles, 20 PAR 64 6-lamp bars, PAR 64 4-lamp bars, 16 Wybron PAR color changers, 24 PAR 64 ACL 4-lamp bars, 12 ETC Source Four PARs, a variety of Source Four ellipsoidals (both 10° and 26°), four Reel EFX DF-50 diffusion hazers, and two High End Systems F100 smoke machines. All motors are from Columbus-McKinnon. Upstaging provided lighting and rigging (about a 50-point show) for the US leg of the tour, while Neg Earth took on the European leg. Pyrotek Special Effects handled pyro and effects in the US (see sidebar).

Control is via an MA Lighting grandMA (plus backup) with two NSPs on each and one spare. This was Weber's first tour using MA Lighting's grandMA console. He preprogrammed at Upstaging's warehouse using Martin Show Designer and ESP Vision, gaining a few extra days for the “20 fairly cue-intensive songs” before only three nights of production rehearsals.

To go one stop further and give each song its own feel, Weber uses fixture types to distinguish some songs — “something learned from the old conventionals days when most of your sources were incandescents,” the designer notes. Some numbers feature conventionals only, while another is just strobes, but it's what is done with the instruments that makes the difference — “varying intensity, randomizing, used as lightning strikes, some with just hard edge, some just wash, one in silhouette with just the 5Ks,” according to the designer.

In addition, Weber uses the no-color PARs and ACL pods quite a bit for accents. “The ACLs are all focused out into the audience, and there are some bumps down to them,” he says. He also has a spot onstage for the lead singer to use. “We've all seen a lot of artists with their handheld lights shining in the audience. I figured we'd go one step further and give him an actual spotlight, a Lycian Stark Lite 1272 with a medium throw lens.”

Weber keeps the first four songs in all whites and off-whites, not relying on any full-stage color washes until the fifth song, the first single from the new CD. “This is something I learned from my years with Patrick [Woodroffe] on the [Rolling] Stones in the lighting-unfriendly European summer months — keep it in white until it starts to get dark, and pick a big moment to go to color,” says Weber. “And when you go to color, make it big.” The band also requested using a combination of red and white, so Weber based two songs in the second-half of the show around those colors only.

After the first set from the new album, the horseshoe drape closes, and the stage is reset for the second set, including a single “Revenge” logo backdrop and the band's older, punk-ish look. “Originally, I was planning on lowering the back trusses to give the lighting a different feel, but decided to do it in the programming instead,” Weber says. “It's not quite bump and flash, but the first set is more theatrical, I think, with a lot more use of black space. The second-half is much busier for the most part, less refined.”

Regarding his overall product, Weber notes that he hopes he achieved the heroic feel the band requested. “Lighting is so much about angles and placements, and I hope that the show looks and feels big because of the staggered trim heights, the verticals, the outside pods, and the ‘too many’ floor lights,” he says.

Travis Robinson took over the lighting helm once the US leg of the tour ended in May. The production has returned to Europe where it tours through July.

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