Coldplay: The Stadium Shows
October 2009

Coldplay2009The opportunity to revisit a tour, especially when there are new surprises and many friendly faces on hand, is always a great experience. Louise Stickland visited Dusseldorf's Esprit Arena to catch Coldplay's Viva La Vida production as it entered its 17-date European stadium leg...

It's not often a legendary lighting/scenic/production designer steps into the breach to organise your interview schedule, arrange photography positions and the other ensuing journalistic bureaucracy when on-site with a large crew and a hectic schedule!

However, in his characteristic low-key fashion, Paul Normandale - who I know would visibly cringe at being tagged ‘legendary' even though he's one of the great innovators of the genre - made my day a very smooth and efficient one.

The balmy evening was as memorable as the incredibly animated audience. Even given Chris Martin's enthusiasm and mastery of crowd participation, it could've been a hippy dippy rave, replete with thousands of excited clubbers anticipating coming up on some amazing collective wave of euphoria and togetherness, rather than a stadium in one of northern Europe's key industrial zones.

This story - just like the design process - started with Normandale, who is always friendly but never one to blow his own trumpet to the media... nor indeed pose for the camera.

Normandale's creative finesse faced the challenge of introducing some stadium level ‘wow' factors that weren't LED clichés or a distraction to the carefully-crafted blend of performance and production that was already up and running. The basic principals remained the same, he just needed to add some appropriate large scale imagineering.

He decided to change the shape of the performance space into a gentle arch or ‘eye' shape with a large medium resolution LED screen at the back, echoed at the front by an arched stage header, crowned with a ring of 4-lites and i-Pix BB4s.

Although one of the initial Viva La Vida briefs had been to avoid large quantities of LED onstage, with the stadium shows often starting in daylight, Normandale knew he could come up with something inventive and different without compromising the essence of the design.

The 54m wide by 12m high PixLED F30 screen was comprised from 502 panels and also had a 3.5° lateral curve, cyc style. It was chosen after careful deliberation with the team from the tour's video supplier, XL Video, led by project manager Des Fallon. The impressive looking structure was flown on 29 points.

This whole screen ‘eye' concept and the way it would be worked into the show was evolved between Normandale, video director Andy Bramley and Phil Harvey, the band's artistic director and fifth member - a vital communication conduit between Chris Martin and the production team.

Not many would have the audacity to light a stadium show with about 130 moving lights, but that didn't faze Normandale. The basic arena rig of 88 Martin Pro moving lights that had toured for the rest of the year was retained along with all the other lighting components, the quirky architecture of the ‘wave' trusses over-stage and the theatrical elements like the kabuki drops.

The ‘organic' essence of the visuals was added to with the bold high-impact statements congruous with "a real desire" to keep it intimate, embracing all of the audience and not just those at the front, and encouraging a real sense of involvement all around the venue with the B and C stages.

Apart from the overall shape shift of the stage, other additions in the visual department included four extra wave trusses, rigged in the stadium wing areas, joining the four over-stage ones already on the tour. These elegant curved constructions were made by Total Fabrications. The original four waves were rigged on Kinesys motors and tactically glided in and out.

Normandale took the opportunity of trying out eight of the new Martin MAC 250 Beams with the Micro fresnel lenses in the wings, which he likes for their "almost" single ACL beam effects. The other Martin fixtures were 52 MAC 2000 Wash XBs, 44 MAC 700 Profiles, nine MAC 700 Washes, 32 Atomic 3000 strobes and 14 MAC 250 Washes.

The powerful Novalight Nova-Flower fixtures running along the back line of the stage were increased from six to 10 for the stadiums, used sparingly and with spectacular effect. The i-Pix BB4 count was increased to 36 - 24 along the stage crown and 12 on the delay towers - and there were also six strings of digital festoon on each delay tower.

With audience inclusion to the fore, the auditorium lighting was boosted with an eclectic range of fixtures including eight Airstar balloons dotted around, rigged to the stadium stand roof beams wherever they could be fitted.

Sixteen Syncrolite 7kWs were strategically positioned around the venue, in the delay towers enclosures, around the stage walkways and behind the stage.

The conventional 4-lite count was also increased with 24 joining the i-Pix BB4s on the crown and the rest scattered on the delays, utilised for some serious audience blasting.

Back on stage, the lamp count included Mole Beams, 8-Lites, 11 Lowell Omni photo floods, and eight sticks each with nine ‘clip lights' fitted with domestic bulbs for some "twinklies".

All this and not forgetting the 10 follow spots was indeed expedient for a stadium show, but big for a Normandale design! However, as we all know, it's not about having the biggest of this or the most of that! Ideas, intelligence, application and appropriate technology for the end goal of enhancing an emotional experience for all to enjoy is definitely where Viva La Vida was at.

Fraser Elisha, a long-time collaborator of Normandale's, worked as lighting director and the pair collaborated closely on evolving the show right from the start. Elisha ran it using a WholeHog III set up.

The Kinesys system was supplied by Blackburn-based lighting contractor Lite Alternative and operated by Tommy Green one of a universal lighting crew of five from Upstaging, the US lighting rental vendor, headed by crew chief Dave Favorita. The other seven lighting crew for Europe were all supplied by Lite Alternative.


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