Kings of LeonThis summer's packed touring schedule has seen Kings of Leon visit a varied selection of venues. Whether performing at an outdoor festival in Denmark or a UK arena, the latest production had to be adaptable, whilst maintaining all the visual and sonic impact.
The production excelled in all apsects, from the powerful audio and elegant lighting, through to the stunning video effects and precise automation. TPi was at the LG Arena for the eventful first Birmingham date, at which a naked crowdsurfer impressed Kings of Leon so much he was invited to meet the band the following night before the show.
Paul Normandale has designed the band's shows for seven years, with the latest outing being a festival-based creation that could adapt to different venues. "I really wanted to add height in the trim and use a tower-based lighting system, with a range of high-res video screens behind, plus some custom unique fixtures - surgery lights made by Dave Smith at Specialz. We had to bear in mind that this is not a straight arena tour because we're doing smaller venues and festivals too," he said.
The rig had to be festival-friendly, creating a strong look, with colours to highlight the artists' range of material - from the warmth of the tungsten reds to the cold steels of the blues. Normandale chose a variety of fixtures, including 23 Philips Vari-Lite VL3500 Wash FX on the stage floor, 48 Clay Paky Sharpys, 32 SGM X-5 LED Strobes, 19 iPix BB4's, five Martin Professional MAC Auras a side as sidelight and another 40 on the towers, four MAC 250's and 16 Chromlech Elidy LED Panels.
"The Sharpys were something new for the client and were useful in the 50 feet plus trims," commented Normandale. "Meanwhile, the SGM X-5 Strobes offered intensity and duration."
Two MA Lighting grandMA2 consoles also took pride of place at FOH to control the lighting element of Normandale's design. For the last couple of years Lighting Director, Ali Bale, has worked on a grandMA and found the transition of moving to a grandMA2 seamless. "Pixel mapping is a major thing and I think the grandMA2 is a great desk to use for this type of show. Some desks would be a bit lacking for what we're trying to achieve, but this does everything we need," said Bale. "This is especially true for the pixel mapping because we have the LED screens - I think they're at 255 channels each and we have 16 of them so we're running 16 universes down ARTNet. You need something like an MA2 just to run that efficiently.
"I don't use cue stacks, but every song is programmed. I have a page for song one, one for song two and so on. The way I've programmed means it's still very fluid because I don't just want to sit behind a desk and hit a cue stack - it takes the fun away from it."
After a decade of operating the lighting for the band, Bale is accustomed to their preferences. "The show has evolved dramatically over the past 10 years - we've gone from a very generic rig when I started - with lots of PAR Cans and ACLs. It's changed again this year and we'vebecome very LED heavy with a lot of moving fixtures," he explained.
Bale works in collaboration with Normandale, discussing the design and programming of the rig. "He has a clear vision of what he wants it to look like. I've been working with him for so long now that I know the quirks, likes and dislikes, so we have a very good relationship," he continued.
"There have been times when the band has been very specific and others when they have given Paul a free reign to create as he does best. The design we have at the moment is very unique - the LED panels and towers and the Auras are the main focus of the rig. This year Paul wanted to go to festivals and not see the towers anywhere, which we haven't."
When Paul Normandale needed to create a bespoke light unit that could multi skill as a piece of set with real visual impact and be a versatile source of low level light, he commissioned Specialz, the production design and manufacturing house that prides itself on tailoring every job with a sympathetic and knowledgeable eye to the specific requirements of each individual customer. The unit also needed to achieve different tones of light and colour and become a dynamic silhouette when lit, whilst fitting in with the tour's budgets.
As both set and lighting designer for the Kings of Leon, Normandale went to Specialz with a very definite blueprint of what he wanted to create. "These units are a theatrical version of old fashioned surgery lights; they are deliberately quite retro in design, but of course built on a big enough scale to fit accurately in proportion to the size of the stage. When the video screens are not is use, their silvered finish makes them stand out clearly from the black of the rest of the stage so it was important for them to look authentic. The brief was to create this retro look unit with light sources that could supply a warm organic look, matching the other tungsten units in the rig; there was a need to create that warmth in contrast to all the LED and arc sources there are in the rest of the design. The creation of units that stand about two metres high also provides an additional source of low level light that can deliver a surprise source of colour when required."
Four of the surgery lights were required in the design; they are set on Manfrotto stands and arranged upstage of the band in an asymmetric line. Each unit had seven light sources: after much experimentation the finished article contained three ETC PARS and four 5W LEDs. Specialz's Sales Director, Dave Smith, elaborated, "When you build a bespoke piece of kit, one of the main advantages is the flexibility to change the specification as you go along if the original idea doesn't quite work in reality. We played about with the different light sources until we were sure that the final combination would do exactly what Paul wanted. Likewise, the detailed finish on the units was simplified, enabling a significant saving on the costings without impacting on the end look of the lights on stage. We also designed the transportation dollies - an important part of the whole service - it's no good creating individualised pieces unless they are going to be robust enough to weather the rigours of touring and survive repeated load-in and load-outs. If one gets damaged you can't just ring up and get it replaced immediately. That said, we have now built and supplied Kings of Leon with enough of these units to create two full systems and a spare."
"The Kings of Leon are doing a wide variety of gigs," explained Normandale, "And the surgery lights are an integral part of the show, whether the band are doing an arena like the LG in Birmingham, a festival slot such as the Global Citizen Festival in New York, a theatre like the Shepherds Bush Empire in London or a TV appearance. As they are now something of a signature piece for the band, it made sense to have enough manufactured so the lights can be available wherever and whenever they are needed."
And is Normandale happy with the final result? "The fact that these slightly random products of my imagination have become a reality and such an iconic part of the band's stage set is down to Specialz. You take an idea, however 'out there' it might seem and Specialz are able to translate that into a three dimensional actuality in a functional and intelligent way."