(Various postings relating to Light Shows)

Instead of cluttering the Nektar thread here is a slight discussion of some light shows I have been lucky enough to enjoy in my time.

...I wish I had seen them too. The light show is somewhat legendary - I wonder what it was like? ...

My thoughts on that light-show, goes back a bit, to at least 1971 when we moved to Santa Barbara ... and by that time, "light shows" had lost their spark, and were, almost exclusively, completely independent of the music itself, and in some cases, the fame of the guy running the light show for various bands, did what he wanted and the band had no say in it.

To me, it was very obvious that the person "designing" the light show, not only did not know the music, he/she had no talent whatsoever for lighting a stage and making a band look better. And we can go back to Hawkwind, Tangerine Dream, Grateful Dead and several other bands that used lights extensively.

There are only three that matter to me! The Grateful Dead I will not discuss as I never got to see them in one of their full glory shows, to be able to say more, but they had the best folks for it, and my thoughts are that if anyone could do it right, their folks could!

1. Nektar, came to America with its "Light Theater", and one of the members of the band was the lighting man. Now, when I first heard "A Tab in the Ocean", the first album of theirs I heard and got to notice its members and album design, I thought it would be interesting to have the lighting man as a part of the band, since the part that had deteriorated (specially these days, even with Roger Waters!!!!!) was that the visuals were no longer connected with the music at all ... they were just a stony trip to somewhere, that did not augment the music anymore than you whooping and hollering will, or your cigarette lighter in the air with others would!

So, within a couple of months, at the same place, too, (The Santa Monica Civic - no longer there or different name ... not sure), I got to see three bands there and all of them had lights.

Nektar was probably more impressive with its four wall setup ... three huge screens behind and at 45% angles on each side ... and one other screen connected to these on top ... something like that ... and there were visuals on them the whole time. At the very least that I can remember, the lighting for "A Tab in the Ocean" was very definitive and designed properly. I do not recall the lighting details for the side 2 of that album. For "Remember the Future", it was also "on theme" but already the quality of the lights were not on par with the emotional status that Roye was putting into it. I am not sure that the lighting setup was designed well enough to be a part of the show, and that it could properly light up the emotional story being told. It probably would have required more film, than the colors it got ... to help illustrate the story, is my thought as a director.

Still, a beautiful show all around ... and very special in its own way, and worth the memory ... but for me, as a theater technical person, the lighting was nice, but not as complete as it should have been.

2. Hawkwind. Space Ritual Tour Santa Monica Civic. From the start the stage was set in dark moods almost exclusively, and it helped illustrate many things. It stayed away, completely, from the stuff that 2001 and other TV shows were not working on as an imaginative idea of space and its vehicles, and instead gave us an "internal" mind/view of the whole thing, and if you ever take a look at the fold out of the original double LP, I would almost say, that is exactly what you saw ... not exactly "space" but more of an idea of "inner space" and its thinking. I thought the show brought out that part of it really nicely, though I will feel guilty in telling you that by "master of the Universe", the lights were tiring, and the music was way too loud to be enjoyed ... but the show was impressive, and even though you might not have seen a whole lot, there was a ghost of some sort dancing around that looked like it got nude somewhere in the middle of the show ... but for such a dark stage, you and I will joke that it was an apparition!

Very nice show all around. Already breaking apart in its entirety from the generic light crap that has befallen the majority of music shows in America ... the lighting is so bad, and even does not know when there is a solo, and it should be there, and it is not!

3. Tangerine Dream. Santa Monica Civic ... Stratosfear Tour. The main feature here in lighting was that Lazarium was with them by that time, and they were sending those lazers everywhere, including your eyes ... and halfway through the show, you wanted to go shove those lights in the eyes of the a****le that thought that up! Once or twice is fine, but 174 times is out of line and ridiculous, regardless of them being different colors.

I always thought that TD would have been the easiest thing to light up ... it's music was already a "movie" for me, and it already had its story, and it should have been easy enough to film something and put together visuals for it ... but nope ... it became a shine on for the lasers and they got boring after a while. The rest of the light show? Not special much, though it was very colorful, but with 3 stone hieroglyphs on the stage, the thought that some moody lighting would help one piece or two, Or the loving atmosphere for side one of Phaedra, and its very obvious ascension to a physical climax ... should have been lit with a film, and soft lighting over it, simply suggesting the whole thing ... instead of having lasers look for the climax, to blow your eyes out for 10 minutes.

Later, and you can see the picture of this on the America Live double LP, at the Greek Theater, the lazers were used better (Lazerium was housed above the theater at the Observatory), by making it look like the trees were on fire, but here, the band could not create something that made that even better and stronger ... it was just an effect ... with no soul behind it. The rest of the show, outdoors, did not have any better lighting design or ideas than the previous show that I could tell, but at the very least, the music was phenomenal, while the lights were crap.

Lighting shows are a problem. How do you interpret the music? Musicians are not very good at this, since they tend to concentrate on their notes and chords, in order to be able to stick with the visuals,  and this is where Pink Floyd became a monster ... DSOTM, then computerized it so the lights went with the music all the way, and it showed, and I hoped, would improve light shows in general ... but that's like saying that Metallica has meaningful work like Pink Floyd ... and they will use the money they make to create something special ... oh yeah, right ... the worst light show I have ever seen ... and cheap, too! PF improved things for The Wall, where the lighting is defined by the film/action on stage and that made it really special and defined in such a way, that 99.9% of all the bands out there will never EVER do, or even think about. You remember the music well, but I doubt that any of us that saw the original shows, ever forgot the insane beauty of the whole thing ... and how well defined and staged it was. Later, when Roger did his own version (review here on PA elsewhere comparing both shows BTW!), the lighting was now about ... just in front of you with the sound, instead of all around you, and the effect was dead ... it was now just entertainment for me ... even though it was an outstanding production and such, in the end, the "totality" of the original ... was missing. I kinda thought that Roger had lost some of it, or maybe the rest of the band was the difference in not wanting to do something's or adding others that Roger this time did not have to listen to!

I have more on lighting, and can compare film to stage to music shows ... if requested or desired, but this is a section that could add to the "progressive" discussion since most straight rock bands, never had a good light show to begin with despite some folks getting famous for them, in the end, even they did not know the music and its details. 

Worst light shows ever? Metallica, Black Sabbath, Roxy Music, Deep Purple, are just a few.

Exquisite light show, that needs another discussion ... Tales from Topographic Oceans, that was very well lit and designed around its set ... although some moments were used for the solos and they took away from the grandiose side of the music, in favor of individual moments, and that broke the completeness and togetherness of what I have always felt was one of the best concerts I have ever seen in my life, and I remember having tears coming out ... I knew that I would never see another show, where the music and composition work, was far and away one of the best designed and thought of for my mind.

I did not consider this with this write up because the rest of the show was all generic and worthless lighting ... typical for any rock band! And some 40 plus years later, with a different lead singer, the lighting was all about the two monster stars and forget the music! 

More added later:

The shows that I wish I had had a chance to see, were the ones at the Fillmore in SF. Already by then, it was obvious that the lighting was not exactly with the music, but it was in many ways almost like the music was incidental, and it created a romantic idea of some sort around the whole thing, despite what some of the music was about.

No one ever asked what Iron Butterfly's lyrics were about, but you KNOW that everyone closed their eyes, and just flew away during the middle part of their opus, and that the lights, were probably out of this world. 

You see many pictures of some of these shows, and when looking at them you just see a myriad of things together, and it's doubtful that the lighting for the stage itself, was ever pronounced enough to over take the light show around the band, and I think this is probably better all around, than trying to highlight a moment or two for a solo away from the whole piece or the whole visual trip.

My thoughts are, that for the most part, it was all about the visual trip a lot more in those days, than the music, however, the music became famous ... and that ate up the light shows, as folks wanted to hear the hit songs ... and the light show went to the background, and it was becoming really mechanical and boring. My thoughts, and I did this in theater, was that you had to mix things up and add film and visuals and music, to create what I called a "dream" of what the whole thing was about ... and this was my strength in directing ... I could accentuate these moments, which never would fit in a typical stage set or prime time TV set with its white lights, and expect the actors to carry out an idea of what the dream is.

The dream either lives, or it dies ... however, not enough bands know that secret ... when it comes to lighting.

Perhaps one of the worst light shows I have ever seen, including some folks doing a video of it) was the SF Progressive Music Festival in 1999 ... when (as an example) Daevid Allen would accentuate a delivery and look at the camera for more, and the idiot camera person would walk away or backwards ... not even aware of the acting on the stage, and both Daevid and Gilly were cut off many times, as were many other folks on their moments, and this included Porcupine Tree, where the lighting would be on SW when RB was doing his thing, or somewhere else in Timbuktoo, instead of on SW as he did his thing. It was the most amateur lighting show I have ever seen in my life, and they did not deserve to get paid, and the film crew should have been fired the first hour of the first day ... at least the director of it should ... for a horrible job.

Important here, are some folks that helped define the MTV generation a few years later. The camera folks for Woodstock, did an amazing thing and it looked like they not only knew the music, they knew what they wanted out of it, and some things are spectacular, and are also augmented by some beautiful lighting, which suggests the director was aware of the lighting and was already looking for some shots with it in mind. He got them too!

More added later:

... The Yes stage for "Relayer" tour was quite amazing, as was ELP's BSS tour.   I've never seen Pink Floyd but believe that their light show was also superb...

I never saw YES again until a couple of years ago on what turned out to be CS's last tour, here in Oregon at the Spirit Mountain Casino. I would not even call it a light show here anymore!

The pictures from a couple of the ensuing light shows the next year or so after TFTO, appear to all have the elements that came from the TFTO shows. The original show was quite extraordinary and a wonderful thing to see, however, I think that the expense for it was getting too extravagant, and it had to be simplified and that is when light shows lost their soul for me.

PF did not really have a light show ... before DSOTM. In 1972, they had their "quadraphonic" sound, and it was more about the "sound" and it moving around all the folks in attendance to the point of making you dizzy. To light that, it would have been difficult but some lights would go around, but nothing major like TD's banal lasers blasting your eyes for too long! Mostly, it was about the sound that gave out bits and pieces of story of some sort ... which of course became a major part of DSOTM and then the TOTAL of The Wall. 

By DSOTM, PF's show was already mostly computerized (not sure many computers then, but the term fits!), and they just about stopped doing some free form stuff that had been so much a part of their shows prior to DSOTM. However easier it was to have a mechanized concert, and you did not have to concentrate on other things, you had, at least, to pay attention to the visuals to make sure you were also in time with it ... and I think that this was very tiring for them all ... and specially RW, more than likely.

PF's lighting, was always a reflection of their amount of money, from DSOTM on. Even in the Anaheim shows, they put out a tremendous light show, and being outdoors, meant that they had to reconfigure what they were doing, but no matter ... they made the stage look small and too far away, and from a distance, their lights were even more impressive, although I always thought that by that time, it was not as much about the music anymore, as it was about the effect and its color on the stage from afar ... and yeah, it was impressive, even if could not hear it.

Compared to today, RW's lights for his shows are very badly designed, and too much around RW's ideas, and not the show itself, and sometimes it cuts away the life and soul of his music. I found the political side of things a bit too much for my tastes and totally unnecessary, but that is Roger and it will continue to be Roger until it is no more. But sadly, there is too much of his music that is ignored, and there are portions of CA IRA that should be re-written with Jeff Beck/Terje Rypdal or equivalent, so that he can show that he is more than just an opinionated person that many of us love to hate. And the light shows are wishy washy on his ideas, and sometimes they are ... an overload.

Other shows that also do not do lighting any justice, is one of the best bands in concert, and the lighting design is total trash ... King Crimson ... however I think this is intentional, so that RF's intent on making sure that the music is first, is not broken up by overly beautiful lighting that takes away from the music itself, and in this sense he is right, but for the totality of a show? I would do it differently and I would make Michael Radleigh and Martin Scorcese look like teenagers playing with their saxophones! 

The most important part of any light show is ... you got to know the music and interpret the players work as best as you can ... it might not come off right, but the feeling behind it is best ... and when it becomes just filler for a solo ... the show just lost 15 to 20% of its value for me. 

PT/SW have no idea what to do with lighting, though SW makes it look like his "films" are valuable and a part of the experience. The film stuff is way too abstract for it to make sense and help define a light show for him, or PT, but he obviously does not see things that way. Sadly, I doubt we will be seeing PT again ... and they really deserve a better defined and improved light show, much closer to their work, and not some idealist vision that is totally apart from the music itself.

More added later:

(Comment was made about "The Musical Box" show, which is a Genesis Tribute band)

I'm not sure that I would have done something like this for Genesis. To me, since the balloons probably were there all show and coming up in different colors, kinda takes away the story of the music and repeats the same theme/idea with a different color. For me, as a theater/film person, this is just a rock show, not a light show.

PF started as a magnificent light show and then got stuck on easier things to do, and spend money on. Tangerine Dream, kinda left the lighting behind, but with their music and concentration required by their members, I'm not surprised. You have to be a top knotch musician, and the lights, sometimes take away from their music, although the movie side of it, was quite nice, and I liked it a lot more than the regular light shows. When the visuals were there, and you can see them on the tube shows, it is fantastic, and really adds to the depth of the music, instead of just coloring the stage and make the lights look far out. YES, had a very nice light design for TFTO but I think that it was too complicated and difficult to maintain and continue, although I have not seen a Relayer set of shows, but already, a lot of their light shows were highlighting the virtuosity of their musicians.  Genesis, for me, I prefer not to discuss a whole lot, since I never caught them in concert, but by the time PG left, the "show" was over anyway, and only hits remained, and this meant lights for the stars, and for me, that takes too much away from the music itself.

I think, Nektar, tried the hardest to illustrate their music, however, I do not remember the lights very well from their 2nd and 3rd tour (Remember the Future and then Recycled), but RTF had some nice film stuff behind it, and while it was still a bit too SF for my tastes, in the end, it was very nice. Recycled, would have to be bombastic, and in their previous tour they had already done things like "Marvelous Moses" (a much better version mind you than the album, which was never really released to my knowledge!), but I do not remember the lights being as strong then, or it would have been imprinted in my imagination.

For the most part, rock music, has destroyed "lighting" as we know it in film and theater, and it was no longer used to accentuate the material. It was done to accentuate the star, which is a very American thing, so seeing the lights on the star making faces to the moon and singing a star is born, is a bit boring and on the tiring side, specially when you see the very cheap scrim in the background with a simple pink light ... that kind of thing, does not tell me, or you, anything whatsoever ... and basically, is a bit of the ... you're supposed to know and imagine thing ... which is the most ridiculouos thing ever ... you and I can not even agree on what some lyrics mean in so many songs, thus everyone's perception is at play, and the suggestion being given is yet another, which to me, as a DIRECTOR for theater and film, know that this is ambiguous and confusing to an audience.

But maybe, just maybe, most audiences are too stoned or drunk to know the difference? And the lights are supposed to help you think that it is all more meaningful than it really is ... and in most cases, this falls right off for me. I would rather not have the "lights" and simply watch Andres Segovia break a string, not miss a beat and continue playing the piece to its end, and then very politely and quietly asking if it sounded alright ... to which he got a standing ovation! 

No lights were used or needed!

More added later:

(after a comment about another Genesis light show and the rotating lights)

In general, those were things that Pink Floyd had already done for almost 10 years, and those lights went around in circles and colors to the point og making you dizzy. Maybe if you were stoned enough (I was at the PF show when 500+ people got busted in LA before and during the show!), it didn't make any difference and all of a sudden the music sounded so much nicer and far out.

As a theater and film person, that is a cool thing to do and I did that a couple of times (one in a dream sequence when the dog becomes a talking person ... on a new play), and even got a review from a professor that stated he came to see a play, not a light show! That ought to give you an idea, of how lights can be used and often mis-used.

Rock music, has killed the lights. Only a small amount of bands are touring with their own light show, and even then, their design is pathetic and very poor for my tastes. If you want to see lights being used for great effect, even in a rock show, check out the movie "Woodstock" and how lighting can make an event become spectacular, and in most cases with a rock band, this is not the case, because there is no connection whatsoever between the lights and the music, and in fact the lights are just some local john doodoo many times. And all they do is try to use a different color on the solo person, and make it look like they are a star ... is born ... duhhhhh ....

Genesis, and the bigger bands, have enough money that they can bring their own lights, and PF (as an example) had several tons of stage equipment, just to put together the arc's that held the lights for the show .... not all of which were/had anything to do with the song itself, of course, but it looked really cool.

It is a far out thing to see, for those that are not students of the presentation of a show, be it  theater or film ... any kind of staging ... lights are there, to highlight the actors/musicians, not for anything else, and one of the things that film showed us in the 20th century was ... that this was not the only use of lights that you could make. And folks like Orson Welles, Lawrence Olivier, and then film noir, and then after WW2 color ... changed what you could do with lights BIG TIME ... and rock music, made an attempt to color it even more in the psychedelic daze of old, but already, it was all about the "getting stoned" and enjoy a "far out color trip" than it was about anything else, even though we know that some music was OBVIOUSLY outstanding, but merely meaningless compared to a TRIP.

Does not mean that the lights for Genesis that you showed were not very good. Likely they were, but already the story had gone out of much of their music, and it became just a nice light show, very pleasant and it enhanced the experience for folks that never saw anything like that before in their life ... thousands of lights and colors blasting their senses. Or if you want to get a better idea of how lights were brought to the stage, check out the pictures of the operas in Germany in the 1900's ... with their stage sets and single lights ... they still use that style 100 years later to highlight a "star" and make sure you see the circle on the stage!

I would hope, that lights could be more than just that ... or might as well do it King Crimson style!




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