Access All Areas: On the road with Rush

21st Jul 2011 | 10:35

Access All Areas: On the road with Rush
Access All Areas: On the road with Rush

Hard to believe, but Rush are celebrating their fourth decade as arena headliners, and they’re doing so in style with their biggest outing yet, the Time Machine tour. The Canadian powerhouse is also experiencing a phenomenon so rare in music that it is almost without precedence: with each passing year, their popularity grows as their relevance deepens.

For a band whose next album, Clockwork Angels, isn’t due until sometime in 2012, the Time Machine tour is something of a victory lap. But the beloved trio (Alex Lifeson, Geddy Lee and Neil Peart – did we really have to tell you their names?) are putting some kick in their steps as they perform their 1981 classic Moving Pictures in its entirety.

With a dazzling multimedia presentation and a brilliantly rendered steampunk motif, the Time Machine tour is a three-hour precision operation both on stage and off. But for the seasoned pros who toil behind the scenes, it’s an all-day and all-night affair as they make sure every speaker line is assembled and hung properly, each video screen is good to go and every blast of pyro goes off without a hitch.

Journalist Paul Beaulieu, who oversees an exceptionally fine blog called The Canadian Music Scene, recently got a chance to hang with Rush’s tech crew to gain an inside look at some of the fascinating (and extremely intricate) elements that go into mounting this doozy of a show. His report is now part of our exclusive new series on MusicRadar, Access All Areas.

So fire up some Rush, sit back, and go backstage…You don’t even need a laminate!

Access All Areas: On the road with Rush
Rush's Time Machine carpet

Before we visit with the crew, let's take a look around. Nice rug. Say, that would look good in our office...

Access All Areas: On the road with Rush
Band dressing room

Well, let's just take a look in... Oh, us? We were just... Well, we'll just be moving along now. Sorry to disturb you...

Access All Areas: On the road with Rush
David Davidian - Video Director

You might not know David Davidian's face, or even his name, but if you've been to Rush concert in the last nine years, you've enjoyed his work. In addition to overseeing images concertgoers see on the 40x20' WinVision 9mm LED screen, Davidian is also responsible for the video feeds into Lifeson and Lee's backlines and Peart's drum riser.

According to Davidian, his crew usually starts unloading equipment from the trucks around 10:30am. At this point, the rigging for the WinVision screen should already be in place. Next comes the job of assembling the 2x2' tiles together to form the 40x20' screen. Each of the 200 LED tiles weighs approximately 19 lbs, bringing the total weight of the screen to just under two tons.

Each tile has a 4,096 pixel resolution and consumes 400 watts of power. At 200 tiles, the total power consumption for the screen is 80,000 watts.

At the same time the screen is being assembled, the FOH (Front Of House) cameras that render the straight shots of the band are set up just behind the lighting control area on the floor at the back of the venue. One of the camera operators, Lindsey Haney, ensures that the wiring for the cameras located in the lighting rigging for the 'spider' are hooked up before it is hoisted into place. (Cameras in the spider capture the overhead shots, e.g. Neil Peart's drum solo).

Most of the video content on the WinVision LED screen is provided by Hippotizer's HD Green Hippo media servers. Catalyst media servers produce the video for Lifeson and Lee's backlines and for Peart's drum riser.

After the show, breakdown usually takes between one hour and 90 minutes.

Access All Areas: On the road with Rush
Video control equipment

Just behind the WinVision LED screen. Catalyst servers on the left, HD Green Hippo servers on the right...

Access All Areas: On the road with Rush
Video control center

When he's not moving all around, sometimes David Davidian actually sits here.

Access All Areas: On the road with Rush
Tile world

WinVision 2x2' LED tiles, four to a crate. Assemble 200 of these tiles and you have the 20x40' LED screen...

Access All Areas: On the road with Rush
Video screen from behind

It's now assembled and waiting to be raised into place.

Access All Areas: On the road with Rush
Video monitors

Vision Video monitors showing each camera's content. As you can see, pre-show doings are most exciting.

Access All Areas: On the road with Rush
Front Of House cameras

And a couple extra for a DVD shoot.

Access All Areas: On the road with Rush
Geddy Lee's backline

From behind, opened up, showing the electronics used for videos played during the show.

Access All Areas: On the road with Rush
Neil Peart's drum riser

One of the panels awaiting signal from Catalyst media server.

Access All Areas: On the road with Rush
The video blimp

It's not just a fun-looking, radio-controlled toy. It shoots video of folks in the crowd.

Access All Areas: On the road with Rush
Video blimp camera

Here's a close-up of the blimp's video camera. See, we weren't kidding you!

Access All Areas: On the road with Rush
John Arrowsmith - Pyro Technician

John Arrowsmith's day starts around 9am when his gear is unloaded from the trucks and is then prepped for the show. As with any gear that needs to be on the actual stage, the schedule of its placement depends on whether the venue has a stationary or rolling stage.

According to Arrowsmith, with a stationary stage all crew members requiring access to the stage need to wait until the lighting gear, on this tour mainly the spider, has been rigged, cabled and lifted into position.

A rolling stage is out in the middle of the venue’s floor, and therefore the band members' backlines can be set up while Arrowsmith sees to the pyrotechnic devices. (Once the spider has been raised to show height, the stage can be rolled into place, and a few final setup procedures are then seen to, leaving most of the crew with much more time than normal.)

For the flames, John uses propane gas, which is fed through lighting devices (or flame throwers in tech talk) at 80 PSI (pounds per square inch) - this is the pressure required so that the fire can reach heights of 15 to 20 feet. Each flame thrower has an XLR connection that is hooked up to a board that Arrowsmith uses to ignite the pilot lights.

Arrowsmith reveals that the 'steam' discharged through the band's backlines isn't really steam, but rather it's CO2 (works better, looks cool). In addition to flames and CO2, Arrowsmith also sets off some good old-fashioned fireworks, such as the Lazy Red Comet flares for the song Caravan, and Ultra-Fast Silver Comet flares with one-second Silver Gerbs (for sparkle effect) for Far Cry.

Access All Areas: On the road with Rush
Flame thrower

Yep, that's the technical term for it.

On the left is the pilot light, in the middle is the XLR connection to the console that John Arrowsmith uses to ignite the pilot, and on the right is the 80 PSI propane source.

Access All Areas: On the road with Rush
Pyro test

Hot stuff! A pyro run through for local fire inspectors.

Access All Areas: On the road with Rush
Caravan

A great song...and a terrific display of propane flames and steam effects.

Access All Areas: On the road with Rush
Far Cry

For Far Cry, Arrowsmith sets off the Ultra-Fast Silver Comet flares, along with the one-second Silver Gerbs (to create a sparkle effect).

Access All Areas: On the road with Rush
John McIntosh - Bass Tech

John McIntosh, Geddy Lee's trusty bass tech, was unavailable for an interview. But he did allow for photos...such as this one of Lee's backline.

Video is displayed through the monitors...and yes, the unit even makes sausage!

Access All Areas: On the road with Rush
Back of Lee's backline

Displaying video monitor gear, CO2 piping and belts for the sausage. (We're not joking about that last part!)

Access All Areas: On the road with Rush
Geddy Lee's keyboards

That's a Moog Little Phatty Stage II on top and a Roland Fantom X7 on the bottom.

Access All Areas: On the road with Rush
Geddy Lee's basses

Need a Fender Precision? You've come to the right place. Hmmm...where's the Ric?

Access All Areas: On the road with Rush
Lee's amps

Geddy Lee is an Orange man. A pair of Orange AD200B MK III heads. (Note: No cabinets needed. The band uses earpiece monitors on stage.)

Access All Areas: On the road with Rush
Lee's gear rack

It's all here. Shure wireless system, Kitty Kawk MIDI Looper, SansAmp bass preamps, Palmer PD1-05 Speaker Simulators and an Avalon Ultra Five class A direct preamp.

Access All Areas: On the road with Rush
Brad Madix - Sound

Brad Madix has been a member of the Rush team since the last half of the Roll The Bones tour in 1992. He oversees the FOH sound (meaning what the concertgoers hear), while Brent Carpenter provides ear monitor mixes for the band.

Madix and Carpenter utilize Digidesign Venue D-Show Profile mixing consoles, both of which are loaded with plugins from McDSP such as Channel G, MC2000 multi-band compressor and ML4000 multi-band effects/dynamics software. During the show, Carpenter is situated at stage left (near Geddy Lee), while Madix sits at his console near the back of the auditorium.

All of the inputs are fed into Digidesign stage racks and converted to digital. A digital snake system replaces the bulky analog snakes and provides bi-directional communications for audio and control data. Digital transportation prevents ground loops between the stage and mix position.

Between 8 and 8:30am, riggers begin to unload the sound gear from the trucks. The top speakers (all are manufactured by Clair Brothers) are hooked up to large clamps which in turn are attached to electric motors that will be used to lift the speakers and cables up and into position. As the speaker columns are assembled, the motors raise them slightly off the floor until they're complete and ready for positioning.

Access All Areas: On the road with Rush
Stage left front speakers

Waiting to be assembled, which means one thing: it's early in the morning!

Access All Areas: On the road with Rush
Stage right main speakers

Waiting to be hooked up and hoisted into place. Yep, it's still early.

Access All Areas: On the road with Rush
Stage left speakers

First stage of actual assembly.

Access All Areas: On the road with Rush
A few more speakers added

As the stage left column is slowly lifted...

Access All Areas: On the road with Rush
The view from below

The stage left front speakers are now in place.

Access All Areas: On the road with Rush
The power

Eighteen Lab Gruppen PLM 20000Q power amps 4 discrete channels rated at 5,000 watts.

Let's do the math: 20,000 watts per amp x 18 amps. Total power = 360,000 watts at 2 ohms.

Access All Areas: On the road with Rush
The monitor feed

To provide on stage sound for the band, fellow tech Brent Carpenter uses a Digidesign Venue D-Show Profile mixing console.

Access All Areas: On the road with Rush
The house mix

To mix the sound that the audience hears, Brad Madix uses an identical Digidesign desk.

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