Iconic rock band The Cure recently completed a 76 date world tour; with lighting, video and rigging supplied by PRG XL Video. The lighting and video design was by Angus ‘Mac’ MacPhail, with creative input from lead singer and founding member of The Cure: Robert Smith.
Mac explained the creative process behind bringing the production to life, and how they dazzled the expectations of die-hard Cure fans: “It’s important to note that Robert Smith was very hands-on with the design for the show—he’s been as much a member of our creative team as he has a band member. When Robert and I first discussed the design, we wanted a very simple look, where the set is the lighting rig, and it’s a very clean, uncluttered stage. We started off with the idea for a curved screen at the back of the stage, added a curved riser and pulled the ends of the truss back to extenuate the curved look. The different lighting looks we used was kept simple, but precise and well-executed—for happy songs we used bright colourful lighting, and for moody songs, we adjusted the lighting accordingly.”
PRG XL’s Event Services Coordinator, Ben Hornshaw performed the role of Lighting Programmer, and worked closely with Mac and Robert on all the live shows and in the pre-production stage: “We’re confident the fans really enjoyed the show—there was an awful lot of lighting and video technology on stage. The band played a fan-based show which lasted for just under three hours—made up not only of hits, but also album tracks and lesser known B Sides.”
Ben explained the technology which made up the lighting rig: “There were four overhead trusses which contained a selection of PRG Best Boy spots and washes, GLP X4 Bar 20 LED battens, Solaris Flare LED strobes and Molefays. All the truss used on the tour was PRG BAT truss, which made the load-in a lot easier for Crew Chief Mark England and his team of talented lighting technicians. The overhead trusses had a ten-degree kink at each end, turning them back towards the stage to facilitate Mac’s curved design. Upstage there were five video columns, separated by six suspended vertical trusses, which we referred to as torms. Each torm was loaded with 2 Clay Paky Mythos, 4 Ayrton Magic Blades, 1 GLP X4L moving light, 1 Martin Atomic strobe and a PRG Best Boy spot. The purpose of the torms was to break up the video wall and fill in the space between the five sections, giving the illusion of a wider stage and more panoramic vista.”
As Ben reeled off the array of lighting products on show, it was clear that The Cure tour was a spectacularly creative production, with a menagerie of different looks and lots of punch. Ben continued: “Sitting up stage, directly in front of each video screen, there were five more truss towers which contained a Martin Atomic strobe, an 8 light Molefay and a PRG Best Boy spot on top. Along the back of the stage were 10 Clay Paky Sharpy beams. Down either side of the stage were dollies containing a number of Clay Paky Mythos and GLP X4 moving lights. There were also GLP X4S lights under risers and on the drum kit.” Ben travelled with the tour, and this, combined with working on previous Cure shows made him indispensable to aiding Mac develop the design.
Mac discussed how he has worked with The Cure for separate periods—the first beginning back in 1978, and then from 2011 until now. PRG XL Video Account Director Jon Cadbury coordinated the supply of lighting for the tour, Mac emphasised Jon’s relationship with the band: “One of the main reasons PRG XL supply The Cure is down to Jon, he worked with them in the days of Samuelson’s, before they became PRG, and the tour has stayed with Jon ever since.” Jon Cadbury added: “We’ve supported The Cure since 1985, when I was introduced to Mac and the band by their then tour manager, during a tour of Europe and America, promoting ‘the Head on the Door’ album. To have such loyalty from one act over a thirty year period is both humbling and gratifying in equal measures.”
One interesting element of the show is the use of timecode to control the lighting, Ben explained: “The whole show was run from timecode, so theoretically, there was not a lot for me to do during the show; but it’s never quite as simple as that. We took the twenty-four hours of timecode and broke it into ten minute segments, so each song had its place within those twenty-four hours. When the playback tech selected the click track for each song, that triggered our timecode and the pre-programmed lighting for that particular song started. We programmed roughly 110 songs into the console, which covered all variations of the sets they played. It didn’t matter which order the band played their set in, because each song had its own piece of timecode, the console always knew what to do.”
Ben shared an anecdote from the tour. One day the band were sound-checking, Ben wandered away from the console to get a coffee. Just as he stepped from the arena into the catering area, he heard them start a song he hadn’t heard for months. Panicked, he rushed back into the arena, but saw that the console had everything under control and was replaying the correctly programmed lighting for that song. Ben discussed the different roles he and Mac have during the show: “Mac controlled smoke and key light, and decided when to finish the lighting for each song. Although everything was programmed, it always looks smoother for the lights to be faded down manually. After Mac had faded a song out, I reset everything ready for the next one. Mac would occasionally pull up lighting used between songs if Robert is talking a lot. On the rare occasions anything went wrong, I took over and operated the lights manually. Running on timecode is brilliant, because it allowed us to watch the show in greater detail, resulting in us spotting errors earlier, as well as recognising areas for improvement. It meant that there was a lot more work to do outside of show hours, but that was a small price to pay for such a polished looking show.” Mac and Ben used two full-size GrandMA2 consoles to control the lighting from front of house.
Jon discussed how he and Mac visited the PLASA show in 2015 as part of the selection process when choosing which products Mac wanted to use to achieve his design: “Mac had done a lot of research on the fixtures he wanted to use to light The Cure, and the opportunity of being able to have all the major manufacturers in one room, so Mac could discuss the individual merits of each product was too good to pass over.” Jon paid tribute to Production Manager Phil Broad: “I’ve known Phil for many years and he’s incredibly well organised—he had a detailed plan of action for every venue, which meant their were no unwanted surprises when we loaded in. A lot of credit must also be given to the booking agent, Martin Hopewell, who organised a very sensible itinerary—which no doubt contributed to the tour being so successful.”
Dan Large performed the multifunctional role of video Crew Chief, Content Assembler and Director/Operator for the show: “The use of video on this show was very interesting, there were five sections of Roe MC7mm LED screen in touring frames, hung in portrait format as the main screen, as well as two IMAG screens either side of the stage. Overhead, were four Panasonic 21K projectors which were used to project texture onto the stage. Because the main screen is split into five sections, it’s use is varied throughout the show, from showing each of the five band members captured by one of the live-feed cameras around the stage, or pre-assembled content. One effect, which Mac created, is the infinity wall, where we had a camera pointing at the stage from front of house which is fed back through the screen, which gave the same feedback effect as two mirrors facing each other—where the reflected subject disappears into infinity. We had no manned cameras; however, two locked-off Sony cameras were stationed behind the control console at front of house, along with 10 PRG XL Gnats to create a number of different effects, close ups of Band members and wider audience shots. The PRG XL Gnats are brilliant because you can mount them anywhere—on a mic stand, drum kit or piece of truss, they have amazing image stability and iris control.”
PRG XL Video Account Director Stefaan Michels oversaw the supply of video technology for the tour, Stef said: “The Gnats are a very versatile camera, because they can be mounted anywhere and still give a beautifully crisp 1080p HD image. We customised them even further for The Cure tour, adding remote control of the iris and contrast functionality; something which we would normally set directly on the camera, but we need the ability to change those settings during the show on this production.”
Dan discussed how the video content for the show was an equal split between live action, and predetermined content: “Much of the video content we used for the show was legacy footage from previous tours. Robert had a very close involvement with me assembling all the footage for the show, his attention to detail is amazing, and I have notes from him suggesting changes to video content, which literally use frame references as waypoints. From the outset, it was clear that Robert would accept nothing short of perfection, some of the transitions between content were edited hundreds of times; until Robert and Mac were both totally happy with it.” Dan used two Catalyst media servers for content playback—one for LED and one for projection; all of which was routed through a Barco e2 media server, controlling everything in real time. Dan’s GrandMA2 was used in session with the two lighting control consoles, sharing the same timecode and show file used by Ben and Mac.
Stef added: “This was my first time working with The Cure, having been introduced to them by Jon. I was really impressed by the work ethic and attention to detail from everybody involved with the tour. Robert has a very precise idea of what he wants to see, and although there was very little room for changing the design, it was refreshing to work with such dedicated direction. Jon and I travelled out to New Orleans to watch the first show, and were blown away by everything the creative team had done.”
The tour stopped off in North America, Hawaii, New Zealand, Australia, and Europe, to sold out crowds. Audiences were thrilled by an immaculate concert by one of Britain’s most iconic bands ever. Their use of technology was creative but not excessive—mixing intensity with beautiful style in an enviable way. We’d like to sincerely thank Robert and Production Manager Phil Broad for inviting us to be part of this wonderful production, and look forward to continuing our relationship with The Cure on future shows.
Photography by Steve Jennings and PRG XL Video/Matt Rakowski