Designer John Broderick has been working with Metallica since 1988, except for a few years when Butch Allen handled some tours while Broderick attended to other duties. The band’s latest world tour, in support of album Death Magnetic, represents Broderick’s return to designing for the heavy metal band that formed in 1981.
The design for the tour includes an in-the-round setup, complete with 2-ton hanging coffins that double as lighting rigs positioned above the stage. “We were heading for an in-the-round design the whole time; we had done it several times before,” says Broderick. Originally planning to include video, band management nixed all the video just three weeks prior to production rehearsals, after fans and critics loved the lighting-only version during some early previews in Europe. “Some reviews actually said the show was refreshing without video,” adds Broderick.
Tweaking the design, Broderick wanted to make the lighting work for every seat in the house. It still had to be a big arena show, but he could expand the lighting outward for coverage without video. “This helped, because the original video was pushing the lighting back anyway to become too much like backlight, which was worrying me.” To ensure it all worked according to plan, Broderick has a regular practice at the beginning of a tour. “We always go to the highest seats to make sure it looks good from everywhere. We watch those people, and we knew for this tour that we actually didn’t even need I-Mag video.”
One element that stayed from the beginning was the coffin motif. Custom-built by Eric Pearce at SGPS Productions in Las Vegas, Broderick designed the coffins—four hanging directly over the stage and four at the corners of the arenas—to echo the album art and to act as a home for the tour’s lighting, both on stage and off. Each over-stage coffin is skinned in patterned aluminum and includes a built-in truss structure so the lights actually retract into the coffins for storage, and no lighting has to be hung. “I didn’t want them literal or goth looking,” says Broderick. “I wanted them modernistic, sleek, and ethereal.”
The coffins move, during three songs, on ChainMaster VarioLifts. “When motors and moving trusses started coming out, one thing I always hated was moving trusses just because they had electricity attached to them,” adds Broderick. “These are moved with progressive scariness, first a little, then a little more wacky, and then to the point where it looks unsafe, but it’s all finely controlled.” For most of the show, the coffins are at the same level of the rig, where they can be illuminated or used like set pieces.
Coemar Infinity Wash XL lights—about which Broderick says he particularly likes the moonflower effect and the fact that they have hard-edge features in a soft-edge light—Syncrolite SXB–5/3s, and lasers from Laser Design Productions Inc. are all housed right in the coffins. “I used Syncrolites because, well, they’re Syncrolites, and I needed a big, fat chunky beam from across the arena,” says Broderick.
Additional effects are via Vari-Lite VL3500 Wash fixtures on trusses that alternate with the coffins and Martin Professional MAC 700 wash units on the floor. “The VL3500s are just great lights,” Broderick says. “They punch, and they’re fast, and they have a great beam spread. For the floor, I wanted two things: size—not gigantic, but I didn’t want it to be too bright because I use the floor lights a lot for silhouettes and patterns—and to illuminate the coffins. The MAC 700s achieve that purpose and are bright enough to light performers and audience but don’t blind anyone.” Martin Professional Stagebar 54 units are also on the floor as uplighting for the band at the microphones, and they also create a ring under the stage to light the entire front row of the stage barricade. Broderick notes he can “have just those on like a garland around the stage.” Lighting gear was supplied by Premiere Global, Syncrolite, and Mojo.
Broderick notes that he “hates symmetry,” but he has to work against the evenness of the stage and arena. “We got around that in the way we pre-focused the lighting and the way we used it,” he says. “We don’t need to use all four quadrants at the same time for every song. While it’s a big arena show, it has to seem small and intimate enough to light the audience. All four members are equal and must be lit equally, but the audience is like another member of the band, and so is the building and the stage, and all must be lit like so, all the way up to the highest seats.” He alternates between the Syncrolite units, the Coemar Infinity Wash XLs, and the Vari-Lite VL3500s to handle audience lighting duties, in order to avoid redundancy.
Troy Eckerman, who Broderick refers to as a “godlike programmer,” programmed the lighting on an MA Lighting grandMA, all onsite during rehearsals at Cow Palace in San Francisco. With many songs long enough to require 300 or 400 cues, programming each song sometimes took a day or more, so the lighting team worked out a system, programming on an ESP Vision setup in a dressing room when they couldn’t work in the main arena. Lighting director Rob Koenig runs the cues live each night—no SMPTE timecode used—on the grandMA and calls 14 spots (a combination of Strong Super Troupers and Lycian M2s). “Calling spots at that velocity takes a lot of concentration; timing is critical,” says Broderick. “With this many cues, if he has to get a call back in order for some reason, he has to know to jump ahead 20 cues in a song. He is unbelievably good.”
When it comes to Broderick’s color choices, he says he likes them impure, “like muddy or dusty colors, and then when I use a primary, it’s very dramatic. We’ll go several songs with muddy colors, and then—ka-blam—I’ll blanket the stage in primary red. With video, I could have run a lower foot-candle level, but on this, we can really push the intensity. We kept brightening and brightening the fixtures, and it works.”
And it seems Broderick isn’t tired of the gig after 21 years. He’ll be back out with Metallica in the South of France in July for a DVD shoot of the tour.