The LIVE SOUND MIXING
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A STAR IS BORED
© 1995 Duncan R Fry
My assistant Andy and I, whom you may remember from the Bo Diddley gig, landed ourselves a gig supplying the PA and lights for a band at the good old Astrodome, a converted picture theatre in Traralgon down in Gippsland, Victoria.
We had picked up a lighting rig from a lighting rental company, and the deal was that the band was to supply a lighting guy. So, we unloaded the PA and lights out of the truck, put the lighting cases to one side, then set the PA up, checked the monitors, EQ'd the Front of House, and waited for the band to show up.
The band arrived with their stage gear, and as we were setting it up they casually announced that the lighting guy they'd hired couldn't make it; could one of us do it? Andy and I shuffled our feet, looked at the floor and at each other, rolling our eyes heavenwards.
The problem was that from our experience it was a very bad idea to let a band know that you knew how lights worked! Lighting guys always made it seem so complicated, that as far as the band was concerned, ignorance was bliss. After all, if the band realised that anybody could do it, then lighting guys would have no power base and no justification for the incredible amount of time they took to get it together. I mean, we're only talking 16 cans at the most, not Pink Floyd!
Worse than that though, was the fact that if you let on that you were quite capable of plugging up 16 lights and turning them on and off for a couple of hours, then they'd have you doing it all the time, and usually for nothing. So the best plan from a sound person's point of view was to feign ignorance of all things incandescent!
The band's leader looked desperate. Sensing that there was a bit of a problem, he offered money! Always a good idea. "Look," he said "We'll pay you the $80 we would have paid him if you can help us out".
Andy's face lit up.
"OK " he said, "I'll do it."
Well, no kidding, he set to work like a man possessed, and he had the whole thing up and running in 10 minutes flat! To this day I don't know how he had the nerve to get away with it.
He unpacked the lighting cases, pulling out 4 bars with 4 cans on each bar, and hung all 16 across the back of the stage. He gaffer taped a spot on top of each PA stack, and faced them across the front vocal line. And that was it!
Whatever gels were in the lights when he pulled them out of the cases stayed on them. Whatever order the cans were in as he randomly plugged them into the dimmer rack, well, that was the order they stayed in.
Jeez, it looked bright but shitful.
Scuttling down to the lighting console, he set it up on a slow chase. Each time the band started a song he would adjust the chase so the lights would flash in time with the beat. At the end of each song he'd hit the blackout switch, followed by a
50% wash of the next colour in the chase.
It took him about 10 seconds per song to do all this; the rest of the time he spent drinking beer and perving at the girls on the dance floor!
I've got to admit that I was a bit worried as to how the band would react to all this, and sure enough, in the first break, the singer comes striding forcefully over to Andy.
Uh oh, I thought, here we go - it's whinge time.
Instead, the singer grabbed Andy's hand and shook it vigorously.
"Great light show, mate, really great - looks fantastic from where we are!"
Shit, I nearly fell over! And then I realised; all the band could see from on stage was a whole lot of lights flashing on and off around them! They probably felt as though they were on stage with a 200 can stadium light show.
"How does it look out front?" he asked.
What a question. Bands always ask this, whether it's about the sound or the lights. What do they really think you're going to say? -'Oh it sounds/looks terrible tonight; I'm doing a really bad job?' Of course you're not - well not if you've got half a brain and want to get paid, that is. They want to hear how great everything is, and Andy didn't disappoint them.
"Looks fine to me," he said enthusiastically, "Makes the band really come alive!"
"Really? Oh, great, wait till I tell the other guys. It's really good of you to do this for us."
Andy smiled and said "No worries, mate, glad to be able to help out!"
As we walked off to the bar to get a couple of drinks, we were pissing ourselves laughing.
"You slack bastard," I said "It'd better be your turn to buy the hamburgers on the way home tonight! That is, if you're head's not too big to fit through the door of the truck!"
At the end of the night, the band asked him if he'd like to do lights for them permanently, as they were really impressed by the fantastic show he did at such short notice!
"Sure," relied Andy, figuring that with both the band and me paying him, he would soon be living in the lap of luxury.
He blew it, though.
At their next gig he got totally shitfaced, and threw up on stage as we were packing up. That wasn't too bad; as we all know, these things happen sometimes, but unfortunately the band caught him trying to mop up his chunder with their expensive hand painted backdrop, and sacked him on the spot!
That has to be one of the shortest lighting careers ever!
This story first appeared in Connections magazine