Termination: The Wall & The Video Wall
The Wall & The Video Wall.
Text:/ Graeme Hague
I used to work with a lighting technician who was forever arguing about the relative merits of sound versus lighting, and his favourite saying was, “People always come to see a show, you idiot, they don’t say they’re going to hear a concert.” To which my reply was always, “Well, I’ll mute the PA then, shall I, smart-arse? Let’s see how much of the audience hangs around to watch your swirly, twirly, flickery light show without hearing a damned thing.”
These days, if we had the same erudite conversation, we’d be joined by the AV guy who could say, “What if I turn off all my big-arse projection screens and force the punters to actually watch the stage? How long then before all hell breaks loose?”
Some younger readers might ask: ‘watch the what?’
COW PADDOCK SENSES
It’s been known to happen. In defence of modern-day AV sensory overload, there’s a lot of iconoclasm attached to the historic concerts of the ’60s and ’70s, and I’m guessing plenty of memories are filtered by fond nostalgia, so it’d be really interesting to jump in a time machine and travel back for a look-see. I mean one of those shows like Woodstock where half a million people all desperately needing a bath and yearning for an enormous bar of chocolate had to watch a tiny stage at the other end of a cow paddock and listen to a PA powered by rubbing two sticks together. No massive screens dwarfing the real thing. No line-arrays pulled from the boot of a Prius and covering half of New York State with a single pole-mount stack. What the hell could they really see and hear?
In 2018 a show ain’t a show unless there are multiple repeater screens around the arena and a 20-camera shoot being directed by Steven Spielberg, and it’s gotten to the point where the audience don’t bother watching the actual stage.
BROKE FROM WATERS
Some of us, however, beg to differ — but it doesn’t always go to plan. I got bummed out early this year by all this high-tech AV stuff. Back in 2013 I went to Roger Waters’ The Wall tour and, after being tormented by choosing between crap seats or gambling he’d announce a second show (which he eventually did, the bastard), I bought tickets for Row ZZZ, Seat 4000, and not only witnessed a microscopic Waters from the side of the arena, but the angle rendered the famous projection almost invisible. So when the Us and Them tour was announced for February this year I promised to sell several children for scientific experiments — I borrowed some of the neighbour’s, I’m sure they won’t mind — and ultimately purchased primo, top-of-the-wozza seats to experience the concert in all its perfection. We’re talking dead centre and halfway up the first level of tiered seating — no smelly mosh pit — the best seats in the house.
THE WALL (OF SCREENS)
Now, also to be fair, Roger has been setting a pretty high bar for himself when it comes to AV at his shows and I should have maybe done a bit of research. But it was exciting to try imagining what he’d be doing on this tour to beat the extravaganza of projection used in The Wall. Enjoy the surprise without any spoilers from YouTube. The answer turned out to be a huge line of drop-in screens running front-to-back of the auditorium, hanging back-to-back and creating a ‘train’ of video screens down the middle of the seating. It was awesome, brilliant and innovative. A stroke of genius. Roger, you’re a legend.
Unless, of course, you’re sitting in the ‘best’ freaking seats in the house. Smack in the middle of the bloody auditorium. Seats that cost a small fortune. For 40 minutes we endured peering at a sliver of stage between a five-metre tunnel created by the line of screens. It was funny for a while, until it got really, really annoying. The folks standing in cowpats at the back of that Woodstock paddock don’t know how good they had it.
Not. Happy. Roger.
We complained. I wrote a stern letter to Roger asking why the seats weren’t marked as having compromised sight-lines. I even used lots of grumpy words like Rog’ uses in his songs. No one was interested, because I didn’t leave the concert at the time and raise the issue with staff immediately, but rather stuck around and saw the remainder of the show. Suspiciously condemning behaviour, apparently, for someone who’s paid three hundred bucks for a ticket.
The upshot is, okay, I definitely go to ‘see’ a show and I’m the first to applaud gob-smacking visuals — and the awesome audio of today’s PA rigs is a given. But I still want to see the people on stage… on the stage, if you know what I mean. All the lighting and inflated, flying pigs, and drop-in bloody screens should always be a bonus, not the main act.
I hope you’re reading this, Roger. And making notes.