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TODD RUNDGREN & THE LIARS


SOUL GURU TODD DANCES ON THE ‘BLEEDING
EDGE’ WITH LATEST TOUR.
IS THIS THE FUTURE OF PRODUCTION?


Production coverage by Bruce Jordahl.
Show photography courtesy of Alex Skowron.
Visionary musician Todd Rundgren has worn an incredible
number of hats during his 35 + years in the public eye. From
teen leader of The Nazz to engineering, producing and playing
on numerous releases in the 1970s and 1980s, to bandleader
of two seminal versions of Utopia, from video pioneer to the
current title of ‘solo artist’ he comfortably maintains today &nash;
Todd is never short on creativity or opinion. There are many
that share the opinion that through dozens of releases, he
remains one of the premier singer/songwriters of the rock era.
His latest release, Liars, finds Rundgren as energized as ever
– preaching a cutting doctrine on the evils of modern politics
and the pitfalls of simple human nature.

While it's a thrilling experience to watch Rundgren control
Utopia or his ‘big band’, in recent years, Todd has favored
touring solo over ensemble. This journalist last spoke to
Rundgren in 1993 during his No World Order performances,
where surrounded in a pod-like womb of Trackspots, Todd
was demonstrating the upper creative limits of a MIDI– controlled rig.

Thankfully, this latest amalgamation of Todd talent makes full
use of his cooperative powers. The touring Liars are
comprised of drummer Prairie Prince, Kasim Sulton on bass,
Jesse Gress on guitar, and John Ferenzik on keyboards. With
five superlative players/vocalists, the sound is simultaneously
orchestral and choral, and fans are treated to a performance
every bit as rich as those ‘big band’ tours of the early 1990s.
Granted, the sound and performance is noticeably edgier, and
2004 finds Rundgren's music far removed from the piano
ballads his oldest fans cherish. But this is a good thing – the
sounds are contemporary, and reassure you nobody up there
on stage is living in the past!

Their live show is divided into two segments (not unlike the
‘easy’ and ‘difficult’ side of the Hermit of Mink Hollow LP);,
where during a solo performance that included Red Rider's
‘Lunatic Fringe’, band members change from their multi–
cultural religious garb into pimp&ndash:daddy–approved soul gear.
The opening set is a showcase for new material from Liars; the
closing conjures up familiar live favorites like ‘Feel It’, ‘I Love
My Life’, ‘Hello It's Me’ and the perrenial show–stopper, “Just
One Victory’.

All in all a great show, but this tour is significant to the
production community for additional reasons. The lighting is
100% Color Kinetics LED fixtures and effects, providing a rock
lighting show the world has never seen before. Mighty bold
talk? While LED has been used to complement conventional
and automated lighting on many shows in recent years, it's
never been the lone source of illumination. For reference, think
about your first VARI*LITE show!
Next, the entire touring package fits in one Charles Payne bus
pulling a 16–foot trailer! How do they do it? The Liars tour with
a Yamaha DM2000 console and what has to be one of the
most unique monitoring systems we’ve seen yet. And their
travel schedule and production? We have seen the future!


PRODUCTION
TP US'; multi–faceted production host for the afternoon was
none other than Stephen Patacchiola, lured out of self–imposed
semi–retirement to perform production manager, stage
manager, backline, etc. duties for the Liars shows.

He's another touring vet that appears to have ‘done it all’ – tour
managing, technician, audio engineer – all skills that he
employs daily on this production. This is Stephen's first tour
with Todd as PM; he says he was hired in January, and started
advancing shows on February 1st; rehearsals kicked off April
2nd. Now based in Scottsdale, AZ, the Long Islander worked
with Cheap Trick for several years as a guitar/bass tech, as
PM and technician for The Band, worked with Stevie Wonder
for half a decade, and so on.

The basic look Rundgren envisioned for the staging was a
‘blown out cathedral’ look. With the rig and touring method
being so unique (ground supported LED rig, etc.), TP US
figured there had to be a production challenge or two lurking in
the shadows. “Well, rigging isn't really an issue,” Stephen
laughs, sharing our often warped sense of humor, “but there
are issues with stage size. Often the stages are not adequate
to put our full production in, so I have to make decisions and
cut elements.”

Bearing that in mind, there's only been a few occasions where
the band had to perform sans cathedral. “We can’t lose any
arch truss sections; it's programmed to work together,”
Stephen continues. “So if we lose any pieces, it's the guitar
and bass risers for Kasim and Jesse. We keep the keyboard
and drum risers up, so we won't lose the effect. But we have
gotten into situations with low trim height, and have had to go
with house conventional lighting and no set!

“It's still the same – rigging or not – if you have a production of 40
people or four people. The same challenges exist on the
road, and I'd rather have rigging and fly a sound system,
because it goes a lot faster and smoother – than these load–
ins, which are always a challenge with space and time.”

Todd Rundgren and the Liars do day show travel, meaning that
following the gig, they spend the night in a local hotel before
hitting the road at 9am for the next location – a theory that
makes for rested, happy band and crew, but an early afternoon
load–in.

Patacchiola's lean n’ mean road crew includes lighting
designer/director Alex Skowron, FOH engineer Robert Frazza,
and monitor engineer/backline tech Randy Brown.

“They're all a big help for me,” Stephen adds. ”Randy's an old
friend, and I know I can count on them. It is an unconventional
way to tour because of the way we travel, but we stay at nice
hotels and get treated very kindly, which helps when you work a
20 or 22 hour day!”

Splitting his day between stage manager, tour manager,
backline, referee, etc. has become second nature to Stephen.
“I have it down,” he confessed. “At night I'm the tour manager,
in the morning I come in and do all the production work and set
up my office, and then I have my backline time ... hopefully
before soundcheck ! I take care of the wardrobe, we
soundcheck, then I go back to production.”

The only traditional vendor on The Liars tour is Upstaging
(www.upstaging.com), who provided the lighting system,
though Patacchiola said he did have Joe Gallagher from
Accurate Staging working on a hinged structure. “It was Todd's
call,” Stephen explains. “It would have taken 45 minutes to set
up and 15 to bring down – where as now our ins and outs can
be three hours, depending on locals – and it can be grueling.
But that was Todd,s call,” he says.

Patacchiola says the trailer originally started out as a 10–
footer. “At first, we had all the backline and sound in the base
of the bus; we got a 16–foot trailer that we fit in ‘comfortably’.”

In closing, TP US asked Patacchiola how he felt being the PM
on a tour approaching uncharted territory. “Todd's always been
on the cutting edge, but he calls it the bleeding edge, which I
find very humorous,” Stephen adds, “but I was up for the
challenge. I don't go on the road very much anymore, but if a
certain artist calls me – I jump right on it. And I knew this would
be a challenge, and be very rewarding.”


AUDIO
The audio package for Todd and The Liars is provided through
front–of–house audio engineer Robert Frazza
(www.robertfrazza.com). Woodstock resident Frazza is mixing
through a Yamaha DM–2000 console, which met his criteria
both sonically and in footprint. His simple–but–deadly FOH rack
holds a TC Electronics M–one, a TC Electronics M300, a
Yamaha SPX–90, a Line 6 Echo Pro, a Shure P4800 system
processor, a MOTU 828 interface, and a Mac laptop running
Emagic Logic.

An independent engineer that worked with Rundgren on film
scores at Bearsville Studios, Robert mixed Todd on his solo
shows, and also works with The Tony Levin Band (with Gress
on guitar).

Speaking to Todd about three months before rehearsals,
Frazza was told of the initial concept of the cathedral. “His
request was that nothing be on the stage,&rdqu; Robert explains.
“There are no amplifiers, instead we are using the Line 6
Guitar Port. During the show, you'll see Todd working on a
computer tablet – it looks like he's writing something, but he's
changing his guitar sound.”

Robert's next move was to get beyerdynamic involved, who are
supplying the wired and wireless mics for the tour. ”I had used
the beyer microphones with Todd on the last two tours; on the
solo tours I'd use the TGX60 – it's just perfect every night. You
could plug it in and it sounded pretty crystal clear – anything
else I'd have to EQ it a bit, so with his voice I tend to go with
beyer. It's less work for me.”

Other than Whirlwind DI's handling the stereo sends where
applicable, it's a beyerdynamic world on the Liars stage. Todd
sings through a beyerdynamic SEM–881 while Kasim, Jess
and John use SDM–860M models. Drummer Prairie Prince is
using the beyerdynamic Opus 54 headset. Drums are all Opus
models, with a 99 on the kick, 87 on the snare, 83 on the hi-hat,
88's on the rack and floor toms, and a pair of MCE 90's as
overheads.

Shure 700 Series wireless systems and E05 in–ear monitors
rounded out the package ... except for Todd; this is where the
new Bose L1 cylindrical radiators enter the picture. With the
anticipation of the drum kit being the only stage–audible
source, Frazza began to research the Bose system, and
actually visited Bose in Massachusetts to meet the system's
designers. ”They invited me to a jam with a blues bar band,“
he explains. ”I showed up at soundcheck and was standing at one
end of the stage and realized, for the first time, I could hear the
guy at the complete opposite end of the stage – just as clear
as I could hear the musician right next to me ... and that pretty
much did it for me!

“Even though we're not using them as Bose suggest (as a self–
contained FOH/monitor system controlled by the musician),
they work great,“ he continues. ”We employ them more as
sidefills – as a mix to Todd. He's not using in–ears, and tends to
be all over the stage from one end to the other. And the Bose's
clarity is just so even across the stage – if you're used to
wedges it sounds really weird at first. In this application, the
first thing you have to do is forget about stereo – the way they
advertise them. I've actually clocked them at 110 db, so they
thump, but I'm trying to keep that down, as far as his mix is
concerned.”

Racks and stacks are provided by the venue or a local
provider. This show saw a beefy JBL club system throwing out
copious amounts of low end energy. Frazza uses his ears
and a pair of graphics to pull the room into shape. “The latest
record I've been using as source material is Raintree Crow by
David Sylvian – it's heavy on the drums with a lot of
atmosphere, so it gives me a lot of space,” Robert adds. FX–wise, Frazza is not utilizing any of the Yamaha's internal
time–based effects, but does use compression, gating, and of
course, the EQ. He compresses the 2000's master bus
internally through the console. The two TC reverbs sweeten
Todd and BG vocals, respectively. The Line 6 delay is used on
Todd's vocal, while the venerable SPX 90 is tapped into
service for Prarie's drums.

Frazza uses Logic Audio to run ensemble and pitch plug –ins
in real time on the background vocals. ”I'm able to do this
because the D2000 has Lightpipe,” Robert enthuses, ”so I
showed up at rehearsal, plugged my laptop in, and got eight
more channels of effects!“ Robert also calls up Propellerhead
Reason for sequencing on some of the tracks.

Robert says his main charge is riding shotgun on the vocals,
and uses EQ to spread the five voices out in his mix. ”Todd
has a really strong voice – it's incredibly strong,” he laughs.
“I was using another microphone and he was so loud that he was
compressing the diaphragm – so we had to make a change!“

Next, TP US tackled monitor engineer / drum tech
extraordinaire Randy Brown to explore the multi–personalitied
side(s) of his gig with Todd and The Liars. The heart of
Randy's system is a Roland VM–7200 console and two
processors, a beyerdynamic Opus 800 series modular
wireless system, the aforementioned Bose L1 Cylindrical
Radiators, and Shure psm 700 series wireless systems. “I
didn't know Roland made a live monitor console, but it's been
a very good tool,“ Randy points out.

Originally, each band member was to use one Bose L1
system, which ‘was a bit tricky ’ says Brown. The multi–L1
system was used for the first few shows, before reverting to the in-ear systems.

Brown praises the simplicity of the monitor design. “We're
gating some things, and compressing vocals – on the
console,” he says, “without external gear – and it’s fabulous!
At first I was against it ... I'm just used to looking at the console
and my compressors – but with the time we don't have on this
tour, it's really paid off. We get in between 1pm and 3pm, and
if I had to blow through wedges, and set every compressor and
gate, there's no way we could do 8pm shows.”

Brown, who also works with Trans Siberian Orchestra and
Joan Jett, uses 21 scenes for The Liars. “I tried scene–per–
song, but ultimately broke it down to different instrumentation
groups. If I had a good mix going, I didn't want to go to a scene
I might have had two nights before. And for the first ten shows, I
was still programming the console during the show!”


LIGHTING
The Color Kinetics-based lighting package was supplied by
Upstaging and designed by Alex Skowron and Jason Bullock.
The cathedral is formed by two custom 4’ X 4’X 8’ H Tri-lite
106 truss “Cages”, two 6’ X 6’X 8’ H Tri-lite 106 truss “Cages”
and the arch - a custom 11’ X 12’ H Tri-lite 109 truss section.
Nine Color Kinetics ColorBlaze 72 LED, sic ColorBlaze 48
LED, 22 ColorBurst 6 LED and six Icolor Flex LED (rope lights
on steroids) fixtures comprise the entire illumination scheme.
Control is via a Hog II.

Interestingly enough, the impetus for CK's LED product came
from Rundgren himself, who had some of their lights installed in
his Hawaii home. Todd called Color Kinetics, who referred him
to Mike Creager at Upstaging to work out the touring
intricacies of this equipment. Working with Mike and John
Bahnick at Upstaging, Todd and his design team chose to
wander down a historical path in the evolution of tour lighting.

Both Skowron and Bullock looked at this project as a challenge
not to be missed. “I received a call from John Bahnick back in
January ,” Alex recalls, ”and nothing developed until around
March - but the whole LED concept held my curiosity, and I
wanted to be a part of it.”

Skowron says the LED concept was driven not only by
creativity, but also ease and speed of setup. “Todd wanted
something small and compact, yet unique and individual to
him, and that could be set up quickly – and fit in the trailer
behind the bus,” he adds.
LEDs are lightweight, don't get hot, and much more, but
created a hurdle for the LD's by sheer DMX channel munching.
“The entire lighting system is in universe one,” Alex explains,
“and then we have those six Icolor Flex strings with 50 nodes
on each string – which the console sees as 300 fixtures – so
it's been a very memory intensive programming scenario!”

Similarly, using the effects engine eats up too much memory,
so virtually ALL programming was done old-school. “I'm down
to about 189 cues open, and once you're under 200 the Hog
will start to exhibit some erratic behavior.”
In the midst of programming 2.5 other tours, Jason Bullock
commented on the separate solar systems of RGB and CMY
color mixing. “It's certainly a different mode of color mixing than
lighting people are used to. With RGB instead of CMY, you
have additive vs. subtractive – the differences are very
poignant when first sitting down with them. First, you have to
get past the fact that the fixtures themselves don't have any
‘intensity’ – as intensity is a function of color value. So things
like the grand masters and faders do nothing – Alex can set
the board with faders down and it will still run – that's
something to step your mind over. Interestingly enough, they
can also function in zero time, as the lights themselves have no
moving parts whatsoever. As a result you can get zero effects
– color strobes and instant bumps, and the range of colors you
can get far exceeds what you can get out of standard
subtractive moving head.” Skowron agrees: “We strobe the hell
out of them!”

Skowron also has to reckon with the visual impact of the
individual mixed colors - a by-product of the fixture's operation.
“In order to get amber, you have to bring green in – and if
you're looking at the face of the fixture, you'll see these little
green LED's glowing, but it's emitting amber light.” Cool and creepy!

Lighting treatment of the first half is very stark — white light and
variations of white, CTO's and CTB's. “We created all sorts of
weird colors,” admits Alex. “Normally you only have 20 or 30
colors for a show, and this one we were getting 40 or 50,”
Bullock adds, “and you can get some really nice lavanders.
Plus, whenever you make a mixed color with the RGB, it's
probably going to be brighter than a standard color, because
you're turning on two sets of LED's versus introducing multiple
flags in the optical path.”

The second half returns with soul revue-inspired dress, and a
happier mood. Lighting reciprocates with less edge but no loss
of energy. “The second half is more upbeat and polychromatic,”
Skowron offers, “and we start introducing more
lavanders, pinks, magentas and ambers.” It's also the first
opportunity for the crowd to see the Icolor Flex twinkle.
One of the more startling effects the LD's coaxed out of the
LED fixtures was an absolute ‘video quality’ to a show with no
video. “We could light each side of each drop with 16 different
little cells up and down, making the pixels animate onscreen,”
Bullock beams. “This can almost replace video,” Alex adds, ”
to the extent of getting video quality color. When we light the
scrims behind the riser it looks like an LED wall just got turned
on, because the color's so rich and saturated.”

Bullock says his current favored CK units are the strip lights —
the Color Blaze 72 and 48. “Using them to light drops is great.
They get a beautiful, even spread with a 22 degree beam
angle getting out, so it's a fairly narrow beam. If you put them
on a truss pointing out at an audience, you'll see them - no
matter what – but primarily they're very functional as base wash units.”

Alex uses Upstaging on 99.9% of his projects. “I've worked
with them for 16 years. If you need anything they're not afraid to
FedEx to you ‘priority’, or to buy gear if that's what you need in
your design. Their stuff is always maintained, and their guys
are top of the line. They make me look good!”

With no hazers or foggers onstage, atmospherics are kept to a
minimum with a Le Maitre Neutronics onboard for microscopic
particulates. Two rented Phoebus spots lit Todd, while a
Production Intercom system enabled chatting. Upstaging
provided their data distribution plus significant and probably
historic modifications to the Color Kinetics luminaires to make
them connectable, roadworthy, etc.

In our book, these guys are legendary, but here's what they
thought. Asked about the impact of his lighting, Skowron says,
“It's a very in your face show – when it's supposed to be, and
it's laid back when appropriate. We really didn't have any
limitations – and the fact we didn't have gobos, pan and tilt,
etc. didn't really slow us down in creating the show.”

Bullock concludes, “It's the challenge of using color and
intensity as opposed to gobos and beams. You want to make
something textured and kinetic, but that falls into the constraints
of monochromatic vs. polychromatic — those conditions are
great when you have normal lighting — but when it's three
channels of RGB it's a different matter to consider!

Ashokan Talent Group™  PO Box 676 - Bearsville, NY 12409  robert@robertfrazza.com
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