Do not skip this. Do not think I am joking.
The following is about a theater play that kicked up some controversy because of its highly sexual content and explicit imagery. Since I am not planning on censoring my content based on this, you better believe there will be offensive language under that line below.
By continuing to read you are agreeing that you are a consenting adult, capable of making your own decisions. Complaints will be met with language much worse.
There’s no business like show business. It is unique because it aspires to be: When a carpenter goes to see a show, he doesn’t want to see the same shit that he does all week. We still use the industrial standards but with every new thing that is designed, people work hard to up the ante.
It should come as no surprise then, that you’ll find many things and expressions used nowhere else. We have silly names for them, like pickle (a control box for electric motors), a lamp (light bulb), a banana (a line array of speakers), a kabuki (a curtain that falls by remote control), a snake (thick cable that runs from the sound desk to the stage), I could probably come up with dozens more if I put my head to it. And then there’s the abbreviations like FOH, PA, HQI, and so on.
But some of them are special and deserve some further explanation, conveniently giving me the excuse to talk about my job.
Steiner’s Gate is a relatively young animated series about time travel. And I’m going to discuss it here. This shit better interest you or you’re going to have a very boring time.
Why don’t I have any friends that nerd out over this stuff like I do? It’s really not all that complicated, and at the same time, endlessly fascinating. On top of that, creating science fiction gives a fantastic opportunity to discuss (yes, all included in Steiner’s Gate) depression, dependence, gender identity, age, and the psychology behind things like regret, loss and even murder.
Everything has been said before
There’s nothing left to say anymore
This month’s work was compressed into 2 days, although we were at it over the span of 4, about 45 hours in total.
The same job twice: Nicki Minaj in Amsterdam, Nicki Minaj in Brussels. And yes, I saw the show. From the crowd, from the sidelines, from watching the director control the video feed backstage.
And did I enjoy the show? Yes.
Because these shows are enjoyable. I described the stage setting as “ordinary” numerous times during load-in, but nowadays an ordinary show is generally a good one.
Before children are born, their lips are touched by the angels of oblivion. It’s why we can remember the past but not the future. But they did miss one, which was born with the gift of foresight.
Imagine, as this child, it turns out you chose the wrong parents. A couple who seemed a viable choice, turns into a family destroyed and the child is forced to choose once again, between two parents he equally loves. Wouldn’t you want to know the consequences of your choice? If the promise of true happiness lies within your grasp, wouldn’t you reach?
And so, the story of Nemo Nobody begins. Or rather, stories.
The Goths were an East-Germanic people divided into the Visigoths and the Booboogoths, who pretty much single-handedly served the Roman empire its own ass and lived happily ever after until they all died. They were a tribe with lots of swords and shields and redheads, and for a numbskull like me, there is very little visual distinction between them and let’s say, the Celtics, the Gaels, the Vikings, or any caricature my grade school history books depicted fighting Romans, bears, or each other.
Once in a while you see the kind of people that make you think, “They’ve seen too many Disney films.” Bubbly little princes or princesses with a worrisome imagination and a bias towards all things pink or cuddly. Not bad people per se, but… Disney types.
So imagine then, the people who play Cinderella her fucking self. Imagine whole rooms filled with such people. Whose job it is to be a mermaid or blue Gizmo. What kind of people would they be?
I got to find out first hand, backstage at Disney on Ice: Mickey and Minnie’s Fantastical Journey or some shit. It’s the oldest DOI show currently touring, which is noticeable by the props that are older than I am.
When I saw ‘Kiss the Anus of a Black Cat’ on the local concert agenda, I stopped for a moment and considered going. I’ve known of their existence for a while so I was already over that first “what kind of bullshit band name is that” and even the “okay so it’s their band name but it’s still bullshit” phase. It still took my girlfriend dragging me there before I actually did see them, though.
I know of their reputation as a “pretty good gig” but I’ll be fair: I did not have the slightest clue what I was going to see. I was expecting rock of some sort but to my surprise, I was treated to some classy new wave. And let’s be honest, is there such a thing as bad new wave?
“Reviews: Because nobody cares.”
I hope, if I ever quit my job, I will quickly forget how much I loved it. I know I’ll go cold turkey like a nympho in an Amish commune and have regrets for the rest of my little life, but I hope I won’t remember just how satisfying my work could be.
All the misery, all the cold, all the pain melted away when I saw The Black Keys on the concert agenda, and I thanked myself for all the hard work that put me in the core of the crew and among the first to get picked on smaller, but rewarding jobs. There aren’t many bands that I would still really want to see live (I can has Gogol Bordello please?) but the problem with cutting back on stagehand jobs in favor of a well-paid career as a technician is that more and more bands make it on the list.
Ever since I learned to operate a cd player, I’ve known about Pink Floyd. My father had “Meddle” laying around and the first song on it was “One of These Days,” a masterful piece written as an act of aggression towards an arrogant local radio show host. I would skip the voice part because it scared the life out of me and rewind the guitar solo’s until I could sing them along with high-pitched voice and previously undiscovered vowels.
Pink Floyd has been with me for as long as I can remember and my appreciation for their music came in phases, but it was pretty early when I realized that they were, objectively reasoned, the best band that ever walked the earth. I came to accept that the parts I didn’t like were just too complex for me to grasp and used them as a central axis to base my music taste around. It is no coincidence that my favorite band is Tool, who show many parallel influences in their music.
It broke my heart when I heard that Pink Floyd didn’t actually exist anymore, even though all band members were at the time still alive. They had separated and in a truly professional way, distributing the rights to their work amongst themselves. Pieces of epic art such as the “The Wall” tour however, were lost forever.
The Wall never really worked to begin with. They did four shows on that tour and then went bankrupt, because the logistics necessary just couldn’t be done without immense costs. Also, the band members couldn’t stand each other anymore so the whole thing was doomed from the start. They broke up and The Wall was buried.
However- those were the seventies, and this is the um, tenties? Science made life easy on us and egos had the time to deflate, just enough for Roger Waters, the old lead singer, to give it another try- albeit with hired musicians. As an all-time fan, I couldn’t believe what I was hearing when I was told The Wall would be touring again. In Belgium, even. Under Live Nation and thus, with us as their local crew.
I’ll be honest: My expectations were high. Not just for the show, but also for the production. When they called for volunteers to climb and build the actual “wall” itself, I jumped forward and into climbing gear 4 sizes too big. I was about to build Pink Floyd’s wall.
Six hours later, I had build Pink Floyd’s wall. And, I didn’t really feel any different. I was still excited about the whole idea but the immense release of satisfaction didn’t come. It might have been because I had to get up at 3 fucking 30 in the morning and was too tired to get very excited about anything, combined with the suicidal trickery we had to pull to install the scaffolding on a 45° slope, unique to the Antwerp Sportpaleis. Quoting our American colleague:
“You guys are crazy, you know that? In any other country they’d be like, “Fuck this shit” but you just carry on.”
I did some research and the show was indeed almost an exact copy of what they did 35 years ago, with modern technology. What was absolutely groundbreaking back then, was still mind blowing: During the show the wall is slowly built with white cardboard blocks (SPOILER ALERT by the way) and used as a projection screen for some of the most insane images I have ever seen. Every single song had its own gimmick and adding all the costs, I was amazed to think they even made it to the break-even point this time around.
To give you an idea: The show opened with a fucking airplane flying through the room and crashing into the wall. Lights, both automatic and human operated, were swung through the venue like they didn’t give a fuck, and no less than 15 of the largest projectors available (the size of a vintage Mini) made the whole thing light up with projections everywhere. Monstrous puppets, 20 meters tall, suddenly emerge where you least expect them, inflate, and shoot fucking light from their eyes. I wondered if they could have made it any more bombastic and snickered to myself. “Yeah. When pigs fly.” And then a pig flew by.
It’s a well-known gimmick by now: The flying pig. They stuff it with the right cocktail of helium gas and normal air so that it’s stationary, and then tie a set of propellers to it and the next thing you know, you’ve got a gigantic pig merrily floating around like a boss.
The sound was… flawless. It’s yet another thing Pink Floyd turned into an art: Surround sound. Subwoofers in the front and back of the venue, and holy shit, 5 stacks of speakers divided above the crowd. While so many speakers generally lead to a complete saturation of frequencies and intelligible music, the sound tech, using no less than three different, enormous mixing desks, mixed that shit like a pro and served it to us on a silver platter. It blew me away how good he got it, through superior equipment and skill.
The light too was true to the original show and handled well. It’s much more difficult for me still to find flaws there so I guess I’ll stick with “nobody stood in the dark needlessly”. Through I must say, the mirror-type spots were a good choice (they don’t have heavy rotating heads so they don’t make the truss wobble) and making them fly all over stage? Magnificent.
So here I stood, hanging on for dear life while an explosion of awesome took place before my very eyes: History repeating its most epic moments. And I felt… Disappointed.
Like I said before, my expectations were perhaps unreasonably high. But I am convinced that, along with everything awesome that they adopted from the original gig, they also copied the bad parts. The things that are simply no longer done today because they fuck the show up.
Hiding the band. Okay, I get it: The wall is The Wall. It needs to be there. But hiding the entire band behind for 2/3rds of the show is just rude, in my humble opinion. The stack was high enough to hide the second projection screen and great portion of the light show, and I feel like we’ve only seen a small part of the actual show. The band never even left the stage: just continued to play for what was for them, a white façade. Kind of painful to watch.
On top of that, Sir Waters, dressed in black (black!), didn’t have the charisma to fill the stage. Blah blah sacrilege, I know, but I really do think that. Despite all his grand moves and lots of running, he still had the whole stage Plus the empty wall behind him to fill, and he couldn’t do it. The special effects sent him right home and I personally would have preferred him behind the wall and the band in front of it, because the music was a hell of a lot more interesting than the visual interpretation of it that he gave in the form of what seemed greatly exaggerated sign language. It was embarrassing and distracting to watch. I’m talking air guitar, literally depicting the lyrics, pointing at grey faces in the crowd… He looked like a clown.
When David Gilmour performs (fuck you, I’ll compare you to who ever I like, Roger) he does it with an actual guitar, with the whole band. “Pink Floyd”, not “David and Co.” And “that’s what the original show was like” doesn’t count as a valid excuse to like it, in my book. Let’s see how you like the original Shakespeare. Not to mention David sings a hell of a lot better than Roger. It’s painful but do a quick comparison and tell me I’m wrong.
I’m not finished. What bothered me most of all were the countless empty slogans and icons tossed around. If one side of your pig is saying “Capitalism doesn’t work,” don’t write on the other side “Communism doesn’t work” without providing an alternative. Anyone can use and abuse icons like the Christian cross, Soviet flag, and too many Nazi references to count (I’m seriously getting sick of those). It’s old.
I’ll be honest however: These are details that fade to nothing in comparison to the amount of genius that was channeled into this performance. It reminds me a of a story of an emperor who told Mozart he had “too many notes” in his newest composition. Mozart nodded and asked, “Which ones should I take out, then?”
I enjoyed the gig immensely. Because it played my childhood, because I recognized the amazing when I saw it, but not because of the points I mentioned earlier. Combined with my high expectations… Disappointment was inevitable. Next time, let David have the rights to The Wall, instead?
Ohhhh I went there.