Howard Ungerleider: Clockwork Angels a ‘Rock Opera’
Rush’s long-time lighting director says band is talking about touring again in two years.
Howard Ungerleider, the lighting guru who has designed all of Rush’s concert tours, calls Clockwork Angels a rock opera and in creating the lights for the show, he treated it as one. “You want it to read like a play,” he says in an interview he gave last month to music writer and long-time acquaintance Brad Parmerter.
Ungerleider says the first thing he designed for the tour—even before he had heard the music or seen the lyrics—is the massive set of screens above the stage that move up and down on trusses like wings to capture the angels above the clock tower in the title song. All of that he based just on knowing the name of the upcoming album.
“The word angels spawned the idea for wings, which spawned the idea for the moving video panels which are the angel wings,” he says. “I put that together right off the top. Then after hearing [the music] I was able to embrace more of it with the whole steampunk and the story line.”
The amount of time he had to design the show once he had a chance to listen to the music was small, about a month and a half, and to program it, ten days, which had to be done in the middle of the night, after the band completed its rehearsals for the tour.
“The band likes to rehearse at show time so they rehearse starting at 7:30 p.m. and they’re finished at quarter to 11,” he says.”Then we start at 11 o’clock at night and we go straight through until 10 in the morning, every day for ten days in a row. Then I force everybody to come back at 3 in the afternoon so we can get the lights fired back up and I can run through all the cues so I can memorize them. Then the band comes in to do soundcheck and we run the cues with the band. . . . We’re up for about 18-19 hours a day, something a lot of people hate.”
Ungerleider pointed to the the rain scene during “The Wreckers” and the garden scene during “The Garden” as among his favorites of the show. He pointed to the lighting for “The Anarchist” and for “Clockwork Angels” as the most time-consuming to program.
He and the band and others spent months talking about how to position the string musicians on the stage. The decision to put them on a back riser was made as a way to give the stage a three-dimensional look, with the stage, riser, and screens acting as the three dimensions. It also kept the floor open for Alex and Geddy to move around on.
“Eight months before the tour started we were coming up with all sorts of questions,” he says. “What do we do with them? Do we put them on a riser? Do we make them come off the ground?”
Once the tour got underway, the pyro and other effects that happen so close to the riser made the string musicians a little nervous at first. “They thought they were around in the middle of a war zone,” he says, “which is understandable.”
Ungerleider has been designing Rush’s shows and touring with them for almost 40 years, making him one of their longest collaborators. The only tour he didn’t accompany them on is Roll the Bones, in 1991, because he had a contract commitment to stay on an extended tour with Queensrÿche, although he did design the show.
He says the soonest the band will tour again is in two years, but whether it will be to support another studio album or an anniversary compilation he doesn’t know.
“They’re talking about possibly touring in two years. But there will be nothing again for two years,” he says. “We know that.”
Parmerter asked him if the tour would be an “R42, as Geddy has mentioned. Do you know?”
“I don’t know,” Howard said. “That is up to them. They are the masters of that. As they say, ‘I light ‘em; I don’t write ‘em.'”
You can read the interview in its entirety on Live Journal.
Thanks to RushIsABand for the head’s up on the interview.