When the Rolling Stones kick off their new tour in London, they’ll unveil a stage that will help the band tell its story through the ages with intimacy and spectacle.
1:39PM EST November 27. 2012 – What do bridges, lounges, inflatable dancing girls and oversized phalluses have in common? They’ve all taken center stage at Rolling Stones shows, which in 50 years have gone from stripped-down jams to state-of-the-art spectacles.
When the venerable British band starts up the first of five “50 and Counting” shows Sunday at London’s O2 Arena, it remains to be seen what sort of stage will greet fans. But bank on it being a methodically planned creation that will shatter expectations.
“Every stage we’ve done has reflected the band and the zeitgeist,” says Patrick Woodroffe, the Stones’ lighting designer who for three decades has helped Mick Jagger and his mates turn visions into reality. “But it’s never just spectacle for spectacle’s sake. Keith (Richards) always calls the stage ‘the office.’ It’s where they work and everything has to be right.”
What little is known about the new stage is that it will feature the band’s familiar lips-and-tongue logo anchored by a central standing-room, general-admission area. That’s so the band can switch gears from stadium-rock anthems to tunes “that afford moments of huge intimacy,” which hark back to the band’s beginnings as a club act, says Woodroffe.
But he adds that the concert’s “emotional journey” through the Stones’ career will be assisted by elaborately produced video clips as well as “hugely flamboyant” set pieces. “The Stones are, after all, not just the soundtrack to many of our lives, they’re the movie, too,” he says.
Stones stagecraft has always risen to the occasion, whether it be the massive, industrial production that was their 1989 Steel Wheels stage or riffing off the then-nascent Internet scene on their 1994-1995 Voodoo Lounge tour, says Patrick Doyle, an assistant editor atRolling Stone.
But while the Stones have long amped up their stage shows, this time they just might tone things down. “Keith has said that sometimes elaborate stages and lighting can bog down a show because you can’t be spontaneous in song selection,” says Doyle. “With them rehearsing so many songs lately, I’d look for a more stripped-down stage that allows them freedom to mix songs up as they choose.”
The mini tour, which may yet give way to more dates, includes a second show in London on Nov. 29, one at Brooklyn’s new Barclays Center on Dec. 8 and two at Newark’s Prudential Center on Dec. 13 and 15. Guests include former band members Bill Wyman (bass) and Mick Taylor (guitar). But it’s the core group, which includes Charlie Watts (drums) and Ron Wood (guitar), that steers this ship.
“Usually, it’s Mick and Charlie who come to me first with ideas, but Keith has a keen eye,” says Woodroffe. “They’re real craftsmen, so it’s not just about whether a stage looks nice. It’s checking what the floor feels like, what the sight lines are, what sound does it throw off. When they come look at the stage, they’re like athletes stalking the field before the big game.”