Friday Top 5: Live Set Design

When attending a concert, the music can often be only a part of the overall equation. Setting is an enhancement or detriment to the overall experience. With the blissfully tranquil setting of  Sasquatch Fest around the corner, my mind began to wonder. Setting in a natural area is often the easiest way to enhance a mood. However, sometimes an artist wants to personally expand on the themes written through song in a live setting, and that’s when the set design becomes more and more elaborate. When the design just comes out as self-aggrandizing and strange, it distracts the audience from the show. Take for instance Kanye’s theoretical Ferrero Rocher Gold wrapper design or Bowie’s giant spider. There is certainly a fine line here. Nevertheless, in some instances bigger, brighter, and complex structures work to frame a show that can be talked about years after the fact. On that note, here’s the FT5 of most badass, over the top Set Designs.


5. Lady Gaga – Monsters Ball Tour 2010

I may be the first to mention Ms. Gaga on this site, but in terms of showmanship and set design, she is right up there. She is obviously better known for her wardrobe antics, but her stage set-up during her latest tour was as much art as it was theater. That is, theater utilizing a massive Anglerfish hybrid monster. While I can’t say I enjoy, or have even heard much of her catalog, her onstage presence is wonderfully gaudy.


4. Daft Punk – Alive Tour 2006/07

Before deadmau3 had his cube, Daft Punk was getting down on a pyramid. Using LED screens covering a massive 30 foot tall structure, the helmet-donning duo put on a show that I still hear friends talk about to this day. The designer, Martin Phillips’ plans for the set including lighting and rigging can be found here. It’s no surprise why there is a large vocal presence to get them back to the States. For those unfortunate souls in the US who missed this tour, I’m willing to bet they won’t see as nearly as epic of set design next time. If there is a next time, that is.


3. The Rolling Stones – Steel Wheels/Urban Jungle Tour 1989/90

For the aging, yet timeless group of Brits, the stage design for this tour in particular was in many ways a massive spectacle of misdirection. The monstrous and well-thought out structure could only faintly mask the low level of attention that went into the record which the Stones’ were promoting during the tour. Regardless, the set will go down as one of the most awe-inspiring set structures ever.


2. Amon Tobin – ISAM Tour 2011

This design, straight off the presses, is one of the most visually stunning sets I’ve ever seen. Here you can see the trailer for the upcoming tour and behold the vast and complicated structure that will shortly be traveling across Europe in support of his vivid and extensive release ISAM. The Brazilian DJ is no stranger to lighting effects in the past, but personally, I cannot wait to see the footage from one of these upcoming concerts.


1. Roger Waters – The Wall in Berlin 1990

It’s no surprise to me who should be number one here. In terms of set construction, Roger Waters is in a world by himself. The sheer massive nature of the wall he constructed for his 1990 Berlin show puts him way above the rest. Epic is the world that most comes to mind when I see that famous photo of the structure. To have been there for that show considering the timing and location, just months post-Berlin Wall, was unlike any predecessor or follower, and that includes Waters’ latest tour. While his 2010 tour utilized mainly visual effects, in 1990, The Wall was a theatre production not likely to be topped ever.


Set designs as mentioned in the last, are tending more towards digital productions. Who knows if we will ever see a production to rival the sheer scale of Roger Waters’ Wall, but I for one see promise in the future for a renaissance of theater in music. Did any readers make any of these shows? If so tell us about them or share other design flops or triumphs.

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