Making an Impression with AC/DC

Posted on Friday, February 12th, 2010

Fresh off the success of its multi-platinum comeback album Black Ice, which debuted at No. 1 in 29 countries, AC/DC embarked on its first concert tour in eight years. Known for its theatrics as much as its rhythm-heavy rock tunes, the band wanted to show its fans that, after 30 years in the business, AC/DC still has a flair for the spectacular. So designers for the Black Ice World Tour took inspiration from the album’s first single, “Rock ’N Roll Train,” and concocted a full-size train to come crashing through animated video screens in fiery flames to kick off the show. The massive 13,000 lb. locomotive remains on stage as a smoking centerpiece for most of the concert.

To light the train during the group’s performance, LD Cosmo Wilson, who has been with AC/DC for nearly 20 years, along with Designer Patrick Woodroffe, chose GLP Impression RGB LED moving headfixtures. Twenty Impressions are positioned on floor stands around the base of the train. They are used to uplight the fiberglass locomotive, which sits parked at a 32° angle on top of an 8’ backline deck.

“The train is an old 1920s-style steam engine, and it becomes the centerpiece of the show until the last four songs,” said Wilson. “It smokes and we use a lot of pyro on it, but for the actual lighting of the train, which is done from the bottom, we use Impressions and nothing else.”

An extremely compact moving head that can be mounted on a 14” center, the Impression is powered by 90 Luxeon K2 LEDs that can match or exceed the output of a 575W discharge fixture. Wilson learned about the Impression from another lighting designer, Michael Keller, who made it his mainstay fixture on John Mayer’s most recent tour. “I’m a big par can guy, so I was looking for a good, bright, par-style LED light, and Michael Keller told me about the Impression,” said Wilson.

“As it turned out, we decided to use the Impression to light the train, because its profile is so small. This allowed it to fit on the backline around the train.”

Performance-wise, Wilson says that he is extremely pleased with the Impression’s brightness and rich color saturation. “It’s fantastic – it’s a really intensely bright light and the colors are great. It’s got a nice, bright beam like a par can, although we’re not using it in that type of application. It works really well on the train.”

During a song from the new album, “War Machine,” Wilson wanted to paint the train in a saturated dark green and achieve an edgy, surreal look. “I put saturated green light on the train from below with the Impression. Then from behind I put on this little corona of lavender with one of our other lights. This made the train look unreal, almost like something out of a comic book. I kept getting comments from people on how unreal the train looked. If it hadn’t been for the brightness and color saturation of the Impression, I wouldn’t have been able to accomplish this look.”

Wilson says that in the future, he wouldn’t hesitate to use the Impression in overhead par can-type applications. With a power draw that’s 50% less than a comparable-output 575W discharge lamp and minimal heat generation, the Impression offers the very benefits that prompted him to look for an LED light that could replace par cans to begin with. 

“The problem with (traditional) par cans is that they use a lot of power and put out an immense amount of heat, especially when you’re talking 200, 300 or 500 par cans. Promoters today don’t want to pay for generators,” Wilson said. “Until now I hadn’t found an LED with a good enough beam that shoots far enough to copy what a par can does. But now that I’ve seen the brightness of the Impression, I can definitely say it would work in par can situations where it’s rigged up in the air.”

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