From Phish to Floyd, the ten best light shows

From Phish to Floyd, the ten best light shows
Eric Gruneisen

For many bands, the light show is almost as integral to the live act as the music, so much so, in fact, that lighting directors are often heralded as an additional member of the group. These illumination wizards have the most open and creative space to work in, and as result, they're able to create some of the most complex lighting schemes. Keep reading for a list of the ten best light shows.

See also: The ten biggest jam-band scene stereotypes

10. Genesis - Abacab and Mama tours Pioneers of automated lighting, these tours are considered to be some of the top light shows ever. Many people saw lights move on their own for the first time on the Mama tour, all made possible by the Vari*Lite system created by the band's lighting guys and engineers, with Tom Littrell programming and operating. Listen to the crowd roar with approval at various lighting cues.

9. Pink Floyd - Division Bell Tour Any of Floyd's tours apply, really, but this 1995 tour was made famous by the band putting out excerpts from it as the double live album Pulse. The massive stage production encompassed three stages, with lasers, spotlights and two custom designed airships, all put together as elegantly as the music. Marc Brickman designing and Mark Fisher building the rig and set was a huge achievement for both.

8. Muse Veering close to a stage production rather than just a lightshow, these guys still make the cut for the amount of tricks they have, including three lighting guys dangling from the sky with spotlights to follow the musicians, and Oli Metcalfe's designs creating numerous different worlds. The stage is heavy on LED screens, but the star of the show is the lasers shooting directly into the audience during "Madness" with a special laser accompanying the guitar solo.

7. STS9 Longtime lighting designer Saxton Waller uses an LED pyramid combined with moving lights to create complex lightscapes that move impeccably with the improvisatory music. Very creative, Waller lights the music as if telling a story. The above video is a teaser video he created to show his talents.


6. Widespread Panic Widespread Panic have always had dynamic light shows that get very psychedelic and use a lot of movement. Former Grateful Dead lighting director Candace Brightman helmed the reel for a few years, and continued a life career of blowing people's minds by playing the soundboard along with the music as if it was an instrument as well. Current lighting director Paul Hoffman uses cannons and projections against a big set design, creating mind-melding moments that match the soulful southern sounds of the band.

5. Nine Inch Nails With light designs that play with shadow just as much as light, Roy Bennett has created chaos on stage through strobes and rolling video projection screens for the "Lights in the Sky" tour, as well as others. With each tour, changes are made in set and light design, keeping the fans excited and wanting to see what's in store with every new tour. This fall has a setup inspired by Talking Head's Stop Making Sense.

4. The Disco Biscuits Johnny R Goode III brings cannons as well as a metric shit ton of lasers to the show, which greatly compliments and enhances the music. Also known for lighting the main stage at the Austin City Limits Festival, Goode knows exactly when to amp things up and bring the crowd energy to a higher level.


3. Ghostland Observatory This Austin duo shot above the rest with their awesome light display. These guys have fun with what they do in a genre that often takes itself way too seriously. The lasers are almost completely synced to the electronic beats the pair produces, bouncing off mirrors on stage, causing a very seamless experience for the senses. Laser tech Derek Abbott takes care of any musical cues that need commanding.

2. Phish Sometimes called the fifth member of the band, Chris Kuroda took guitar lessons from Trey as a teenager, and quickly moved from roadie to Lighting Director. A master of his craft, he is constantly evolving and changing things up with the lighting scheme, including this year when he employed background scrims that really allowed him to show blaring colors as the band was in silhouette. He's another one who is great off the cuff and reads the music of the band well. Kuroda can also make any venue look like a spaceship, and his work at the Hollywood Bowl utilizing the band shell is exceptional. Honorable mention for Kuroda lighting Justin Bieber's "Believe Tour," as well, for major laser extravaganza that has hundreds of thousands of little girls now completely spoiled

1. Umphrey's McGee Jefferson Waful filled in for a few gigs in 2008, and ended up staying and creating the most intense and creative light shows that really helped the band rise to a new level. Very knowledgeable about music, he is able to create an often symmetrical light show off the cuff that flows with the improvisation on stage. The band has intricate compositions and quickly changing arrangements, and Waful never misses a beat, flashing the stage with lots of MAC III light cannons on the rig and creating an arena rock look inside smaller club venues. His technical prowess combined with his creative originality put him on top of the list for light shows out there.

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