From Phish to Floyd, the ten best light shows

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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.

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77 comments
jksexton67
jksexton67

Walful is amazing! Howard Ungerleider, Rushs' LD, Jacobson, from Tool', who is the current King of the mountain? Brian Hartley TSO? NO QUESTION!

This is a reasonable list but as I said I openly challenge any LD to test there skills anytime anywhere!

Damon, Justin, you are clueless if you want to hear a band get a nice pair of sennheiser studio headphones if you can afford them. You don't go to a concert to hear the band you go for the show, Dumbasses! The light show makes or breaks the show PERIOD! You two aren't worth anymore of my time. If you knew anything about the indutry you would understand. BTW, GOD DIDN'T SAY LET THERE BE SOUND, HE SAID " "LET THERE BE LIGHT," So I turned em on! And if there are any audio engineers listening #1 God didn't need a line array or a microphone, because he is God and he has a really loud voice! #2 Yes when God said "let there be light" I was there so I pressed the go button! Just saying!

Mo Walsh
Mo Walsh

Why is tool not on this list?

Phil Smith
Phil Smith

Disco biscuits do a damn fine job

Brandon Thrift
Brandon Thrift

Best one I've seen is crystal castles. Never seen Pink Floyd but I would have loved to when they were together. Not a fan of Phish.

skywriter-at-large
skywriter-at-large

any old-timers (like me) remember Diogenes Lantern Works light shows at the old Family Dog in Denver?? GREAT LIGHTS, even for 1967, and NO lasers, computers or high-tech toys like today!

Bent Angle
Bent Angle

I've seen almost all these shows. But I was most blown away by the "Tripping Daisies" Bill tour. I can not even begin to describe the awesomeness. It was the low budget'ness that made it so freakin awesome. I wish I had some video of it...

Michael Apostle
Michael Apostle

Blue Oyster Cult circa 1977-78 - pretty sure the lasers fried quite a few eyeballs

Candie Bernard
Candie Bernard

Phish always has a great light show. So glad they made this list!

Emily Schneider
Emily Schneider

I love when rock meets lasers/light show. It is a perfect pairing and makes one hell of an awesome experience. My most recent of these was MUSE and whoa, that was crazy fun. (:

Bret Berman
Bret Berman

Big Gigantic's light show blows Widespread Panic out of the water... and how is Daft Punk NOT on this list?!

Ryan Miller
Ryan Miller

Interesting commentary, Slade. I will say that UM absolutely destroys everything in their path and CK/Waful deserve to be 1/2. I agree with the earlier post that this is pretty much interchangeable. Hope all's well with you..

afnnet
afnnet

Saxton should be in the top 3. That video doesn't do him justice, its not even from a live show. Do agree with Waful being number 1. Umph's music may not be my cup of tea,but dude is a straight wizard on them lights

Dylan Crosby
Dylan Crosby

Screens and lights are two different things

Larry Slade
Larry Slade

open your eyes. pretty lights payed with a full band this summer. the question is about lights. not best band

Morgan Boyles
Morgan Boyles

Big Gigantic's Rowdy Town and The National had two of the best and unique rigs of the summer.

Jeremy Schwartz
Jeremy Schwartz

Kuroda's rig is the smallest it's been in years, so ya know.

qerfqrwf
qerfqrwf

Yeah this list is great. Umphrey's and Phish obviously take 1 and 2 seeing as they're the two best bands in the world right now. Phuck Pretty Lights, mainstream talentless bro...

Just watch this Rebubula by Umphs at Summer Camp this past summer and you'll understand.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0O2Wwbjm4UM

steppesmusic
steppesmusic

I've seen quite a few of these bands (some quite against my will) and I'm not sure I've ever been more impressed with the technical achievements of Radiohead's dynamic LED board system on their last tour.  DMX isn't rocket science (seriously, it isn't), but the computerized pulley system that made that possible was pretty incredible and unlike anything I've ever seen.

And, unlike Phish, it intensified the emotion of the music, and wasn't just a pretty distraction from terrible singing and lazy arrangements.

fedytnyk
fedytnyk

This is the Worst ranking of ANYTHING Ive ever seen online!!!!! Who the fuck did this list?? Where the Fuck is The Lasershark??????? and Genesis?? WTF??

mmw313
mmw313

Wait- Saxton #7???? He blows the top 3 outta the water! Fact. Let's get real here. :P

Dylan Crosby
Dylan Crosby

Hahaha at all you douches bashing Umphreys Mcgee. You obviously don't know good music, Pretty Lights?? What a fucking joke that guy is. Umphrey's may tour with some jam bands and play teo sets like jam bands but they aren't just some drug ridden nonsense. They are improvisation geniuses and masters at what they do. Jefferson Waful can kill a lightshow at even the smallest of venues. Fuck yo Shitty Lights nonsense. Open your ears, music is made with instruments not Macbooks

jksexton67
jksexton67

See, Ive been doing this job for 30 years from clubs to stadiums. Depth, dimension, darkness, contrast, complimentary, color, effect, timing and musical knowledge are what it takes! To you who say it's an enhancement you are clueless buy the mp3's, put your headphones back on! For you who think you are the best I openly challenge, anyone, anytime, anywhere to take me on! To you computer geeks playingplaying space invaders when you should be paying attention to the stage wake up! BTW shame on you for even finding it! SAME TOYS, APPLES TO APPLES! Young, old WHATEVER! THERE IS NO ONE BETTER AND VERY FEW EVEN IN MY LEAGUE! Bring it on!

John Sexton facebook Port Huron, MI

justin.easter
justin.easter

meh. light shows are an enhancement. they embellish the music. a light show would only be a crutch if it was relied upon in order to play the music well - if the music is the same with or without the lights, it can't be a crutch. all it's doing is adding to the experience.

justin.easter
justin.easter

meh. light shows are an enhancement. they embellish the music. a light show would only be a crutch if it was relied upon in order to play the music well - if the music is the same with or without the lights, it can't be a crutch. all it's doing is adding to the experience.

justin.easter
justin.easter

meh. light shows are an enhancement. they embellish the music. a light show would only be a crutch if it was relied upon in order to play the music well - if the music is the same with or without the lights, it can't be a crutch. all it's doing is adding to the experience.

heart28
heart28

@Dylan Crosby You realize pretty lights entire last album was made with instruments right?

joeldean09
joeldean09

@heart28  you realize that he sits behind a macbook on a giant stage while the crowd touches each other on molly right? I left pretty lights at wakarusa a couple summers ago because it was the second time in a row I had seen a show where he did nothing but jump around up there (similar to any dj)

heart28
heart28

@joeldean09 Dunno if my shit posted before but He is touring with a live band this fall. But haters gunna hate :)

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