Kuroda illuminating Mike Gordon at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium. Photo by Stuart Levine.
Phish’s video screens almost have the feel of a modern indie-rock show. Did any bands from that world, in particular, inspire your concept?
When we were talking about how we could be different, Trey, in particular, gravitated toward what he saw when we went to The 1975’s sold-out show at Terminal 5 earlier this year. He really liked what we saw, but we didn’t want to copy them or do the same tricks that they had done. What he liked was that they had a super clean look, and he wanted to try to incorporate that expression of cleanliness into Phish. When he was expressing the ideas he was interested in trying to bring into our production, The 1975 concept of presentation was something that he thought would be a really great starting place. That show definitely had some influence in that regard.
Also there is the fact that all humans inherently have differences of opinion. There are four voices in our band alone—four very different voices—and then there are management voices as well trying to represent the band members as best they can, and it was sort of an interesting de-cyphering process. We work through everyone’s ideas and try to come up with one coherent idea that will make everybody happy. Like I said, we went through several previous design concepts that basically didn’t make the cut. It was an enormous process to come up with something that met everyone’s criteria—different, evolving, environment, clean, organic.
You mentioned that you worked with Abigail on Phish’s video presentation. I saw The Cure at Madison Square Garden last month and also felt they did a great job of using their videos in atmospheric way that adds to the shows, instead of feeling like a nostalgic classic-rock show.
The Cure are not a jamband, but they do have a 300-song repertoire so i’m told, and they don’t write a setlist. All their songs are like three minutes long. They’re the Cure, but they play a different show every night. One of the reasons we really liked Abigail Holmes is that she was used to not knowing what song was coming next from her Cure days, and using that style of forward thinking toward her art that she had developed over there and bringing it over to us was another attraction for wanting her input on ways we would approach our new presentation.
In addition to your work with Phish, are you are lighting the Knicks and the Rangers. How did you end up working in the sports world, and what is your role with those organizations?
I did the same thing for the Dallas Mavericks about eight years ago, but the two jobs are unrelated. Literally, as the story was presented to me, a Madison Square Garden executive was walking through the Garden, during a Phish show on New Year’s Eve. Apparently, he looked up at the lighting and said to his colleagues, “Wow, who does that? That looks amazing.” That’s the story of my life—most of the jobs I get, there’s some kind of Phish relevance in the reason I’m reached out to.
I came on board with them last year mid-season. They reached out to me for some lighting—whether it’s game introductions or lights to go with video montages of the players. They show the city and there’s a lot of lighting that goes along with it. I also worked on lights for the Knick City Dancers—their cheerleaders—and all those dance routines that get the crowd psyched. There are hundreds of lighting moments. They have an amazing lighting system at the Garden, and they felt that they just weren’t getting the full potential out of it, so I came in mid-season and began working with the lighting. They really liked what I had given them, and now I’m writing all the Knicks and all the Rangers game lighting, start to finish. I actually start working on that project in August, writing everything from scratch. I love the concept. The people are wonderful. I love both sports, and love Madison Square Garden, so it’s pretty cool in a personal way for me. I really dig it.
You have had a chance to light a variety of venues this summer, from intimate spaces in Portland to a rare stadium show for Phish in Chicago. What have been some of your personal highlights this summer and favorite shows?
I really liked Syracuse, and I really liked Hartford. I really liked Portland, ME, because we couldn’t get the video element to work the way we wanted it to in such a small space. We couldn’t open our video wall because it was such a small space, and I had to rely a lot more on lighting and less video in that particular show. As much as I like the video, I felt very at home just lighting the band and the using the video very sporadically. I had an old school moment, so to speak, and it felt really good.
We did Portland not that long ago, and last time we played there, it felt big. All the things we’ve done between then and now, we walk in there now and say, “Gosh, my memories of this place are that it was huge.” Your perspective changes over time. Go figure