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Smokinggun.com on the Burning Club

By ktakki in Op-Ed
Sun Feb 23, 2003 at 11:03:49 PM EST
Tags: News (all tags)

The tragic fire at The Station, a night club in West Warwick, Rhode Island, is certain to result in criminal charges and civil suits, against both the club's ownership and the band Great White, whose pyrotechnic display sparked this fatal inferno.

Great White's standard contract rider has been posted at The Smoking Gun. What's left out is just as interesting as what's included.

Reading this contract rider, my first impression of this disaster seems to have been confirmed: The Station's house soundman should have seen this coming and could have acted to prevent this tragedy from taking place.

First, I must preface my remarks by saying that I do not know whether the house soundman survived this tragedy, unscathed or not. If he's been injured or killed, my thoughts and prayers go out to his friends and family in their time of need. If he survived unscathed, my thoughts go out to him, because he is probably wondering what he could have done to stop this horror from taking place.

Second, I was once a house soundman, too, working part time at a club in Boston called Chet's Last Call, on Causeway Street near the old Boston Garden. This was a little over ten years ago. The money was so-so, but the drinks were free and the waitresses were pretty cute. I'd played enough gigs there that I knew the set-up pretty well, and I thought it would be interesting to be on the other side of the board for a change. I also did a lot of studio production then, though there are more differences between live sound and recording than there are similarities.

The job of house sound engineer is pretty much the same everywhere in Clubland. You start off the night at around 6 or 7 PM, wiring the stage, dragging mics and stands out of the locker, firing up the effects rack, the board, and the amplifiers. Bands start showing up for soundcheck about this time, and if they've never played your club you've got to let them know where to store their cases and spare equipment, where the dressing room is, what the free/discount drink policy might be, set-up times, set times, and the load-out policy (some clubs require all bands to wait until after last call or closing before they can drag their gear back to the truck).

The majority of headlining acts tend to bring their own soundperson to the club, even if they're local, but the house engineer still needs to work with this person, if only to inform them of certain sound system idiosyncracies (e.g., this channel on the board is dead, this effects send works independently of the main level fader, please don't fucking write over the house reverb settings). Opening acts sometimes have their own person behind the board, but many do not, since they get short money compared to the headliner. Either way, the house engineer is invariably the person who affixes microphones and direct boxes to the bands' instruments, by virtue of being most familiar with the "snake" (a breakout box attached to a thick multiline cable that runs from the stage to the front-of-house mixing board).

The rest of the job is simple: start with sound check, checking each individual instrument, drum, and voice, tweaking timbre and effects, and then have the band run through a song or two, getting a relative balance and a good mix. While the band "strikes" the stage, pushing the backline amps against the far wall and pulling drums and keyboards offstage, you "spike" the settings, writing the positions of knobs and faders on a sheet of paper. Last band always goes first, and when the opening act is done you'll have a layer of two, three, or four amps on stage. Opening acts hate that, but hey: they're not headliners, so you don't have to care. Doing sound is somewhat like system administration in this respect: [clickety-click] You're going on at 8:30, 'kay, thanks, 'bye.

All that's left is to remain sober enough for the rest of the night so you can mix the bands that don't have an engineer (the sound does change when the club begins to fill with people) and shoulder-surf the engineers that other bands might have brought. I actually liked mixing bands, and I got to work with some interesing ones, like Bikini Kill, Reagan Youth, Killdozer, Dogzilla, and others. Even when the band sucked, you did the best you could, because even suckass bands deserved to sound good.

Now that I've explained the basic purpose of the house sound engineer, allow me to say why I think that The Station's engineer should have had some inkling of what was about to go wrong that night.

There's an aspect to doing house sound that wouldn't show up in the job description, if there was a job description: the need to keep the bands in compliance with applicable fire codes. This is more a matter of keeping the bands from leaving their empty drum and road cases in front of an exit than enforcing pyrotechnic and lighting policy. Still, there are examples of the latter: I once threatened to ban a suburban metal band if they didn't take their flashpots back to the van and forget about using them. Chet's was a tiny club, less than half the size of The Station, and flashpots would have filled the club with smoke even if they hadn't ignited the ceiling (which was a mere 6'4" above the stage floor). Another band wanted to erect a playground swing set in front of the stage, festooned with yellow police "CRIME SCENE" tape. I let them do this, partially because it didn't block the fire exits or tables, but mostly because it was a snowy Tuesday night, and I expected a crowd of maybe five people to show up.

Regardless of who owns the club, the house sound engineer "owns" the stage. He's responsible for the club's equipment, which is often leased from a sound and lighting company. Even if the headlining band brings their own sound system, the house engineer still has to supervise the loading and setup, making sure that there's ample power to run the band's PA system. According to the Great White contract rider, the band was using the club's sound reinforcement equipment, so the house soundman's involvement was greater than if the band's own system was brought in to the club.

This is the main reason why I believe that The Station's house engineer should have known pyrotechnics were going to be used and that they were too big for such a confined space. These particular spark generators (known as "gerbs") are about 6 to 8 inches in length, and about 2 inches in diameter. They're hard to miss. The engineer couldn't have overlooked them. Great White was the headliner, so no other band's equipment would have been on stage. The band was using the house PA, so the house engineer would no doubt have been wiring the stage and miking the band's gear. He should have known. It's possible that the soundman saw the pyro gear and didn't think it would spark a fire, though considering the stage's low ceiling it's hard to imagine that the soundman and the band's pyrotechnician wouldn't have discussed this possibility. If so, it's painfully obvious that they decided not to err on the side of caution in this case.

Second of all, there's the matter of the foam insulation, an eggcrate-like material used to deaden the back wall of the stage and soak up excess reverberation from the drum kit (in favor of a more controllable digital reverb effect added at the board). It was this insulation that burned like napalm once the spark projectors were set off, during the very first song of the set. As I mentioned, the house engineer is master of that stage, and it would surprise me if these foam panels were installed without his knowledge or consent, though whether the flammability was known I have no idea. I would actually tend to give the soundman the benefit of the doubt, that he had no idea how flammable the tiles were, though some might say ignorance is no excuse, especially in light of the nearly 100 deaths that resulted.

Still, the primary responsibility rests with the band Great White, in particular Jack Russell. It was their pyrotechnics that caused this tragedy. It was their ignorance of local laws that contributed to the death of 96 and injury to nearly two hundred people, many of them critically. It was their direct actions that resulted in the fourth most deadly entertainment venue disaster in US history (the Coconut Grove fire in Boston, November 1942, which took 492 lives, tops the list).

The contract rider specifies that the band should be billed as "Jack Russell's Great White", not Great White. This is the same Jack Russell who was interviewed on local television and said that the band had permission from the club to use their pyrotechnic display, that as far as he knew the band and club were in compliance with local laws. Yet Rhode Island's fire code states that an application should be filed at least fifteen days in advance and, for approval to be granted, the Fire Marshal must inspect the venue and review the plans for the proposed pyrotechnic display. We all know that this was never done.

A note about this concert rider: if you've never read one before, this might seem like the product of a stone control freak. But they're pretty much all like this, to greater or lesser degrees, and this particular one is less demanding than most. In fact, the requirements seem pretty modest. The last two pages cover the food and beverage provisions, and the absence of any form of alcohol is conspicuous. Even local headliners demand a case of beer at the very least. The most elaborate rider I'd ever seen belonged to Motown legends The Temptations; it spanned fifty pages, including some rather obscure vegetarian meals, and enough alcohol for sixty people, even though no more than five actual band members were touring (they used local players as a "pick-up" band).

The most conspicuous omission is on this page:

This seem strange to me: it's invariably the lighting tech's job to set up and perform the pyrotechnics. If not, that job is the responsibility of a second person who works under the lighting tech. I've never heard of a band that had a pyro tech and not a lighting director.

I have two explanations for this. First, this might be an old contract rider. However, the catering rider, consisting of the last two pages, bear a date of "2002/2003", and the preceeding pages mention Knight Records, the independent label that signed the band last year. Regardless, this clause in the rider by no means precludes the possibility that the band picked up a lighting tech just for this part of the tour. They did use this same display in at least five other clubs recently, including the Stone Pony in Asbury Park, NJ.

The other explanation, albeit more remote, is that one of the road crew set up and performed the pyrotechnic display, and that the firing of 10' tongues of sparks in a club where the ceiling was 10' from the floor was a mistake only a rank amateur could make. It's not unheard of for a member of the road crew to double as a lighting or pyro technician, even if extra pay isn't involved, primarily because it kills the time between load-in and load-out. What the hell else are you going to do in West Warwick, RI on a weeknight? You don't have a car, you've only got a $20 per diem payment in your pocket, and you can't get too drunk before load-out or the rest of the crew will make you ride to the next stop on the tour in the bus's luggage compartment. Touring is boring.

Whether it was a temporary lighting tech or a member of the road crew, primary responsibility for this tragedy lies with Jack Russell's Great White. However, I still believe that that The Station's house sound engineer, responsible for all stage management, could have prevented this from happening.


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Related Links
o tragic fire
o Great White
o The Smoking Gun
o Chet's Last Call
o "snake"
o sound
o check
o flashpots
o "gerbs"
o foam insulation
o eggcrate-l ike material
o Jack Russell
o fourth most deadly
o Coconut
o Grove
o fire
o contract rider
o fire code
o Fire Marshal
o concert rider
o this page
o Knight Records
o Stone Pony
o Also by ktakki

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Smokinggun.com on the Burning Club | 80 comments (62 topical, 18 editorial, 0 hidden)
Spot on (4.93 / 16) (#17)
by iGrrrl on Sun Feb 23, 2003 at 09:02:27 PM EST

First, from personal experience, everything ktakki has said is true.

Before I went back to school, I worked as a roadie/sound tech/&etc for about four years. One of my gigs included two or so months out with a spandex metal band touring the southeast US in the mid 1980's. My job was stage roadie -- everything on the stage was my responsibility/problem, from amps to drunks to musicians to effects. Effects included chemical foggers, C02 foggers, and, yes, pyro.

Most of the clubs we went into were 300-500 capacity, and every configuration of stage and bar you could imagine. Safety was a primary concern. We carried our own power distro and tied directly into the building feed, rather than worry about the condition of the wiring to the wall outlets. Cables were always securely taped when they had to cross public areas. Pyro was never blown without the owner's or manager's permission, and we didn't even asked if conditions weren't right.

The first thing we would have said about that club: "Ceiling's too low for pyro."

You cannot have a reasonable conversation with someone who regards other people as toys to be played with. localroger
remove apostrophe for email.

who set up the pyro, too (4.80 / 10) (#18)
by Work on Sun Feb 23, 2003 at 09:15:34 PM EST

If great white didnt have a light guy, I seriously doubt they had a licensed pyro either. The gerbs were likely set up by an inexperienced roadie.

Any professional pyro would've taken one look at the low ceiling, lack of sprinklers, small size, egg crate foam and said 'no way'.

Further, legal loopholes that allow these small clubs to get away with being nearly unregulated as far as fire goes need to be fixed. In every city and state, any major venue that uses pyro must have the pyro set up by a licensed professional, touched by noone else, and then fired by the pyro. Further, a city fire inspector must inspect and sign off on the set up - and then be in attendance during the show. I can think of more than one show in smaller areas that had to have the pyro remain unused because the city's only inspector couldn't attend the show that day.

Grandfathering too (none / 0) (#73)
by Eccles on Wed Feb 26, 2003 at 12:52:35 PM EST

Further, legal loopholes that allow these small clubs to get away with being nearly unregulated as far as fire goes need to be fixed.

Not to mention grandfathering. As I understand it, the place didn't have a sprinkler system because it was built before the regs that now require it. Places shouldn't be allowed to skirt regs forever due to age; perhaps a time limit, ever-increasing fees, or the like to get the upgrading done.

[ Parent ]
I could not agree more (5.00 / 7) (#20)
by marcelduchamp on Sun Feb 23, 2003 at 11:26:25 PM EST

Thank you! This is along the lines of what I've been spouting off about the past day or two. I used to work on crew at First Avenue in Minneapolis, where the film "Purple Rain" was filmed, once upon a time. The Smoking Gun seems to point to the omission of any mention of pyrotechnics as being somehow indicative of some possible guilt on part of the band. But what is more interesting are the elements within it that point to the fact that there is no likely way the venue could have not known what was being put on stage. The rider calls for 2 loaders/stagehands, a light technician, a runner, a merch person, and possibly a followspot operator provided by the venue. The house will also have at least one sound person, in the very least. We can probably guess that the runner might double as the merch person. This adds up to, in the very least, 5 to 6 people involved in setting up the production who could conceivable not be "in the know". The loaders quite specifically help put up and tear down the stage. The light technician is often the person operating the pyro, but I guess someone else could have triggered them (as seems to be the case). Either way, this person would probably spend time on stage as well. The sound technician would probably be on stage a lot. That's at least 4 people "not in the know" wandering around on stage. I would also be interested to see investigations into other establishments who've come forward claiming that the band used pyrotechnics without permission. The sound of washing hands lends itself to a trail of people who seemingly have done a disservice to their patrons by looking the other way. An event like this, is quite obviously an insult to all within the industry who take this business very seriously. How someone could stand before a nation of theatrical professionals and claim that their ignorance is somehow excusable is outrageous.

Apology for formatting (5.00 / 1) (#21)
by marcelduchamp on Sun Feb 23, 2003 at 11:30:16 PM EST

(Allow me to apologize right now for not formatting this correctly. An oversight on my first posting here...)

[ Parent ]
Much as I agree, I disagree... (4.90 / 10) (#22)
by m0nkyman on Mon Feb 24, 2003 at 12:56:10 AM EST

I spent fifteen years working as a doorman at live music nightclubs. Everything you said is true except for one thing. Patron security stops with the security folk. Soundguys, waitresses and bartenders all should point out stuff, and make sure fire exits  aren't blocked, but the doorman/security's job is making sure it's safe.

I've also never worked a live music club where the doormen didn't help truck in stuff for the band. We're big enough that we can throw people out, we're damn well big enough to give bands a hand lugging amps.

I knew the soundstage as well as the soundman. I stopped more than one band from using Pyro after the soundman mentioned it to me. And nobody could intimidate me the way they could to our 5'2" soundman.

The soundman probably could have stopped it from happening. The doormen SHOULD have.

If I can't dance, then I won't join your revolution-- Emma Goldman

I'm with you (3.66 / 3) (#24)
by the77x42 on Mon Feb 24, 2003 at 03:41:56 AM EST

Safety is everyone's responsibility. Keeping the exits clear is the most basic part of a security job.

"We're not here to educate. We're here to point and laugh." - creature
"You have some pretty stupid ideas." - indubitable ‮

[ Parent ]
Seen different (5.00 / 6) (#27)
by iGrrrl on Mon Feb 24, 2003 at 08:34:14 AM EST

I've also never worked a live music club where the doormen didn't help truck in stuff for the band.

And I've been in plenty of clubs where the doormen would not touch band gear except to move it out of their way (>50%, in my roadie days; almost 100% in my musician days). Not that it isn't great when they help, but it isn't their job unless management says it is.

I stopped more than one band from using Pyro after the soundman mentioned it to me. And nobody could intimidate me the way they could to our 5'2" soundman.

I'm sure your experiences have been different from mine, but I haven't seen very many house sound guys without a strong sense of their own power and a willingness to use it. All he has to do is lock up the mics. And size isn't everything. At 5'5", I've managed to toss 6'4" guys off stage, break up fights between skinheads, and give Henry Rollins bad news.

You can say your experience is different, but I've seen (and done) everything ktakki wrote about. It fits with my experience, both in the southeast and in Boston. The only thing I've ever had the house security worry about was the location of road cases and the safety of cables that had to run across public areas. I never had a security guy in a club check on lighting safety or question pyro. Even in my own band (I was a tech first, a singer later), I used to circuit test every outlet we might use in a club, and would tape over the bad ones.

But my pyro experience was in the 80's. Maybe owners have given house security more responsibility to help avoid lawsuits.

You cannot have a reasonable conversation with someone who regards other people as toys to be played with. localroger
remove apostrophe for email.
[ Parent ]

[OT] You gave Henry Rollins bad news? (4.28 / 7) (#41)
by rusty on Mon Feb 24, 2003 at 12:34:28 PM EST

Dd you tell him that Johnny Mnemonic totally sucked or what? :-)

Not the real rusty
[ Parent ]
Great White loses guitarist in fire (4.00 / 6) (#23)
by redcountess on Mon Feb 24, 2003 at 02:54:20 AM EST

Ty Longley, originally reported missing, has been confirmed among the dead, according to Great White's official website (the website referred to in the original post is that of their record company).

Stage Manager (4.60 / 5) (#26)
by Ludwig on Mon Feb 24, 2003 at 05:34:10 AM EST

I worked as a lighting guy at a medium-sized club in Manhattan, and the person responsible for stage management wasn't the sound engineer, but the stage manager. I'm sure that the two hats are worn by the same person in many small clubs, but it's misleading to suggest that the position of sound engineer carries with it any responsibility for non-sound-related issues. I know that if one of my lights had started a fire or fallen onto someone's head it would have been my own problem.

Our soundchecks/tech rehearsals generally started in the early afternoon, 4PM at the latest. It's possible that a rushed, bare-minimum check would have contributed to the oversight, but seeing as they go so far as to specify gel colors and time to go over "mood settings" for the set, it seems unlikely that they planned to show up at 7. Given the not unusual amount of detail in the rider re: backline, layout, catering, loaders, etc., it strikes me as inconceivable that terms of pyrotechnics use would be left solely to a verbal agreement.

I'm curious about that foam behind the stage -- on the videotape, it doesn't look like standard eggcarton acoustical foam, which is specifically designed not to go up like that, for obvious reasons. If that was part of the house and not Great White's stage dressing, then some fraction of responsibility does fall on the Station's management and/or the local fire inspectors who signed off on it.

Small club, two hats. (4.50 / 2) (#34)
by ktakki on Mon Feb 24, 2003 at 11:05:12 AM EST

The Station's capacity was only 300, which does qualify it as a "small club". The stage was tiny as well, and I would tend to doubt that the club had a dedicated stage manager. In the Boston area, for example, the only clubs with stage managers are the 500+ venues (Paradise, Axis, Avalon); all the rest rely on the house engineer to manage the stage.

7PM sound checks are the norm, even in clubs I've played in NYC (CBGBs, Max's Kansas, The Lions Den, Cat Club, Peppermint Lounge, etc.). For a touring act like Great White, especially one that brings their own sound and lights on the road, set-up times are earlier, of course. But that's the exception. Note that the 6PM or 7PM sound check mentioned above is written in the context of my own experience. I do not know when Great White actually checked, or what The Station's SOP was.

I do think that the use of pyro was the result of a verbal agreement: it's not mentioned in the rider. But I believe the club's booking agent knew, at the very least. Local tv news has been airing video taken during other bands' shows at The Station, shows that used the same grebs as Great White. The difference was that none of these spark effects lit the walls on fire because that foam tiling hadn't been installed yet.

Finally, that eggcrate foam padding does come in code-compliant fire retardant form, but it's more expensive than the non-treated sheets. That eggcrate pattern is also used for mattress pads and packing material, neither of which is certified as a building material.

"In spite of everything, I still believe that people
are really good at heart." - Anne Frank

[ Parent ]

The honesty of the club owners... (3.14 / 7) (#28)
by monkeytrumpet on Mon Feb 24, 2003 at 08:44:18 AM EST

What gets me are those other club owners coming out saying that White Power - sorry, Jack Russell's White Power - had let off pyro without their permission during previous gigs. From what I've been hearing on the news and on various forums, the process for obtaining a permit to use pyro at a gig can take over two weeks and requires all sorts of paperwork and inspections, as well as pretty rigorous supervision on the night. I've also heard people commenting elsewhere on the net that bands will sometimes come to a verbal agreement with a club to bypass the whole messy (and I'm guessing not-inexpensive) business.

I'm just speculating here, but I'm willing to bet that if White Power had ever made an "under the table" agreement with a club or clubs to use pyro, thus by-passing the inconvenient permit process, then there is no way these club owners are going to come forward on global television to say "sure, we let 'em set it off" thus opening themselves up to a whole mess of legal difficulties. In fact, if I was a club owner who had hosted a previous White Power gig where this had happened I would be falling over myself to get in front of a news-camera to denounce the band before someone who was in the audience could put two and two together and get there first.

In the end though, regardless of if they got permission or not, I agree with the overwhelming opinion I've seen from people who are on road crews, bands and work for venues, that whomever White Power got to set the pryo up should have taken one look at that stage and said "no way."

White Power? (3.50 / 2) (#32)
by milican on Mon Feb 24, 2003 at 10:51:53 AM EST

White Power?  Who is that... oh you mean Great White...


[ Parent ]

This is probably true (none / 0) (#33)
by mmealman on Mon Feb 24, 2003 at 11:04:46 AM EST

Compared with other states, New Jersey seems to have heavy regulations for just about everything. I wouldn't be suprised if you needed a permit to use your own bathroom.

But the problem with regulating everything to the extreme is that you often just force the behavior underground.

Both the club and the band are to blame, but I think this also shows a failing in the way New Jersey is handling the permits for this activity.

[ Parent ]
Great White (4.00 / 1) (#42)
by CaptainSuperBoy on Mon Feb 24, 2003 at 12:59:53 PM EST

The name of the band is Great White, not White Power. Are you making some kind of a joke or did you get the name wrong?

jimmysquid.com - I take pictures.
[ Parent ]
Re: great white (none / 0) (#58)
by monkeytrumpet on Mon Feb 24, 2003 at 06:36:26 PM EST

Ahhh crap, sorry - deinately not joking there, I proofread that post a bunch of times before posting and just plain missed it - the dangers of of posting when you're half asleep :-(

[ Parent ]
So I Go to a Bunch of Shows Myself... (5.00 / 5) (#29)
by greenshift on Mon Feb 24, 2003 at 08:52:56 AM EST

I go to around 20 shows a year, almost all of which are at 300 capacity venues.

In fact, I'm going to a show tonight in Austin to see Interpol and Oneida at Emo's.

I'll admit that when I go to a show I'm much more concerned with bootlegging it (which I do at every show I go to) and how the audio sounds than I am with noticing where the exits are.  I assume most people are more concerned with where the bar is or where their friends are than where the exits are.  In any case, Joe Average only knows where the main entrance was.

But, with that said, I suppose I'm just a more observant person than Joe Average.  On several occasions, I've seen bands do things that had at least the potential for disaster, and made damn sure I knew how to get out.

One band poured lighter fluid on their cymbals and lit it up for their finale.  Now, that was pretty tame, but the fire could easily have spread, say, onto the drummer, or the person pouring it on the cymbals.

Another band had a 2-meter high tesla coil shooting some one-meter long sparks all over the 2.5-meter high ceiling.  While not too likely, it could have caught the aging ceiling on fire.  A larger version of the tesla coil had ruined the house PA of at least separate venues, so it was some hardcore stuff.

Now, as soon as I saw those obvious fire hazards appear, I made note of the exits, just in case something went wrong.

Save for a 1998 Metallica concert, none of the dozens of concerts I've been to have employed any pyrotechnics, since my musical tastes now abhor the kind of rock star mentality that apparently Mr. Russell misses dearly.

But for me, personally, any time I see anything that looks like a fire hazard on stage, I look for escape routes.

Being an experienced club-goer, had I seen the pryo on that tiny-ass stage I would have felt none too comfortable.  Now, you can't see what the soundproofing is from the RI video, but had I seen any soundproofing right above the pyro, I would have 1) made my way to the back of the crowd, near my favorite exit 2) looked around for the fire extinguishers, and seeing none 3) called the fire department.

Anyone in that crowd that wasn't scared to shit seeing the flames in that place was grossly unaware of their surroundings.  That's not to say that they deserved anything bad (far from it), but just because a public area is supposed to keep you safe doesn't mean you should blindly trust them.

I don't.

Off-Topic (1.50 / 2) (#37)
by Zara2 on Mon Feb 24, 2003 at 11:58:02 AM EST

Off-Topic here but I also happen to be in Austin with a heavy interest in live bootlegs. If your interested in knowing someone else in austin my music page and contact info can be found at db2.etree.org/happysheep . Technichally thats the wifes page so make sure you say your a guy from kuro5hin asking for zara2 ;). I'd love to see what you got and maybe do some trades or something.

[ Parent ]
Telsa coil (none / 0) (#66)
by evilpenguin on Tue Feb 25, 2003 at 06:15:04 AM EST

Was that show, perhaps, a Man or AstroMan? show? I've gone to see theme every time they've come to town (which has been about 10 times by now), and they use the Telsa coil invariably. It's suitable for reasons which are obvious if you've ever seen them live -- finishing off the most high-energy show with 5' sparks is a good deal to me! They have also been using the coil in the finale for about 10 years now and never had a single incident.

Usually, Coco (the bassist/sampler guy) runs to the back of the stage during a drum solo or some such in the last song and comes back with a 6' coil dressed up to look like a space something-or-other. Perhaps it's due to stage constraints, but every time I've seen them, the coil is placed in the center of the stage near Birdstuff (the drummer). What ensues is Coco running around with a remote control with an evil red button on it that looks like a prop from Dr. Strangelove. After "playing" the coil (literally, he manages to get pitch out of the thing), he'll run through the crowd letting people push the button. The sparks either go to one of the cymbals or a mic stand. It's quite a specticle, and I can't imagine a more high-energy show (excuse the pun).
# nohup cat /dev/dsp > /dev/hda & killall -9 getty
[ Parent ]
Cool Band (none / 0) (#69)
by Bios_Hakr on Tue Feb 25, 2003 at 09:27:11 AM EST

I saw Man or Astroman back in the early 90s.  Probably late 93 or early 94 at a small club in Auburn, Alabama.  Man did they suck!

The coolest part of the show was they had TVs and Ataris set up at the front of the stage.  The controllers passed around to different people during the show.  It definately made the show one of the more interesting ones I had ever atended...

[ Parent ]

Man or Astroman (5.00 / 1) (#75)
by Ravinoff on Thu Feb 27, 2003 at 02:12:40 PM EST

Man or Astroman are great live. I saw them new years eve a little over a year ago, it was a great show. Heh, the drummer was so plastered. When they were proforming A Simple Text File, they knocked their old Apple printer off its stand and it came crashing onto the stage, parts went everywhere.

[ Parent ]
Fantastic (5.00 / 1) (#77)
by raygundan on Thu Feb 27, 2003 at 11:06:16 PM EST

Saw them a couple of times-- mid 90s and later in 2000 or 2001.  Saw the Tesla Coil.  Freaking fantastic.  Not to mention the song performed on a dot-matrix printer, setting a Theremin on fire (a la Jimi Hendrix, only nerdier), and the song "sung" by speech synthesis on what looked like an old macintosh.

Surf-rock and unbelieveable sci-fi nerdiness, all at once.  Heck, they don't even have to BE any good as musicians to put on a good show like that!

They autographed my Calculus midterm at the show in the mid-90's.

[ Parent ]

my question is (3.80 / 5) (#30)
by unstable on Mon Feb 24, 2003 at 10:06:27 AM EST

even if they werent concerned about the fire hazard...  why didnt they test out the pyro in the first place.

you would think that whoever threw the stuff up on the stage would at least say,  "hey,  lets light one off to make sure everything is running right"

anyone that has set up anything on stage knows that stage equipment is probably one of the biggest conductors of murphyism in the universe so you think they would have checked to make sure it didnt break "in the crates" on the way there.

the club probably would have burned then but in an empty club it wouldnt have been that bad.

oh...  and I too ran mixing board a few times (ok, so it was at a highschool rock concert)  but it is fun and is an "art form" in its self.

Reverend Unstable
all praise the almighty Bob
and be filled with slack

This is disgusting. (2.80 / 5) (#31)
by yujenisis on Mon Feb 24, 2003 at 10:27:54 AM EST

Does anyone other than myself find it strange how quick we are to begin pointing fingers and beginning the dance of litigation in this country? No respect for the dead, when hours after an event everyone involved gets a lawyer and starts blaming eachother. Have we forgotten about the sanctity of life in our culture? Our first reaction is: "Oh, how sad." Our second reaction could be any one positive thought, such as "How can we prevent this from happening again." But instead our second thought is "Who do we blame?" It was the same thing with Sept 11th, and having lost two people in that tragedy, I was disgusted by how insensitively the media covered that event and quickly jumped to finger pointing. Maybe, I am totally off-base but this is really beginning to bother me. It seems like we are culture who has forgotten how wonderful, special, and downright sacred life is. Mistakes were made, that is apparent. But is it so important that we don't even wait until the dead are buried before we start angrily accusing one another?

The are two sides of the same coin. (4.00 / 1) (#35)
by ghjm on Mon Feb 24, 2003 at 11:11:46 AM EST

The very first question many people have on seeing or hearing about a tragedy like this is: My god, how did this happen? (or: How can this be prevented?)  Invariably, when you look at how something like this happened, you discover that errors were made. And they always seem obvious in hindsight. And that makes you very angry, because if it weren't for these obvious errors, people would still be alive. It has nothing to do with litigation and everything to do with natural human response to tragedy.


[ Parent ]

If you're not part of the solution... (4.10 / 10) (#36)
by jabber on Mon Feb 24, 2003 at 11:24:08 AM EST

You complain, yet offer no alternative.

Do tell, what should be the Official Statute of Limitation, before we begin trying to understand what happened, and before we start learning from it? Two weeks? Two months? A day per body? How would you quantify, or qualify, the amount of time which needs to lapse, to maintain respectable decorum?

What is the sequence of events after a car accident? As far as I'm concerned it is A) Check the urgency of injuries, B) Rescue critical victims, C) Call the police and inform them of the accident and the information from step "A" and "B", D) Write shit down and otherwise begin making sense of what happened, E) Give statements to the police and provide them the information from step "D", F) Call the insurance company, G) Call a lawyer.

This situation is no different. The dead are still dead, and if you didn't know them personally, it isn't your grief. The injured are being taken care of by professionals, and you can do nothing to help, except maybe donate blood and/or money to the Red Cross. The investigators are picking through the rubble and piecing together the facts and details. All that's left for those of us who are interested, is to start understanding what happened, and to start learning from it.

Specifically, thanks to this article, I now know what small-scale pyrotechnic equipment looks like, how high it goes, and what the chain of command is at a small venue. You can be damned sure that this is useful and relevant information - it may in fact save my life someday.

If you feel the need to mourn, go right ahead and do so. The analysis will probably still be here when you're ready to join in. And if not, you can at least read over it in retrospect.

[TINK5C] |"Is K5 my kapusta intellectual teddy bear?"| "Yes"
[ Parent ]

Accident Procedure (5.00 / 1) (#59)
by pmc on Mon Feb 24, 2003 at 07:01:31 PM EST

As far as I'm concerned it is A) Check the urgency of injuries,

No. No. No. The first thing you must do is assess the situation. Absolutely the first thing in any accident. The second thing is to make sure that you do not put yourself in unnecessary danger - nobody wants another corpse. If you feel the need to put yourself in danger (possibly for good reason) either call for help or get someone else you feel you can rely on to call for help first.

Assuming it is a serious accident, then the emergency services success rate goes up the quicker they get there, and there probably isn't a lot you can do except (1) do you damndest to make sure they they get there quickly and (2) providing critical care if required (and you know what to do) to make sure they are still alive when they do arrive. Really, don't try to treat them unless you think that they will die before help gets there. Obviously this depends on the severity of the accident, but if you are thinking of rescuing people then please think again.

[ Parent ]

Blame (3.00 / 3) (#40)
by ucblockhead on Mon Feb 24, 2003 at 12:26:46 PM EST

Life is sacred...that's why we need to make damn sure people don't cut the corners that allow this sort of thing to happen. One way of doing that is by punishing those that get caught doing it.
This is k5. We're all tools - duxup
[ Parent ]
Mmmmmmmm (3.50 / 2) (#38)
by Bob Abooey on Mon Feb 24, 2003 at 12:16:48 PM EST


I've always said the band Great White had good taste which was normally not shown in bad 80's metal bands.

Everything that is wrong with the Internet all on one page

Call and E-mail Every last one of them (none / 0) (#44)
by cione on Mon Feb 24, 2003 at 01:30:17 PM EST

Go ahead and click on the link. The phone numbers and e-mail addresses are for the taking. I love it when stupid people release this stuff to people with a computer and net connection.

Why do the Unfortunate have all the luck???
[ Parent ]

greatest US entertainment disaster (2.07 / 14) (#39)
by turmeric on Mon Feb 24, 2003 at 12:26:43 PM EST

i think that would be the gulf war. i mean, it was cool and all. but over 300 americans died.

Re: greatest US entertainment disaster (3.50 / 2) (#52)
by mmsmatt on Mon Feb 24, 2003 at 04:28:31 PM EST

War is not entertainment. End of story.

[ Parent ]
but it was on cnn and in movie theaters (2.00 / 5) (#63)
by turmeric on Mon Feb 24, 2003 at 08:41:15 PM EST

i know i bought popcorn. didnt you? that ice cub. what a cutup!

[ Parent ]
How Common Are Pyrotechnics, Anyway? (3.00 / 1) (#43)
by Lagged2Death on Mon Feb 24, 2003 at 01:09:30 PM EST

Relatively little of my misspent youth was misspent at live music shows, but I've been to more than a few - 20, 30 maybe, mostly in smaller obvious-fire-trap type clubs. I can't recall ever seeing a show that included pyrotechnics. Even at the few big arena shows I've seen, there was fancy lighting aplenty, but nothing that was actually burning.

Given the risks, I wonder how spectacular they must be to make it worthwhile. I mean, all the pyrotechnics in the world won't help the band sound any better. Why does anyone even bother?

Starfish automatically creates colorful abstract art for your PC desktop!
Bad Heavy Metal (4.00 / 1) (#45)
by ucblockhead on Mon Feb 24, 2003 at 01:45:56 PM EST

Pyrotechnics was a staple of mid-eighties heavy metal bands, bands like Dokken, Motley Crue and, yes, Great White. Better bands, too. Metal shows in those days were about the spectacle. Seeing Ronnie James Dio fight a dragon with laser beams for eyes didn't make the music sound any better, either, but the fans ate it up.

I've seen pyro at lots of shows...Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Def Leppard, and many others I have almost certainly forgotten. But those were in arenas with cement floors and fifty foot ceilings.

It should be obvious that this sort of arena rock doesn't translate well to a club holding a few hundred. Unfortunately, I suspect that some of these bands are trying to hold onto their glory days.

I haven't been in a club in ages, but I used to go to quite a few, including such former arena acts as Blue Oyster Cult and Micheal Schenker. But I never saw a show with pyro. But then, those older seventies rock bands were more about music and less about spectacle.

I saw Great White in concert once, opening for Def Leppard, I think. I remember little about them other than that they were wildly derivative.
This is k5. We're all tools - duxup
[ Parent ]

Pyro used at the club before. (4.50 / 2) (#46)
by TodFilth on Mon Feb 24, 2003 at 02:53:05 PM EST

Actually, they had video tape of two other bands who played at the Station who used pyro. One was some small metal band, and the other was a KISS tribute band. Both had used pyro in the club with permission before.

[ Parent ]
GNR + Metallica (3.00 / 1) (#47)
by Blarney on Mon Feb 24, 2003 at 03:03:29 PM EST

Saw them at the Silverdome long long ago before they became pathetic jokes. Anyway, both bands used lots of explosives.

Metallica was rather conservative with their bombs, setting them off synchronously with drumbeats - the "Darkness, imprisoning me" riff from One sounds rather good with drum-triggered explosions, especially as it's just a repeated E chord anyway.. GNR used their flashes at inappropriate times, such as turning the intro from "Live and Let Die" into "Bang bang bang! Bang bang bang! Bang bang bang" completely obscuring the melody line.

[ Parent ]

Metallica and pyro (4.50 / 2) (#49)
by ktakki on Mon Feb 24, 2003 at 03:18:47 PM EST

I'm sort of surprised that Metallica is still using pyro in their act: about ten years ago James Hetfield was injured during a show in Montreal when he was burned by a flash pot on stage.

Word at the time was that there was a miscommunication between the band and the crew; Hetfield thought the pyros were relocated to the wings of the stage. In fact, those pots were in addition to the ones already set up.

IIRC, he sustained first and second degree burns to his left arm.

I suppose they're a bit more careful now.

"In spite of everything, I still believe that people
are really good at heart." - Anne Frank

[ Parent ]

That was the NEXT show (none / 0) (#61)
by Blarney on Mon Feb 24, 2003 at 08:33:28 PM EST

I think he got burned on his next tour stop after Detroit. This was a long-assed time ago.

[ Parent ]

Only outdoors (none / 0) (#57)
by jred on Mon Feb 24, 2003 at 05:59:16 PM EST

The only time I've seen a "club show" that had pyrotechnics was actually outside. Still, it was definitely homebrew. When we saw the drummer line up the coffee cans & get a lighter, we all stepped waaaaaayy back. Sucks that those ppl. died/got hurt, though.
[ Parent ]
Pyro is common... (none / 0) (#80)
by roadgod on Mon Mar 17, 2003 at 02:39:38 AM EST

Pyro..oh my. I have seen pyro at all levels. Seens it at clubs and seen it at arenas. Yeah AC/DC, Kiss and other 'metal' acts. But hell...seen it a Boyz 2 Men, Madonna, Britney Spears. on a club level - yeah there too. But keep somehting in mind here - right now the world is looking at pyro as the gerbs that Great White used at the Station. But lets break it down to the basic catagory - special effects. I have seen bands that use flash pots, candles, torches, dry ice, smoke machines, fog machines, drums on fire and flame pots in small clubs. I have worked with bands that used exploding basses, flame thower basses, smoke machines, fog machines, projectors, stobe lights, candles, flaming drum sticks and I dunno what else...in clubs. I have done pyro at wrestiling shows with gerbs, flame pots, concussion mortors, flash pots and a few other things at venues from small VFW type places to large hockey arenas. It can be done safely and it has been done safely time and time again. As for club bands - well I tell you any kiss fan I know does not want to see a Kiss tribute band do a show without pyro and the fact is most of these tribute bands play smaller clubs.

[ Parent ]
yes well (1.66 / 6) (#48)
by auraslip on Mon Feb 24, 2003 at 03:13:26 PM EST

Ever since I was in elementry school I've been noteing exits at all large places. Just becuase.

The real blame can only be placed on the people in the club who 1) paniced, thats what killed the most people and stopped them from exiting 2) didn't leave when they saw the huge flames 3) only used one exit when their was something like four.

any other blame is misplaced as it's most likely not anyones fault, just a combination of small misforutones that let up to a big one

fault (4.25 / 4) (#51)
by ucblockhead on Mon Feb 24, 2003 at 04:17:56 PM EST

You can say no one is at fault, but on the other hand, these fireworks were illegal, and had they not been set off, 96 people would not now be dead.

This wasn't just an "random accident". This sort of thing is very likely when sparks are thrown around flammable materials. This is why there are permit requires. It is to insure that it is done safely. Someone deliberately transgressed those requirements, and because of that, lots of people are dead. Given that, blame certainly can be assigned.
This is k5. We're all tools - duxup
[ Parent ]

fault: satanic devil music (3.00 / 2) (#62)
by turmeric on Mon Feb 24, 2003 at 08:40:31 PM EST

it is common knowledge among christians that this so called 'rock music' is in fact a front for satanism, ritual abuse, and evil. we all know what kind of people it attracts. the columbine killers. suicidal teenagers sucked into the abyss of despair by nihilistic hopeless atheist or devil worshipping lyrics.

we can only place the blame with those forces in society that seek to destroy christianity: abortion doctors, libertarians, liberals, atheists, jews, muslisms, and other anti-christian hatemongers.

[ Parent ]

Alright, that's it... (none / 0) (#67)
by skyknight on Tue Feb 25, 2003 at 07:31:36 AM EST

I am going to get drunk, and then loot and burn your neighborhood right now while listening to Godsmack.

It's not much fun at the top. I envy the common people, their hearty meals and Bruce Springsteen and voting. --SIGNOR SPAGHETTI
[ Parent ]
+5, funny, insightful (1.66 / 3) (#68)
by derek3000 on Tue Feb 25, 2003 at 08:55:29 AM EST

d00d I like yr style. Kinda like Richard Pryor after all the drugs.
Nxt time u post, please consider slashing yr wrists. Thx!

Not too political, nothing too clever!--Liars
[ Parent ]

dear sir (none / 0) (#71)
by adequate nathan on Tue Feb 25, 2003 at 02:08:24 PM EST

Please stop trolling.

"For me -- ugghhh, arrgghh."
-Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chrétien, in Frank magazine, Jan. 20th 2003

Join the petition: Rusty! Make dumped stories & discussion public!
[ Parent ]

re: 2) (5.00 / 1) (#64)
by fluffy grue on Mon Feb 24, 2003 at 08:58:57 PM EST

The accounts I've read indicated that most of the patrons didn't realize that the continuing flames weren't part of the act.
"Is a hyperlink" is a hyperlink.
"Is not a quine" is not a quine.

Cats: Nature's entropy generators

[ [ Parent ]

Can't agree with your conclusions (4.77 / 9) (#50)
by jms on Mon Feb 24, 2003 at 04:01:49 PM EST

I played in a band for a couple of years, and we played in small clubs like The Station.

Most of what Ktakki has said is true and accurate, but I have a few observations ...

1) These pyrotechnics are very small and inconspicuous.  For now-obvious reasons, they are practically never used in nightclubs.  Most club soundmen will have NEVER seen one of these devices up close.  Besides, bands tend to have all sorts of odd items with them on stage, especially percussionists. You have described the appearance of professional stage pyrotechnics.  It is not safe to assume that these pyrotechnics were professional stage pyrotechnics, like a well-financed band would use.  Such pyrotechnics would have been smokeless, low temperature, electrically triggered, and expensive.  It is more likely that these were simple, cheap fourth-of-july fireworks, with a match-lit fuse, not an electrical trigger.  Such fireworks are designed for outdoor use, burn much hotter, and are physically much smaller than stage pyrotechnics.

2) No one knows when the pyrotechnic was placed into position.  I have heard that the pyrotechnic was ignited at the beginning of the band's first song.  At that point in time, the soundman would have been at the back of the room, in front of the soundboard, fine-tuning the mix, with the audience standing between him and the stage, in absolutely no position to see what was happening at the rear of the stage.  He was probably looking at the soundboard, not at the stage, and would have had absolutely no idea what was about to happen.  This is the exact moment when the soundman is the most busy doing his primary job -- making the P.A. sound good to the audience.  It's unfair to expect him to be also watching for on-stage shenanigans at that moment, such as surprise fireworks.

3) Other club owners have come forward and said that Great White used pyrotechnics at their club without permission.  It's very possible -- read probable -- that the band knew that they would never get permission in advance from any club, and simply concealed the device from the house staff until they were ready to set it off, or at the very least neglected to mention it.  It would have been very easy to hide the device in the drums area, or throw a towel over it, or keep it in a paper bag.

4) Most bands doing club tours do NOT have a road crew of any type.  They load, set up, tear down, and pack out their own gear. The fact that Great White was not travelling with a lighting tech or even a soundman is a strong indicator that they would not have a roadie either, and certainly no one as specialized as a pyro technician.  Typically you hire a soundman before you hire a roadie.  It seems far more likely that the pyrotechnic was pulled out, positioned, and ignited by a band member with a lighter, or a friend of the band, probably a second or two before they kicked off the first song.

In short, I don't think that it's fair to assume that the soundman would have been in any position to detect what was about to happen, much less to stop it.  It seems far more likely that Great White was engaging in the very dangerous practice of setting off fireworks on stage without permission and knowing that they would get away with it because by the time anyone realized what was happening, it was too late to do anything about it.

Hopefully this tragedy will make it less likely that other bands will engage in similar irresponsible stunts in the future.  It is the responsibility of every band to work with the venue staff to ensure a safe show, especially when they plan to do something as dramatically out of the ordinary as set off stage fireworks.  Obviously Great White failed to do so, resulting in a terrible loss of life.  The blame rests with them, not the soundman.

If the club didn't know about the pryo.... (3.00 / 2) (#53)
by greenshift on Mon Feb 24, 2003 at 04:28:52 PM EST

Why didn't they kill the show as soon as they saw the flame?

I mean, the pyro had started for a minute or two before the place caught fire, plenty of time for the sound guy, manager, security, or any other club employee to freak out and shut off the PA.

Obviously, the clubs that claim GW used pyro without permission didn't care enough to stop the show and turn off the pyro.

Let's assume for a second that the pyro is black and blends well with the back wall of the stage.  It's feasible that the club didn't see them put the pyro up.  But they damn sure could see it once it started.

If GW didn't get permission, the club still could have stopped the show.  They control the place.  And four days after a nightclub tragedy I'm sure the crowd wouldn't have cared very much if the club stopped the music for 5 minutes to stop the pyro.

But the club did nothing.

[ Parent ]

Why the wouldn;t stop the show... (4.50 / 4) (#55)
by geesquared on Mon Feb 24, 2003 at 04:59:11 PM EST

Obviously, the clubs that claim GW used pyro without permission didn't care enough to stop the show and turn off the pyro.

Umm... pyrotechnics don't have an off switch. They are like any other firework... short of dousing them with water (a very bad idea next to a lot of high-power amplifiers) you can't do anything once they are set off. You maybe can try to grab a fire exntinguisher and be prepared to put out fires, but first you have to locate the extinguisher and make your way to the stage in order to make any use of it. I would expect that they went back stage and made sure no further pyro was going to be set off.

As to why they didn't throw the band offstage after they set off the pyro, think about this: You're a club manager. You have 200-300 heavy metal fans who have been drinking, and who are now pumped up that their band has taken the stage. Can you think of any better recipe for starting a riot than to shut the whole works down and tell them to get the hell out? The owner of the Stone Pony basically said this was the reason why he didn't stop the show.

It doesn't, however, excuse him for not having had the band brought up on charges for violating the fire safety codes. If I were in his position, I would have had a fire inspector and cops waiting back stage for after the show. I suspect he probably didn't do this for a number of reasons... No club owner wants to invite further scrutiny from any regulatory group such as the fire marshals. Bands would also think twice about playing at a venue where the owner called the cops on a previous act.

[ Parent ]
You make some good points. (5.00 / 1) (#56)
by ktakki on Mon Feb 24, 2003 at 05:40:37 PM EST

I agree with you that the primary responsibility rests with the band, because of their failure to get legal clearance and their use of grebs that were too large for such a small stage. But that doesn't negate my opinion that the house engineer (or other club employees for that matter) could have acted to prevent this from happening.

I do, however, take issue with some of your individual points:

1) I'm not sure if you've seen the WPRI footage of the incident (ironically, they had a camera crew in the club that night to film a piece on club safety, sort of a follow-up piece on the Chicago T2 club tragedy that took 21 lives the week before). The footage shows the grebs being set off during the band's first song, at least three columns of sparks, triggered simultaneously, one straight up and two at angles, in sort of a "W" pattern. This tells me that they were triggered electrically, and were not your typical July 4th fireworks.

I grant you that it is possible for the soundman never to have noticed them, but he also would have to have overlooked the cables used to trigger them and the control unit, which was probably sited next to the lighting console. According to a floor plan of the club in the Boston Globe, the light board was directly in front of the audio mixing console.

Also, I think you give some club soundmen short shrift with regards to experience. To cite one example, legendary soundman Granny, from the defunct Boston club The Rat, used to tour with Aerosmith before taking over sound at that 200-seat club. No doubt he'd know what a greb looked like.

2) I'm pretty sure Great White brought their own soundman, as their contract rider was pretty specific about the brands and models of certain effects units. In my experience, that would put the house engineer on one side of the stage, where a separate monitor mixer would be placed, staying there until at least the end of the first song and the band was satisfied (or not dissatisfied) with their monitor mix. Even if you're right and the house engineer was doing their mix, he'd still have to see the grebs and cables when he re-wired the stage after the opening act struck there equipment. From what I recall of the videotape, the grebs were directly in front of the drums, and would be hard to miss when you're stuffing a mic inside a kick drum.

I do agree with you that enforcing the fire code is above and beyond the engineer's duties. This is the job of a dedicated stage manager.

3) Here I agree completely. The owner of the Stone Pony in NJ was quoted as saying that Great White used pyrotechnics without his permission, and I have no doubt that this is what happened at The Station, regardless of what Jack Russell has said.

4) I'd really be surprised if Great White didn't have a crew, even just two or three people (soundman, drum tech, guitar/keyboard tech, with one of the techs doubling as a light man). In my experience, as a musician and soundman, more bands had roadies and no soundman than a soundman and no roadies. For one thing, it's easier to find roadies who will work for free, for example the drummer's kid brother or a friend who wants to see the headlining act and get into the club for free. Eventually, you end up hiring some of these people, even if it's for a mere $20 and some beers.

But that's entry level acts, and Great White had been touring on and off for over twenty years. These guys were in their forties, and I just can't see them lugging Marshall stacks into a club. Hell, I got sick of that stuff when I was in my twenties.

You've made some good points, though, and I am willing to grant the possibility that the house engineer might not have seen the grebs on stage, but I still think that it's a remote possibility.

Thanks for your post.

"In spite of everything, I still believe that people
are really good at heart." - Anne Frank

[ Parent ]

Re: You make some good points. (5.00 / 5) (#65)
by jms on Mon Feb 24, 2003 at 10:35:27 PM EST

Hi, K.

I've read the rider closely now and it seems to answer a lot of these questions.

1)  I've seen the footage.  Having them electrically triggered would be the /professional/ way to trigger the pyrotechnics, but I think that we can all agree that use of the pyrotechnics in this situation was not a terribly professional move.  If I were doing it on the cheap, I'd glue three spark fountains to a stand, one facing up and two facing out at 45 degrees, and use three equal lengths of slow fuse twisted together at the end. I'll bet that would produce exactly the same visual effect as the electrically triggered grebs.  Of course, I wouldn't set something like that off in a  crowded nightclub.  Maybe at an outdoor show, and I can't imagine doing it without clearing it with management first.

That'll be one of the first questions that the investigators will be asking the band.  Who set off the fireworks and how were they triggered.  In the end, that doesn't really matter, because if you think about it, /everyone/ in the touring party had to know what was happening, because they had done it at other venues.  This was a failure of responsibility on the part of a /lot/ of people.

2)  Looking at page 4, paragraph 1, it does appear that Great White had their own regular travelling soundman.  They even give his name and phone number -- Tom Fletcher -- near the bottom of the page, and the rider says that he was going to be the one in control of the consoles. In that case, Mr. Fletcher /had/ to know that they were going to use pyrotechnics, as they had been doing it in previous shows, and was probably /not/ going to be the one who blew the whistle on the plans.  Sadly, it seems that everyone involved in the tour had to know what was being done.  Apparently no one took the danger seriously.  Apparently they had been "getting away with it" at every venue with no accidents.  Until there was one.

I was looking at the video again, and it looked to me like the grebs were /behind/ the drums.  All the more dangerous, as that would place the flames and sparks closer to the soundproofing.

One of the other club owners -- it might have been the owner of the Stone Pony -- was interviewed recently and was blaming himself for /not/ calling up every club owner on the rest of the tour and warning them that the band had set off stage fireworks without his permission.  Apparently he realized, after the fact, that he was the only one who knew what had happened who didn't have a vested interest in keeping quiet about it.  I would hate to be in his situation, knowing I could have made those phone calls.  I can't place the blame on him though.  Hindsight is 20-20, but I'll bet that if something like this ever happens again, he'll be on the telephone before the show is over -- as will any other club owner worth his salt.  Club owners and employees everywhere have to be shaking in their boots after last week.

Page 6 of the rider states that the band did not have a regular lighting tech.  This leads me to believe that the band would /not/ have asked the local lighting tech to trigger the grebs.  A local lighting tech would have been working for the club owner, and would have probably tipped off the owner that he had been asked to do something as unusual as setting off band-supplied pyrotechnics.  Similarly, I don't think that they would want the soundman to do it either -- and I don't think that the soundman would want to do it himself.  That would require that a dedicated ignition wire be threaded between the soundboard and the stage.  More often then not, that would be a hassle, as the only connection between the soundboard and stage is usually the snake, which is often hidden behind a wall or in some other inaccessable place. Also, as I said, the pyrotechnics were set off at the moment when the soundman was most busy.  

Similarly, a house-provided lighting tech would have been running the lighting board as the show started, not looking at what was happening on the stage, and probably wouldn't have noticed someone setting up a small pyrotechnics charge.

3)  Since we both agree that this was most likely done without the permission of the club, I'm still betting that the grebs were concealed on stage, and set off by either a band member or by someone on the touring staff standing near the stage.  I doubt that the Great White soundman did it, for logistical reasons, although he had to know that they were doing it at every show.

4)  You're probably right about them not humping their own gear, and it's supported by the rider. According to page one of the rider, the club was supposed to provide two loaders to load equipment in and out.  This would indicate that the band was travelling without roadies.

They might have had a guitar or drum tech, or they might not have. It's probably safe to say that someone travelling with the tour set up and triggered the fireworks, and it's probably also safe to say that everyone in the touring party knew that it was going to happen, and no one tipped off management to prevent it.

I've been hearing reports that this is not a new phenomenon.  As someone else pointed out, a lot of metal bands had stadium careers in the 1980s and 1990s, and now that they're playing small clubs, they want to have the same exciting stage effects that they had when they were playing arenas.  Apparently other bands have been using similar fireworks at club shows, and as we've heard, Great White had been doing so all tour.  It was probably only a matter of time before some disaster happened such as this.  I can only hope that this accident was so big, and so horrible, that no band tries a similar stunt for a long, long time.

Another completely different issue is the composition of the soundproofing foam.  Soundproofing foam is designed to provide a large amount of surface area, in order to absorb the largest possible amount of sound.  That also means that the largest possible amount of surface area is exposed to the air, and if the material itself is flammable, like foam, it will burn very quickly.  The actual fires on the walls started out very small, and the fire spread extremely rapidly.  Even if this incident had never happened, the exact sime thing could have happened had a musician or audience member tossed a lit cigarette offstage and the cigarette had landed in the foam.   The setup at the club was completely typical -- the entire back wall and probably most of the ceiling was covered with the soundproofing foam.  We played in clubs with the same setup.  I never even considered that it was a disaster waiting to happen.  Now it's something that every club owner is going to have to investigate.  It is my understanding that the Coconut Grove fire happened because the ceiling was covered with paper decorations.  Here is a similar situation -- the ceiling was covered with flammable material, and the heat and fire rose upward, with similar effect.  

Hopefully the result of last week's nightclub disasters will be safety improvements at nightclub venues, both physical and procedural.  

This is a good discussion.  People in the concert industry need to understand that safety is /everyone's/ responsibility.  "Breaking the rules" has always been part of the rock & roll culture, but this is a wakeup call that some rules are literally the difference between life and death, and it's everyone's job to think before they act when it comes to performance safety, and have the character and courage to stand up and say, "no, we can't do this."  Anyone on the touring staff could have done that, the soundman included.  The unfair part is that he could have been looking for a new job the next day, never knowing that he had saved 100 lives.


[ Parent ]

Just a few other things... (none / 0) (#79)
by roadgod on Mon Mar 17, 2003 at 02:18:25 AM EST

yeah I posted a long long item up top but I needed to say a few other things - Dominc from the Stone Pony in NJ is scum. He comes out, much like Jeffery Deirden, and makes these comments about now knowing about pyro and how that club would never allow the use of pyro. Well, just like the Station, other bands have come forwards saying they used pyro at the Stone Pony. Beyond that Domenic has said that the Stome Ponys soundman was freaking out because the heat from the gerb was "so intense" and hot. Yeah..the only thing wrong with that is these gerbs are not that hot. Someone standing at FOH would never feel the heat from these things and even if he was on the side of stage doing monitors he would not have felt "intense" heat.

If you want to come back with "well what about Florida..." that guy first came out and said that it wa sno big deal that Great white used pyro. he even first staed that 1> No permit was needed in Florida 2> They love pyro and would have paid the extra money to have a fire marshall there. The next day it seems someone had talked to this club, read lawyer, because suddenly the story changed to the band never asked and if they did ask they would have been told no and then shortly after that ANOTHER interview with the same guy came out and his story had been changed again to the band had asked for permission and they were told how much it would cost to obtain both a local permit AND a fire marshall but the band turned it down saying to would cost too much. And then - silence. Lawyers must have put a muzzle on him because it was obvious his story kept changing too much to be true, well other than maybe the first one. So again - a club owner trying to save his own ass.

The track record of this tour has been so far good in reguards to pyro use and non-use. The media has shoved headline like "Band used pyro without permission at other venues" and such and in every case it amounts to the Stone Pony and the club in FLorida. I have seen 2 mentions of another club, I think in Maine, where pyro was used without a local permit, but it never really says if the actual venue gave permission or not. Point is that venue after venue came back with 1> They asked, we said no, they didn't use it 2> They asked, we said yes, they used it 3> They didn't ask, they didn;t use it. From what I have counted thi sis somehwere in the neighborhood of 20 shows verses 3 clubs that sya "they didn't ask us". I have worked in this industry for many years and I know how things are on this type of tour - I believe that these clubs, or at least the promoter/stage manager/owner gave verbal permission to use pyro. I have no doubt that the track record of the Station in reguards to pyro use there outwieghs Great Whites use if it "without permission". Same goes for the Stone Pony. As for Florida - as I said, the first comments were most likey the real truth - we love pyro, we allow it and at the time the owner/promoter believed that no permit was needed.

Small club tours are limited on cash. I have been on tours where I am the tour manager and stage tech, and no other crew. I have been on tours where I am the tour manager and stage tech and there is a sound person and no other crew. I have seen bus tours, such as great white, where other than the driver, the only crew was the co-owner of the record label who was acting a sound guy and tour manager. I have some friend in Canada who did a tour of the states who had no crew at all but they had a bus because they got a great deal on it. My point is that it is not unusual to have provisisons in the rider for 'venue/promoter must supply loaders', 'lighting person', 'sound person' and 'merchandise person'. Actually the "funniest" thing I ever did was one time I got a call from a house sound guy I knew and he said "We got the Spin Doctors coming in and they want us to hire two loaders. I know it isn't what you do but are you interested?" and I wasn't doing anything that nght so I sadi sure. Load in time comes and this guy walks in looking for th eloaders...so the 2 of us go out and start loading in the gear. To be helpful I start setting up the drums and the guy is like "Oh dude you don't have to do that" and I am all "No man its fine, it is what i do...I am here so you may as well use me" So you know...I am thinking these 5 guys are the band. Sound check time rolls around and 5 other guys come in and I find out that these guys are on the road with a full crew and the guys we were helping were actually the roadies. And I am then thinking "What the hell do they need loaders for? lazy ass roadies can't haul the gear themselves? Pussys" Keep in mind this was just before the band broke huge and they were doing clubs. They had two vans - on for the crew and one for the band.

The sound guy in the Great White rider was not on the road with the band. Bob Rager, the house sound guy from Harpos, was on the road with them. He has been is the hospital since the fire and is scheduled to be released later today. (3/17)

Gerbs were in front of the drum riser

I have never seen pyro set off with a match on any stage...I mean pyro such as the gerbs used here. yeah I have seen a drummer light the drum heads on fire with a lighter, but that is not really the same thing. But these were electronicly set off in any case.

At no time did Jack Russell ever say the band never used pyro. At no time did any member of the band say that pyro had never been used at any venue. I don't know where, or why, various boards have had people talking about the band and/or its crew 'must have been aware...' about use of pyro. I mean yeah...the band was on the road and they used pyro. When the shows were advanced Dan discussed pyro use and this has been confirmed by many other venues. But what people do not seem to adress, well people other than myself, is that the band was on stage playing night after night. It was not their job to set up the pyro or to set off the pyro. Also like I said in my othe rpost it was not the job of the band, or its crew, to walk into the Station and know that the foam on the walls was not fireproof, or to know the clubs fire rating, or to know the club had lied about how many people it could legally hold or...well, you get my point. It goes both ways here.

http://www.crowdsafe.org/ - if you are concerned about crowd safety get involved.

[ Parent ]
Very smart. NOT! (1.33 / 6) (#54)
by g33kd00d on Mon Feb 24, 2003 at 04:43:25 PM EST

<sarcasm>That was true intelligence.</sarcasm> How could they do that???
clickety clickety rm -rf / --BOFH
Roadie.net web link (5.00 / 3) (#60)
by nstrom on Mon Feb 24, 2003 at 07:44:07 PM EST

Here's a very informative page about the fire on roadie.net, a web site for concert roadies: http://www.roadie.net/greatwhitefire.htm

The comments section at the bottom of the page has lots of informative and intelligent posts by various professionals in the field, and the top of the page has links to victim lists, etc.

History of Stage Performance and Fire (3.00 / 2) (#70)
by EXTomar on Tue Feb 25, 2003 at 11:00:51 AM EST

I was once in a small stage production and we required two candles to set the scene. Should be simple eh?


There were forms to fill out in duplicate explaining EXACTLY what was going to be used and how long. A point was made that we had to have no less than 4 extingushers somewhere backstage (and we had to check them as part of getting permission). There was a "zone" where you COULD NOT light anything. The head of the performance department took the people who were in the scene aside for even more fire information.

At the time I really wondered why are we being paranoid? I considered a lot of the measures extrodinary for such two small flames in such a large open space.

I asked the director respectfully why go to this much trouble just for two small candles? I know I should respect fire but two measly little candles. Come on! Aren't these rules archiac?

As it turns out stage has a tragic history of disaster. Often times it is just because one candle catching one tiny thing on fire and multiple people die....horribly. It doesn't even have to take the theater to burn down. Just the hint of an uncontroled fire can cause a large crowd of people to trample.

The thing I took away from this was that large groups in enclosed areas and fire are extremely dangerous. I heard about this fire and I wondered again if those lessons are lost.

Article about the Sound Manager in NY Times (none / 0) (#72)
by your corporate master on Wed Feb 26, 2003 at 06:41:39 AM EST

From the NY Times (reg required): "Employee at Club Says He Warned About Fires.

The sound manager at the nightclub where 97 people died Thursday after a band's pyrotechnic display set it ablaze said today that three months ago he had advised one club owner that such displays presented a potentially deadly fire hazard.

Chicago Tribune story, quote from actual soundman (5.00 / 1) (#74)
by jms on Wed Feb 26, 2003 at 05:57:52 PM EST

Worker says he warned club
Co-owner knew of hazard, he says

By Lydia Polgreen and Paul von Zielbauer, New York Times News Service
Published February 26, 2003

EAST PROVIDENCE, R.I. -- The sound manager at the nightclub where a fire killed 97 people Thursday after a band's pyrotechnic display set it ablaze said Tuesday that he had advised a club co-owner three months ago that such displays presented a potentially deadly fire hazard.

The manager, Paul Vanner, who barely escaped the blaze, said at least a dozen bands had used such fireworks in the club since 2000 and that the practice persisted until he asked Michael Derderian, who owns the club with his brother Jeffrey Derderian, to stop allowing them. Officials in West Warwick said The Station nightclub never received a town permit to set off pyrotechnics inside, as required by state law.

Vanner said he had no idea that the band Great White planned to shoot off pyrotechnics until he saw the sparks that ignited the blaze. The band has said it had permission from the club to use the special effects.

Vanner also said that while he was not there when town fire officials inspected the club in December, the fire marshal couldn't have missed the charcoal-gray soundproofing foam that surrounded the stage. Officials have said the foam may have been the reason for the fire's rapid spread. He said the material was installed about 18 months ago. ...

Use Kelvin (none / 0) (#76)
by Fan on Thu Feb 27, 2003 at 09:28:24 PM EST

If people understood the kelvin temperature system then maybe this wouldn't have happened.

Agree to disagree.... (none / 0) (#78)
by roadgod on Mon Mar 17, 2003 at 01:20:50 AM EST

At first I was thinking this is one of the first great posts from an 'insider' that I had read. But as I read on i have to disagree with a few points.

"Regardless of who owns the club, the house sound engineer "owns" the stage"
Actually I would say this is only true if the venue has no stage manager. The sound person only 'owns' the stage as it is related to the sound gear. Ideally the stage manager, sound person and lighting person should all work together but relisticly if the stage manager tells the light person or sound person not to do something on the stage than they should listen. On a band level the stage manager should be the only person you talk to at first, or the TD if there is one. It is proper protocall in the industry. In the case of the Station, Paul Vanner was both the house sound person AND stage manager.

"it's invariably the lighting tech's job to set up and perform the pyrotechnics"
I have no idea what kind of bands you worked with, or that came into the venue you did sound for, but it is highly unlikely the person doing lights from a FOH position would be also doing pyro. In a small club this just is not going to happen often, if at all. You can not be on stage/side of stage setting off any form of pyro AND be out front running a lighting board. Not saying that a light person could not do pyro, or vice versa, just saying that statement doesn't hold up on the road. However a lighting designer could very well work WITH a pyro person to get cues and such right. But even then the designer is not going to be the shooter.

Overall thoughts on this subject - When you advance a show you usually first call the promoter or the person whose name is on the signed contract under 'venue contact'. I rarely ever have advanced a show by talking to a venues owner. usually I have first called the promoter who will give me any, or all, of the following: Stage manager, house sound person, house lighting person. Most of the time I end up talking to the stage manager because they are th eperson who co-ordinates the staff for the night. I get told what time load is in, what time sound check is, any other items that need to be discussed.
Paul Vanner has proven himself, in all the interviews, to not be 'anal about safety' and not a very professional as either a sound person OR a stage manager. He claims to have shown up at 3 PM to find the backline already set up. He goes on to state that he did not talk to any member of the band or crew until dinner time and that was only to tell them about the set time. Before I go on, right here is a HUGE issue - as house sound person he should have talked about the audio set up with Great Whites sound person. As house sound person he needed to, at the least, turn on the house sound system and direct Bob Rager (oh yes, the band WAS on the road with their own sound person) to the house audio gear. Instead Vanner has never made ANY mention in ANY interview about any sound check or ever assisting in a sound check or setting up any house sound gear.

Now Vanner goes on to the topic of showtime. He says he was on the side of the stage running the monitors. He claims he never saw any form of pyro being set up and thinks that when the lights were turned off, in the minute or so before the band actually walked on that stage, is when the pyro must have been set up. Ok - stop here again. Now he is admiting to doing some form of sound. Fine - he should have been doing line checks and setting monitor settings. In other words he would have seen what was going down on stage. Ok - lets give the guy the benifit of the doubt - He was too busy setting up and adjusting monitors to notice what was going on. Fine - BUT remember this is also the STAGE MANAGER. So as stage manager he was supposed to be on top of things. Also, and this is a point many people forget in discussing this topic, the Station had allowed bands to use pyro time and time again. Vanner was the first staff person to speak out and say that pyro was indeed used a lot at the Station. And in another effort to save his own ass he also says he is the only person to have said "This is dangerous" to the clubs owners. Vanner had worked at the club for 3 years and had seen a lot of acts come through who used pyro. Please do not tell me he had no idea that pyro was going to be used or what it looked like.

So now the band hits the stage and the pyro goes off. The foam catchs on fire. Now as STAGE MANAGER Vanner should have made sure there was at least one fire extinguisher on, or next to, the stage. Not just fo rthis gig, but at all times for ANY gig. But he says he had to leave the side of the stage and go to the FOH set up and get an extinguisher from UNDER the board. He than says he looked at the fire and said it was too out of control so he runs to the kitchen exit and yells to the bartender "Get Out Julie. GET OUT NOW!!!" So Vanner, with the fire extinguisher, and Julie, with the entire cash register, both run out the kitchen door. (No time to save people - save the fire extinguisher, save the cash register, save yourself) Vanner admits tossing the extinguisher in the woods behind the club. Julie says she gave the cash register to club owner Deriden. The cash register is later found, empty, in the woods as well. On the other hand you have Great Whites Sound person Rager staying *in* the club and helping fans to escape...he himself almost dies when the roof falls on him. (He is scheduled to be released later this morning 3/17). You also have former roadie for Great White, Jeff Rader, (In town visiting his girlfriend in RI, he went to hang out, he wasn't even working) is seen on video helping people outside of the club but he is found, dead, inside the club.

So lets go back a bit. About the 'sound' foam Vanner says it was just put up one week and he had no idea of where it came from. Remeber this is someone who says he is "anal about safety" and his only comment about the foam was "yeah man, that is cool". In the almost 2 years it was up he never once bothered to check its fire rating? Or tested it? Or asked the fire marshal (who should have tested it on his own anyway) to test it? Both as sound person AND stage manager he should have done this.
About pyro - Vanners comments are conflicting. He says he was not in a position to ever approve it yet other acts who had played the Station claim to have gotten permission from the stage manager. Also Vanner has said that he is 'just a sound guy' and did not know that much about pyro yet in several inteviews he talks about how dangerous it was even describes various types of pyro and their burn time. The biggest 'stand out' comment is when he openly says he knew about pyro being used by other bands but didn't see any being set up by Great White's crew yetsurvivors of the fire have described seeing pyro being set up. These people were just fans, in the crowd...not 'anal about safety' stage mangers.
Other big conflicts here are the fact that Vanner also trys to make Great White look bad by stating in interviews that all bands advance shows and provide technical riders and/or stage plots but Great White never did. Now here is the interesting thing - in some of these interviews with Vanner it is noted that the house lighting person, the so far very silent "Scooter", and the Club Manager, Kevin Beese, were sitting there with Vanner, but said nothng at the time. A few days after the first batch of Vanner interviews came out the club manager starts to talk. He says he advanced the show and that he had a copy of the rider with stage plot and technical requirments. His point is that nowhere in the contracts or rider does it mention Pyro, nor was it verbally discussed when he spoke with Dan Biechle. (not only that but Beese says he let the band in and had them set up the gear on stage at around 1:30 DOS) Ok - if this is really true, does this sound like a 'friendly' work place? Here you have the Stage Manager and house sound person saying he, in a word, knew nothing about the technical requirements of the show because he never recieved them yet you have the clubs manager, who seemingly should have nothing to do with the technical side of shows (because there is a stage manager, house sound person AND house lighting person), claiming he had ALL of the information. So either Vanner is lying about not having any of this information to make Great White look bad/worse or Beese held all the needed information from Vanner. (Oh...lets not forget that the lawyer for one of the brothers has finally admited that the show was advanced and that one of the Deirden advaced it...hmmm..now we have 2 advances)

I still will not believe it was the *bands* 'fault' the venue burned as it did. It is NOT any acts responsibility to walk into a venue and check to see if it meets fire codes. More than likely someone at this club, during the advance and/or during soudcheck, said "we have pyro in here all the time." The way the facts are comeing out about the town overall I feel phrases like "we know the fire marshal", "we just passed inspection" or "we have the permits" were spoken. No matter what is really the case if I was told, while advancing the show, that it was ok to use pyro I probably would not think about it NOT being ok. Questions of walking into that club and going "Wow ceilings only 16 feet - too low" or "Wow - look flamable foam is all over the place" are brought up but again - you ask the people who are supposed to know what goes on in that venue. They say pyro is used all the time with no problems and you think "ok, they know their venue better than I do" and that is that. The gerbs used were made for indoor use, they were bought legally from a company that sells this kind of stuff to many many many people for use indoors. (However this same type of gerb in a huge arena would look pretty lame) The video shows the gerbs at full height and they do not seem to be flamming the ceiling - the highest reaching one being the middle gerb. No - the fire actually is on either *side* because the sparks touched off highly flameable foam. Much talk about low ceilings but the video is proof that the ceilings were not the issue, it was the FOAM.
I could go on...but the main points I wanted to talk about I did. Perhaps ktakki, or someone he knows, can run lights from a FOH position and also run pyro from stage left or right but I don't know anyone else who can do this on a club level. Also perhaps he was both the stage manager AND sound person in the club he worked at, but this is not always the case so anyone reading this please don't think you can walk into any venue and expect the house sound person to 'own' the stage. (yeah...walk into a union run house and try pulling that attitude. "hey where's the sound guy, I need to know where I can plug-in my gear and set up")

Smokinggun.com on the Burning Club | 80 comments (62 topical, 18 editorial, 0 hidden)
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