Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers and Joe Cocker performed to two sold out audiences at The Gorge
Hello blogosphere buddies --
Well, the Starbucks here in Calgary may make a few extra bucks this morning as I clank away on my laptop recounting the events of the past few days in glorious George Washington (yes, that is the actual name of the city!) at a gig affectionately and formally known as The Gorge.
I’ve been doing shows at The Gorge for many years now and it’s always interesting to watch the growth of a venue over time as more and more shows adopt it. The Gorge is certainly no exception as I’ve watched it go from essentially an open air deck on the side of a cliff to a full blown stadium style concert stage that can handle the production requirements of nearly any act that passes through. But even with those advances in staging etc, there are still challenges that are out of the direct control of the venue etc. For example you’re still sitting on the edge of a cliff, out in the open, exposed to wind, rain and any other element that decides you should have a bad day. This alone can inhibit you from putting up video screens and other production tools of that nature because at the drop of a hat, if the wind whips up … and the wind will whip up … they could turn into a big sail and be damaged or worse yet, get loose and bonk a group of folks on the head. OUCH!
Luckily today, high end speaker technology is well equipped to handle elements such as wind and rain and will, generally speaking, just keep on working regardless of the conditions in which they are placed. We are currently touring with a full compliment of LAcoustics PA products including the new K1 system from our French friends across the pond and luckily the elements did not test us while we were there. Quite the contrary, we had two really beautiful days of whether and shows at this storied local. Now see there, you thought this was going to turn into some big disaster story didn’t you! Clearly you watch too much CNN … or Fox News of course for all of you who reside in the red states. Well, don’t worry there are plenty of outdoor shows to come … so chances are pretty good you’ll get your wish and at least one of these blogs will include the terms “tornado” and or “rain soaked”.
Okay, so I gotta say, the new K1 PA system from LAcoustics is really something to get your ears around. I’ve always felt it can be a real test of any PA system when you set it up in open air and apply the pedal. It will generally show you what it is, and is not, capable of doing. From my current vantage point, there is not too much that this PA is not capable of doing. That said, I’m still figuring out K1 operationally and tonally to be sure, but this is to be expected really. As with any PA, but especially with a new system design that requires a shift in mind set from how we have previously set up and driven PA systems in the past, you have to do a show, assess your performance while using it, make adjustments and try again the next night. That very process has come along very fast compared to other tours I have done and we have had such stellar results within the first couple of shows, I can’t imagine where I’ll be with it all in a few weeks.
For example, the way K1 handles subs vs. the rest of the PA system is unique compared to the vast majority of other PAs out there. In fairly recent history, the strive (and rightly so) was for high frequency and mid range intelligibility for a bigger portion of the listening space along with being able to service a mix position that was relevant to the rest of the room. IMO, line source arrays were a huge step forward in this regard with special credit given to Christian Heil for having the courage and wherewithal to present the world with the V-DOSC line source. It was clearly a game changer as the response from the entire industry of both users and manufacturers shows. With K1 he’s looking to step up the result one more level with a number of new features none the least of which is a wonderfully effective low frequency shelving concept called “Array Morph”. It allows you to match low frequency signatures between array topologies within the LAcoustics line and is handled entirely with DSP control within the LA8 amplification systems. And while emphasis and detail in the hi and mid frequency of the system is still certainly the focus, that focus also now resides in the bottom half of the frequency spectrum as well. And that focus is well founded as my low frequency experience has been nothing short of phenomenal on this tour.
Because of this, it’s not out of line to state that the Tom Petty and The HBs faithful have been experiencing the bass guitar on an entirely new level on this tour. It’s startling at times, because for my money, we’ve lived with quite a quandary in sound reinforcement for a long time in that bass guitar has consistently been one of, if not the hardest instrument to present properly in sound reinforcement. It was primarily because of the way low frequency elements interact in a give system, not only with one another, but with the space within which they are working. Bass guitar is vital to the foundation of both rhythm and melody and is critical to the music listening experience. This has never been more so for the Tom Petty experience than on his latest release “Mojo”. The bass lines on Mojo are both mesmerizing and vital to the feel and flow of music in general. It’s wonderful to be able to do them such justice with the K1 PA system. Producer and engineer Ryan Ulyate put a lot of emphasis on the bass guitar and the bottom end in general within the Mojo production and wanted to ensure we would be able to present the audience with the same experience. He’s made numerous positive comments on the abilities of the PA system to present the vision and spirit of the record to the audience in this regard.
Obviously, the other half of doing anything successfully with the PA, is that you have to be able to address sources well at the input stage. This ability is one of the real hallmarks of the VENUE consoles in my opinion. You just have so many tools at your disposal with which to address and attack a specific sound. The whole process is now so analogous to the studio workflow that it is going to present the challenge of learning more and more tools and applying them properly but that’s not a bad problem to have in my opinion. With VENUE there are so many harmonic, compression and EQ tools available that you can go places you might never have even attempted to go in analog. For instance I use the Sansamp amp modeler plug-in for Ron Blair’s bass sound in the front of house mix and recall stored changes on it throughout the performance. It allows me to be so flexible and repeatable night to night. I use it in conjunction with Crane Song Phoenix tape saturation emulation and finish it all off with McDSP MC2000 multiband compression. But frankly the secret is not totally based in the use of Plug-ins. I use the VENUE onboard EQ and the onboard dynamics as well for not only the bass but the majority of other inputs as well. Don’t underestimate them, they are the cornerstone of an incredible sounding input strip with all VENUE systems.
All in all we had a couple of incredible shows at The Gorge, as we did with the Red Rocks shows. Maybe the best I’ve been a part of in either location. All indications are that the fans enjoyed the shows even more than the band and I did. I’ll tell ya what I would enjoy right now though, a refill on my coffee …
“I have a grande, non-fat vanilla latte for Robert” … oh the challenges of the modern day touring life!
Robert Scovill out --