The 1993 National Earth Day Concerts for the Environment were held in New York on April 18 at the Ritz Theatre, April 22 at the Merriweather Post Pavilion in Maryland, and at the Los Angeles Hollywood Bowl April 16. This annual appeal for planetary awareness becomes a more significant plea every year as the global clock continues to tick. The '93 Hollywood concert was yet more timely, as the second Rodney King verdict was expected to be delivered the next morning.
Showco Prism main and delay tower and mix position at the Anaheim stadium
I work as stage manager, engineer and piano technician for k.d. lang, who was to appear with Paul McCartney during his Earth Day set. I arrived backstage in the early afternoon, and it was immediately apparent that everything was very relaxed and well-organized thanks to production managers Tim O'Connor and Tony Wiggins. The audio equipment had loaded in two days prior, so Steve Miller, Don Henley, 10,000 Maniacs, PM Dawn and Kenny Loggins had already soundchecked. The McCartney band's soundcheck with k.d. was scheduled for 2 p.m.
AUDIO FROM EVERYWHERE
This was one of those audio collaboration gigs with the potential for equipment interface nightmares, a staple diet of untraceable ground buzz and a cold war between crews. Fortunately, none of these nightmares happened. The systems engineers and operators seemed to be having "a day at the beach," while getting it done. "We're all professionals here, and we've all got a job to do," commented McCartney monitor engineer John Roden. "We tend to try to leave the politics back at the office."
Greg Smith is the FOH tech for McCartney's New World Tour. "This system is made up of many different companies' (and tours') equipment," he said. "The three Midas XL3 McCartney consoles are from Concert Sound UK, while the All Paragon is Steve Miller's touring desk. The PM 3000 custom master console and drive racks are from Clair Bros., while McCartney's FX racks and monitor system hail from Showco. The Clair stacks are out on the Sting tour, with all other monitor systems also provided by Clair." The master console (a 32-input custom Clair board) and drive racks were manned by Clair Systems engineer Bob Waibel.
The main speaker system for this show consisted of 12 Clair S4 cabinets per side, each flown inside a scrimmed scaffold structure. Additionally there were four S4s per side on deck, and two Clair P-4 Piston cabinets on their side for front fill. This system obviously had the appropriate power and coverage for the 17,000-plus audience.
BOWLING IN HOLLYWOOD
The Hollywood Bowl, home of the L.A. Philharmonic, was originally constructed in the '20s. Since then many acoustical "improvements" and structural changes have been made, while the original design integrity has been maintained. Unfortunately, the Hollywood Hills prime real estate area has grown over the years, with the neighborhood now bordering the back fence of the Bowl. It never ceases to amaze me how people can purchase a multimillion-dollar home right next to an outdoor music venue and then complain it's too loud! No rocket science here. This venue has developed the same problem with residential noise complaints that many sheds across the nation have had to come to terms with.
I spoke with Betsy Cohen, the resident acoustician, about her approach: "We have recently developed a computerized SPL-measurement system for the Bowl, which will be in use for the first time today. Basically, it's 250 feet from the stage to the audio booth and 500 feet to the property line. This doesn't give much room for the inverse square law to work. There is an allowable level of 75 dBA at the property line for no more than ten minutes per hour. And five of those ten minutes can hit 81 dBA. We are allowed to hit 86 dBA for two minutes per hour, with 89 dBA being the one-time absolute limit."
All SPL accumulations per hour are monitored in bar graph fashion at the FOH console, enabling the engineer to see the show SPL history readily and allowing for continual adjustments of levels without drastically compromising the level dynamics of the show. "This system is as fair as possible to all parties involved, because there are no surprises here," says Betsy. "It's horrible at some venues to find out halfway through the show that you're 'over the top' already with a violation pending and have to drastically reduce the overall volume after the audience is accustomed to the current show level."
Soundcheck at Earth Day
The show opened with the video segment shot for the McCartney tour with cruelty to animals and ecology as the main themes. Artists' performances were punctuated with VH-1 video shorts to provide momentum as the 42-foot rotary turntable stage would swing out a new round of backline gear. The combined efforts of all audio personnel resulted in a show that for the most part sounded very believable, with an overall mixing style that did not change drastically from artist to artist as some multi-act shows do.
DAY TWO: PAUL MCCARTNEY, THE NEW WORLD TOUR
With the announcement of the second Rodney King verdict, I found myself on the 405 heading south to the Anaheim Stadium, thinking about what would have happened if the show had been cancelled due to 'disturbances.'
On entering the stadium, I encountered the classiest-looking stadium rig I had seen in a long time. There were three leap-frogging stage and scaffold structure systems for this tour to increase the number of possible shows per week. It was obvious that the designer wanted the focus on the artist: The entire structure was scrimmed in black from all sides, hiding most of the technical equipment from the audience's view.
Showco provided the system for this (as well as the previous) McCartney tour. Its Prism speaker system was flown in a configuration of 13 boxes wide by six deep. Then a scaffold deck was raised underneath it and the system landed and braced to the structure, which provided significant "ballast" in the event of high winds. Twenty subwoofers per side augmented the low end, which got a workout during the earlier "Live and Let Die" segment of the show. Showco also installed a delayed cluster on the back of the FOH mixer riser, augmenting the two main stacks for the rear-stadium seating.
FOH engineer Paul (Pablo) Boothroyd explains, "During May and July of '91 I mixed a few of the European Club dates we did, as the previous FOH Showco engineer was unavailable. From there, I landed this tour." Boothroyd spent months in band rehearsals, followed by production rehearsals in London's Docklands Arena. The tour started in Perth, Australia, ran through July in America and moves to Europe this month. "We have approximately 150 people on the crew with 12 in the audio department," says Boothroyd. "I haven't even met some of the crew yet!
"I pushed hard to get these three Midas XL3 desks from Concert Sound (UK)," he adds. "I'm very familiar with the features, and the interlink is the best!" Featured in the processing department were Summit Audio EQF100 EQs and TLA100 compressors. "You have to watch the drive levels because a tube is a tube, but used properly they are very smooth," Boothroyd explains. Also interesting was the complete absence of graphic EQs at FOH. All EQ chores were handled by BSS VariCurve Units.
During the soundcheck and show I had the pleasure of walking the stadium in detail and was very pleased to note almost seamless coverage, very uniform volume zones, superior cosmetic appeal as well as substantially above-average sound quality in general.
The weekend ended with a drive home on a freeway so quiet I thought it appropriate to consider that with the Rodney King trial over, the Earth was having a much better day.
Dave LawIer recently returned from a European tour with k.d. lang.