Brian Wilson, the visionary behind The Beach Boys, is rolling his Pet Sounds 50th Anniversary Tour forward into 2018 with its final performances, and along for every stop of the journey is longtime production manager/FOH engineer Clint Boire. Having toured with Wilson since 2008, Boire says the show is all about recreating the vibe of the Beach Boys’ music: “Brian’s set is blockbuster from start to finish, and these are people’s memories, so you have to be respectful of that,” he said, speaking behind his console during the tour’s stop at New York City’s Radio City Music Hall. “When the audience walks out of the building, you see these big smiles. It’s really powerful stuff that you don’t get with too many other acts.”
The tour, with gear and crew supplied by Schubert Systems Group (North Hollywood, CA) features Wilson on keyboards at center stage, backed by 11 supporting musicians, including former Beach Boys personnel Al Jardine and Blondie Chaplin. Seeking to enhance the experience of Wilson’s beloved songs, Boire recently switched over to a DiGiCo SD7 desk which he feels bolsters his efforts as a soundman: “Before the tour started, I knew the sound needed to be stepped up to the highest quality as far as compressors, limiters, reverbs and basic movements of the console. The DiGiCo is a really nice console that’s as professional as it gets.”
Boire, a Canadian who has worked with Bonnie Raitt, John Fogerty and The Offspring, among others, discovered DiGiCo desks while visiting his old touring friends in the Raitt camp at the Greek Theatre in L.A. “Their new engineer had a fantastic sound; they were using the DiGiCo and it just felt so friendly to my ears,” he recalled. “I knew that would translate beautifully to Brian’s show because it seemed so smooth and we needed that transparent outlook in presenting the Pet Sounds album.”
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The Wilson tour features live musicians constantly traversing between different instruments; there are no playback tracks. “The DiGiCo has been very reliable,” adds Boire. “My challenge with the desk has been getting to know how things are processed and patched, and how to design my show file for workflow—setting it up to work fast so I can get what I need for this band.”
Ensuring the PA conveys that transparency is a duty that falls on Bob “Icky” Alumbaugh, the tour’s system engineer/crew chief, now in his third year with Wilson. He’s found that his style blends seamlessly with Boire’s: “If I can make the system as flat as I can so when Clint moves a fader or reaches for something, his movements translate quickly, then we’ve got it.”
Boire agreed. “Trusting someone like Icky to be my ears in the house is really important and it ensures I’m doing a better job,” he said. “We’ve never had an audience member tell us ‘I couldn’t hear over there.’ We make sure that’s taken care of at the beginning of the set and it works.”
The tour travels with a d&b audiotechnik PA rig with 20 V8s, four V12s and eight each of JSubs, Q10s, V Series boxes as sidehangs. However, at Radio City, the band used the house system: a Clair Global-designed JBL VerTec house rig of JBL VT4889 and VT4887A cabinets and VT4880A subs, all of which integrate with the tour’s gear.
Miking for the production runs the gamut, with gear from AKG, Audix, Sennheiser and Shure. As might be imagined, the vocal mic choices are crucial when it comes to Beach Boys music, so Shure KSM-8 vocal mics are put to work for guitarist Chaplin and original Beach Boy Jardine, who sings lead on “Help Me Rhoda,” “Barbara Ann” and “Little Deuce Coupe,” among others. “The KSM-8 mics are great and I had that on Brian as well, but we ended up going back to a Beta 58 ultimately for him because it worked better for his voice,” said Boire.
Related: Rack-N-Roll Records Pet Sounds Live, Sep. 5, 2017
AKG C414s are set on percussion and drum overheads, with a combo of Shure Beta 91A inside and Shure Beta 52A outside the kick drum. “I’ve gone between Audix D6 and the Shure in certain venues and systems,” said Boire. “On toms, I’ve used Sennheiser and Audix; right now we’re doing Shure Beta 98s on the floor toms and percussion to emulate the tympani used on Pet Sounds. These mics are all solid workhorses and I never have to worry about a mic going down. I love Shure SM 58s.… You try something else then you go back. It’s one of those mics you can put it on anything in a jam and it works.”
A well-known sound in Beach Boys’ lore is the haunting, ethereal vibrato of the Electro-Theremin heard on the band’s 1966 smash hit “Good Vibrations.” After the instrument proved unreliable for the road, a similarly-inspired device called a Tannerin (named for Electro-Theremin inventor Dr. Paul Tanner) was designed and built by Tom Polk of Austin, TX, as a near-perfect replacement for Wilson’s tour. “There’s only one or two out there,” said Boire, who captures the instrument, played by multi-instrumentalist Probyn Gregory, with a Radial J48 DI.
That’s not the only unusual instrument, however, as the tour carries a French horn, trombone, trumpet, tenor sax, baritone, bass harp and banjo among other non-traditional rock tour instruments. Boire recounted, “We can go from a clarinet to a bass flute to something else and people tell us ‘I could hear every single thing onstage!’ People wonder how we get clarity on all those musicians out there doing different things. Knowing the musicians, knowing the music is 100 percent the way to do it.”
Related: Products from Auralex Acoustics Used on Brian Wilson’s Pet Sounds 50th Anniversary World Tour, Aug. 16, 2017
In prepping for the tour, Wilson and band rehearsed four days at a Palm Springs casino, capping it off with a performance. “That really helped me get my gear dialed-in and gave me some time to experiment,” said Boire. “You don’t really have the luxury of doing a lot of that on the road, but these guys have been playing together so long that we use soundcheck to rehearse.” Wilson’s fave soundcheck go-to, the Beach Boys’ 1965 tune “Salt Lake City,” is a song warmly received by the preshow meet and greet crowd. “We’ll soundcheck ‘Salt Lake,’ something with acoustic guitar, then something with French horn like ‘God Only Knows,’” said Boire. Soundcheck wraps with the show’s opener, “California Girls,” so that everything is in place to start the show. “The set is constantly changing and that’s fun because Brian has written over 500 songs, so at any particular time, he could pull one out or anything else entirely. We were in Spain last year in the middle of summer and he decided he wanted to do ‘Monster Mash,’” Boire laughed, “but that’s Brian Wilson!”
“People wonder how we get clarity on all those musicians out there doing different things. Knowing the musicians, knowing the music is 100% the way to do it.”
—Clint Boire, production manager/FOH engineer, Brian Wilson
Archiving each show to Avid Pro Tools, augmented with the addition of stereo ambient mics, Boire stays close to his desk during the set. “I have a habit of constantly mixing each song … comps, EQs, it’s all proximity effect,” he said. “I try to stick near 100 dB-A weight. Blondie Chaplin is a rocker with an edge to him so he’s probably the most level I get out of the band, but people tell me the mix is perfect and they’re not going home with their ears ringing. It’s nice to have someone come up to you and say ‘I’ve seen a million shows and the sound was amazing.’ So that’s the reward.
“You’re in people’s emotions,” muses Boire. “These are their memories and you don’t know where they were at the time when they first heard that song or if they were on their first date. That’s the magic. This is legendary and I’ll never ever take it for granted.… It’s very special for me.”
Vital Stats: Brian Wilson
Schubert Systems, N. Hollywood, CA
FOH Engineer: Clint Boire
Monitor Engineer: Jacob Archer
Crew Chief/Systems Engineer: Bob “Icky” Alumbaugh
Monitor Tech: Daniel Parseghian
FOH Console: DiGiCo SD7
Monitor Console: Avid Venue Profile
Microphones: AKG C414; Audix D6; Sennheiser; Shure KSM-8, SM 58, Beta 52A, Beta 91A, Beta 98; Radial J 48
Schubert Systems • schubertsystems.com
DiGiCo • digico.biz