Brooklyn, NY (February 22, 2019)—Playing the second North American leg of its nearly yearlong Pray for the Wicked tour, Panic! at the Disco has been performing to sold-out crowds, making it a hot tour despite some cold climates. “Our second show was in Laval, Quebec, and it was -1° outside,” laughed longtime FOH engineer Spencer Jones, looking around Brooklyn’s Barclays Center, the journey’s fifth stop. “This is nice—it’s the warmest it’s been so far.” It was 25 degrees out.
While Jones has worked with the group in various roles since 2011, the current production finds him bringing the band’s heavily electronic pop sound to life using a system from Eighth Day Sound (Highland Heights, OH), with the FOH position centered around a DiGiCo SD5 console. Despite the effect-heavy vibe, Jones uses only a handful of plug-ins, opting instead of rely mostly on outboard gear.
“I like being able to touch my faders and mix while I’m adjusting certain things,” he said. “Ultimately, it doesn’t add a lot of cost in the grand scheme of things, and it makes me more comfortable. I try to keep it as simple as possible to where the plug-ins that I do have on there still, I’m not looking at them as often. “I find feeling real knobs has a certain aesthetic to it, plus I learned on analog, so it was ingrained in me. Also, it just sounds better and plug-ins can fail; these units are a little more solid. I’ve come to have a standard package for any band I mix, certain elements that I like to have as outboard gear.”
Key to that outboard package, then, are certain items for singer Brendon Urie’s vocal, like an XTA GQ 600 graphic EQ and an Empirical Labs EL8 Distressor, along with a Bricasti M7. “I use that as my main vocal reverb. There’s plugs that will emulate it, but I feel like this one still sounds better; it has a very warm tone,” said Jones. Also in the rack sits a TC Electronic 2290 that he uses on a handful of songs nightly, more Distresssors for backup vocals (“They add a punch that can cut through a mix”), a TC Helicon VoiceWorks he uses for one song’s underwater sound effect, and a pair of Eventide Eclipses, for which he noted, “I use one as a doubler, and then I have another that I mess around with for different types of vocal effects.”
A DiGiCo SD10 console sits at FOH for opening acts, but Jones keeps it ready to go during his portion of the night as a backup just in case; that caution paid off earlier on the tour when the SD5 went down mid-show. “It happens to the best of tours. Equipment can fail, because they’re computers and we’re working them pretty hard,” said Jones. “We finished the last four songs on the 10 and didn’t go over our curfew. It’s pretty important in my opinion to have a backup next to you—not in the truck but set up with your file so you only have to switch outputs and a few cables.”
Jones’ mixes have been heard nightly through a brand-new d&b audiotechnik GSL line array system. Stage left and right each have main hangs of 18 GSL boxes a side, along with six GSL subs flown and a dozen more on the ground. Side hangs are composed of 16 J8s and two J12s per side and then eight V8s a side tag the crowd nearly behind the stage in 240° sold arenas.
“It’s been great,” said Jones of the new GSL rig. “Plenty of power, plenty of clarity—it really punches through. They’re very balanced and I have no complaints. The subs bump. They have really great response all the way down to 20 Hz. There’s nothing you can’t hear on those things, and there’s tons of headroom where I never feel like I’m pushing it—which is nice, especially with a loud crowd.”
While the production is ornate, the wireless demands are low, with the 10 musicians on stage—Urie, bass, guitar, drums (who all sing), along with a three-piece horn section and a string trio—each sporting Ultimate Ears earpieces on Shure IEMs. In terms of wireless mics, the story is Shure-oriented, too, as the group is endorsed by the Chicago manufacturer. As a result, Urie is heard via a custom gold-plated KSM8 Dualdyne wireless, while backing vocals are captured through wired KSM8s and drum vocals get a Beta 56 due to the tighter pattern. The horns sport wireless Beta 98s and the drums are ensnared by a 91 and SM7 on the kick, Beta 57 on the tom, Beta 98A on the snare top, 57 on the bottom, Beta 181As on the hat and ride, KSM32s on the overheads and a VP88 above the kit to add a little compressed room sound to the drums.
With the exception of a Kemper rig on guitar and a SM7B used for the bass mic, virtually everything else is straight XLRs into Radial DIs, including the digital pianos, one of which dangles overhead as Urie travels the length of the arena while serenading the audience with a medley of Bonnie Raitt’s “I Can’t Make You Love Me” and his own “Dying in L.A.” An impressive moment of stagecraft, the airborne journey is only one of a number of gags throughout the show that keep the audio crew on its toes. “We have a great crew from Eighth Day Sound,” said Jones. “They handle the routing of where the cables are going because there are multiple elevators and a few surprises pop up, so they have to manage cabling to make sure it doesn’t get pinched.”
Surprising the fans is something the band has been doing on a regular basis, touring almost annually and releasing three albums since 2013, which in turn has kept Jones busy, too. “It’s been nice seeing the growth,” he said. “We were doing 1,000to 1,500-capacity rooms for a while, and over the last three albums, it went up to where we’re only doing arenas in the States, and even internationally only doing arenas. It’s been a lot of fun to see the growth, but also to mix in different environments.”
If the environment outside Barclays Center put a chill in the fans’ bones, it didn’t show as they belted along with Urie through nearly every song throughout the evening. “I average 100 to 101 dB over the course of the night,” said Jones, “but there’s times when I’ve seen the crowd sing along at over 100 dB; you’ll feel the kick and his vocal, and the crowd’s drowning out everything else. That’s actually a cool moment because I can complement it. It’s fun to know they’re having a good time and I don’t need to fight that. It’s not a competition—if they want to be loud, cool.”
Eighth Day Sound • www.8thdaysound.com
d&b audiotechnik • www.dbaudio.com
Shure • www.shure.com