Guitarist extraordinaire Joe Satriani has followed up his 2015 release, Shockwave Supernova, his 15th solo album release since 1986, with a 30-year solo career retrospective tour in 2016. For his Surfing to Shockwave tour, Satriani assembled a powerful touring band comprising Mike Keneally, keyboards and guitar; Bryan Beller, bass; and Marco Minnemann, drums. The quartet lined up 48 performances in theaters and concert halls across North America from late February through late April. Each night a different venue, delivering high-energy sets to devoted fans of Satriani’s inimitable instrumental rock.
“I love it—it’s a great gig,” says veteran front-of-house engineer Michael “Ace” Baker, who previously worked with Sammy Hagar, which led to a job mixing the band Chickenfoot’s second tour, featuring Hagar and Satriani, and eventually to mixing Satriani. “I’m a guitar player myself. I’m in a room with hundreds of other guitar players.”
Clair Global supported the tour with DiGiCo SD10 consoles for FOH and monitors (including wedges, side fills, and subs) and a Shure/Sennheiser microphone package. “We use P.A. du jour every day, so I never know exactly what I’m walking into,” Baker says. “Some [systems] are wonderful; some are interesting and we figure out how to make it work. But the venues that we play are all chosen pretty well. Many of them are places that we’ve played before.
“When you’re doing [guitar-driven] instrumental rock, you’re looking to get a lot more frequencies out of the guitar because you have a lot more room to fill,” Baker notes, saying that he uses a 57 on Satriani’s amp “to make sure that everybody hears all the notes, [while] the Shure [KSM313/NE] ribbon mic gives me all the body and the warmth that I want to make it sound big and full. I try to make it sound for the audience like it sounds three feet away from the amplifier.”
Baker also notes that Satriani and his band tend to draw large numbers of musicians to their shows, “people who are concerned with their hearing, something I always have to keep in the back of my head when I start getting really excited and want to crank it up. You really have to represent all four instruments—get them all in the mix, but keep that at a civil volume.”
“Stage volume is always a concern,” adds monitor engineer Mike Babcock, “especially with an artist that is a bit old school and still uses wedges. There are 12 Clair/Showco SRM wedges onstage. The sidefill on Joe’s side is two R4s over two ML18s. Stage left just has a sub to complement the bass rig and another ML18 for a drum sub. Two of the guys are on JH Audio IEMs with Shure PSM 1000 transmitters.
“Ace and I have had plenty of talks about stage volume and what can be done to make his job better in terms of dealing with the stage volume,” Babcock says. “I think we have found a good compromise to keep the band happy and allow Ace the acoustic breathing room he needs to make the band sound stellar for the audience every night.”