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Live Sound Showcase: Cher—Dressed To Kill, Rigged to Wrap

Her job these days may be to “come out in silly outfits, sing and be fabulous,” as Cher commented onstage at the Staples Center recently, but there are plenty of people willing to pay to see the costume changes and hear the hits.

Her job these days may be to “come out in silly outfits, sing and be fabulous,” as Cher commented onstage at the Staples Center recently, but there are plenty of people willing to pay to see the costume changes and hear the hits. And what hits: including duets with her former husband, Sonny Bono, Cher’s songbook of Billboard chart-toppers spans six decades, a seemingly unassailable record.

On her current D2K Tour, Cher has been wearing Ultimate Ears UE 11s IEMs with ambient filters to ensure she gets the vibe from the crowd. By the time the second leg of the Dressed to Kill (D2K) Tour, Cher’s eighth solo outing, wraps up in early November, the North American jaunt will have taken in 74 shows— and enviable box office receipts. Unusually, a German company, Berlin’s Black Box Music (BBM), is the production provider for the tour.

BBM’s head of sound, Markus Eichhofer, believes that the company has established its reputation via its high-quality equipment and infrastructure. “Tour managers are able to reduce a huge amount of personnel, time and costs due to our specialized professional know-how in touring production and a huge amount of creative technical solutions with regard to efficient setup and dismantling,” he says.

BBM, which also maintains workshops, rehearsal stages, and truck and bus rental services, employs custom-fabricated packaging and rigging to improve load-in and load-out times. “The costs for all productions from our workshops are vanishingly low in comparison to the saved costs of less personnel and work time on a half-year tour,” says Eichhofer.

For D2K, “We modified our existing dollies and gave them rigging options. Our power distribution was also custom-made for this tour, by our in-house electro workshop.” All modifications are independently tested and fully comply with German standards, he adds.

BBM sea-freighted the L-Acoustics rig for the D2K Tour. Although it takes three weeks, they are hardly missed: “We own over 800 L-Acoustics components, from 5XT to K1,” reports Eichhofer. “Therefore BBM is able to send out three to five full arena PA systems from our stock at one time.”

Manning a DiGiCo SD7, FOH engineer Dave Bracey sends the mix to a massive L‐Acoustics house system supplied by Black Box Music. As Dave Bracey, Cher’s FOH engineer, enumerates, each main hang comprises 14 K1 boxes with eight K1-SB subs above, plus six K2 boxes below for downfill. Side and rear hangs per side, extending coverage to 270 degrees, each comprise 12 K2s, with the side hang also including four K1 subs. A half-dozen KARAs provide in-fill and 16 groundstacked SB-28 dual-18s, in a cardioid arc, support the lowest octave. Power is provided by LA8 amplifiers with four LM44s handling system processing.

The K2s in the main hangs seamlessly extend coverage with the same sonic signature as the K1, reports Bracey, a veteran of tours with The Cure, Robbie Williams and Massive Attack. “It’s basically exactly the same sounding box as the K1, just 3 dB less headroom. And there are three hangs per side—if anybody tries to cover all the way round to the back with just two hangs, they’re cheating!”

Because of the length of the main arrays, the ground subs are only needed for the bottom 10 Hz, at an input gain of -8 dB, says Bracey. “If there was a good reason for not having any subs, I could do a damn good version of the show without them.”

Bracey, Jon Lewis, Cher’s monitor mixer, and Horst Hartmann, who handles the seven-piece band and under-stage tech crew, were all on P!nk’s 2013/14 tour together, along with system engineer Ulf Oeckl. The D2K Tour is carrying three DiGiCo SD7 consoles and five SD-Racks, including two for Hartmann, who runs a different gain structure, plus a spare, all on an optical loop. BBM already owned two SD7s and bought two for the tour. “BBM now owns the largest number of SD7 consoles in Germany,” says Eichhofer.

Due to the range of Cher’s material, the show is heavily programmed in the SD7, says Bracey, who fires off snapshots to change processing between songs and in and out of the video interludes that cover Cher’s changes costumes. Because some of the archival footage has less-than-perfect audio, “You have to process it in a way that makes it intelligible in the room,” he says.

The tour carries a selection of Sennheiser 5200 series wireless handhelds with 5235 heads. Guess which ones are Cher’s. Hartmann, who has worked with Kraftwerk, Scorpions and Sade, manages 30 channels of RF. “We have 16 in-ears and 14 mics, headset mics, communication mics and one wireless guitar,” he says. Plus, “Every musician and every crew member has a talkback mic. There’s a lot of communication going on.”

Hartmann generates 12 stereo and 12 mono sends. “The monos are basically effects sends. I have ButtKickers bolted onto the risers,” he says. Everybody is on Sennheiser 2000 Series wireless IEMs.

With so many costume changes, it makes sense to have an engineer focus on Cher’s monitors, says Lewis, who has toured with AC/DC, David Gilmour and Paul McCartney. “Her mix is quite effect-heavy, quite wet; there’s a lot of delays. It’s a very live sounding mix,” he says. His only outboard effect is a TC Electronic M6000, primarily for its EMT plate setting.

Cher has four Sennheiser 5200 series handhelds with 5235 heads, blinged-out to match her costumes, and EM 3732-II receivers. “The majority of the microphones are Sennheiser,” he adds.

“She uses Ultimate Ears UE 11s with ambient filters, to get that vibe from the crowd,” says Lewis, who also feeds two hangs of three L-Acoustic ARCs and six HiQ wedges for the 13 dancers. “We sell 270 degrees around, and will continue for the foreseeable future. The ARCs have the smallest footprint we could get up there with the maximum dispersion, not to block out too many seats.” Thus ensuring the fans have got clear sightlines when Cher belts “I Got You Babe.”
Black Box Music