Photo: Steve Jennings
Madonna has re-invented her image numerous times during the course of one of pop's longest and most successful careers, including recently changing her name to Esther, reflecting her following of the Jewish discipline Kabbalah. Since her early “Boy Toy” — belted R&B/dance days to her recent electronica-influenced American Life album with its faux Communist art cover, her music and look have continuously morphed, keeping fans guessing as she incorporates new musical and fashion trends. One of the few constants, however, is Madonna's ability to take her audience with her as she dares each new transformation.
No surprise, then, that Madonna's 56-date aptly named Re-Invention tour, her first major tour in three years, which began this past May, sold out almost as soon as tickets went on the market. Playing in large-scale arena in the 12k to 16k range across Western Europe and North America (including Slane Castle in Ireland and a stadium in Holland), Madonna's show features hits from throughout her career, a move sure to please fans who missed her mostly absent back catalog on last year's six-month Drowned World tour. Mix caught up with the former Material Girl during her six-night run at Madison Square Garden (New York City) in late June.
The Madonna principle sound crew, from left: monitor engineers Sean Spuehler and Ian Newton, front-of-house engineer Kevin Pruce and Gene Phillips, who deals with mics and RF
WELCOME TO FOH
Kevin Pruce, Björk's touring engineer since her days with The Sugarcubes in the late '80s, is helming front of house for Madonna this time around. “I think it's fair to say Madonna and Björk offer different challenges,” Pruce says. “So whilst the basics of mixing are the same, the Madonna tour is a big production with many other aspects to consider — dancers, major video and staging moves [including a moving catwalk], et cetera, along with a band and sequencing — whereas Björk uses live strings [a 56-piece orchestra and 16-person choir, as on her Vespertine Tour in 2001] and acoustic instruments such as harps alongside electronics and sequencing.”
The Re-Invention tour employs a Clair Bros. i4 and i4B line array system with Prism floor subs. The main system is a standard Clair Bros. hang of 14 i4s and 12 i4Bs. The side system has eight i4s and six i4Bs. There are eight Prism subs in front of the stage and eight P2 frontfills. Two AM12 wedges cover the “mosh pits” [a dance pit located near the side of the stage]. System control, EQ and delay are from 10 Clair/Lake iO units. Madonna is a Clair Bros. account and for Pruce, who usually uses an L-Acoustics V-DOSC system, it was his first time out with the i4 system. “While they are both line arrays, each system has its own distinct characteristics to master, which has been very interesting. I'm pleased with the results from the i4.” Amps are models from Crest, QSC and Carver.
Pruce observes of the tour venues that “each room obviously sounds different and the space tends to be different. [Madison Square Garden] is more of a bowl shape than a regular arena. The scoreboard [for basketball games] is a bit of a pain here because it doesn't go out. It hangs quite low and tends to be a bit of a nuisance. Sometimes they can move them and fly them out; sometimes, they're high enough that it's not a problem, but this one seems to sit quite low. We put a drape across the front of it to stop any reflections back to the stage.”
The Yamaha PM-1D FOH board takes 80 inputs from the stage. “Obviously, the digital recall is always an advantage,” Pruce says, “and with a show like this that's heavily programmed — lots of cues and things going on — having it digital means you can recall it straight-away. I've used the Yamaha PM-1D extensively over the last few years and the backup from Yamaha is superb worldwide.” He uses little in the way of outboard effects, relying instead on the PM-1D's internal effects except on vocals, which are treated with a Lexicon 480L. Madonna's and two backing vocals go through BSS Audio 901 dynamic compressors and Tube-Tech CL-2A compressors, and the guitars are treated with BBE Sonic Maximizers. A Tube-Tech SMC 2B is used for overall compression on the system.
MICS FOR EVERYONE
Miking the band is fairly simple, with almost all instruments (bass, two keyboard setups, acoustic guitars, electronic drums and sequencing) being DI'd. Acoustic drums and electric guitars are the exceptions, though the drum kit is actually a hybrid of electronic and acoustic. “There's an acoustic snare that's miked top and bottom, an acoustic hi-hat, two cymbal mics and a ride mic. But all the toms, kick and main snare are [Clavia] ddrum triggers,” Pruce explains. “It means we can put in all the sounds from the albums and have [the drummer] trigger them.” The electric guitars are miked with Audio-Technica 4050s. And, Pruce notes, “We've got a bagpipe player who is featured on a new intro for the track ‘Into the Groove,’ which also features two military snares that are all miked with wireless Shure SM98s.
All vocal mics are wireless Sennheiser SKM 3072UX; Madonna also occasionally uses a Sennheiser MKE105 headset during the show. Pruce used the mics successfully in the past with Duran Duran, noting that Sennheiser products have exceptionally good radio frequency qualities. “Sennheiser's been very good,” he says. “Paul Hugo came down with Gene Phillips, who operates the 33 channels of RF. They worked out a frequency plan, which needs to be tweaked in every new city.”
Monitoring is done on two PM-1D consoles run by two different engineers. Ian Newton covers the band on one, and Sean Spuehler looks after Madonna and her vocal effects on the other. Both Madonna and the band use Ultimate UE10 in-ear monitors through Sennheiser G2 IEM systems. “We do fly some sidefills — four Clair Bros. R4 sidefill cabinets and two subs — mainly for the dancers so that they can feel the music and get a bit of energy onstage,” Pruce says. There are also three subs positioned near the drummer and keyboardist, “just to give it some weight on the bass; otherwise, it tends to sound a bit thin.”
From New York City, the Re-Invention Tour continued on in the U.S. and then headed off to the UK, Holland, Ireland and France before it wraps up in mid-September. And thanks to Pruce and company, Madonna won't have trouble re-creating her sound in each new venue and country she plays.
Gaby Alter is a freelance writer, songwriter and composer based in Brooklyn, N.Y.
ON THE RIDER
Handling monitor duties on the current Madonna tour are Ian Newton and Sean Spuehler. Mix was able to snag a copy of their monitor tech rider. Here's what they are carrying:
Consoles: two Yamaha PM-1Ds, 80 inputs from the stage
Outboard Effects: Eventide Eclipse, H3000; Emagic Logic; Lexicon 480L; Electrix filter factory; internal PM-1D
Processing: Focusrite ISA 110 and Distressor EL8
In-Ear Systems: Ultimate Ears UE10 through Sennheiser G2 transmitters
Flown Sidefills: 2× R4 and 1× R4 floor sub
Drum and Keyboard Subs: 3× ML18s
Mics: Sennheiser SKM3072-U (vocals), MK105 (headsets); Audio-Technica AT4050s; Shure Beta 57A (snares), 451s (hi-hats and rides), Beta 98s (bagpipes and military snares); AKG 414s (overheads); ddrum triggers (kick snare and toms, plus various noises and effects); guitars, bass, keyboards and DJ decks are DI'd
MEET THE BAND
Madonna: vocals and guitars
Stuart Price: musical director, bass, keyboards, DJ decks
Steve Sidelnyk: drums
Monte Pittman: guitars
Marcus Brown: keyboards
Mike McKnight: programmer, keyboards
Lorne Cousin: bagpipes
Donna De Lory: backing vocals
Siedah Garrett: backing vocals