The band who could do no wrong: There is no question that the summer of 2001 simply belonged to Radiohead. For a few perfect moments, the band seemed to erase the shameful stain left by years of faux-angst rap/metal and vapid teen pop, reminding the world that music doesn't have to be written for the lowest common denominator to be successful.
Returning after a two-year break, the band released not one, but two follow-up albums to their now-classic '97 release, OK Computer. Recorded during the same studio sessions, Kid A (released in the fall of 2000) and Amnesiac (released last spring) were greeted with both critical acclaim and a bit of confusion on the part of their fans, who were perplexed and excited about the group's new direction. The two albums artfully eschewed the normal conventions of pop music, presenting the kind of bleak, electronic-based, cathartic study of the human condition that OK Computer only hinted at. And, despite the band's ardent resistance to releasing singles, making videos or promoting their new albums (except by touring), both albums have fared well commercially.
Created through a layering of sampled percussion, synths, and found pieces of audio and live instruments, this new batch of songs presented the band and their live sound crew with an interesting set of challenges, including the requirement that everything be played live without any prerecorded playback.
Mix followed the band for two of their California dates, stopping in at the Shoreline Amphitheater in Mountain View and the Santa Barbara Bowl. Though set lists varied a fair amount between shows, more than half of the songs were from the band's last three albums, with a few favorites from The Bends thrown in as well. The new material held up live, especially songs like “Idioteque” and “Pyramid Song,” and at Santa Barbara, the audience was treated to an excellent cover of Neil Young's “Cinnamon Girl.”
Radiohead consists of Thom Yorke (vocals, guitar, piano), Ed O'Brien (guitar, vocals), Jonny Greenwood (guitar, synths), Colin Greenwood (bass) and Phil Selway (drums). For the U.S. leg of the tour, underground darlings and crowd favorites the Beta Band were tapped to open; the band was promoting their latest Astralwerks release Hot Shots II.
PACKT LIKE SARDINES
Monitor engineer David “Tree” Tordoff has been with the band since the last leg of the promotional tour for The Bends in the mid-'90s. For the U.S. leg of this tour, he began mixing on a Midas Heritage console, which was choosen for its automation features. Tordoff is responsible for 47 inputs and 22 different onstage mixes. Although there are only five members in the band, bandmembers use two additional fixed keyboard positions at different times. Thus, each bandmember requires a custom mix at different stage positions, at different times.
Singer/guitarist Yorke and drummer Selway are the only two members of band using in-ear monitor setups, dual-driver Firehouse 6500 ear molds and Shure PSM 700 beltpacks. The rest of the band listens to standard wedges from Firehouse, which also supplied all subwoofers. “Thom has ears and wedges,” Tordoff explains. “The wedges are used purely for the electronic drums and instruments that Jonny Greenwood plays. He doesn't like those sort of threatening noises in his ears. And Phil, the drummer, has ‘ears’ and a stool shaker and takes everything in his mix. The bass player has normal wedges and a sub as well, because he also plays upright bass, and you get a bigger sound out of that. Everyone else is on standard wedges.”
For effects, Tordoff uses PCM 70s for vocal reverb on Yorke's in-ear mix. And dbx 1000 compressors are used on all of Greenwood's instruments, including guitar, an elaborate patchable synth array and various other items.
“One big change for this tour is that we have an acoustic piano onstage,” Tordoff continues. “And if you put an acoustic piano in the middle of the stage, it changes everything! And we have the upright bass as well. It's more interesting with challenging instruments. And more things move. We're wheeling keyboards around all the time. So everything has to have a long umbilical cord running to it. It is a huge input list, but only half of it is being used at any one time.”
For sidefills, two Turbo Floodlight cabinets were placed on towers at either the side of the stage, approximately 12 feet off the ground and angled downward. To make these particular speakers fit in with the rest of the stage, which reflects the bleak, neo-futurist themes of the band's music, the cabinets were stripped of their blue, composite-wood housing, exposing the internal components. To the untrained eye, the unfinished metal drivers more closely resembled a work of contemporary sculpture than a speaker. “At these open air shows, it is sometimes hard to fly things, and this was an easy way to get them in the air,” notes Tordoff.
“Radiohead is always interested in hearing,” he continues. “The guys that don't use in-ears wear in-ears with filters, because it's all about keeping the stage volume down. When they first got signed and realized that they might have a career in music, they all anticipated that it would be for 30 or 40 years. It was a decision from the beginning to be very careful with their hearing. A lot of my job is keeping things quiet, as opposed to being very loud. Many monitor jobs are about making it very loud and exciting. For them, it's very much about getting the mix exactly right, which you really can't do at top volume. To make the show more exciting, they have to play better and not rely on just volume and noise.”
At the FOH position, engineer Jim Warren picked a Soundcraft Series FIVE as the main board and a Spirit 324 for effects returns. The Series FIVE is set up for 48 inputs, with 12 effects sends, and all of the input returns on the Spirit are in stereo pairs. Most of the effects are used on the vocals, and include an Eventide H3000, M-1 and D-2 units from TC Electronic, Lexicon PCM 70, Roland SD-3000 and 330 models, and a Line 6 POD. Warren also patches several Yamaha SPX900s across the drums. [FOH engineer Jim Warren was unfortunately not available to be interviewed for this story due to other commitments. — Eds.]
All of the vocal mics are Shure Beta 87As. The miking scheme for the drums break down as follows: M-88 on kick, SM 57 on snares, Sennheiser 504 on toms, Ramsa S-1 for ambience and KSM 32s as overheads. All of the guitar and bass cabinets are miked with Sennheiser 509, and the instruments are also taken direct. The various keyboard/synth/sampler rigs are also taken as stereo DIs.
CLIMBING UP THE WALLS
Firehouse Productions was tapped to outfit the U.S. leg of the tour. The New York-based production company set the band up with a V-DOSC system that could be scaled to work with a variety of large and medium-sized outdoor venues. Additionally, Fire-house provided both consoles and the custom-outfitted monitor array.
“We also use dV-DOSC for underhung and lipfill,” Firehouse system tech John Drane explains. “We have a total of 32 V-DOSC cabinets and 12 of the dV-DOSC. We also carry 12 L'Acoustic Arc speakers out with us, because some of the shows that we've been doing have been larger venues. In some of the smaller stadiums, we've needed some extra coverage on the sides. We're also carrying 24 of the ADK proprietary double-18 subs. Amplification is all QSC and Crown, but mostly QSC. We use the Crown on the dV-DOSC and the Arcs. But the QSC is specifically for the V-DOSC.”
The Santa Barbara show presented some unique challenges. The Santa Barbara Bowl is actually located in a dense, upscale, residential neighborhood, and a city ordinance places a strict 100dB limit on overall volume, plus a 10 p.m. curfew. The facility itself is also unusual — to the right of the stage, where the P.A. would normally be flown, there is a large pine tree that would obviously muffle the sound. To work around this, the V-DOSC arrays were flown directly above the stage, which meant that the cabinets were physically behind the mic positions. To compensate for this, the arrays were imaged so that they would overshoot the stage mics.
“Overall, it's been a great tour to be on,” Drane concludes. “The audience is just fantastic. It's one of the few shows that I've been to where the audience is just riveted the whole time. At a lot of these shows, you'll go out in the concourse and everyone is hanging out and drinking beer. At these shows, they're not. Everybody is in their seats for the whole show. And they're just a great group of guys to work with.”
Robert Hanson, Mix's editorial assistant, couldn't have thought of a better reason to revisit his old hometown of Santa Barbara, Calif.