When my travel plans were pushed back a day, I suddenly had the chance to drop in on Paul McCartney’s Back In the U.S. show, which came to Portland, Ore., during the return leg of last spring’s two-month tour. Dropping in at the stage door unannounced seemed unrealistic, but my gracious hosts went out of their way to show me around and even found me a seat, despite the impending arrival of Madonna’s people, Alanis Morissette’s folks and Cameron Crowe’s entourage.
I was met at the stage door by Paul “Pablo” Boothroyd, who has been mixing McCartney since 1989, and has also mixed the last two AC/DC tours, as well as recent Eurythmics and Annie Lennox outings. Pab, as he is known to friends, mixes on a pair of Midas XL4 consoles, with the main inputs on the forward-facing desk and the ambience mics, drum overheads, keyboards, piano, effects and playback submixed from the desk to his left. He forgoes much of the XL4’s automation ability, though he does rely on presets to restore fader positions at the top of each number. “I prefer to manually push up faders as it helps focus on the mix for each song,” he explains.
And there are quite a few different scenes. In addition to playing his classic Hofner bass, Sir Paul jumps between keyboard, piano, acoustic and electric guitar and even a ukulele for George Harrison’s “Something.” Boothroyd favors Shure microphones throughout the input list, using KSM-32 condensers on guitar amps — Rusty Anderson’s “Divided by 13″ and Brian Ray’s Electroplex Rocket 50 — plus an additional SM57 on the Vox that McCartney plays his ’58 Les Paul through. McCartney’s Mesa Boogie bass amp is miked with an old-style Beta 57, which Boothroyd likes for its midrange bite and also uses it on the Ashdown rig that Ray plays bass through when McCartney is playing other instruments. All of the singers’ mics are Shure Beta 58As, except for drummer Abraham Laboriel Jr.’s Beta 57A, which he swings around on a boomed gooseneck.
I’ve personally enjoyed Laboriel’s drum skills during several k.d. lang tours, though this was the first time I could relish his vocal skills — he harmonizes with McCartney as often as anyone does onstage. Those who have seen this show either live or on television now recognize his enthusiastic playing and his DW kit with the word “driving” on the kick drum, which refers to the title of the latest McCartney album, Driving Rain.
NO MORE SWISHING
The stage very effectively uses movable banks of LED screens above and behind it for video, graphics and image magnification. In order to present a lower sightline, Boothroyd eschews overhead drum mics in favor of Audio Technica ATM35 mini-condensers placed a few inches directly under each cymbal’s bell. “Centering the mic under the bell eliminates any ‘swishing’ from cymbal rocking,” Boothroyd explains, noting that he developed the technique during the AC/DC outings. The close distance provides good isolation, and the cymbals could be heard clearly in the mix — even during the loudest numbers.
For effects, Boothroyd uses a pair of double-machine TC Electronic M-5000s, which provide a basic vocal reverb and a chorus effect based on the “King” preset for what Boothroyd calls “magic dust” on backing vocals. The other two machines provide a plate reverb for drums and a percussion setting for instruments. He also uses a TC Electronic D•Two delay for shadow echoes and answer delays on a couple of songs. For compressors, Boothroyd uses an Avalon 2044 on the lead vocal inserts, and has 10 dbx 160 SL compressors distributed among the backing vocals and most of the instruments. Drawmer DS-201 gates minimize drum channel leakage.
Each show is recorded for potential DVD and CD release on two Tascam MX-2424 hard disk recorders, which provide a total of 48 recording tracks. Of these, eight are dedicated to audience reaction mics: four Shure SM-91s at the front of the stage (a pair near the center and two more at the corners) and four Shure KSM-32s at the mix position arranged in pairs that are aimed at the rear and sides of the arena. To conserve tracks, Boothroyd downmixes a few channels: McCartney’s vocal mics share the same track, and the second snare that Laboriel plays downstage with brushes during the acoustic part of the show goes on the kit’s snare track. However, all eight AR mics are individually tracked for future use in post-production, which will provide both ambience and the sing-along “nah-nah-nahs” from “Hey, Jude” in surround.
REMOTE SYSTEM TWEAKING
Clair Brothers provided sound equipment for the U.S. shows, and the drive rack contained nine of the new Clair iO 2×6 speaker controllers from Australia-based Lake Technology Ltd. The setup dedicated an iO to each of the three sections of the main I-4 line array, one for the subwoofers, three more for side- and rearfill arrays, another for frontfills and one for potential shed lawn systems as needed. All of the iOs were controlled via Fujitsu touchscreen computer; system engineer Randy Wiley controls the system from a remote computer that connects over a wireless 802.11b “Wi-Fi” connection from any location in the arena.
Fully programmable, the Lake Technology iO processors can be grouped so that EQ filters can be adjusted for the entire rig or only sections of it, and additional layers of filters can be written to accommodate guest engineers and supporting acts. The filters can be used as parametrics or graphics, the software looks intuitive and user-friendly, and I’m sure we’ll be seeing these processors on many future tours. Lastly, Boothroyd is also using the new Klark-Teknik Helix digital equalizer on the entire mix bus, employing its DN-27-style filters, which he prefers for their musical interaction.
For Portland’s Rose Garden Arena show, the main speaker system was made up of two columns of 14 I-4 speakers firing the length of the arena in typical line array fashion, with a dozen of the companion single-18 subs hanging right beside all but the two lowest cabinets. The arena sides were covered by two more eight-deep I-4 columns with another half-dozen I-4 subs immediately adjacent. On the floor and in front of the stage, eight S-4 subs were deployed, along with two pairs of Clair’s small P-2 frontfill speakers sitting on top and just below the edge of the deck. The I-4 system was powered with QSC 9.0 amps on the lows and Crown Macrotech 3600s for the mids and highs, while Crest 9001 amps powered the speakers at the front of the stage.
“JUST LIKE THE RECORD”
Like Boothroyd, monitor engineer John Roden has also worked for McCartney since 1989, and his credits include a who’s who of English rock bands. (See www.mixesmons.co.uk for the current list.) He mixes monitors on a pair of Midas Heritage 3000 consoles, though the second desk is only half full. The stage is littered with single-12 SRM wedges, with most musicians using them in stereo pairs. McCartney uses two pairs, one directly ahead of him for his vocal and another pair on the outside of these for a stereo mix of the rest of the band. “Paul’s instructions to me were, ‘Make me feel like I’m in the record,’” Roden reports. The I-4 line array main P.A. makes very little contribution to the stage sound, so Roden sends a full mix to two pairs of Clair R-4 three-way speakers used as fill speakers and laid on their sides. A wedge positioned upstage-left at the piano riser acts as a supplemental fill speaker for the rest of the band.
Roden is using 24 channels of dbx DriveRack processors and reports excellent support from dbx’s Geoff Lissaman. The DriveRacks are across all of the monitor mixes and are even inserted on several inputs, such as McCartney’s Martin acoustic guitar and Hofner bass. “Those familiar with the Hofner know that it’s an acoustic instrument whose body resonance easily picks up sound vibrations, thus requiring careful equalization,” Roden comments. He inserts dbx 160SL compressors on the vocals and bass inputs, and assigns Drawmer gates for the drums, though these are all used sparingly. In addition to the dbx DriveRack, Roden is also using a Sabine Power-Q on McCartney’s vocal insert chain and typically uses the Power-Q’s “search-and-destroy” mode ahead of time to find the most likely feedback frequencies.
Monitor effects consist of a Lexicon PCM81 for McCartney’s vocal at the piano, a TC Electronic D•Two delay, which is used for only a few songs like “Can’t Buy Me Love,” and a Yamaha SPX-990 for acoustic guitars. One customized aspect of the monitor system is an onstage VCA fader for Paul “Wix” Wickins’ keyboards, which routes the mix from the direct output back to two more inputs, allowing Wickins to turn himself up and down. For “She’s Leaving Home,” a live concert first on this tour, Wickins plays the classic string parts of the original arrangement on keyboards.
The show begins like Cirque du Soleil, with a half-hour of entrances through the audience of dozens of costumed actors — jesters, geishas, ballerinas, a strong man, a contortionist and, of course, a man in a bowler — an entertaining and theatrical alternative to a support act. Beyond the technical excellence exhibited by all departments, the McCartney show is a heart-warming, 33-song trip down memory lane, and the three-hour show goes by without an intermission. By the time he comes back for the second encore to play “Yesterday,” there’s not a dry eye in the house and The Beatles have been forgiven for not getting together one last time. If you missed the concert, check out Back In the U.S., Live 2002.
Mark Frink is Mix‘s sound reinforcement editor.