When Canadian pop-rocker Avril Lavigne stormed onto the music scene in 2002 with her multi-Platinum debut album, Let Go, millions of teenage girls — perhaps those not quite into Britney and not quite into Christina — were immediately entranced by her radio-friendly lyrics and easy-to-dance-to melodies, with a more punk edge than her pop counterparts. With eight Grammy nominations under her belt, Lavigne released her second studio album, Under My Skin, this year, which found the chart-topping vocalist garnering an even larger fan base, who came out in full force for her surprise mall tour. (Think early-'90s Tiffany.) A few months later and with Under My Skin hitting the Top 10 on Billboard's pop charts, Lavigne's Bonez tour took a drastic upswing — hitting large-scale arenas worldwide.
After a monthlong jaunt through Europe (with a universal package comprising mixing consoles, processing racks and such from Major Tom), Lavigne cruised through the States for a quick two months, playing just about every day. The U.S. tour offers the same equipment package as the European dates, with the speaker system supplied by Jason Audio (formerly part of SoundArt). Mix caught up with the arena tour in late November at San Jose, Calif.'s HP Pavilion.
NEW TECHNIQUES IN LAVIGNE'S CAMP
For front-of-house engineer Jim Yakabuski, who finished up the last three months of Lavigne's previous jaunt when then-FOH engineer Mark LeCorre went off to start Dido's tour (see Mix, July 2004), Lavigne's current outing provided an opportunity to fly an interesting combination of line array clusters. Yakabuski is using Meyer Sound's MILO speakers and flying a standard left/right array of 16 MILO 90-degree boxes with two MILO 120s on the bottom. He also flies two (inverted stereo sends) left/right side arrays, usually about 10 boxes each. “The unique part of the system is the single line of center sub-bass speakers,” he explains. “We fly 12 subs in a single line in the center just downstage of the front truss of lights. The only other subs used are two ground-stacked subs directly below the flown array. The only variation to this theme occurs on days when the trim height is minimal; in this situation, we fly a 2×6-deep center sub-cluster.
“The results have exceeded expectations beyond my wildest dreams,” he says. “The single vertical point source of subs in the arena eliminates the drastic lobing and nulling of sub energy that occurs in standard left/right flown or stacked sub clusters. This has been a constant sore spot with me for years, and I've been waiting for the right opportunity to try the mono sub cluster for a long time. The consistency of sub level from the FOH position into the seats and all the way around the arena has to be heard to be believed. The only tough spot is about halfway from the FOH position to the stage. The timing and volume of the two ground-stacked subs are critical, and finding the spot where the flown subs cut off as you walk toward the stage is the trick. Placing the reference mic [a Josephson C550H] on the ground at this location and then turning on and timing the ground subs to this location seemed to be the solution.”
engineer Martin Wareing at the DiGiCo D5 Live
In addition to trying out this new P.A. arrangement, Yakabuski is mixing it up with his boards: Rather than using a tried-and-true analog mixer, the engineer brought out a digital desk — a DiGiCo D5 112EX. “It's hard to pin down whether the mixer is the sole reason for the much improved audio experience this time around with Avril [the previous tour used a Yamaha PM1D], as we've also switched speaker systems, but the sound of the entire system is great and the trade-off for real estate at FOH, onboard compressors and gates that work wonderfully, and save/recall capabilities makes us very happy that we went digital. We've only had the tiniest of glitches and some of those have been due to me learning to make the mental switch from analog to digital. I have outboard effects [such as Lexicon 960, PCM90 and PCM80; Eventide Eclipse; and two TC Electronic D2s], but that is a bit of an old dog not being quite ready to learn all the new tricks. I use scene snapshots for each song, making very small changes of channel muting and MIDI program changes only.”
engineer Jim Yakabuski
Yakabuski relies on an assortment of mics — from Sennheiser, Neumann, Audio-Technica and Shure — to amplify individual instruments. For example, Matt Brann's drums are miked with Shure SM57 (snare top), Sennheiser e903 (snare bottom), Neumann 184 (hi-hats, ride and overheads), Sennheiser e908s (prototype small dynamic clip-on tom mics “that sound great and have a great isolating shock-mount,” Yakabuski says) and Sennheiser e602 and e901 (both on kick). “The e901 is similar to the Shure 91, but give it a listen,” Yakabuski urges. “It sounds fantastic.” Charles Moniz's bass is taken DI.
Lavigne sings through a Sennheiser Evolution 935 wireless, which Yakabuski really likes “for its neutral, almost flat, frequency response and its rejection of noise around it onstage.” Guitarist Craig Wood (former member of Canadian punk band Gob) and guitarist Devin Bronson use Sennheiser e935s for background vocals.
Onstage, Lavigne demonstrates her new guitar skills by picking up both acoustic (taken DI) and electric guitars (miked with a Sennheiser e903) on five songs. For “Slipped Away,” “Together” and “Forgotten,” Lavigne takes a seat behind a piano (which is taken direct via MIDI module) and even pounds on the skins to cover Blur's “Song 2”; opening act Butch Walker (who co-produced Under My Skin and is out touring in support of his new release, Letters) handles vocals during this tune.
The Meyer Sound MILO P.A. comprises 12 subs flown in a single line in the
center with a standard L/R array of 16 MILO boxes with two 120s on the bottom.
GOOD TIMES ALL AROUND
Monitor engineer Martin Wareing is also using a D5, relying on his past experience when he used the board for eight months on Robbie Williams' last tour. “I enjoy the flexibility of the D5,” he says. “It allows me to lay out the inputs of the desk so I have everything very close at hand. I also use the onboard dynamics and effects, which gives me a very compact work area. I do augment my reverbs with three TC Electronic M2000s.”
Wareing joined Lavigne's camp back in February 2004, fresh off of Williams' tour. He has mixed monitors for Williams for the past five years and brings his experience of mixing a known vocalist with an ace band to Lavigne's camp. “For Avril's band, I give each of them an overall mix of the show with an emphasis on the instrument they play. I image each mix by panning the inputs in relation to each musician's position onstage and use a lot of very subtle reverbs to create a bit of space for their instruments to make it sound a bit more natural and less direct, which can happen with in-ears.”
Lavigne and the band are all using Ultimate Ears UE5 earpieces and the Sennheiser Evolution G2 Series in-ear systems. “I also have a pair of wedges and two MSL 4s flown on each side,” Wareing continues, “primarily for Avril's vocal. The speakers onstage give an added dimension to how Avril hears her voice onstage.”
The tour now heads to Japan, Southeast Asia, Australia and then back to Europe and the U.S. for another string of dates. Lavigne also plans on heading back into the studio in the near future to begin production on her third release.
Sarah Benzuly is Mix's senior associate editor.