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Tour Profile: Gnarls Barkley


All Photos: Steve Jennings

Tim Engwall and Stephen Curtin are tucked safely behind their respective Digidesign VENUE desks at monitor world and the front-of-house position, watching the Gnarls Barkley opening spectacle unfold. On this night, at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium in San Francisco, main-brains Danger Mouse and Cee-Lo (right) have opted for astronaut costumes.

So far, Engwall and Curtin have seen the duo dress in costumes inspired by glam rock, Austin Powers, Star Wars and, to celebrate the holiday season, Santa and his elves, but they have yet to don an outfit themselves. “They threatened us with the glam rock one,” Engwall admits with a laugh.

“I’m too far away,” Curtin points out, “and I can run away.”

Danger Mouse plays four keyboards: a Wurlitzer, Korg Microsynth, Moog Voyager and Yamaha SHS-10, as well as other percussion parts as needed.

This stop in San Francisco had the Gnarls Barkley troupe in support of the Flaming Lips. The show, which also featured Cat Power, moved to Los Angeles the next night for a New Year’s Eve performance.

While the crew is carrying Eighth Day Sound-provided consoles, monitor rigs and a mic package, they are relying on quality house P.A.s. “We were doing a lot of clubs and smaller venues, so a lot of people already had P.A. and it didn’t make sense budget-wise to carry,” Curtin explains. That means, though, that Curtin is finding himself fixing the house P.A.s more often than not. “It’s maintenance stuff that people don’t do anymore: things being out of phase, subs being blown up, mids and horns being blown up, discrepancies between left and right, stuff not being time-aligned.” Local vendor Sound on Stage supplied an L-Acoustics V-DOSC system (14 boxes per side, with four of those aimed toward the wings and balcony) for this show.

Front-of-house engineer Stephen Curtin relies on house-provided P.A. systems while manning a Digidesign VENUE console.

Fans who have come out to hear Gnarls Barkley’s chart-topping hit “Crazy” and other groovin’ tracks from their release St. Elsewhere will find Curtin at the FOH board for the first time (he previously did monitors), a position he took over when the domestic leg of this tour kicked off in July 2006.

The plethora of instruments can lead to a loud stage. Add in the fact that both Danger Mouse and Cee-Lo use d&b wedges (M2 double-12s powered by d&b A1 amps) and sidefills (a pair of by d&b C7 subs and a C7 per side powered by d&b D12 amp), while the rest of the band is using Sennheiser personal monitors. The string section is on hardwired ears, and the two background singers, the guitar player and bass player are on wireless systems. Danger Mouse and Cee-Lo have had to turn to personal monitors from time to time if the costumes interfere with hearing the monitors.

Engwall manages all of the monitor mixes by staying organized and keeping things simple. For instance, all of the in-ear mixes are mono. “In my estimation, most of the sounds in the music aren’t in true stereo effect, anyway,” Engwall explains. “I try to make sure the mix is solid and that everything is there, then it doesn’t make too much of a difference.”

Curtin close-mikes the onstage elements to minimize bleed. “There are just way too many instruments and people onstage,” he explains. “The one huge benefit we do have is that the strings are all electric, so I don’t have to worry about that battle. Granted, we do suffer a little bit with the quality of sound between an electric and acoustic, but just not having that extra ambient microphone or pickup is huge.”

As far as specific microphones, Heil PR 20s are used by the background vocalists and for drummer Chris Vrenna’s snare top. A PR 30 is placed on the guitar cabinets and on the top of the Leslie cabinet. The PR 40 is used on the kick drum and the bottom of the Leslie cabinet. The only condenser mics onstage are placed on the drum kit: Sennheiser 914s for overheads, bottom snare, ride cymbal and hi-hats; 904s across the toms; 905 on secondary snare drum; and a Yamaha SubKick on kick.

Monitor engineeer Tim Engwall: “I try to make sure the mix is solid and that everything is there, then it doesn’t make too much of a difference.”

Vrenna also produces a variety of sounds from triggers placed on both his kick and snare drum. “Chris is very Pro Tools-savvy, so he got together with Danger Mouse and got some of the drum sounds that were used on the record loaded into his triggers,” Engwall explains. “For each song, he switches the triggers to make it sound like the record, which was really electronically produced and has a cool sound to it.”

Cee-Lo sings into a wireless Sennheiser SKM 5200 with a Neumann KSM 105 capsule. The microphone was gold-plated, a gift from Curtin to the singer. “It started as a joke when he said he wanted a gold mic, so we got one gold-plated and gave it to him for Christmas this year,” Curtin says. “He can sing, hands-down.” Consequently, Curtin uses minimal processing on the vocals, turning to an Avalon 737 and either a TC Electronic D2 or 2290 delay when needed.

While Cee-Lo is singing to his heart’s content, bandmate Danger Mouse is groovin’ on four keyboards — a Wurlitzer, Korg Microsynth, Moog Voyager and a Yamaha SHS-10 — that are all DI. “There’s nothing fancy, but he’s got a little distortion pedal that he sometimes throws on the Wurlitzer,” Curtin says. “It was one of those, ‘I’m kind of bored, so I’m going to add something cool’ things. That was a surprise during the middle of a show. I didn’t know it was on there.”

Gnarls Barkley’s string section plays electric instruments.

Secondary keyboardist Josh Klinhoffer plays a Hammond B3 with a Leslie cabinet, a Rhodes, Moog Voyager, a Yamaha YC30 and an E-mu E6400 Ultra. Curtin gets a pre-effect and post-effect DI from bassist Cedric Williams’ tracks, and Clint Walsh’s electric guitar tracks come to him through the PR 30 that is miking a Mesa Boogie cabinet. An acoustic guitar, as well as the string quartet’s tracks, goes through Radial Passive Dis. “I’m a big fan of those,” Curtin says. “It has a nice-sounding transformer in there and I was trying to get back as much as I could from the strings, especially.”

“The really cool thing is that they are very consistent on a daily basis and they like to have fun, so they are not afraid to change up random little parts,” Curtin says. “I don’t ever get bored because there’s always something going on and there’s always something new to add in and work on. The biggest thing is trying to keep up with the creativity of Danger Mouse and Cee-Lo.”