In any successful band's career, there is the subtle yetunmistakable point where the bombast of youth gives itself over to theconfident bravado that comes with experience. Unlike many of theirpeers, the Red Hot Chili Peppers failed to succumb to the evils thatderail most bands and evolved into arguably one of the biggest acts inthe world. Supporting their latest release, By the Way, and anew greatest hits collection, the group — bassist Flea, guitaristJohn Frusciante, singer Anthony Kiedis and drummer Chad Smith —embarked on an ambitious 18-month tour with dates in North America,Europe, Australia and Asia. Mix caught up with the tour when itpulled into the Oakland Arena last fall.
A LONG HISTORY
According to longtime front-of-house engineer Dave Rat, the band'spositive music image and professional demeanor extend into every facetof their endeavors. “I've been working for the Peppers for 14years now,” Rat says. “I've stopped taking all other bandsI've worked for in the past. They're a friendly and cool group of guys,and that flows downhill to the rest of the crew.”
Rat's company, Rat Sound, is also one of the principle vendors forthe tour. For this leg of the tour, Rat is mixing from a Midas HeritageH3000 console, running 23 stage inputs, two stereo effects channels andtwo audience mics. The stage inputs comprise a basic multichannel drumsetup: three channels each for bass and guitar, two acoustic guitarmics and three vocal mics. The stage mics include a Shure SM91 on kick,SM98 on snare top, SM57 on snare bottom, SM98s on toms, KSM32 on ridecymbal and overheads, SM98 on bass, SM57 and Beyer M88 on guitar, andAudix OM7s on vocals. The remaining stage inputs, including a drummachine, vocoder, and bass and acoustic guitar channels, are takenDI.
Rat's complement of outboard gear includes a Drawmer 1960, Aphex 622Expander, Klark Teknik DN514 Quad Gate, BSS DPR-404, two AphexExciters, Lexicon PCM60, Eventide H3500, Yamaha SPX990, Klark TeknikDN780 and Tascam DA-38/78/98. “I'm really into minimaleverything, very simple setups,” he explains. “I don't buyinto the whole idea that expensive tube compressors make the band soundbetter. For effects, I do all of my drum and vocal reverbs on the PCM60and everything else on the H3500. There is one song where I use the SDE3000 for delay.”
The main P.A. comprises two sides of V-DOSC enclosures with anadditional center cluster. “We've been pretty successful ingetting the V-DOSC worldwide,” Rat continues. “One of thereasons I picked V-DOSC was to try and develop system processing andget everything dialed in and have nothing change no matter where wewere in the world. When we came out a year-and-a-half ago, one of thefirst things I did was get rid of all the cabinets onstage. Lip fillsand cabinets stacked on the stage are a total waste of time. They workfine when the room is empty, but as soon as people come in, they don'tdo anything except blast the people in front. We developed a way ofcovering the people in the front. It seems obvious in hindsight to puta center cluster up. We started with six dV-DOSC boxes and we'vemigrated down to four dV-DOSC over time. It really made a hugedifference up there.”
During the years, Rat has developed his own approach to soundreinforcement, including moving the main subs off of the stage andstacking them on either side of the stage behind the full-rangeenclosures. According to Rat, this approach not only improves theaudience's line of sight, but also places the subs in a better positionacoustically.
“We worked on trying to resolve some of the low-end issuesthat most people have in venues like this,” says Rat. “Mostpeople will come in and get the low end throughout the floor area andtotally disregard subs for the people [who are sitting] hard-left andhard-right. So we really worked on sonic consistency throughout theroom and ended up with a fairly nonstandard sub placement. We have abig block of subs hard-left and hard-right at 90 degrees shootingup.
“I run the subs on an aux send,” he continues. “Wealso do an emulation of the tweeters on another aux send. We lowpassthe system, taking everything above 10k out and rolling it off. Andthen we re-introduce it. We dial up a little kick, hi-hat, overheads,ride, lead vocal and background vocal, which goes back into the BSSSoundweb and that goes from like 12k on up. It gives me tweeters on anaux send. For the most part, I have control of everything above 12k andwhat goes to it, which takes some of the edge off the system.
“We've really developed a way of approaching a variety ofvenues and having an extremely high level of consistency,” Ratconcludes. “The band hasn't soundchecked since April. I guessthat's an excellent compliment for the sound and stage crew thatthey're able to give the band the confidence they need. It doesn'tmatter if we're in Costa Rica or Singapore, they walk onstage andeverything is set.”
BEHIND THE BACKLINE
Handling the stage side of the tour is monitor engineer GeorgeSquiers, a veteran of tours with The Offspring, Candlebox and Rancid.Like Rat, Squiers is also mixing from a Midas Heritage H3000. While heis taking the majority of the same stage inputs as front of house, heprocesses and routes many of those sources differently. “With thethree guitar channels,” he explains, “I take my two mainchannels, ‘Y’ them to the in-ears and compress them so thatthey're flat and balanced. I leave the other two channels wide open soJohn [Frusciante] can be as dynamic as he wants. He hears actually whathe's changing, and the other guys hear a more balanced, compressedlevel.
“We have three vocalists,” Squiers continues. “Itake Anthony, though, and wire him off into different sections becauseI've got a drum fill to feed, and I've got Anthony and John and so on.What I do is ‘Y’ his channel three times so Anthony has hisown EQ'ed vocal channel, Chad has his own Anthony vocal channel that IEQ to the speaker cabinet, and John gets his own Anthony vocal channel.It gives me more options.”
In addition to the standard Audix vocal mics that the band uses,Squiers also keeps a Sony wireless handheld system available forKiedis. “I have a Sony wireless system with an OM7 capsule on itwhenever Anthony feels like running around without a wire. But most ofthe time, he likes his wire.”
Squiers' rack includes a scant amount of outboard processing. Someof his staple items include BSS compressors and gates, Yamaha SPX990reverbs, Aphex Dominators and an Aphex compressor on Kiedis' vocal. Allof the bandmembers, with the exception of Smith, use Shure PSM 700wireless IEM systems with custom Ultimate Ear UE-7 three-way drivers.Smith relies on a pair of three-way Rat Trap wedges, a 2×15 suband two Aura Bass Shakers on the drum throne.
“I've got a couple of Dave's Rat Wedges out in front ofAnthony,” Squiers explains. “I just turn the horns off.They're there in case the ears go down, which is pretty unlikely. Forthe most part, it's so he can feel his vocal and the drums. He wasalways so used to feeling the punch of his vocal, not just the in-ears.I just let the 15s and the 10s run to warm it up so he can feel thepunch.”
Squiers echoes Rat's feelings about working with the band.“They're a great band to work with,” he says. “I wishthe tour wasn't ending. It's been a long run, but they're very casualand cool guys. And they're a great band to watch and listen to. I don'tever find myself getting bored behind the desk.”
Robert Hanson is the technical editor of Remix.