Save for a red light emanating from his wireless mic and the whiteglow of a Macintosh's Apple logo, Seal and band seemed nearly invisibleas they stepped onto the dark stage at the sold-out Warfield Theater inSan Francisco. Hands raised — some in celebration, othersreaching for the singer's black cargo pants — the audience warmedup on one of the chilliest nights of the year by listening to a lengthyset from Seal's four-album catalog, including his latest release,Seal IV. Released last September on Warner Bros., the albumearned a Grammy nomination this year for Best Remixed Recording for thesingle “Get It Together.”
Though the England-bred vocalist/songwriter emerged from the housemusic scene of the early 1990s, Seal's music elegantly blends jazz,soul, pop, rock and dance, as evidenced on “Crazy,” hisfirst Top 10 U.S. single. His self-titled, multi-Platinum follow-up,released in 1994, yielded the Number One single “Kiss From aRose” and a Grammy Award for Record of the Year and Song of theYear. Human Being, released in 1998, fared reasonably well,almost reaching the Top 20 with yet another batch of gently groovingmelodies and lush production. But with the funk- and Stax-era soul— informed Seal IV, however, the chiseled performer withthe warm, sensual voice makes a welcome return by delivering one of hismost accessible and danceable albums to date.
Veteran engineer Orris Henry began working with Seal as monitorengineer in 1994, the year the artist first wowed the U.S. with hissophisticated pop. When an offer came to work front of house for thesoulful 40-year-old singer, Henry promptly quit working on a tour withKISS and accompanied Seal to Europe last fall for select promotionaldates (to Henry's delight, hitting both Paris and Milan's FashionWeek), where he ran both monitors and FOH. When the U.S. tour kickedoff in November, Clair Bros. engineer Blake Suib, ruler of monitorworld for star acts such as Destiny's Child, Alicia Keys, Madonna andPrince, assumed backline duties.
For the Warfield date, both Henry and Suib mixed on Midas Heritage3000 consoles. “We're using it as a front-of-house board mainlybecause there weren't any XL4s available,” Henry says during apre-soundcheck break. “And I'm such an adaptable kind of guy Ican make it work!” he adds, laughing.
Opening act Wilshire occupied 12 of the console's 64 inputs, withanother 12 reserved for Seal, keyboardist Dave Palmer,keyboardist/programmer Tim Weidner, bassist Chris Bruce, guitarist EricSchermerhorn and drummer Earl Harvin.
Henry's sparse array of outboard gear includes a Lexicon 480L, anEventide Orville — “the latest and greatestHarmonizer,” he says — and a TC Electronic D2 digitaldelay. Henry uses the Lexicon and the Eventide for both vocals anddrums, and leaves the TC unit open. “With those effects, I canre-create all of the sounds that are on the records,” Henry says.“Sometimes I hit 'em, sometimes I don't. When you're doing themlive, your next chance is the next show.”
Appearing as uncluttered as Henry's FOH area, Seal's stage containsno wedge monitors and very few microphones. “Except for thecymbals, everything onstage is electronic,” Henry says. “Wewant to keep a dead-quiet stage so that the vocal mic has nothingfeeding into it, which gives you optimum sound. He's got such aspectacular voice that you don't want to mess it up.” Productionmanager Tom Mayhue, who, like Henry, has worked with Seal for nearly adecade, says that they haven't experienced any problems with thissetup, though it is a bit “more technical” than previoustours. “It's historically been a computer-oriented kind ofmusic,” Henry adds of Seal's work. “From his first single,‘Killer,’ there were computers involved.”
Electronic drums — specifically, kick, snare, rack and floor— run through a Roland TD10 VDrum Module, cymbals get miked withAudio-Technica 4050s and the hi-hat is miked with an AKG C 535 EB. Bassand keyboards are run through SansAmp DIs. Henry also usesAudio-Technica 4050s on the two electric guitars, although theamplifiers remain isolated in a small box to the side of the stage.“The guitarists can get the tone they need by playing as loud asthey want, but it doesn't affect the stage sound because it's not tooloud,” adds Suib.
Seal's silken vocals are miked with a Neumann/Sennheiser hybridwireless mic, which combines the Neumann KMS 105 capsule with theSennheiser 5000 wireless transmitter. Henry also uses a Focusrite ISA430 Producer Pack and the BSS 901 compressor for “some seriousde-essing,” Henry says. “He really empha-sss-izeshis ‘s-s-s-s-s's’ a lot.” Acoustic guitar andbass receive treatment from a dbx 120 subharmonic processor.
The glowing white Apple icon that greeted the crowd resides on a ProTools-equipped Macintosh G4 laptop. Keyboardist/programmer Weidner usesthe computer to fly loops in and out during the show. “It's nosecret we use Pro Tools,” Henry admits, noting Seal's interest innew technology. “The music doesn't rely upon it, it just enhancesit.” Seal, who also uses Pro Tools in the studio, requested theunencumbered, computer-enhanced stage setup. “There's only oneguy's name on the marquis, so we make him happy,” Henry says,laughing. “He's a really great guy; very easy to deal with. Andhe knows what he's talking about. He's a real tech-head — intotoys and gadgets and whatnot.”
Although Seal's sound crew regularly travels with Clair Bros., forthe artist's North American tour, they rented racks 'n' stacks fromlocal production companies. Bay Area-based Sound on Stage provided anL-Acoustics line array P.A. system for the Warfield date, whichincluded 20 L-Acoustics V-DOSC cabinets: two clusters of five flown andtwo clusters of five on the deck. L-Acoustics SB 218 subwoofers werestacked four on the floor per side, with three more flown at the centerof the stage. Four Sound on Stage Power Physics 222 Proprietaryspeakers rounded out the system. Crown Macro 5000 IS-8 amplifierspowered the P.A., with support from three XTA DP226loudspeaker-management systems and three XTA GQ600 dual/stereogates.
Seal and band used Ultimate Ears UE7 in-ear monitors with SennheiserEW 300 IEM wireless systems. Suib also wears the Sennheiser beltpackand sets it to the same volume as Seal's, “so we're hearing theexact same thing. I'm wearing the same ears as him, and I just do afront-of-house-style mix with full effects.”
Those effects include a TC Electronic 2290 delay unit, a LexiconPCM90 digital reverb and a Yamaha SPX 990 used only as a chorus/flangeduring the “Bring It On” intro. “That's a specialtyeffect,” Suib says. “Seal's voice is affected with thatsound. I reproduce the same effect that's on the record. For Seal, Imostly use the reverb and delay, but ‘Bring It On’ has tohave [the SPX 990].”
The rest of the band is set up with pre-fader mixes, “so theirmixes are just sort of ‘set it and forget it,’” Suibsays. That said, he still aims to “nail” the mixes for eachsong, which obviously benefits the band but is crucially important tothe vocalist: “On a particular song, if he's pitching off akeyboard and I don't have it up at the right level, that can mess himup,” Suib explains. “You've got to be on it 100 percent ofthe time. You've got to be listening. For example, if I have to take myears out to troubleshoot a problem, his mix would cease to behappening, which might screw up his pitch; he's reliant on [that mix],because there's no other sound. If I don't make sure the mix is rightfor every song, if I miss a cue with in-ear monitors, it's prettyeasily noticed because it's right in their ears.” Suib sends bassand kick through the subs, allowing the musicians to hear their naturalrhythm. Everything else is fed through the ears.
The crowd erupted as Seal launched into his two-song encore, whichincluded “Bring It On,” complemented by standout lightingand, of course, top-notch sound. Henry says that he's wanted to workfront of house for Seal for years, and, apparently, it's a gig worthwaiting for. “This tour is a mixer's dream,” he says.“You've got a great band, great songs and a world-class singer.You'd have to be a real bozo to screw this up.”
Heather Johnson is Mix's editorial assistant.