New York (September 2, 2022)—After two and a half years of Covid-19 disruptions and with political grievances building across the U.S., the return of Rage Against the Machine to the stage after more than a decade seemed almost inevitable. Indeed, to borrow from their own lyrics: “What better place than here? What better time than now?”
The “here” and the “now,” as it turned out, was Alpine Valley Music Theatre in East Troy, Wis., on July 9, the first date of the band’s Public Service Announcement Tour. Such was the pent-up demand—the tour was delayed two years by Covid—that 30,000 reportedly turned out for the first show, eager to hear songs like “Tire Me,” “War Within a Breath” and “Without a Face” that haven’t been played live since 2008. One song, a cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “The Ghost of Tom Joad,” had not previously been performed on stage by the band. While the tour spent much of the summer tearing across America, the U.K. and European legs of the tour that were due to take place in August and September had to be cancelled per medical guidance, so that singer Zack de la Rocha could properly recover from a leg injury sustained while performing earlier in the tour. A planned second U.S. tour leg, due to begin in February, 2023, is still on the books at press time.
The Rage Against The Machine tour is using d&b audiotechnik’s GSL/ KSL rig, supplied by Cleveland, Ohio-based Eighth Day Sound (part of the Clair Global family), to deliver a ferocious 90-minute set night after night. “The GSL/KSL system has made mixing in large spaces like arenas and stadiums fun for me,” says front-of-house engineer Sean “Sully” Sullivan, a 30-year veteran of tours by the likes of Beck, Rihanna and the Red Hot Chili Peppers.
The live sound manufacturer’s GSL and KSL line array modules, introduced over the last several years, variously provide 80- or 120-degree horizontal dispersion control down to 45 Hz. “Having the low-mids and lows pattern-controlled like the mids and highs really cleans up the mix,” Sullivan says. “When the band stop on a dime, the P.A. and room do as well!”
“I think the performance has been exceptional in some of the large arenas we have played so far,” chimes in system engineer Wayne Hall, who has also worked with Drake and Lady Gaga, among others. “I have heard detail up in the 300 [seating] level that I have never heard before, making our job significantly easier in many ways. The low-end pattern control has helped massively with this to the point where, when walking the room every day, I can’t tell if I’m in the side hang or main hang coverage—which is the best outcome, in my view.”
Seats for every show on the tour are sold to 270 degrees, says Hall, who uses d&b’s Array Calc and R1 software to configure, optimize and control coverage. He employs Lake Controllers to manage the inputs to the amplifiers, he adds: “We use Lake to transport via Dante from FOH then convert to AES at the amplifier end using Lake LM44s.”
A typical Rage Against The Machine setup at each arena, stadium and occasional shed along the road includes, per side, a main hang of 20 GSL boxes and 10 flown J-Subs with a side hang of 18 KSL modules, plus 16 V Series line arrays for 270-degree coverage. A total of 16 ground-stacked SL-Subs support the low end with as many as eight Y10P point source and eight AL60 line array boxes providing outfill.
The only real bump in the road, Hall recalls: “The first show was a challenge due to rigging and weight restrictions in Alpine Valley with it being a shed versus an arena, but we have the best tools available to us.”
At FOH, Sullivan is using an Avid S6L-32D console. “It’s the best platform for ease of use, plug-in integration, Pro Tools bi-directional communication and its event capabilities, and it has excellent-sounding preamps,” he says.
Sullivan uses both onboard and server-based plug-ins, along with a choice selection of outboard hardware when he mixes. Onboard processing includes channel strip dynamics and gates, as well as third-party plug-ins from developers such as Oeksound, McDSP, Crane Song, Sonnox, Empirical Labs and Flux. A pair of Extreme-C SoundGrid servers provide an ultralow- latency platform for Waves Audio plug-ins, Sullivan also reports. As for analog outboard gear, he’s using a Rupert Neve Designs Satellite 5059 for analog summing, Neve 33609 and Empirical Labs Distressor devices for parallel drum compression, an Eventide H3500 to fatten the vocals and Eclipse for drum effects.
At stageside, monitor engineer Jim Corbin, whose credits include extensive stints with Beyoncé and Jay-Z, sits behind an old favorite, a DiGiCo desk. “I’ve been using the DiGiCo line for a very long time, so comfort played a huge role in that decision,” Corbin says. “I chose the SD7 Quantum for ease of use, quality and the built-in processing. And the snapshot function is amazing.”
Onstage, things are decidedly old-school, with the musicians all using wired Shure SM58s for vocals. Corbin is generating 12 monitor mixes, primarily to speakers. “We’re using 15 M2 wedges and two B6-Subs for drums, along with two J8 [line array modules] and one J-Sub per side, all powered by d&b D80 amps,” he reports. Corbin’s most useful tool on this tour? “I’m using a DMI-Klang [immersive IEM mix expander] in a DiGiCo Orange Box for backline IEMs,” he says.
Rage Against the Machine may only be a four-piece, but Sullivan needs some tricks up his sleeve to keep his sources nicely separated and clean. A recently introduced plug-in enables him to keep Zack de la Rocha’s vocals loud and clear above the guitar, bass and drums of, respectively, Tom Morello, Tim Commerford and Brad Wilk. “Soothe Live was recently made available on the S6L and it’s a game-changer for me,” he enthuses. “Its ability to control harshness or proximity effect is so crucial for loud, clear, smooth-sounding vocals.”
Sullivan also uses Oeksound’s Soothe Live plug-in to manage the bite on the cymbals and guitars. “The Andrew Scheps Omni channel for kick and snare buses and Scheps Parallel Particles for vocals, and the Sonnox Oxford Inflator for the band bus, are also standouts,” he says.
“Mixing in arenas has its downsides when it comes to panning things around for space,” he also comments, “so I use a few tried-and-true methods for making mono things seem stereo, which gives me some space in the center for the vocal.” For instance, he employs the time-honored Haas effect to widen the guitar and open space in the center for the vocals. Pan the guitar signal to one extreme and a fractionally delayed version to the other, and—voilá.
“I do a lot of small-band-limited doublers to fatten and widen the vocals up while remaining mono,” Sullivan continues. “A CLA76 [Waves compressor limiter plug-in] with about 10 dB of gain reduction when hit the hardest is the best for setting the vocal at a good level just above everything else while keeping the loudest bits in check. Of course, Zack’s power and cupping the mic make this a piece of cake with a loud P.A. in the same room. If it weren’t for his power, I could not get away with this!”