“I’m finally getting back on the horse,” says FOH engineer Nate Northway. “It’s my first tour back after the COVID stuff, and I couldn’t do it with a better group of people, honestly.” That group is a production crew of nine and veteran, platinum-selling punk act Rise Against, back on the road behind its ninth album, Nowhere Generation. Kicking off in late July, the headlining tour has careened around the U.S. playing 3,000-4,000-capacity venues throughout August before transitioning to festivals in September. At each stop, crowds have turned out, ravenous for the band’s motivating music, but the return to live music has been an adjustment for everyone, not just the audience.
“You can do as many one-off shows as you want, but it’s still not the same as chucking a three-in-a row after not doing it for two years,” laughs monitor engineer Charlie Bybee. “Getting back into going nonstop and working till two in the morning? That’s something that I forgot.”
The stacks-and-racks tour has been carrying a control package from Clair Global (Lititz, PA) with an Avid S6L 32 D console at FOH. Sitting adjacent to the desk is a rack decked out with a Neve Master Buss Processor, a George Massenburg Labs 8200 Parametric EQ used on the mains, and a few Empirical Labs Distressors and outboard preamps applied to vocals as well. “Like everyone else, I spent a lot of time trying to downsize and get everything into the box,” says Northway. “It’s convenient, but I found myself missing that tactile feedback of turning a knob or pressing buttons. I started to put some master bus processing back into the equation, then it was, ‘Well, I can probably squeeze a few more rack spaces in there.’ I brought the Distressors back, and now the outboard is growing back to where I started.”
That said, his Waves Extreme Server doesn’t sit idle. “I’m running a pretty plug-in heavy show with all kinds of bells and whistles in there,” he reports, with the mix leaning heavily on the CLA-76 compressor, Crane Song’s Phoenix II, and Waves’ Primary Source Expander: “That’s probably my desert island plug-in—I use that on all my vocals, first thing in the chain.”
Those vocals are captured nightly via Sennheiser MD 431s. “They’re fantastic microphones and people just overlook them,” says Northway. Elsewhere on stage, a MD 421 grabs the bass while AKG C414s and Shure SM57s are used on guitars, the latter also being used for snare top. Other drum mics include a Shure Beta 91a and Audix D6 on the kick; Shure Beta 181s on the snare bottom, hi-hat and ride; Telefunken M81s on the toms; and SM81s used as overheads.
Over at stageside, Bybee tackles monitors on an Avid S6L-24D desk, providing mixes to Shure PSM 1000 in-ear monitors and a d&b audiotechnik drumfill. A few Clair sidefills are also on-hand, used to provide some day-to-day uniformity to the stage sound. “One guy has a bit of low sensitivity, so if there’s too much rumbling, I have to tighten some things up for him. I try to handle it by making it normal everyday—I carry the sidefills so that on days when we’re outdoors and there’s not much backfire from the P.A. on deck, I rock them a little bit harder to make the days when it’s overwhelming indoors not feel as unusual.”
Bybee, too, puts Waves plug-ins to the test throughout a show: “I use the PSE to cut down on as much background noise as possible in the vocal, the F6 is a godsend and I use the NS1 on as many channels as I can get away with. Anything that’s noisy, half the time it’s easier to throw that on than to figure out where the noise is coming from just to find out you can’t do anything about it.”
One thing the tour team has to do, however, is stay safe throughout the run. “Up in the Northeast, there were high vaccination rates among local crews, everything kind of felt normal, pretty mellow and we were outside for most of the shows,” says Bybee. “Today, we’re in Atlanta and at load-in, local crews were being tested and there was a positive case, which was a quick reminder that we’re not completely out of this. Just when you’re feeling normal, there’s always something that goes, ‘Okay, we need to tighten this up a little bit again.’”