Wilco Debuts ‘Star Wars’

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Photo: Todd Berkowitz

Wilco quietly released their ninth studio album, Star Wars, on July 17, just hours before headlining the Pitchfork Music Festival in their hometown of Chicago. Through September, band members Jeff Tweedy, John Stirratt, Glenn Kotche, Mikael Jorgensen, Nels Cline, and Patrick Sansone are playing at a mixture of outdoor festivals and mid-sized indoor venues.

Front-of-house engineer Stan Doty has brought the band’s sound to the stage for 15 of its 21 years: “Having [done] many club installs in Chicago, I had the chance to work with Wilco and Uncle Tupelo, their predecessor, many times,” Doty says.

Live sound production company LD Audio, based in Chicago, is supporting Wilco’s Star Wars tour with Avid VENUE | Profile consoles for both FOH and monitors, and a d&b audiotechnik M4 monitor rig. “We rent stacks and racks or use whatever the festivals or clubs have there,” Doty says. “Most opening acts have a file for [the D-Show console] and most festivals have the console at FOH. On a rainy day I’ll keep FOH on the truck. It saves having to worry about our snake and console.”

Doty says that he always begins Wilco’s detailed mix with the drums, adding, “How I build my mix depends on the song. Each song has its own dynamics, panning and ascents.” Tweedy sings into a Shure Beta 58A, and Doty notes that he appreciates the mic’s off-axis rejection of Tweedy’s acoustic guitar. “I compress the vocals using the one that colors the least: the [Avid] Digirack or dbx 166 XT. There are a lot of good tube compressors out there, also. I only let [the compressors] grab on hard hits and usually at about a 6:1 ratio.” Doty notes that Tweedy’s and Cline’s guitars go through vintage Marshall cabinets, 8x10 and 4x10, respectively, that he mikes with Shure KSM313 ribbon microphones, and that “all effects are done onstage by the musicians. Each song gets its own special attention.”

Monitor engineer Jared Dottorelli began with Wilco in 2008 as a P.A. tech and has worked at monitors since 2012. “Each mix is a little different, but generally there’s plenty of kick, snare, vocal and acoustic guitar all around,” Dottorelli says. “The drum mix needs a lot of attention during the show. Currently we have everyone on d&b M4 wedges except for the drummer [Glenn Kotche], who is on Sensaphonics 3D Active Ambient in-ears using Shure PSM 900 wireless. I use D80 amps to run the M4s passively and with a little gentle EQ they sound amazing. At only 44 pounds apiece they are light enough that I can carry two of them across the stage with ease.”

Dottorelli uses Waves plug-ins to reproduce Wilco’s recorded sounds in a live setting: “Among others I use the NLS channel and API 550 EQ on drums, V-Series EQ4 and CLA-76 on guitars, PuigTech EQP1A and PuigChild 660 on bass, and the C6 multiband on Jeff’s vocal. I now use the H-EQ plug-in as the main EQ for tuning my wedge mixes, leaving the graphic EQ for identifying problem frequencies during the show.”

Both Doty and Dottorelli appreciate the show’s encore set, which comprises four to six completely acoustic songs. “We put up three Shure KSMs, three Shure Beta 58s and one Shure 98,” Doty says. “It is quieter but the crowd sings along. Old school and lots of fun.”