Ry Cooder recorded his first live album, Showtime, back in 1976 at San Francisco’s intimate Great American Music Hall. His latest, Live in San Francisco, comes from a pair of shows at the same venue in the summer of 2011, fronting a dynamite band that includes Cooder band alumni Terry Evans and Arnold McCuller as backup singers and the incomparable Flaco Jiménez on accordion, Ry’s son Joachim on drums, a 10-piece Mexican banda, and others. It’s a spirited romp through a dozen folk, gospel-flavored R&B and Tex-Mex numbers, from “Dark End of the Street” to “Wooly Bully.”
Capturing the shows on a laptop running Pro Tools was Cooder’s FOH engineer for the past several years, Martin Pradler. “It was not really planned to be a recording,” he says, “but I had a feeling maybe it was going to be something, so I borrowed an interface card from Avid and plugged my laptop into the Profile desk at the venue.” Besides using the mics that were already in place for the instruments’ P.A. feed, “I also put a couple of new [AKG] 414s at front of house to get the room, and there were also a couple of shotgun mics on the stage pointing up to the balcony [where the banda was situated on each side].
Pradler mixed the recordings in the box at his L.A.-area studio supplemented by “a whole bunch of analog gear—analog reverbs, a Fairchild, RCA BA6As, an old Gates radio console Ry has, whatever I needed to make it sound warm and punchy.”