While in Las Vegas for the recent NSCA Expo 2000, Mix watched Tina Turner tear up the stage at the 17,000-seat MGM Grand Garden Arena. A knockout combination of dazzling star power, eye-catching production and immaculate sound, the Tina Turner show sets a standard for arena-style entertainment that lamentably few artists can match.
With Turner's musicians effectively isolated within the metal-lined cells of the futuristic set, monitor engineer Geno Salerno has his work cut out for him. After a complicated video monitoring system proved unusable, Salerno opted to position his ATI Paragon II monitor console under the front lip of the stage, the only place from which he can easily maintain eye contact with star and musicians. Besides managing multiple in-ear mixes for the musicians, Salerno keeps Turner's vocals "nailed" in eight Clair Bros. 12AM wedges while his indefatigable star stalks and shimmies across the multilevel set.
Turner also has sidefill monitors-"Clair copies of Martin bins, double 15s," as FOH engineer Dave Natale describes them-which Salerno feeds with vocals and a subset of Natale's house mix. "One day [Turner], said 'I want to hear what you're mixing out front,'" Natale explains. "I said, 'Well, come on out and stand out here [at FOH] when the band gets here.' She said, 'No, you idiot-onstage. I want to hear what you're mixing.' So I made a mix up on a stereo send-I don't have any effects, so there's 10 aux sends free. I put a mix up at unity gain, post-fader, so it's following, level-wise, what's going to the house. It's all the instruments, no vocal mics and no overheads-basically just an instrument mix. But it follows all the solo moves that I do, which are gargantuan! Her vocals are really loud when she's singing and the guitar goes up to exactly where her vocal was-something's got to keep the punters interested. So she gets exactly the same mix as the house."
Turner obviously has excellent taste-Natale is one of those all-too-rare mixers whose work consistently complements the dynamics and focus of the music. In the sold-out Garden Arena, an undistinguished but acoustically inoffensive multipurpose venue, the flown array of Clair Bros. S4s produced a smoothly dynamic sound at viscerally exciting levels. Like Turner's charismatic performance, Natale's mix was both modern and retro, tender and raucous, occasionally bombastic and ultimately exhausting.
Does Natale have a secret? If so, it must be simplicity. Using only a stock Yamaha PM4000, a single Manley Electro-Optical Limiter on Turner's vocal mic and one reverb unit, Natale creates a mix that is clean, loud, articulate and impressive. "We mix," he says of Salerno and himself. "I push the faders up and down thousands of time during the show."
Having logged five world tours with Turner since 1985, not to mention his stints with Bad Company, Yes, Prince, Boz Scaggs, Stevie Nicks and others, Natale finds life on the tour bus steadily less alluring and hints that his road-dog days may be drawing to a close. We salute a top-drawer FOH mixer and wish there were more of them.