By Mark Frink
(Thanks to Jason Petrait for sending this to us)
After a year that saw personal tragedy mixed with commercial success, Smashing Pumpkins began 1997 making up shows that were cancelled due to the death of touring keyboardist Jonathan Melvoin and the firing of drummer Jimmy Chamberlain. As the band began the last leg of their tour on the west coast, i caught the show at-where else-Portland's Rose Garden Arena, just across the river from my downtown office. I walked in to find FOH engineer Bruce Knight firing up the PA provided by Showco.
Knight's engineering credits include REO Speedwagon, Richard Marx, Prince, Aerosmith, and, more recently, Fiath No More and Garbage. After working with Db Sound for 10 years, Knight spent the past three as an independant mix engineer, and has been mixing the Pumpkins for more than a year. "Bill Ramey was also the tour manager for Garbage abd he brought me on for this tour," Knight explains.
Knight mixes 36 inputs from the stage on a Gamble EX, which he names as his favorite desk for 6 years running. "It's a straightforward desk in that it doesn't have any VCAs, and the way I structure my mix I've got my hands right where i want them." Knight mixes to groups and returns dedicated effedts to corresponding subgroups to preserve their balance. "I like the Gamble's sweet, musical sonic tonality," he adds with a grin, "plus the metering on the ins and outs is very beneficial."
Effects include a Yamaha SPX-1000 used on snare and a REV-5 on toms. A Lexicon 480 has one machine assigned to snare and the other for sweetening keys and background vocals. Also used on backgrounds are an AMS 1580S and a TC Electronic 2290 that is also used for various echo effects, plus an Eventide H3000SE used on Billy Corgan's lead vocal. An SPX-90 provides fattening on James Iha's electric guitar. Other effects include a Behringer EX-1000 "Ultrabass" sub-harmonic synthesizer run off of an auxiliary and a Behringer "Edison" stereo image enhancer inserted on the vocal subgroup.
Behringer processing dominates the effects rack, with a dozen channels each of Composers and Intelligates, as well as two Ultrafex II stereo multiband enhancers, doubled up on the bass and key channels after their compression. The kick and snare channels are also double inserted with gates and comps. Indeed, dynamics control seems to be part of Knight's secret for mixing success. "I like to use subtle compression," he says, "never more than a few dB." Ther is also a rack of dbx 903 compressors, with the first patched to the hi-hat and the rest to stereo subgroups, set very lightly. There is also a Summit DCL-200 that's patched to the bass subgroup. A UREI 1178 is patched to the recording feed to imitate some of the natural system compression, before it goes to a pair of KT DN-716 delays on the way to being mixed with a Shure VP-88located at the mix position. *** In addition to the DAT, the band archives their shows onto a pair of Fostex ADATs, bringing it down to sixteen tracks*** with a combination of direct outs and sub-groups, where the extra compression comes in handy. Knight uses a Summit TLA-100 on Corgan's six and tweleve string acoustics, and another TLA-100 double patched with a BSS DPR-901 is used on his vocal mic. "If you have to hit them hard, they still sound very transparent, "Knight points out.
Knight uses an Orban 674A parametric graphic, tucked into the corner of Showco's auspicious drive racks, to aid in EQ'ing th PA. Processing is provided by the PRISM digital controller, with seperate control frames for main, front-fill and center-fill systems. In typical Showco fashion, the main equalizers are two custom Industrial Research Products DG-4023 Transverse EQs. Starting with the Klark-Teknik RTA and pink noise, Knight looks for a particular slope, adjusting the alignment of the subs by a few milliseconds from the previous show's setting. He uses the Orban like a mastering EQ to gently contour narrow bands, while Showco's IRP EQs are used to nip a couple of frequencies at show time. Starting with a snappy Go West tune, Knight next runs a variety of program material(my note: including The Cure's "Lullaby") from a DAT compiled for tuning the system and then checks it with a vocal mic. "I use a range of material and my voice to confirm the response, and if every song sounds good, I know I'm in good shape," Knight says. "A few engineers rely too much on Donald Fagan(my note: yuck), whcih sounds pretty good with just about any reasonable system EQ."
Showco's PRISM system flies four rows deep on an eight-column grid. Eight Showco subs are in front of the downstage corners, with six cabinets arrayed on top of them, and several of Showco's two-way 450 cabinets are used on deck for the down-center coverage. Trimmed at 34 feet, the system is flown higher than other PRISM rigs, but there are six boxes stacked on the subs, and the system fills the hall uniformly. Crew chief and system engineer Stewart Bennett is assissted onstage and in flying the PA by SHowco's Travis Coleman. Knight has spent his share of time baby-sitting artists' engineers in years gone by, and he and Bennett have a good relationship that enables each to focus on his responsibilities with a minimum of verbal communication.
Knight is a Shure-endorsing engineer who also hails from Evanston Ill, and has input list has a few surprises. The kick drum is double-miked with a Beta 52 and an SM91. The snare top mic os a Beta 57A, while the bottom is a Beta 87. The toms are all SM98, and the cymbals are miked with SM81 condensers, with the exception of the ride, which is miked from underneath the bell with a 57 to give it cut. Knight uses an ADL tube DI on D'Arcy's bass post preamp and processing, and an Audio-Technica 4050 is used on an SVT bottom in an isolation case. Corgan plays his fender strat into a pair of Mesa heads with Marshall bottoms miked with Beta 57s. He also kicks in an Orange/Marshall stack occasionally for solos, which is miked with an AKG D-12. On Iha's electric, Knight uses Beta 57As for a little less proximity and smoother highs. Iha and D'Arcy sing backing vocals into Crown CM-310 "differoid" mics mics for high rejection, while Corgan sings into a Beta 58A.
Up at the stage, John Shearman mixes monitors on a Midas XL-3 and a dozen channels of Klark-Teknik graphics and is assisted by SHowco's Rik McSorley. Effects include a Yamaha SPX-990, a Lexicon PCM-42 and a dbx subharmonic synth. FOr inserts there are Drawmer DS-201 gates and K-T DN-504 quad compressors, and on Corgan's vocal there is a BSS Varicurve and a DPR-901 dynamic equalizer(my note: long ago there was a thread on listessa regarding people hearing Billy's vocals different, and thinking there was some sort of effect on them, or that they were partially prerecorded. this may be the answer). Sidefills are a pair of PRISM boxes flown over each downstage corner, and wedges are Showco's stylish SRM(Stage Reference Monitor), loaded with a 12 and a 2-inch and powered by Crown amps, as is the entire system.
Once again I found myself at a concert attended mostly by teenagers and parents my age. Always ready with an open mind and a pair of earplus, I was surprised by a lively show. Not only was this the best-sounding PRISM rig I've heard in a while, but the light show was a complete video game on acid, with a stage set resembling a spaceship to Mars. The Pumpkins kept a sold-out crowd of enthusiastic adolescents completely absorbed and singing along with the hits, cheering at 110 dB and competing with the PA all night. My fault was not buying the album and memorizing the lyrics, as the only way I could make out any words was to read them off the setlist. If not for the foam in my ears I would have been deaf the next day.
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