Every gig has it’s own set of challenges and pressure. It could be personalities. Rock stars are not known for being the most stable bunch. It could be time. I remember talking with crew for the Roger Waters The Wall tour. It was a 12-hour in and a 4-hour out. And they were doing back to backs at some points.
And “sound” is the biggest thing we all deal with. But there is “sound” (lower case) and SOUND.
In the case of some classic acts, there is a signature sound that has been carefully honed over a long recording career and getting that SOUND is a big deal if one is going to keep the gig.
Journey is definitely one of those bands with a signature sound. And getting that SOUND to the fans is what Keith “Meaux” Windhorst and Josh Schwartz did all spring and much of the summer with the San Francisco rockers .
Big adjustments to the typical rock setup have been made to get that recording vibe live. And the biggest of those is in the way the drums are reinforced. Actually in this case reinforced is the wrong term. Because the only actual acoustic sound being produced or miked is the cymbals. The drums are traditional shells and heads but every one is also a trigger. All of the drum sounds actually come from a computer loaded with custom samples mostly from a custom package recorded at Nashville’s famous Blackbird Studios. “It is just part of getting the sound right. So many of these songs, they have those patented Steve Smith big tom fills,” said Meaux.. “And with the samples we get those right every night.”.
And getting it to “sound like the record” is made a bit more do-able by the fact that (as is becoming more common all the time) there is very little sound coming from the stage. Neal Schon’s soaring lead guitar tone is coming from amps in iso-boxes off stage with the exception of a single wedge on stage that we uses to induce feedback. For a classic rock act renowned for a really big sound, the stage is surprisingly quiet. “Everyone is on ears” says Josh. “I have stereo side fills.” That quiet stage is actually noted as a challenge by Meaux. “It’s not sound reinforcement like with a typical rock band, I am out front and actually crafting the sound from the inputs and not fighting with anything coming off the stage. It puts a lot of responsibility on the house engineer.”
The quiet thing extends to the monitors, notably for Mr. Schon. “Neal has tinitus” says Josh. “His ear mix is incredibly quiet. They other guys have typically loud ear mixes but Neal wants to keep it low to keep from irritating the tints and making it worse. there are times when I actually have to fight the house mix because he can hear it in addition to his ear mix.”
But the biggest surprise was not any of the above. It was the people. For a band so closely associated with the Bay Area, I was expecting a couple of Cali Cool Cats at each end of the snake. Instead I got two Southern boys who, when i arrived, were deep in conversation about…. college baseball.
As the music business on the recording side goes into an ever steepening free fall, the live business is increasingly the bread and butter for these acts. And audiences are glad to pay to hear the same band often several times. It is not at all unusual to run into “regulars” at each tour stop who go overtime the act comes through town.
“People just want to live their hi school proms all over again”
And it keeps us all employed.