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Earth Day & Paul McCartney

A WEEKEND IN L.A.

Jan 7, 2009, By Dave Lawler

The 1993 National Earth Day Concerts for the Environment were held in New York on April 18 at the Ritz Theatre, April 22 at the Merriweather Post Pavilion in Maryland, and at the Los Angeles Hollywood Bowl April 16. This annual appeal for planetary awareness becomes a more significant plea every year as the global clock continues to tick. The '93 Hollywood concert was yet more timely, as the second Rodney King verdict was expected to be delivered the next morning.

Showco Prism main and delay tower and mix position at the Anaheim stadium

Showco Prism main and delay tower and mix position at the Anaheim stadium

I work as stage manager, engineer and piano technician for k.d. lang, who was to appear with Paul McCartney during his Earth Day set. I arrived backstage in the early afternoon, and it was immediately apparent that everything was very relaxed and well-organized thanks to production managers Tim O'Connor and Tony Wiggins. The audio equipment had loaded in two days prior, so Steve Miller, Don Henley, 10,000 Maniacs, PM Dawn and Kenny Loggins had already soundchecked. The McCartney band's soundcheck with k.d. was scheduled for 2 p.m.

AUDIO FROM EVERYWHERE

This was one of those audio collaboration gigs with the potential for equipment interface nightmares, a staple diet of untraceable ground buzz and a cold war between crews. Fortunately, none of these nightmares happened. The systems engineers and operators seemed to be having "a day at the beach," while getting it done. "We're all professionals here, and we've all got a job to do," commented McCartney monitor engineer John Roden. "We tend to try to leave the politics back at the office."

Greg Smith is the FOH tech for McCartney's New World Tour. "This system is made up of many different companies' (and tours') equipment," he said. "The three Midas XL3 McCartney consoles are from Concert Sound UK, while the All Paragon is Steve Miller's touring desk. The PM 3000 custom master console and drive racks are from Clair Bros., while McCartney's FX racks and monitor system hail from Showco. The Clair stacks are out on the Sting tour, with all other monitor systems also provided by Clair." The master console (a 32-input custom Clair board) and drive racks were manned by Clair Systems engineer Bob Waibel.

The main speaker system for this show consisted of 12 Clair S4 cabinets per side, each flown inside a scrimmed scaffold structure. Additionally there were four S4s per side on deck, and two Clair P-4 Piston cabinets on their side for front fill. This system obviously had the appropriate power and coverage for the 17,000-plus audience.

BOWLING IN HOLLYWOOD

The Hollywood Bowl, home of the L.A. Philharmonic, was originally constructed in the '20s. Since then many acoustical "improvements" and structural changes have been made, while the original design integrity has been maintained. Unfortunately, the Hollywood Hills prime real estate area has grown over the years, with the neighborhood now bordering the back fence of the Bowl. It never ceases to amaze me how people can purchase a multimillion-dollar home right next to an outdoor music venue and then complain it's too loud! No rocket science here. This venue has developed the same problem with residential noise complaints that many sheds across the nation have had to come to terms with.

I spoke with Betsy Cohen, the resident acoustician, about her approach: "We have recently developed a computerized SPL-measurement system for the Bowl, which will be in use for the first time today. Basically, it's 250 feet from the stage to the audio booth and 500 feet to the property line. This doesn't give much room for the inverse square law to work. There is an allowable level of 75 dBA at the property line for no more than ten minutes per hour. And five of those ten minutes can hit 81 dBA. We are allowed to hit 86 dBA for two minutes per hour, with 89 dBA being the one-time absolute limit."

All SPL accumulations per hour are monitored in bar graph fashion at the FOH console, enabling the engineer to see the show SPL history readily and allowing for continual adjustments of levels without drastically compromising the level dynamics of the show. "This system is as fair as possible to all parties involved, because there are no surprises here," says Betsy. "It's horrible at some venues to find out halfway through the show that you're 'over the top' already with a violation pending and have to drastically reduce the overall volume after the audience is accustomed to the current show level."