|Reprinted with permission from the October 1995 issue of EQ Magazine|
| On the first day of my summer vacation, I woke up and thought of all those great things I could do on my time off: surf and sand, volleyball, a hike down the Grand Canyon, catch up on some sleep. Hey wait a minute, this is not my bed. In fact I don't even know where I am. I'm sure it was only yesterday that I woke up in New York City and cruised out to the EQ editorial offices. And today it's... it's... oh yeah - Chicago. I remember now. I remember how it all started.
It was that message on my answering machine from Chris Fenn, crew chief for Blue Öyster Cult: "How would you like to mix front-of-house (FOH) for BÖC? We're leaving for Indianapolis on Thursday morning and we need someone. Let me know if you can do it." Of course I can do it, I have wanted to mix FOH for these guys ever since I first worked with them in 1993. But Thursday??!!! It's already midnight Monday which gives me two days to tie up all my loose ends in town, meet an EQ deadline, speak to the band's regular FOH engineer to get the stage plot and figure out the cues, learn the set, pack, do the day gigs I have arranged for Tuesday and Wednesday and get someone to take care of the cat. Ordinarily is not a problem. I have left for longer tours on shorter notice. But this is not a band of mere mortals: This is the Amazing Blue Öyster Cult.
If you're not familiar with BÖC, picture this (and take a good look at the input list): a double kick drum set with five toms, a set of octobans and lots of cymbals, three guitar rigs, one bass rig, a multiple keyboard setup, tape cues which must be delivered on time (or else you're Godzillafood), plenty of effects and five vocal mics. Notice that the input list is backwards: the drum overheads come first, then low toms, high toms, kicks, snare and hat. The reason for this arrangement, designed by BÖC's longtime engineer George Geranios, is that it puts the more crucial elements of the drum kit towards the center of the console where they can be easily reached during the heat of battle. Wimpy sound companies shudder at the thought of a Blue Öyster Cult show.
We arrive in Indianapolis, IN. on Thursday, August 3 for the first show: an outdoor festival with Cheap Trick and .38 Special. The band isn't really planning a sound check and even if we were there isn't enough time anyway. I was hoping for a thorough line check but things are running late due to the usual pre-show mayhem. Complicating matters further, there are two FOH consoles (both Yamaha PM3000s) which will be switched into the PA with alternate bands. I resolve myself to mixing my first show on the fly.
Since I have a couple of hours to kill before show time, I decide to program the effect units (all gear is promoter-provided. BÖC does not carry production). The reverbs are no big deal: a couple of hall and plate programs from Yamaha SPX90s and Rev 7s. The Cult's previous engineer was kind enough to brief me on specific delays I need for various songs, so I have a list of about 15 programs that need to be written into the SPX units. No big deal except for the fact that I need some loooong delay times - like eight- or nine-hundred milliseconds. The original version of the SPX90 does not reach that high. So I get as close as possible and learn lesson #1: carry an effect unit that is capable of performing all of the special effects I need and pre-program those effects while at home, in a reasonably calm studio, without 5,000 screaming kids present. Where I can test these programs. And the temperature might be below, say, 102° F.
Equally important are the tape cues. Of course, it would be easier if I had a working cassette deck nearby my console, but that is not the case. The working cassette deck is 30 feet away, underneath the other PM3000. So one of the systems engineers and I agree to do a variation of that "Australian for remote control" thing: I'll cue him and he'll start the tape. Lesson number two: carry a Walkman at all times.
I have done countless gigs with barely a line check before the show but this is different. Blue Öyster Cult has a lot of gear and I have a total of about 40 inputs on the board. I roll the intro tape (the official 'point of no return') and the band takes the stage, slamming drums and guitars with the usual pre-show noodling. Not much before the intro tape ends and the first song starts. As I expect it's a pretty rough mix, and I'm having a hard time keeping up with all the inputs, the tape cues and the effect changes but I'm on it. Then just as I'm getting in the groove some strange things are happening. I'm hearing this weird wash of sound, almost like there is an open mic on the stage which is cranked in the PA. It almost sounds like the mains are feeding back. Not the monitors, the mains. I have never done an outdoor show where the mains fed back. I start soloing instruments trying to find out what is going on. Finally, a look at the compression rack shows that one of my dbx 160x units is compressing big time. But I have set all of my compressors for only a moderate amount of gain reduction. I check the patch. It was supposed to have been patched at the insert of one of my vocal channels, but was actually patched on the mic for Allen Lanier's guitar cabinet. So every time Allen stopped playing guitar - which was quite often since he spends half of his time playing keys - the compressor opened up, giving me that beautiful stage wash and near-feedback. Lesson number three: confirm that all patches have been made correctly regardless of who has made them. Switching the insert (and thus the compressor) out of circuit quickly solved the problem.
Now that things are under control, it's the part of the show where drummer extraordinaire Chuck Burgi takes a solo - I finally get my drum check. Boy am I happy! And then... the left half of the PA goes dead. It probably has something to do with the two FOH consoles and the way they are alternately switched into and out of the PA. We had to finish the show like this. Lesson four: be prepared to mix on any type of PA conceivable or inconceivable. The rest of that show was relatively uneventful but there are some pretty interesting highlights from other tour dates. Names have been changed to protect the innocent.
August 5: Chicago, IL.
August 11: St. Louis, MO.
August 12: Union City, MI.
August 18: Pasadena, MD.
At about 7 pm (after soundcheck) the building next door caught fire and I was wondering if there was even going to be a gig. Rick Downey (the tour manager) and I decided it was a good time to go back to the hotel for dinner (and hopefully a pre-show nap for me). When we returned to the club at about 11:00 pm, we found one of the crew talking to the local police near the band's truck. No big deal, he probably just wants to come to the show or something. No such luck. As we approached the truck, the police officer asked the tour manager: "Are you Rick Downey?" "Yes I am." "Mr. Downey, this man is under arrest for possession of narcotics." Busted in the band truck for smoking a joint! And there are people asking me for tour dates while I am busy mixing the show! Where is the justice in this world?
August 19: Wilmington, DE.
August 25: Toad's Place, New Haven CT.
August 26: Milton, PA.