January 1st, 1999
By Mike Rafone
Following two enormously successful albums, Under the Table and Crash, the Dave Matthews Band has been touring arenas in support of their latest, Before These Crowded Streets. Compounding the interest of their second-generation, post-Garcia audience, Matthews is advancing the new alternative acoustic-pop. It's fitting that they've also inherited a portion of the Dead's Meyer sound system through the services of Ultrasound, a vanguard of innovative design and quality concert sound.
The technical crew includes Jeff 'Bagby' Thomas, who's been mixing Matthews since Remember Two Things in 1993, Ian Kuhn, DMB's monitor engineer, and Crew chief Lonnie Quinn looks after violinist Boyd Tinsley's monitor mix on stage-right. Glenn 'Chubby' Carrier is in charge of that side of the PA, while Rich Maloney takes care of the stage-left loudspeakers, and Gustav Hobel is 'Mr. Fix-it' who hunts down technical gremlins (he's even been caught diving into a lighting rack). The crew enjoys an easy camaraderie as they collaborate throughout the day, and during the first several songs they coordinate with FOH to put final touches on the system.
System engineer Jamie Anderson relies on a Meyer SIM II system and a rack of BSS processing. A t. c. electronic Finalizer in the drive rack, inserted in the Gamble's mix bus, is used for overall tonal balance and three-band system limiting. "Jeff also uses its Digital Radiance, which is an interesting effect, and its Normalizer so that we can keep the amount of compression in check," Anderson describes. "It's a mastering tool for the whole system." The entire PA is then EQ'ed with an overall VariCurve that Anderson and Thomas share. The mix is both split into zones and aligned with Compact OmniDrives, and six more VariCurves equalize them individually, all controlled by the BSS FPC-900R remote. Finally a Meyer LD-1 line driver sends signals on their merry way to the Meyer processors in each zone.
The Main System
The main speaker hang has a top row of Meyer MSL-10 loudspeakers, powered with Crest 8001 amps. Below that are two rows of MSL-3s powered with Crest 7001 amps, as is the rest of the system. "Having the multiple layers for control, - the long-throw top, the mid-throw and then short-throw - we're able to get smooth response and even coverage." Rows are also broken horizontally into zones as well. "There's two different EQs for the top row of MSL-10s - the inside boxes aimed down the hall and those outside pointed at the side seats - and then four Ultrasound line drivers further trim levels in that row," he explains. "We start by adjusting them together and then fine tune the sides." The MSL-3s below are spaced 30 degrees apart. "The gap between them allows us to pull up the lower row to put vertical curvature into the array, and they also overlap smoothly that way."
MSL-2s are deck stacked in strategic spots to fill in the corners. At downstage center a pair of Meyer HF-3 horn-packs are splayed to fill in the front rows while maintaining a low profile. Double-eighteen 650s are arrayed in a slight arc across the front, and two stacks of three 650s on their sides are wrapped around the downstage corners to fill the arena sides.
Out past the FOH mix position a three by three array of MSL-4 loudspeakers is flown to add clarity the farthest reaches of arenas. "Everything but the bumper bar fits in a small road case," Anderson notes. "We just give them power from FOH and signal from the drive rack, so it's quick and easy."
At the stage-left monitor mix position Ian Kuhn has replaced the console used on the previous tour with a Midas XL-4, also modified by Ultrasound. "We outgrew our Gamble EX," Kuhn comments. "I use the automation to ride levels on a few inputs and it's more versatile for running all the different mixes on stage."
The stage is liberally sprinkled with Meyer USM-1 'Stealth' floor monitors. "Still, today, the best sounding wedge I've come across," Kuhn offers. Matthews has two Stealth wedges in front of him at his vocal mic. Behind him, in front of the drum riser, is a row of three more - two actually belong to Matthews and are used as amps for his Gibson Chet Atkins guitar, while the center one is mixed from the monitor desk. "In his front wedges Dave gets just his voice, guitar and some drums," Kuhn explains. "Behind him there's no vocal, but everything else is there for him to jam with." To each side of Matthews are two more USM-1 monitors - one for bass player Stefan Lessard to his left, and another on his right for guitarist Tim Reynolds, who could only be heard with the band on their records prior to joining them for this tour. Four more Stealth wedges, one at each corner of the stage, are at the ready for the frequent guest artists that sit in, like Bela Fleck and the Flecktones, or Herbie Hancock.
Lessard's bass rig, adorned with his signature plastic lizards, is a small PA in itself, with two Meyer 650-P subs and two MSL-2 tops. "We don't really drive the bass rig that hard," Kuhn adds. "He's got all the headroom in the world and it has a beautiful tone, but half that rig would be too little." He and Matthews both have Meyer CP-10 parametric equalizers in their racks and the SIM machine is used to check and adjust their rigs. Anderson points out that timing the PA to the backline has been helpful.
What's Next for DMB?
The live sound of the Dave Matthews Band clearly benefits from decades of advances in concert technology brought forth through the efforts of Meyer and Ultrasound, beginning with the Grateful Dead years ago. It's no surprise that many Deadheads can be found at DMB shows, along with the same company that has brought them quality sound reinforcement for most of their concert-going lives. Look for Matthews this winter in theaters and on college campuses as an acoustic duo tour with Tim Reynolds, and the full band should be back on the road this summer.