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Live sound ain't always what it's cracked up to be...

rdenney

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I attended a Rick Wakeman concert on Sunday evening. The show was awesome--Wakeman's fingers work as well as they did in the 70's. I can't think of a single thing about what he did on stage that could be improved, at least for his fans (and I'm certainly one of those).

A lot of it was played on piano (Wakeman did not have a band in tow). I was shocked at how bad the amplification was on the piano. The fifth octave up on the piano resonated in the microphones terribly to the point where stuff in that range just turned to mud. None of it sounded like the full range of the piano. The piano itself was competent if not excellent--a 7-foot conservatory-grade Yamaha that I'm sure was locally procured or owned by the venue. The sound on his keyboards (a pair of Korgs) was excellent, so I think the problem was in how the piano was mic'd not further along in the sound system.

I think five minutes with an EQ and I could have made it a thousand percent better. Wakeman's technique is superb and benefits from clarity, not saturation and feedback. And he doesn't need a live-sound system squashing his musical phrasing, which takes full advantage of his classical training.

There's no doubt that venues vary widely in their skills, especially at present, but this particular venue (the Birchmere in Alexandria) has hosted a zillion big-name artists in its intimate space, and I would have thought that micing a piano would be a standard thing for them.

Needless to say, I never want my home system to sound like that live system.

Rick "the sound system made me want to wear Wakeman's 'Grumpy As Hell' commemorative cap that my wife bought for me in the schwag shop" Denney
 

DVDdoug

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That's disappointing!

Usually it's bad acoustics or acoustics that are not appropriate for the particular musical style, but it sounds like not in this case.

Sometimes amplified rock is great outdoors even though I generally like "good acoustics".

A million years ago I heard a band in a gymnasium that sounded great even though I expected terrible acoustics! IIRC it was "folk rock" so not too "dense" or "compressed". It was loud but not constantly too-loud, and maybe the best sound I'd ever heard up to that time.

Also a million years ago (probably in the 80s) I heard Huey Lewis in an indoor arena and there was so much reverb that I couldn't understand the lyrics. (My seat location probably didn't help.)

Another time I saw a band in a bar and it was a "pro" setup with one sound guy running the IEM monitors and another handling the FOH mixing. The sound was fine except there was a mandolin that I couldn't hear at all... I thought about saying something to the FOH guy but I decided not to "make trouble". At the end of the show the band thanked the sound guy for "filling in".

...I also saw a Beatles Tribute band, probably 10 years ago, in a casino theater at Lake Tahoe. It sounded great and I remember thinking, "I'll bet The Beatles never sounded this good!", because they didn't have the modern PA equipment.
 

DSJR

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Many years ago, local (at the time) band 'The Enid' were playing in Northampton's Derngate venue. First tune played was quite loud, full on but clean enough, but the main man fussed over the sound not being right, some adjustments were made and the rest of the concert (far too intricate and musical to be a mere 'gig' ;) ) wasn't quite so 'in-yer-face' and very good sounding indeed.

I blame my Tinnitus now in my mid 60's solely on Led Zeppelin at a mid 70's Earls Court gig (they did several that week, mine was the Saturday evening one). It was too loud in the smaller hall next to the 'auditorium' but the actual sound in the venue proper was a screaming deafening assault on young ears, the great playing of great (to me) music totally obliterated by the noise. Stuffing tissues in my ears helped a bit, but my ears took months to even begin to recover and all told, the Tinnitus thus created never fully went away and is raging now all those years later :(
 

puppet

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Got to hand it to the fella ... still working it at 72. Definitely one of the great keyboardist of our time.
 

Roland

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Many years ago, local (at the time) band 'The Enid' were playing in Northampton's Derngate venue. First tune played was quite loud, full on but clean enough, but the main man fussed over the sound not being right, some adjustments were made and the rest of the concert (far too intricate and musical to be a mere 'gig' ;) ) wasn't quite so 'in-yer-face' and very good sounding indeed.

I blame my Tinnitus now in my mid 60's solely on Led Zeppelin at a mid 70's Earls Court gig (they did several that week, mine was the Saturday evening one). It was too loud in the smaller hall next to the 'auditorium' but the actual sound in the venue proper was a screaming deafening assault on young ears, the great playing of great (to me) music totally obliterated by the noise. Stuffing tissues in my ears helped a bit, but my ears took months to even begin to recover and all told, the Tinnitus thus created never fully went away and is raging now all those years later :(
ZZ Top at the NEC did it for me. My ears rang for a week…..
 

fotoalan

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Acoustics can be very variable within the venue and the engineer only knows what s/he is hearing. I remember hearing Neil Young & Crazy Horse at the Olympiahalle in Munich. The venue is designed as a sports arena not an auditorium & not exactly known for its acoustics. We walked in high up at the back while the support act were still on and the sound was just total mud, couldn't hear anything distinctly. Made our way down to directly in front of the mixing desk where the rest of the evening sounded great.
 
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rdenney

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Acoustics can be very variable within the venue and the engineer only knows what s/he is hearing. I remember hearing Neil Young & Crazy Horse at the Olympiahalle in Munich. The venue is designed as a sports arena not an auditorium & not exactly known for its acoustics. We walked in high up at the back while the support act were still on and the sound was just total mud, couldn't hear anything distinctly. Made our way down to directly in front of the mixing desk where the rest of the evening sounded great.
There was no desk. Everything was just set up and running--appropriate for a one-man show in what's really a dinner theater.

It sounded like there was a mouse-mike in the piano body. It might have sounded okay if the lid was up, but the piano was closed up. I think the mike itself was oversaturating, or at least there was too much gain on the mixer. It may not have been an EQ problem--it may simply have been a fouled-up gain structure. But I think any decent sound guy should have had it fixed in five seconds.

My seat was 35 or 40 feet from the stage and centered between the two column arrays hanging from the (low) ceiling. Again, the keyboards sounded great, as did his voice, and even the warm-up act (a local young lady singer/songwriter). This was just a piano issue.

7875FE48-D7EF-41C3-AA7E-901F5BAC5A61.jpeg


Rick "Edit: found a pic, but with apologies for how lousy it is" Denney
 
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rdenney

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The Houston Astrodome had one of the worst sound systems imaginable. During the Rodeo the stage rotated so they could sell more seats. It was the pits.
I've played in the Astrodome, and as bad as it sounds for the crowd, it's worse for the musicians. Never have I felt so alone in the middle of a marching band.

Rick "still a fun gig, though" Denney
 

ahofer

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Growing up I saw quite a few rock concerts at Madison Square Garden. Many "in the round". The sound was horrible. Painful, in fact. Especially if you were under a tier overhang - I don't understand what happens there, but it is bloody torture. I had a similar experience with Steely Dan in Philly in a smaller auditorium. In general, I've found outdoor better (except for one Eagles concert at the Yale Bowl, but it was over 100 degrees and the guy next to me threw up some horrid pink stuff).
 

Ron Texas

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I've played in the Astrodome, and as bad as it sounds for the crowd, it's worse for the musicians. Never have I felt so alone in the middle of a marching band.

Rick "still a fun gig, though" Denney
It doesn't take much immagination for me to understand you Rick [insert text] Denny.
 

mhardy6647

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The Wailin Jennys are wont to end their performances with an a cappella rendition of the closing song (The Parting Glass) from their first full length album (40 Days). Here's the thing -- they do it sans microphone and sans amplification. It's invariably spine-tingling.
We are fortunate to have a number of small venues fairly close by (it's all relative) in Northern New England (Boston on up) -- many of them have dandy acoustics, and most of them have been rehabbed in the past few years (or, at least, decades). They're simply wonderful places to see live music - whether amplified or au naturel.

This isn't live, but it's illustrative. :)


For whatever reason, we get a remarkable amount of world-class talent up here at these places, too. Folks like Richard Thompson, Bruce Cockburn, or Natalie Merchant (to name just a few) apparently would rather play a night between big shows at a 200-300 seat (sometimes even smaller) venue in Bethlehem, Lebanon, or Plymouth, NH, or South Royalton, VT than hang out in the hotel (or on the tour bus). Bless 'em for that.
 

mhardy6647

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Doesn't do 'em justice, but here they are workin' without Annette a net, so to speak ;)

 

Carl V

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Live shows can be a PITA----hit or miss
Saw the last Live Beatles performance at Candlestick..... I was no audiophile, but the sound sucked. They payed the two sets
at break neck speed no breaks between songs or sets. I think they were done in under an hour. Years later saw quite a few "DAY ON THE GREEN" live shows at Oklahoman Stadium...loud & terrible. Don't get me started about the COW PALACE
I did see some damn nice live shows Winterland, Filmore etc., always too loud with marginal 'sound'
"spontaneous" live concerts in Golden Gate were nice.....I doubt, they were just happenstance.

I started wearing ear protection back then...lotsa ROCKERS were & I figured good enough for them
 

escksu

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Quite often, live shows are worse than studio recordings. Also, technically, its not really live. Why I say that is because vast majority of the concerts are performed with mic and speakers. So, we are actually listen to the speakers instead. If the sound system is bad, then it sound really bad (as shared by experiences of many folks here). Also, unless the whole sound system is properly setup (calibrated mic and equipment, EQ properly done up). It will sound different from the actual performance.

Of course, the thing about a live performance isn't really just about sound. ITs also an experience watching the performance and feeling of being there. This is something which no audio system in the world can mimic.
 

Rip City Dave

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I have found that the best sounding live performances have all been in small venues. Being close to the console will usually be where the best sound is if the venue is flawed. Large arenas are hit and miss, mostly miss, but I am sure that is seat dependent.

It is the artist that will most often determine the quality of the sound.
 
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rdenney

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Quite often, live shows are worse than studio recordings. Also, technically, its not really live. Why I say that is because vast majority of the concerts are performed with mic and speakers. So, we are actually listen to the speakers instead. If the sound system is bad, then it sound really bad (as shared by experiences of many folks here). Also, unless the whole sound system is properly setup (calibrated mic and equipment, EQ properly done up). It will sound different from the actual performance.

Of course, the thing about a live performance isn't really just about sound. ITs also an experience watching the performance and feeling of being there. This is something which no audio system in the world can mimic.
That last thing is the indexical relationship between the performer and the audience, even if the sound goes through a PA system. That's what makes it different than just playing the album.

Of course, Rick Wakeman is playing arrangements of works not originally written for solo instrumental piano, so, while the music is recognizably from his albums, it's still unique from it. But I want the same thing from live sound (in so intimate a setting) as I would get from my stereo at home--I want a piano to sound like a piano. We all agree that this is challenging.

Acoustic sound wouldn't have worked in that venue. Intimate though it was, that's by comparison--it's still a dinner theater that seats 400, and it is anything but designed for acoustical performance. They amplify everything that gets performed there.

The issues I noted were not because it was amplified, however. Those issues resulted from being amplified poorly.

Rick "wondering why they tolerated it" Denney
 
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rdenney

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It is the artist that will most often determine the quality of the sound.
I wonder about this. I've followed Wakeman for a very long time, and he's never been particularly technical. But he is always the final arbiter of the mix of his albums, and generally they sound excellent given the technology of the day and the constraints of how it was recorded, so I have plenty of evidence that he has ears. It is entirely likely, of course, that the sound while sitting at the keyboard of the piano is quite different than what was "out front", but there were several with him in his entourage who one presumes would have said, "Rick, we need to do something about this."

Rick "as just a matter of curiosity--still enjoyed the show immensely" Denney
 

puppet

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I have found that the best sounding live performances have all been in small venues. Being close to the console will usually be where the best sound is if the venue is flawed. Large arenas are hit and miss, mostly miss, but I am sure that is seat dependent.

It is the artist that will most often determine the quality of the sound.
I agree. Back when, some of the best places to see groups were small. Uptown theater, The Auditorium .... worst were Chicago Stadium and the International Amphitheater. The sound guys nicknamed the last two "halls of horror".

... but as far as the artists determining sound quality. Back then they had trouble determining where they were on any given day let alone what it sounded like :)
 

Grumpish

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Many years ago, local (at the time) band 'The Enid' were playing in Northampton's Derngate venue. First tune played was quite loud, full on but clean enough, but the main man fussed over the sound not being right, some adjustments were made and the rest of the concert (far too intricate and musical to be a mere 'gig' ;) ) wasn't quite so 'in-yer-face' and very good sounding indeed.

I blame my Tinnitus now in my mid 60's solely on Led Zeppelin at a mid 70's Earls Court gig (they did several that week, mine was the Saturday evening one). It was too loud in the smaller hall next to the 'auditorium' but the actual sound in the venue proper was a screaming deafening assault on young ears, the great playing of great (to me) music totally obliterated by the noise. Stuffing tissues in my ears helped a bit, but my ears took months to even begin to recover and all told, the Tinnitus thus created never fully went away and is raging now all those years later :(

I was there that night as well - I don't remember it being that loud, but then I grew up on Heathrow Airport's doorstep (literally, the southern perimeter road was five minutes walk away) so my concept of loud is probably a bit askew from most other peoples'.
 
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