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Elton John “Farewell Yellow Brick Road” Tour

by Steve Jennings (Photos & Text) • in
  • February 2019
  • Production Profile
• Created: February 12, 2019

ELTON JOHN Farewell Yellow Brick Road © Steve Jennings

With over 300 dates, Elton John is celebrating a career of five decades in the music industry. With so many hit songs, his selection is sure to please fans seeing him for the very last time. His six-piece band includes longtime members Nigel Olsson (drums), Ray Cooper (percussion) and musical director Davey Johnstone (guitars). We spoke with the audio team — FOH engineer Matt Herr, monitor engineer Alan Richardson and systems engineer Nick Giameos.

FOH engineer Matt Herr was using a PM5000 before switching over late last year to the Yamaha Rivage PM10. He was totally analog and thought that it would be a great time to change, which he did with his whole FOH rig for the Farewell tour — EFX, console, everything.

System engineer Nick Giameos (left) and FOH engineer Matt Herr. Photo by Steve Jennings

‡‡         FOH Impressions

Matt Herr says the PM10 is simply fantastic. “It’s super intuitive, and I really like the layout. It’s very easy to navigate on. The Silk feature is really great as well. I use it on just about everything. There’s just such great separation in the mix and that’s something that my 5K didn’t have.” He is currently up to 81 inputs including his EFX returns and audio and video playback. For outputs, he’s sending six stereo feeds to the P.A. to be distributed throughout the amp racks at three per side. As far as plug-ins go, Herr doesn’t use very many. “I use the Portico 5043 on all of the vocals and on Davey’s acoustic guitar. It’s a really great sounding compressor that you can use on just about anything. The other plug-in compressor I use is the Yamaha Opt-2A on Matt Bissonette’s bass. I love it — it makes the bass sound punchy and fat without getting in the way of the kick or the bottom-end of the piano.” EFX wise, Herr uses the Eventide H3000 Harmonizer on the background vocals to help thicken them up a bit. The rest of the EFX he uses are outboard items. “I was using the Eventide Eclipse for years and years, but this one has the sound that I use and it works great.”

A 100-percent live show — without any backing tracks — makes the gig all that more impressive, notes Herr. “The same songs are played nightly, just not played the same way. That can be challenging to mix, because you’re always anticipating what’s next. It’s really easy to get his vocal to stand out front in the mix because of his strong voice. The toughest part is dealing with the bleed from his monitors. His monitors are notoriously loud! But he has great mic technique and is always right on the mic, so the bleed only comes when he’s leaning away from the mic at times.”

Outboard gear includes three Bricasti M7’s — one for drums and percussion, one for vocals and one for instrumentation. Herr prefers to use the outboard EFX because he feels that they have more depth and a wider spread to them. “I just love the way you can adjust the verb decay easily night-to-night, room-to-room. Some rooms can handle longer verbs than others. That helps in making Elton’s vocal very big when there’s the space for it. I also have two Lake LM44’s. We use one for in house delays and hearing impaired feeds if need be. I’ve always kept two in my rack for EQ just in case we get the call that we’re doing a private gig somewhere with a different P.A. Then there are two TASCAM SS-CDRs — one for walk-in music and the other to start and end the show. We have a piece of recorded music that Davey did in the studio as an intro at the top of the show,” Herr adds.

“The most important thing about mixing Elton is understanding the spatial relation in the music. How they play together, how the band is always filling the open space with tasty guitar riffs and drum and percussion fills. Feeling it, and being able to add those subtle things in the mix to make it very musical. Then on top of that is adding the reverbs on the drums and vocals at points to create yet another feeling of space and sheer size. Then understanding the songs themselves, using the slower tempo songs that gradually get bigger to an effect as well. Volume for effect, so to speak.”

Herr has done many memorable gigs with Elton. “In my 15 years with him, we’ve averaged close to 100 shows a year, sometimes more. We often played in places that were not the usual cities to play. That was special to me, because I’ll never get back to some of those places. It was a very unique touring schedule — to say the least! And to do it with the same core crew is something that I’ll always remember as well. We’ve become so close, it’s really like family.”

The tour is set for a three-year run. Photos by Steve Jennings

‡‡         The System

Clair Global is the sound company for the tour, notes systems engineer Nick Giameos. “The Cohesion 12 loudspeaker system represents the next generation of versatile, reference quality concert loudspeakers, with an industry-leading cabinet design and construction with advanced technology transducers, resulting in higher power, lighter weight, and extremely accurate pattern control. The system delivers powerful, smooth audio to every seat, while also maximizing operational efficiency.”

The system includes 66 Cohesion 12 speaker enclosures with 16 used as mains/side and 16 for side hangs/side, along with 24 Cohesion 10 enclosures (12 rear hangs per side. Behind the main hangs are six Cohesion Series CP-218 self-powered flown subwoofers. “These subs represent the latest in a new generation of Clair ultra high-output subwoofers. The dual-18 CP-218 subs have an integrated 9,000W amplifier.” Floor subs are also CP-218s, with three per side.

The Cohesion top speakers are powered by 54 Lab.gruppen PLM 20000Q and PLM 20K44 amplifiers and a total of six Lake LM44 processors. The system runs on proprietary Clair Lake iO software for system management, along with Smart Live V8 for time alignment. “I use EASE Focus 3 for acoustic simulation and for 3D modeling of the Cohesion line arrays,” adds Giameos. “Clair supplies me with a Venue database, and I can insert my speaker system configuration and optimize the inter-box speaker enclosure angles for each specific venue. Elton uses two Clair 12am wedges for vocals and two 212am wedges for piano and instruments.”

Giameos worked for JPJ Audio, formerly Jands Production Services, for 24 years. (Clair Global bought a controlling interest in JPJ Audio in late 2015.) Clair and Jands have had a longstanding relationship in Australia. “I have worked with all the leading brands of speaker manufacturers,” he notes, “and the Clair Cohesion series goes up, sounds great and comes down quicker than any other speaker brand. The Cohesion is a great product, and I’m working with one of the greatest artists of all time and touring the world with my mate Matt Herr. The band is sounding great, and the crowds have been awesome. It’s a great result for a kid from a small country town in rural NSW called Orange.”

Monitor engineer Alan Richardson. Photo by Steve Jennings

‡‡         Monitorworld

For monitor engineer Alan Richardson, his mixing console is the SAC system from RML Labs. “It is a software-driven console that I’ve fallen in love with, and use the Mackie MCU Pro as my control surface. It integrates flawlessly, and I love the feel of the long throw faders. It mirrors my presets so when I hit an assignment button, my fader banks go right where I need them.”

When the discussions about the Farewell Tour began, one thing management wanted to do was to update the audio archiving system. “We had been archiving on a small Pro Tools system, but it was decided to go full multi-track,” Richardson says. “After some research, I decided to go with a system utilizing SAW Studio for recording. What intrigued me the most was the potential of adding SAC to be able to use the same rack as my monitor desk. The developer of both programs, Bob Lentini, has been a good friend of mine for many years, and he gave me a full demo of the system and its capabilities. I loved my Yamaha PM1D, but I knew the time was coming that I needed to make a change. The first rack we built was used solely for recording, while I still used the 1D for monitors. Once we had it on the road with us for a year or so, I decided it was time to make the switch. Having the luxury of being able to utilize the multi-track recordings from a year’s worth of shows enabled me to really get comfortable with a completely new way of doing things. I really didn’t have any issues with the change and was blessed to have full access to Bob’s knowledge and tutoring.”

With a three-week run in Las Vegas (where SAW Software is based) Richardson decided that would be the best time to make the change. “Having the ability to have the musicians come to the showroom individually and do a virtual sound check with me made the transition seamless. I moved the players over to the new system one at a time until I had the full band on it. The guys were blown away by how good it sounded, and soon we were off and running.”

So far, Richardson has been very impressed with the change. “I’ve been using it for four years now, and it’s made life so much easier. The footprint is really small compared to what I used before, and the capabilities are mind-blowing. It’s basically 25 completely separate consoles. Each member of the band gets their own desk (not physical) that can utilize separate EQ, gates, limiters and plug-ins. Nothing affects anyone else. No more splitting channels, where one guy gets a limiter and the other guy doesn’t. An additional benefit has been the fact that we are basically traveling around the world with a full recording studio. Several times while in Las Vegas, Elton and the band would come to the showroom to do some recordings for various things. They loved it because they didn’t have to trek to a studio, and their monitoring systems were the same as what they would use for shows. I would then just copy the WAV files and send them off to whatever studio was going to mix them down. We’ve since built more racks so we now have four systems that bounce around the world.”

Richardson has been mixing Elton’s monitors for 23 years. He says the technology has changed, but the job description hasn’t. “Make Elton’s monitors loud! He’s been doing this for so long, and he knows exactly what he wants. As long as I achieve that, he doesn’t really care what I use. I will say though, he likes looking down and seeing his good ol’ Clair monitors. A couple of years ago, we were doing a charity show at Elton’s house outside of London. It was just him at the piano, with no band, so things were pretty relaxed. He called for Matt and I to come to his kitchen for coffee with him. While we were chatting, Billie Jean King came into the kitchen and sat with us. She asked Elton if he ever did sound checks. His reply was, ‘I don’t ever need to, because Alan and Matt are always here.’ That was a great compliment.”

Setup of Elton’s Yamaha grand piano and four wedges — he likes it loud! Photo by Steve Jennings

‡‡         Mic Selections

Elton and the band members’ vocal mics — with the exception of drummer Nigel Olsson — are all Audio-Technica AE6100. “It’s a close proximity mic that gives us some extra cancellation. That’s proves helpful with the volume of Elton’s wedges. Elton and Ray Cooper are the only ones using wedges. Everyone else uses in-ear systems or headphones.”

Davey Johnstone’s guitar amps are Hughes and Kettner. “We mic them using Sennheiser 609s that are draped in front of the amp behind the baffles. The California Blond amp is used for the acoustic guitar. We use a DI for acoustic, so the amp is really only there in case something happens with Davey’s in-ear mix.”

Nigel Olsson’s drum kit is miked with Shure SM57s for snare, Shure Beta 52 for kick and Sennheiser E604s for toms. AKG 414s for overheads and AKG 460s for ride cymbal and hi-hat. Nigel’s vocal mic is a Sennheiser E825 Artist Series.

Percussionist Ray Cooper mics are good ol’ reliable ones, notes Richardson — Sennheiser 421s for the tymps and roto toms, Shure SM56s for congas, Shure SM58 for tambourine, AKG 414s for overheads and bells and AKG 460s for chimes. John Mahon’s percussion is pretty standard as well, with a selection of Shure SM56s, AKG 414s and AKG 460s.

John Mahon’s massive percussion rig. Photo by Steve Jennings

‡‡         Big Show, Big Tour, Yet a Family Feel

“Needless to say, this is a much larger tour than we’ve been used to doing over the years. Larger set, larger crew. Nineteen trucks compared to the six we were using before. The added crew members have been great and integrated right into our little family. Everybody gets along really well, which is nice on a tour this size. Knowing this will be Elton’s last tour has added a new dimension to everything. The crowds seem more excited and appreciative and it doesn’t go unnoticed. We have three years to go on this and then we’ll go our separate ways, but I’m going to enjoy the ride while we’re on it!”

Elton John (Audio) © Steve Jennings

Elton John: Farewell Yellow Brick Road Tour

AUDIO CREW

Sound Company: Clair Global

FOH Engineer: Matt Herr

Systems Engineer: Nick Giameos

Monitor Engineer: Alan Richardson

Audio Techs: Rolf Gerling, Simon Matthews

Piano Tech & Tuner: Dale Sticha

Guitar & Bass Tech: Rick Salazar

Drum & Percussion Techs: Chris Sobchack, Simon Grocott

Keyboard Tech: Tony Smith

ELTON JOHN Farewell Yellow Brick Road © Steve Jennings

P.A. GEAR

Mains: (32) Clair Cohesion 12 — 16/side

Side Hangs: (32) Clair Cohesion 12 — 16/side

Rear Hangs: (24) Cohesion 10 — 12/side

Subs: (18) CP-218, 12/flown, 6 ground-stacked

Amps: (54) Lab.gruppen PLM 20000Q and PLM 20K44

ELTON JOHN Farewell Yellow Brick Road © Steve Jennings

FOH GEAR

FOH Console: Yamaha Rivage PM-10

Outboard Gear: (3) Bricasti M7s, (2) Lake LM44s.

Drum Submixer: Soundcraft GB8

ELTON JOHN Farewell Yellow Brick Road © Steve Jennings

MON GEAR

Monitor Console: RML Labs Software Audio Console

Monitors (Elton): (2) Clair 12am wedges, (2) 212am wedges

Mics: Audio-Technica AE6100 (band vocals), Sennheiser E825 (Nigel vox); AKG 414s, AKG 460s; Sennheiser 609s, E604s, MD421s; Shure SM56s, SM57s, SM58s, Beta 52.

ELTON JOHN Farewell Yellow Brick Road © Steve Jennings

ELTON JOHN BAND

Elton John: Vocals, piano

Davey Johnstone: Guitars, vocals, musical director

Nigel Olsson: Drums, vocals

Ray Cooper: Percussion

Matt Bissonette: Bass, vocals

Kim Bullard: Keyboards

John Mahon: Percussion, vocals

ELTON JOHN Farewell Yellow Brick Road © Steve Jennings

ELTON JOHN Farewell Yellow Brick Road © Steve Jennings

 

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