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Judas Priest ‘Firepower’ Tour

by Bryan Reesman • in
  • May 2018
  • Production Profile
• Created: May 15, 2018

A Nightly Dose of Firepower

Heavy metal legends Judas Priest are back on the road in support of their critically acclaimed March, 2018 album release, Firepower. For a band approaching their 50th anniversary, Judas Priest are still as potent as ever, and their recent arena tour across North America has impressed fans, particularly with a set list full of rarely heard tunes like “Bloodstone” and “Running Wild,” and the concert debut of “Saints In Hell.” Guitarist Glenn Tipton, a member of the classic lineup, has been unable to join the rest for most of the dates due to his decade-long battle with Parkinson’s. Firepower co-producer Andy Sneap, an agile axeman from the bands Sabbat and Hell, has been performing in his place and ceded the spotlight during the select shows where Tipton appeared for the final three songs.

Judas Priest 2018 tour photo by Todd Kaplan

‡‡         Big Energy, Big Sound

Make no mistake: The band is as intense as ever. They are still one of the loudest bands in the world, and FOH engineer Martin Walker makes sure audiences get the sonic kick they crave without obliterating them. He’s been with the British rockers for two decades and has seen their concert evolution. “Over the years, the band has gotten less demanding in what they need on stage,” Walker reports, “and the speaker technology has gotten better.” Even so, your earplugs will still come in handy.

A DiGiCo SD7 forms the centerpiece of Martin Walker’s FOH mix position.

Walker’s sonic weapon of choice is the DiGiCo SD7. He used to be a big fan of Yamaha analog desks, but eventually went to the digital side. He originally tried the PM5D before Major Tom principal Lars Brogaard convinced Walker to give the D5 a try.

Rather than work the digital domain as hard as possible as he did with the PM5D, Walker decided, “I’m just going to use it analog fashion, and I’ll just mix it live and mix with my fingers. Mix with the faders and not the buttons. I immediately felt it was a lot easier, and the sound of the DiGiCo was more of what I was looking for than the Yamaha. So it just progressed from there.” He used the D5s then switched to the SD7s when they came out and “fell in love with them. I think they sound great.” He also loves the 24-hour support he gets from DiGiCo, which he feels he would not get from any other manufacturer.

For the Firepower tour, Walker is running about 48 inputs on the desk. He says half of them are for Scott Travis’ drums, a quarter of them are guitars (Sneap, Richie Faulkner, and occasionally Tipton), and the rest are Ian Hill’s bass and bass pedals, Rob Halford’s vocals, backing vocals, and for playback, mainly just intros and outros for songs. “The playback occasionally provides some clicks for Scott to keep the songs in the right time,” says Walker. Most of the time the clicks are not needed, “but there are a couple of songs that the band feel the need to have a click to play along to.”

The stage left P.A. hang. Major Tom provided a Meyer speaker system. Photo by Todd Kaplan

‡‡         The System

For the main P.A., the band has 12 Meyer LEOs and three Meyer LYONs for under hang, with 12 MILOs per side for side hang. “We are flying three 1100 LFC subs per side in a cardioid configuration,” says systems tech Kyle Carter, who previously worked with Walker while touring with Iron Maiden. “Each 1100 Stack has one JM-1P per side on top of it to fill in underneath the main hang. In the center of the stage, we have three Meyer 700 HPs per side also in a cardioid configuration to ensure an even spread of sub all across the floor. Also, there are three UPA-1Ps on top of the 700 for extra fill in the front row.” The P.A. is driven by three Galaxy 816 speaker processors per sides with a Galaxy 816-AES3 at the FOH position controlling input to all of the processors.

The all-Meyer mains rig consisted of L/R hangs, each with 12 Meyer Leo and three Meyer Lyon for underhang, along with flown 1100 LFC subs and sidehangs of 12 Milo line arrays. Additional ground-stacked subs added to the punch.

“Traditionally, we never used to fly the subs with Priest, but this is the first year I’m doing it,” adds Walker. “It’s just for the arenas. It helps to get more of an even coverage. Sometimes in arenas, just ground stacking subs can cause a lot of lobing issues, so we fly three per side and we ground stack three per side.” He adds that there are not many speakers onstage anymore. With most members using in-ears, Faulkner and Tipton are the ones using live speakers these days.”

Carter says the most challenging venue on the first part of the tour was the Armory in Minneapolis. The rear part of the venue was literally a straight brick wall. “There was a straight, narrow balcony, and the sound went straight into the wall, so bounce back was a problem that day,” he recalls. “Apart from that, everything’s really been okay.”

Judas Priest 2018 tour photo by Todd Kaplan

‡‡         Capturing That JP Sound

Priest’s audio team is using Shure microphones — 58s on Halford’s vocals and an array on Travis’ drums, including Beta-91s on the kick, Beta 56As on the kit, standard 57s on the snare, 98As on the toms, 137s on the crash mics (which are miked underneath), Beta 181s on the hi-hats, and KSM44s as overheads. Both Faulkner and Tipton have three mics on their cabs: Shure KSM 313 ribbon mics, KSM 27s and KSM32s. Sneap, who’s filling in for Tipton, is playing through two Kemper amps.

“I’m miking Andy as well to get something a little warmer,” says Walker. “The Kempers sound okay, but to me they sound a little brittle when you just use the DI, so he’s leaking some sound into another cab. If Andy had the choice, he would just use two DIs, but I’m just trying to bolster him a bit. I’m on a learning curve with it. It’s the first time I’ve used Kempers, and it’s a daily task for me to try to get a little bit more out of them each day.”

Judas Priest 2018 tour photo by Todd Kaplan

Use of playback is minimal. There is the opening scream for “Firepower,” some vocal effects for “Evil Never Dies,” the police siren in “Breaking The Law,” a laser sound for a line in “Metal Gods,” as well as the shaking tray of cutlery that simulates the marching sound for that song’s coda, and keyboard swirls for “Turbo Lover.”

As far as his outboard gear, Walker’s “show saver” is the TC Electronic D-2 delay, which he uses for numerous vocal delay cues throughout the show. Unlike past Priest tours, there are no guitar delays this time out. He is also using an Eventide Harmonizer on Rob Halford’s vocals. “I don’t like it to sound too processed, so it’s really just in the background,” says Walker. “I have a Yamaha SPX-2000, which I use for the classic reverb and gate programs from the original SPX90. I use it on Scott’s snare and use it in just the background, but I do boost it on ‘Turbo Lover’ to get that almost ‘80s, slightly pop snare sound. Then I’ve got an SPX990 for Rob’s ‘devil’ vocal effects. I use it in ‘Metal Gods’ and ‘Electric Eye.’ They’re really short bits, and if you blink you miss them.”

Judas Priest 2018 tour photo by Todd Kaplan

He is using the SPL Transient Designer plug-in on the kicks and snares. “It takes a signal and you can stretch it a little, so if your snare is really sharp and short you can sustain it,” explains Walker. “It has an attack control and a sustain control. It’s kind of messing with the drums without having samples. It’s pure analog.”

There is a Neve 5045 on Rob’s vocal mics, “so when he walks across the stage, it ducks the gain down on his mic,” says Walker. “I’m having issues with his vocal mic when he’s on certain parts of the stage on this tour. Somebody’s put a water bottle on the set with a little pipe that comes up so he can get a drink without having to go offstage, and it’s right in front of Richie’s cabs. So when he goes over for a drink, Richie’s guitar comes screaming down Rob’s mic. The ducker helps, but it doesn’t perform miracles. I have to watch Rob every moment he’s up there and switch his mic off when he goes for the drink and when he goes too close to Richie’s cabs.”

Bradley Johnson’s choice for monitor console was this 24-fader DiGiCo SD10.

‡‡         Meanwhile, in Monitorworld

Monitor engineer Bradley Johnson spent the last five years with Megadeth and understands the sonics (and tour rigors) of metal. It gave him the experience to tackle this trek. “It’s a little bit tricky,” admits Johnson, “because most of the time with bands nowadays, you’ll have a band that’s either all on in-ears, or rarely you’ll get a band that is just wedges and side fills and whatnot. With this, we have a combination of both. Glenn and Richie are both non in-ear type guys, and so it is almost like two battleships pointing at each other from across the stage with the side fills. It’s like a war going on, and then all the guys with in-ears aren’t really aware of what is happening. You’re very isolated and can have exactly what you want in your head, whereas you’ve got this other thing going on where it’s just a blitzkrieg. You can’t stay inside your own head on an ear mix all night. You’ve got to have a wedge down there as well and listen to that. It’s difficult monitoring what’s happening, because you’re going back and forth between the two things.”

Judas Priest 2018 tour photo by Todd Kaplan

Travis, Hill, Halford and Sneap use in-ears, and with the drummer and bassist, once they settle in, they rarely want changes. On the flip side, Halford’s mix is completely dynamic. “It’s a front of house mix from beginning to end with all the guitar solos, panning, and vocal effects happening where they need to happen,” says Johnson. “It’s a mix that you can’t get away from for very long — audience reaction and all kinds of stuff — so his mix is extremely busy. Normally, this is probably the only monitor job that I still do — everything else is front of house — so I think having a front of house background helps me give somebody that kind of mix because I’m already used to all the bells and whistles.”

From his monitor mix position at stage left, Johnson is running 56 inputs on a 24-fader DiGiCo SD-10 with a Wave server. Monitors onstage include three pairs of Meyer MJF212 self-powered wedges, with three JM-1P side fills per side along with two HP700s per side. “It’s a pretty hefty side fill,” he says.

Johnson notes that a rising challenge for monitor engineers is radio frequency management, and every year it gets more and more complicated. “You’ve gotta be part computer programmer with all the new consoles, and you’ve gotta be part IT guy and then part radio jockey,” he says. “Whereas before, all we did was come up and try to get things as loud as we could. That was an art form in itself, having tons of EQ and having power amplifiers on everything. Now it’s more precise. You are dealing with technologies that didn’t exist and you had no need for. That’s probably the most challenging part of my day, wrangling frequencies, making sure everything’s solid throughout the night.”

The audio crew, from left: Bradley Johnson, David ‘Dribble’ Poynter, Martin Walker, Eoin O’Cinnseala and Kyle Carter.

‡‡         Teamwork!

Walker is very pleased with the Firepower tour audio team. He and audio tech David Poynter met 20 years ago and used to be the P.A. crew for Foo Fighters in Europe. Both Carter and stage audio tech Eoin O’Cinnseala were his assistants on Iron Maiden for the last two years. “We worked together, and they learned their stuff,” he recalls. “Kyle is a thick-spoken Scotsman and Eoin is thick-spoken Irishman, so when the two of them talk to each other it’s hilarious, because half of the time they don’t understand each other.”

Joking aside, adds Walker, “We’ve got a great working relationship, and they both know their LEO stuff as well. It’s actually a very happy and good crew across the board on this tour. There are no inter-departmental issues, and everybody plays well together. We go from arenas to tiny theaters and try to fit as much of the arena show in as we can [into the smaller places], so there has to be a lot of cooperation between departments.”

The U.S. shows wrapped up on May 1, 2018 at the 11,700-seat Freeman Coliseum in San Antonio, TX. After their slated appearance on Cinco de Mayo at the Corona Heaven & Hell Festival in Mexico City, the Firepower tour is set to continue through Europe until June 19.

Judas Priest Firepower Tour

Crew

  • Sound Company: Major Tom
  • FOH Engineer/Production Manager: Martin Walker
  • Monitor Engineer/RF Coordinator: Bradley Johnson
  • Stage Audio Tech: Eoin O’Cinnseala
  • Systems Tech: Kyle Carter
  • Audio Tech: David Poynter

 

P.A. Gear

  • Main PA: (12) Meyer LEOs and (3) Meyer LYONs for underhang per side
  • Side Hangs: (12) Meyer Milo
  • Flown Subs: (6) 1100 LFC
  • Ground Subs: (6) 1100 LFC, (3) HP 700’s
  • Side Fills: (4) 700 HP, (6) JM-1P’s
  • In/out Fills: (6) UPA-1P, (2) JM-1P’s
  • Drive: Meyer Galaxy 816-AES3, (6) Galaxy 816 speaker processors

 

FOH Gear

  • FOH Console: DiGiCo SD7
  • Outboard: (2) TC Electronic D-2 delays; Yamaha SPX2000, SPX990; Neve 5045 Primary Source Enhancer, SPL Transient Designer plug-in, Eventide Eclipse
  • Recording/Playback: JoeCo Blackbox recorder for multi-track recording & virtual sound checks
  • Near Field Monitoring: (2) Meyer UPJ’s
  • Stage Cabling/Interconnect: Whirlwind W4, W1 and 12-way sub-snakes

 

MON Gear

  • Monitor Console: DiGiCo SD10/24
  • Outboard: Waves Server and Pro Live bundle
  • Interfacing: All Whirlwind interfacing
  • Wireless: (6) Shure PSM-1000 for band IEM mixes, (2) Shure PSM-900 for tech mixes, Shure AD4D handhelds with Beta 58 caps, Shure ATX-600 scanner, Wireless Workbench RF software
  • IEMs: Jerry Harvey Audio JH16
  • Mics: Shure SM58s (vocals), Beta-91s (kick), Beta 56As (drums), SM57 (snare top/bottom), SM-98As (toms), KSM137 (crash cymbals — miked underneath), Beta 181 (hi-hat), KSM44 (overheads); KSM 27, KSM32 and KSM 313 ribbon mics (guitar cabinets)

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