Display Ad
Hide Ad
Parnelli Awards Voting Now Open - VOTE NOW

Robert Plant ‘Carry Fire’ Tour

by Steve Jennings (Photos & Text) • in
  • August 2018
  • Production Profile
• Created: August 14, 2018

Robert Plant and the Sensational Space Shifters Blaze Across North America

ROBERT PLANT & THE SENSATIONAL SPACE SHIFTERS © Steve Jennings

Robert Plant & The Sensational Space Shifters kicked off its Carry Fire 2018 tour on June 8 in Atlanta, packing the 6,900-capacity State Bank Amphitheatre in the city’s Chastain Park. And this seven-piece band featuring the Led Zeppelin frontman has been blazing across North America ever since.

At the 8,500-seat Greek Theatre in Berkeley, CA, we caught up with the tour. The much-varied set list included the title song from 2017’s Carry Fire album, cover songs such as “When The Levee Breaks,” early Plant solo work — “In The Mood,” along with some Led Zeppelin faves, “Going To California,” “In My Time of Dying,” “Whole Lotta Love” and the Zeppelin take on Joan Baez’ “Babe, I’m Gonna Leave You.” The audience was treated to a good mixture of songs.

We spoke with the audio crew for the tour, Mark Kennedy (FOH engineer), Damon “Dee” Miller (monitor engineer), Dan Currie (FOH tech) and Chris “Coz” Costello (monitor tech).

FOH system tech Dan Currie and FOH engineer Mark Kennedy. Photo by Steve Jennings

‡‡         At FOH…

Mark Kennedy is mixing Plant and the band at FOH on a Solid State Logic L500 console. He first started using the board about four years ago with the U.K. dance act Faithless. He had been using a Midas PRO9 for a few years and a friend suggested he try the SSL. “I was immediately taken by the sound of the console, the high-end detail and dynamic range are way ahead of any other digital console I have tried — and I’ve tried most of them.” Kennedy is relatively new to the Plant tour, having started with them in October of last year.

“The SSL has three fader tiles, which is important, as I am constantly riding the fader levels of the inputs and the VCA’s throughout the show, Kennedy explains. “A smaller fader count really would not work here. I don’t use the main screen as much as I would on other boards. The board has a channel strip to the right of the console with a small screen where you can access all the channel functions easily. The onboard FX are reasonably good, but the mic amps, onboard dynamics, SSL bus compressor and all-pass filter are excellent.”

Kennedy notes a unique feature on the board, the Stem. “It’s like an auxiliary with the send and return on the same fader, the FX are inserted on the Stem, so it’s very handy for delays and reverbs. It’s a difficult console to get your head around initially, but once familiar with the layout, it’s very quick to use. Recent software improvement have greatly improved the console, my only reservation is that the lag on the screen when you change from tile to tile is a bit slow. But the most important thing is the sound of the console and its reliability, and I have found both to be superb.”

The SSL doesn’t currently run Waves onboard but Kennedy says he doesn’t need much in the way of plug-ins. “The right microphone in the right application will sort out a lot of problems… try tuning the kit or moving the microphone instead of a plug-in. The dynamics on the console do everything I need them to and the all-pass filter is an excellent feature. I use the Buss Compressor and a 31-band graphic on Robert as well as a plate reverb and DDL slapback echo. For my outboard gear, I’m using a TC D2 delay and an Eventide H3500 on Robert’s vocals.” Plant’s vocal mic is a rock ‘n’ roll classic: a Shure SM58.

The L-Acoustics system design is done by Kennedy’s Solotech system technician Dan Currie. “Dan is excellent, he looks after all the time alignment and the initial system EQ,” Kennedy says. “Dan will play a few tracks and have a listen around the venue before I take over. My method then is to use an SM58 on a radio system and walk the entire arena checking the sound throughout the venue from front fills to the back of the balcony. When you listen to your own voice on the P.A. you can hear any small time alignment and coverage problems as well as standing waves and acoustic issues, which you would never find with [Rational Acoustics] SMAART and music alone. Dan and I spend a lot of time each day tuning the various elements of the system to try and ensure every seat has the best sound possible. Then, when the sound is correct at the desk, it will be correct everywhere.”

Kennedy has strong feelings about the mix-use of subwoofers. We tend to use less sub elements than other shows of our style and size. I find excessive or inappropriate use of subs to be a major cause of bad sound in a lot of venues. We drive the bass in the main array a bit harder and overall I think it sounds better.”

A good live sound is only achieved by having a great crew, says Kennedy. “Dan walks the venue during the show, carefully adjusting each component with the crowd in. I trust Dan’s judgment and ear, he knows what I want to hear so he can work away without having to come back to me for approval. I am at the desk doing the mix and it would be impossible to get the results we do without everyone playing their part. So many thanks to the Solotech crew!”

He added that “Robert’s show is very organic with lots of acoustic instruments as well as rock guitars, keyboards, violins and NO playback. “The set is a mixture of his own wide-ranging solo work and some Led Zeppelin favorites. The difficulty is merging this diverse range of music into a cohesive, coherent sounding show. So I use snapshots to get me to a starting place in the song (recalling FX, mutes and faders, etc.), and it’s very much hands-on after that.”

Kennedy also offered some sage advice to other engineers — particularly those entering the biz. “I feel some engineers need to listen to what’s actually happening on stage instead of messing about with the console. When you look across the stage you should be able to hear exactly what each person in the band is playing. This may be easier said than done, especially in some indoor venues with terrible acoustics, but it is the most basic principle of live sound. Once you can actually hear what is being played, the thing is to try and engage the interest of the audience — simply doing a ‘CD’ mix live is not enough. You need to mix ‘bigger’ live, try to use the massive dynamic range that a P.A. system has and always feature the solos and hooks of the music as needed.”

Stage left P.A. main hang with L-Acoustics K1s over K2s per side, out hang with eight Kara boxes. Photo by Steve Jennings

‡‡         The System

The tour is carrying an L-Acoustics system supplied by Solotech out of Nashville. “The main hang consists of 12 K1 boxes over four K2,” notes Currie. “The out hangs are comprised of eight Kara per side, with the lip of the stage covered by six X12 coaxial speakers. We typically leave a few subs in the truck and deploy four SB28 subwoofers/side in a cardioid configuration. In some venues, the dispersion of the front fill can be blocked by the front row of a standing audience so to ensure the second and third rows receive quality coverage, we elevate two ARCII’s per side as infill.”

Two Sennheiser 609’s captured Justin Adams amp. Photo by Steve Jennings

For redundancy, the SSL is feeding two linked Meyer Galileo boxes — one AES and the other analog. AES is run to the LA amps via RockNet along with a seamless analog fallback. “We have never lost AES but it is reassuring there are backup measures in place.”

 

This is Currie’s second tour with Kennedy and his first with system tech Hilario “H” Gonzalez. “‘H’ and I work together to solve site-specific challenges that can arise at each venue. Weight limitations and usable rigging points can dictate the amount of boxes that can be hung and at what location,” Currie says. “Before I hand off the P.A. to Mark, I apply what is referred to as the ‘Mark Curve’ on top of my voicing. It consists of a few frequency ranges he typically cuts. Mark then does his thing with the radio mic. The result he is able to achieve is extremely consistent night after night. It’s a lot of fun to work with such a capable team.”

Chris “Coz” Costello, monitor tech; and Damon “Dee” Miller, monitor engineer. Photo by Steve Jennings

‡‡         Mics, Mics, Mics

Dave Smith’s drum kit has two mics for the kick — a Shure Beta 91A and a Shure Beta 52 dynamic. The snares each have Shure SM57s covering the top and Sennheiser e904s on the bottom, with a Shure SM81 on hi-hats. On toms are three Sennheiser e904s and the overhead mics are AKG 414s.

SR guitarist Liam “Skin” Tyson plays through Stone Deaf amps. “We are using two Audio-Technica AT 4033 medium diaphragm condensers to capture his complex tones and timbres. They are labeled ‘On’ and ‘Off’ to ensure the same mic is placed before the same speaker cone each time we set up. The ‘On’ and ‘Off’ denote the onstage amp and offstage amp.”

Guitar tech Matt Straw. Photo by Steve Jennings

SL guitarist and band musical director, Justin Adams plays through a Victoria amp using a Sennheiser 609 on each of the two speaker cones. Bassist Billy Fuller’s Fender amp cabinet uses a Beyer M-88 dynamic mic.

Keyboard tech Dan Lavi at John Baggott’s keyboard setup includes two Nord Stage2 keyboards, a Moog
Opus 3, MiniMoog, MIDI routers and a mixer that feeds his keyboard amp.

Drum/bass tech Russ Russell checks Dave Smith’s well-miked drumkit. Photo by Steve Jennings

‡‡         The Monitor View

Monitor engineer Damon “Dee” Miller has been mixing Robert Plant the past 14 years. From 2005 to 2012, he used a Midas H3000, as Plant was not keen on digital. “I currently use a Yamaha PM5D, and have been for the last six years, although now it’s a very dated desk. I have 90 songs stored and I like the reliability of it, and I can always get my hands on one. There is no magic to mixing the show, I basically follow the band’s lead. Of course, having been here this long, I know what each person has in each song, so I have a fairly extensive cue sheet!”

The band uses 16 d&b audiotechnik M2 wedges, with L-Acoustic ARCs and SB218 as side fills. IEM’s have not really been discussed, as Plant really likes wedges and the band follow suit.

Keyboard tech Dan Lavi sets up John Baggott’s huge keys rig. Photo by Steve Jennings

Miller only uses the onboard FX for Plant, “I use a 2 sec reverb and a single tap delay which is almost at the same level as his dry vocal and a couple of reverbs for the background vocals. I also use the onboard gates and compression but not much, as I’m more of a fan of an open live mix. We also play such a variety of songs that it’s quite difficult to set them correctly, such as songs where drums are played by hand to songs played with four drum sticks!”

Plant generally likes his mix very bright and clear and with most of the low mid taken out, say’s Miller. “Most of the band have been with Robert the same amount of time so we all know each other very well and we all have little signals which lets me know what’s needed or not in any certain situations. I would like to mention how good the crew and production are. We have worked together on various projects stretching back 25 years and we are all very good friends which is a massive plus.”

The regular tour dates wrap up Sept. 27 at the Lubbock Auditorium (Lubbock, TX), followed by two nights of shooting Austin City Limits at The Moody Theater before live audiences on Sept. 29-30.

Guitar Tech Ian Sheppard. Photo by Steve Jennings

Robert Plant & The Sensational Space Shifters

Carry Fire Tour 2018

 

ROBERT PLANT & THE SENSATIONAL SPACE SHIFTERS © Steve Jennings

AUDIO CREW

Sound Company: Solotech Nashville

FOH Engineer: Mark Kennedy

FOH System Tech: Dan Currie

Hilario Gonzalez: System Tech

Monitor Engineer: Damon “Dee” Miller

Monitor Tech: Chris “Coz” Costello

Instrument Techs: Matt Straw guitar for Justin Adams; Dan Lavi, keyboards; Russ Russell drums & bass; Ian Sheppard, guitar for Liam “Skin” Tyson

Production Manager: Oli Powell

Tour Manager: Pete Hillier

Liam Tyson had onstage and offstage Stone Deaf amps, each miked with an A-T 4033. Photo by Steve Jennings

P.A. SYSTEM

Mains: (12) L-Acoustics K1s over (4) K2 per side

Out Hangs: (8) L-Acoustics Kara/side

Front Fill: (6) L-Acoustics X12

Subs: (4) SB28/side, in cardioid config.

Drive: (2) Meyer Sound Galileos

 

FOH GEAR

FOH Console: Solid State Logic L500

Outboard: TC Electronic D2 delay; Eventide H3500

 

MON GEAR

Monitor Console: Yamaha PM5D

Monitor Speakers: (16) d&b audiotechnik M2 wedges

Side Fills: L-Acoustic ARCs and SB218 subs

 

Top Photo Caption: From left, band members Liam “Skin” Tyson, guitars; John Baggott, keys; Robert Plant, vocals; Seth Lakeman, violin/fiddle; Dave Smith, drums; Billy Fuller, bass; Justin Adams, guitars & musical director. Photo by Steve Jennings

 

More Robert Plant ‘Carry Fire’ Tour Photos by Steve Jennings:

 

 

 

Leave a Comment:

Check Out Some Past FOH | Front of House Magazine Issues