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Pearl Jam 2009

Story & photos by Cat Strom. Originally published in Pro Audio Asia

Excessive temperatures and strict noise pollution controls faced Pearl Jam and their crew at their massive outdoor gig at Sydney’s Football Stadium in support of their latest release, Backspacer. This was also the tour that Australian rental-company and long-standing L-Acoustics Rental Network Agent, Jands Production Services (JPS) was using to debut its new K1/Kudo line array system.

JPS – along with several of the world’s leading rental companies – are collaborating with the L- Acoustics R&D team in advanced field proofing of the new system that is specifically designed for stadiums. As a result the company has taken delivery of one of the limited number of K1 systems in the pilot programme. “The new K1 isn’t intended as a replacement for V-Dosc,” explains Jim Straw, JPS general manager. “The combination of K1 and Kudo is aimed at providing a scaled solution for large venues with Kudo providing a flexible horizontal and greater vertical dispersion, while the K1 offers fixed horizontal dispersion with a maximum of 5° inter-element angles for larger venues.

Pearl Jam’s FOH engineer, Greg Nelson, first heard the K1 system at Coachella, admitting that he was ‘blown away’ with how much sub bass could be achieved out of the main flown system. “Ratsound, our sound provider in the US, had purchased the system and I got to preview it at last year”s Coachella festival. I was wildly impressed with the performance,” he says. “The box just sounded better than anything else I had ever heard – straight out flat, just turn it on and go.

Mr Nelson was anxious to use the K1 system as soon as possible so when Pearl Jam hit the road in the US a couple of months ago, he did just that. “I had a great time with it and it is instantly noticeable that we were using a better sounding PA system,” he says. “From management to the band, to people who know nothing about sound – it was obviously a much better system. It throws better, it covers better… in fact, the coverage on it is a lot wider so It’s been possible to spread the sound system around a bit. I was actually able to lose one of my rear hangs all together; the K1 enabled us to use less PA in a room which is great for truck space and means less time to hang the system.

In conversations with JPS prior to the tour, Mr Nelson mentioned how fabulous he thought the K1 system was and how much he’d love to use it in Australia. “JPS made it happen,” he says. “

The K1 enclosure includes dual 15-inch woofers, a re-engineered mid/high section that includes a third compression driver, and uses internal captive rigging. The K1 is designed to hang 24 enclosures deep, creating much longer arrays than is possible with V-Dosc. The new dual 15 K1-SB subwoofer is also flyable providing system designers with longer LF throw and cardioid pattern physical arrangements and presets to suit the SB28 subwoofers. “Using the K1 system in Australia has been a great experience,” Mr Nelson reports. “It requires almost no EQ, there’s nothing that needs to be done with the system – we literally turn it on and go and it performs wonderfully.

He describes the sound of the K1 as “very hi-fi with an incredibly smooth high-end and mid-range” – basically a big improvement over the V-Dosc: “As I said, It’s a wider box especially in the high frequencies, where you’re covering a lot more area with it. The low end is also fantastic. The main PA, without turning the subs on, goes down to 45Hz and so I’ve been able to stop flying the subs because the main PA is putting out so much energy. I can just stack some subs on the ground and you can feel that kick drum throughout the whole venue. It’s great for Pearl Jam, as having subs on-stage really annoyed them; the feel of them can be disorientating. With the ability to place the SB28 subs in front of the band, I can get a lot more sub and the band don’t feel a thing. It makes for a better show all round and the band have a better time on stage as there are no low frequency distractions.

The cardioid sub pattern I am using with the SB28 means I am able to get away with way more sub bass than I have in the past and even now have complaints from my monitor engineer that the PA is too quiet,” he continues. “The clarity of the system is great. A lot of times during the show I have three guitars just hammering away and it is very easy to make them all individually heard with this new system.

For the Australian tour, the PA system is made up of 48 K1, 24 K1 Subs, 24 SB28 subs, 16 Arcs, 24 V-Dosc and 18 dV-Dosc elements. The main hang consists of eight K1 subs and 14 K1 boxes, with three dV-Dosc boxes at the bottom. Side hangs are four K1 subs with 10 K1 boxes, and six dV-Dosc on the bottom. The SB28 subs are spread out in blocks all over the floor in front of the stage with L-Acoustic Arcs on top on them, the amount changing every day depending on what each venue requires. “Some days I only use eight of them and on others I use all 16,” explains Mr Nelson. “The K1 sub is basically an extension of the low-end in the main hang so it is flown on top – it just gives you a little extra punch.

The K1 system is powered by the LA-Rak, a 9U-high touring rack, incorporating three LA8 amplifier-controllers, and space for dual Ethernet switches for control and monitoring (L-Net) and digital audio (L-DGA). The LA Network Manager software, running on a PC, offers a graphic interface for control and monitoring of up to 253 units. The software also includes EQ balance tools to adjust for array height, listening distance and line source type.

For the past three years Mr Nelson has been using the Digidesign D-Show Venue console, which he describes as fantastic. “I wouldn’t change a thing about it,” he claims. “I’m really comfortable on it – it sounds good and, at this point, It’s kind of like an old friend.

The Sydney Football Stadium has very severe noise restrictions taking into account C-weighting which most venues do not. In fact, not only do they take C-weighting into account but it wasn’t an average rather a peak. At no time could the show exceed 100dB C-weighted.

The metering point was only about 70m away from the stage,” says Mr Nelson. “It was also right where the subs kind of lobed, so if you walked to the left or right it was quieter than where they had the meter. That made it even more difficult and meant I had to play with turning the low end up in the main hang and down in the subs, and vice versa just to try negate that lobing where the actual level meter was positioned. I think it made for a less impact in the show and it was actually noticed by the crew and management as quite a different show. If the city council doesn’t want a rock band to play there then don’t book one.

Other than that it was fine and everyone had a great time. It’s only people like us who know what it could have been. Not that it needed to be exceedingly loud. The average A-weighted at FOH is 101dB or 102dB and the average C-weighting is 115dB. It’s not like I’m killing people out there, I just like a bit more impact. You can use low end to make a show seem louder than it actually is and unfortunately I couldn’t.

During soundcheck and the support acts of Liam Finn followed by Ben Harper, Mr Nelson tried to gauge how loud he could go at front of house to determine what it would be at the meter. “I didn’t want the guy on at me all night telling me to turn it down, I really didn’t want to have to deal with that,” he adds. “With Eddie Vedder having the flu his voice was incredibly raspy and there were times when he wasn’t really hitting the high notes but it was still strong. You could still understand everything he was saying and he was still in key. Eddie has such an amazing voice even when he is sick with the flu. He still went for it and threw everything he could into his performance in fact I really didn”t have to do much that was different. Maybe my fader was 3dB higher than normal but that was all.”

Long-time monitor engineer Karrie Keyes was having a difficult day sweating it out at the helm of a Midas Heritage console. Earlier in the day the Midas got heatstroke and went into shut down with the thermal and so a bunch of fans were set up to keep it going. Fortunately everything ended up being fine and the Sydney show was a good – if somewhat stressful – test run for the gear, and the K1 system in particular. According to Mr Nelson, everyone on stage was miserable but the gear held up well and it all performed well: “The heat never makes for a fun day or fun show,” comments Ms Keyes. “The sound suffers considerably, so it was pretty brutal.

She has been mixing the monitors for Pearl Jam for 18 years, and knows the band’s needs well. Among the challenges this tour she faces is the sheer volume on the stage, small stage space and each member of the band wanting to hear different things – except when they want a ‘crossfire’ sound. The goal is to have no pockets on stage without sound, with Eddie Vedder being the loudest and the clearest as he thrives on the volume. For this reason, she chose to tour with the new EAW MicroWedge 12s. Plus, with limited stage space the small footprint of the MicroWedge is a definite bonus. “I am using the Microwedge 12 for Ed’s guitar mix”, she says. “I can get them very close to his guitar rig’s sound without much EQ or trouble. We’re also using MicroWedge 12s for Matt [Cameron]’s drum fill, with a left and right mix plus a sub.

Previously large drum fills and in-ears systems had resulted in the drummer feeling fatigued and with ears ringing. Currently she is running the MicroWedge 12 at full volume with him wearing fully sealed ear-plugs and that seems to be the perfect balance. “Again, they need very little EQ and I can over power them if needed and the smooth high end does not add to ear fatigue.

Despite a valiant effort the show was cut short due to Eddie Vedder losing his voice but no one seemed to mind. They had still been on stage for a mammoth couple of hours and besides, he promised $20 off tickets next time Pearl Jam return to Sydney… And the guys at JPS also went home happy, if tired and a little sweaty. “JPS, after investing in the latest L-Acoustics K1 system, was excited to debut the K1 on the recent Australian Pearl Jam tour,” concludes Jim Straw. “We have received a great response from the act and client alike, the great comments about the system from across the country has confirmed our decision about the purchase of this system.

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