The FOH crew included, from left, Greg Price, Ben Rothstein and Myles Fontaine Crosby (mixer for opening act Kenny Wayne Shepherd).
Van Halen Tour 2015
Written by Kevin M. Mitchell
The Van Halen 2015 Tour kicked off on July 5 at the White River Amphitheatre (Auburn, WA), with an additional 40 stops throughout North America — playing mostly sheds and arena venues — and wraps up in early October. The staging and lighting is uncharacteristically bare for a major rock tour, but it all serves to focus on the guitar pyrotechnics of Eddie at center stage, joined by his brother Alex on drums, son Wolfgang on bass and on-again/off-again singer David Lee Roth returning to the lead vocal slot. The outing is in support of a new live album, Tokyo Dome Live in Concert, which was recorded during VH’s previous tour.
Van Halen rolled through St. Louis on a hot July night with a show that was tailored to fans of the early days. Although Wolfgang Van Halen was performing on bass instead of original band mate Michael Anthony, band and crew did their best to recreate their classic era.
For this tour, FOH engineer Greg Price embraced the retro approach. “I really want to challenge myself to make them sound like vintage Van Halen,” he says. “Eddie, arguably one of the greatest living guitarists in the world, is actually playing better now than when he was in his 20’s. So I want it old school within the digital world.”
David Lee Roth
Price is celebrating his 40th year at the mixing board. He grew up in the San Jose, CA area and, at age 11, started playing guitar with his brother, Steve, a drummer who would go on to be a founding member of Pablo Cruise. He took over the recording console for that band from 1975 to 1982, and then went on to do several other acts including Steve Miller. It was with Miller that he started mixing live, an experience he says was instrumental in his growth as a professional sound reinforcement engineer.
Price later established himself as a heavy rock guy, working with the likes of Kiss, Poison, Black Sabbath, and Ozzy Osbourne, among others. “Pablo Cruise was kind of R&B, and when I started doing metal music, I applied R&B techniques to mixing them, and that proved to be very successful,” he says.
Monitor engineer Jerry Harvey created an audio pocket for Eddie Van Halen with wedges.
Price, who with 2011 Parnelli Award winner Brad Madix, runs Diablo Digital (a company that supplies recording rigs to live and touring customers), has been with Van Halen mostly since 2000. Price and Madix are big fans of Avid, particularly the new VENUE S6L. “It’s brand new, so we’re still putting our head together about it,” Price says. Rather than take a high-stakes gamble with the newest console, Price opted to use Avid’s trusty VENUE Profile to mix this tour.
“My way of mixing might be different than others, because I don’t use hardly anything on the console,” he explains. “My sound development is all done with plug-ins. Remember, I’m a recording engineer first, and I take a recording studio engineer’s approach to mixing live.”
He notes that Clair Global has had the Van Halen account for 20 years, and he’s pleased to be working with them. “I want to be with the best people with the brightest minds,” he says.
Having worked for Waves for a few years, those are Price’s plug-ins of choice in his bid to bring studio-like sound to live sound settings. “In the near future, there won’t be any dividing line between studio mixing or mixing at an arena,” he predicts. He adds that their tools allow for anything from vintage Beatles sound to modern day mastering. In particular he leans on the L2 and L3 dynamics plug-ins.
“Eddie still wants to see a Shure SM57 on his guitar amps,” Price says. “This has been a learning process for me, because I would have chosen a different mic, but I re-analyzed what I was doing and can work with it and can get 50 cycles out of his guitar solos out of that.”
Bass is handled by a combination of a Radial J48 direct box, a Palmer PGA 04 amp box and mikes on the 8×10 (E-V RE20) and 4×12 (Heil PR30) cabinets, offering Price plenty of choices, depending on the particular song.
Alex Van Halen still wants his drums to sound like Led Zeppelin’s John Bonham. “I’m now using part of the John Bonham drum pattern, with a SM57 mic ten feet away from his extended kick drum and low to ground. There’s a mic on the snare pointing straight down at it, and a third mic behind him.” The overheads are Audio-Technica AT4050s, with A-T’s AE3000 Artist Elite cardioid condenser instrument mics on toms.
“There’s a common challenge with any heavy metal lead vocal, and it’s all about gain before feedback,” he says. To get a natural vocal sound with a band of this genre, Price relies on plug-ins and compression. “It’s been pretty successful.”
Vocals are Shure Beta 58A’s all around, both hardwired and as a capsule on David Lee Roth’s wireless rig.
The Systems Approach
The system engineer is Clair Global employee Ben Rothstein. “So often FOH engineers take all the credit, but system techs are part of the equation,” Price says. “Ben deserves 50 percent of the credit on this endeavor. He hears like an engineer, and it’s really a team effort between the both of us.”
Rothstein has worked with Stevie Nicks, Elton John, Justin Timberlake, Jay Z and most recently with Katy Perry. This is his first outing with Van Halen.
“We are flying 14 [Clair] i5s a side with 14 i5b supplemental low-end cabinets next to them,” he explains. “The system is configured in a standard 3-way mode, with the i5bs receiving the same low-end signal as the i5s.” There are four S4P subs per side, and six P2 front fill cabinets. They also hang eight i-DL cabinets per side when the venue calls for it (and the St. Louis shed, known to have a little lower roof, did not).
Monitor engineer Jerry Harvey
“The biggest challenge on this tour is getting the monitor rig and the P.A. to act as one cohesive unit,” he explains. “The band is concerned with the amount of low-end coming back onstage, so we have to be mindful of this when we tune the P.A. I use specific music to tune the system that accentuates any problem frequencies in the venue, so it doesn’t bother the band during sound check.” He adds that David Lee Roth likes to feel the P.A. onstage, so they fly it quite a bit further upstage then typical of other tours. “It is very much a team effort every day between Greg, Jerry and I to make sure all of our system elements are EQ’ed properly and act together as the one big system of high quality audio that the band demands.”
Jerry Harvey is pretty busy with his day gig — he is the owner of Jerry Harvey Audio, maker of IEMs for the stars and the rest of us. So as a rule, he does not go on the road anymore. Harvey, who has worked with FOH engineer Price since 1995, makes an exception when the phone rings and it’s Van Halen, however.
For this tour, Harvey is working on a DiGiCo SD5 console. Roth and Eddie are leaning on wedges, but Alex and Wolfgang are in-ear with the Shure PSM 1000 and the Jerry Harvey Audio triple-quad Layla mastering IEM’s. The Layla, part of his Siren line, is his new flagship series. Its popularity is making for a good problem to have: He says they are working two shifts, 18 hours a day, six days a week to keep up with the demand for the one-size-fits-all model.
Drum tech JD Douglas on Alex Van Halen’s massive drum kit
“It’s really the one where I’ve gotten everything out of an ear piece I wanted,” Harvey says, noting that it’s linked with not one or two but three patents. “The bass response is perfectly flat, and when turned down, it has +13 dB of boost at 60 Hz when full turned up.” He also says the physical design is appealing to artists because the connector on it works like connections on an amp rack, so rather than wearing out after six months, the cable to the ear piece never comes off.
While the demands imposed by the tour and his company keep Harvey busy, the tour stop in St. Louis is also a homecoming of sorts, and since he’s from the area, he manages to also spend some time visiting friends and family.
Harvey says the side fills are “basically the FOH house mix.” The wedges are pretty much Eddie and the other instruments, plus background vocals and Roth’s vocals. So the three wedges on stage are left, right, and center, with the keyboard in stereo and the left and right mirror mix is guitar. “The center wedge is everything else — drums, bass, vocals.” Dedicated to making it all about the guitar, Eddie moves very little during the show, staying in the audio pocket that Harvey creates for him.
Interestingly, what the individual band members need from Harvey hasn’t changed that much over the years. “Alex has been the same as he ever was — he wants drums and guitar mostly,” he says. Diamond Dave, meanwhile, is prone to lurch into his lounge act, and start telling stories and letting loose some jokes and quips — i.e., “Eddie got you in the building; this is where I sell you the Bibles.” And Alex relies on Harvey to ride that vocal fader so he’s ready to move out of the vamp back into the song. “Dave is always changing the cue, and he’ll go into something and I don’t know when he’s coming out of it, and that changes every night. Alex is looking to hear that ‘what comes next’ cue.”
Bass tech Jim Servis with the bass rig, which used a combination of direct feed, cab simulator and miked enclosures, depending on the song.
For Eddie, it’s been the same mix too, though he notes, “it’s kind of crazy that his in-ears have actually gotten better, and [because of that] the stage is much cleaner than in some past tours” with fewer wedges.
Roth likes a lot of guitar on deck and vocals, and Harvey uses the arc on side fills to create a really nice sounding stage for the band.
Per Rothstein’s comment about low-end, “There are no low frequencies coming through the mics, which makes it easier for him to mix,” Harvey says. “My normal setup? I tune the side fills and wedges to be very accurate and then high pass them at 125 Hz.” Then he uses his earpieces to mix on; except for the high pass, the reference is the same.
Another trick involves mic positions, and as Eddie does a “ground zero” stance for his playing, Harvey makes sure the stage snare and the side fills are the same distance apart, then he delays the wedges to the side fill so everything is made a few changes arriving to Eddie’s ears at the same time. It’s all about creating a “nice little pocket.”
The tour continues through September and wraps up with two nights at the Hollywood Bowl on Oct. 2-4.
The all-Clair Global main P.A. handled arenas and sheds with ease. Halen North American Tour 2015
Sound Company: Clair Global
FOH Engineer: Greg Price
Monitor Engineer: Jerry Harvey
FOH Engineer: Myles Fontaine Crosby (for opening act Kenny Wayne Shepherd)
System Engineer/Crew Chief: Ben Rothstein
Instrument Techs: Tom Weber (guitar tech); Jim Servis, (bass tech) John “JD” Douglas (drum tech)
Main/Aux Hangs: (28) Clair Global i5s (14/side); (16) Clair Global i-DLs
Subs: (28) Clair Global i5bs; (10) S4Ps
Front Fills: (6) Clair Global P2s
Amplification: (52) Crown MacroTech 3600; (18) Lab.gruppen PLM20000Q
FOH Consoles: Avid VENUE Profile
Outboard: Waves V9 Mercury and Studio Live plug-in bundles; Midas XL42 stereo preamp
Recording: Diablo Digital Mac Pro HDx multi-track recording rig with Pro Tools HD
Drive System: (7) Lake Clair iO processors. (3) Lake LM44 processors
Measurement Gear: SMAART v7 with Lectrosonics wireless transmitter/receiver
Vocal Mic: Shure KSM9 HS
Monitor Console: DiGiCo SD5 with SD stage rack
Sidefills: (8) L-Acoustics ARCS with L-Acoustics amps
Wedges: (10) Clair Global CM-22
IEM Hardware: Shure PM1000 and Shure PM600
IEM Earpieces: Jerry Harvey Audio Layla
Wireless: Shure UR1 and UR2 transmitters; UR4 receivers for mics and guitars; Shure Beta 58A capsules on wireless mics
Mics: Shure SM57 (guitar amps); E-V RE20 and Heil PR30 on bass amps; Shure SM91, SM57 and AKG D12e (kick); SM57’s (snare and percussion); Audio-Technica AT AE3000 (toms), AT 4050 (overheads); Shure Beta 58As (hardwired vocals)
Direct Boxes: Radial Engineering J48’s; Palmer PGA 04 amp box