Sunday, February 22, 2009

Little Feat at the Fitz (October 24th, 2008)

I wrote this a while back and didn't have enough interest in the finished product to find a home for it. So, I'm moving the file to this blog and off of my hard drive.

Little Feat at the Fitz (October 24th, 2008)

Back in my cover band musician days, Little Feat was one of the bands I most liked covering. Little Feat’s songs were rhythmic, infectious, melodic, and fun to play. If a musician had jam-band inclinations, the music suited that style. If you were more inclined toward quick and clean three-minute pop tunes, that worked, too. When guitarist-singer-songwriter Lowell George overdosed and died, I stopped paying attention to Little Feat, but after a brief period of unsuccessful solo careers, the remaining members returned to the band and have been touring and recording ever since (Bill Payne released a solo CD in 2005 and Little Feat’s last studio CD was Down Upon the Suwannee River in 2003). They aren't the same band and they haven't shown the level of innovation that George inspired since their prime time days, but they aren't bad.

The band consists of Paul Barrere: lead and backing vocals, guitar; Sam Clayton: percussion, backing vocals; Kenny Gradney: bass; Richie Hayward: drums, backing vocals; Shaun Murphy: lead and backing vocals, percussion; Bill Payne: keyboards, lead and backing vocals; Fred Tackett: guitar, mandolin, trumpet, backing vocals.

Paul Barrere still dredges up the same kind of vocal energy that made him famous in the golden years of Little Feat. Shaun Murphy is pretty good in her backup vocal capacity, but here Broadway-style lead singing excursions are a poor match to the limited talents of whoever was running the Fitzgerald's FOH mix. There were moments of “my mother-in-law's voice” often inspiring deeper penetration of my hearing protection. At least a couple of times, I hut myself trying to get the damn earplugs jammed deep enough to provide a sufficient audible shelter when Murphy's voice screeched over the top of the mix. Billy Payne was in limited voice that night. He could sing, but he didn't sound much like Billy Payne. Maybe that too was the fault of the FOH mix.

As best I can recall, the following tunes made up the set: Hate To Lose Your Lovin', One Clear Moment > Jam > Just Another Sunday, Down On The Farm > Candyman > Down On The Farm, Don't Ya Just Know It, Fat Man In The Bathtub > Get Up Stand Up > Fat Man In The Bathtub, Willin' > Don't Bogart That Joint > Willin', This Land Is Your Land, Spanish Moon, On Your Way Down, Let It Roll, Dixie Chicken, Feats Don't Fail Me Now.

As usual, the FOH mix was overbearing at the beginning of the show; possibly because the fill muzak was so loud that the engineer was hearing-damaged before the show started. We had great 1st balcony seats, but the mix was intolerable in that location. So, we shifted to the 2nd balcony where it was worse. Eventually, we filtered down to the lower level and took up seats that had been vacated by deaf people who rushed the stage in hopes of finishing off their already traumatized hearing capacity. There wasn't a good fidelity seat in the house, so moving only changed the spectrum of upper-midrange distortion and grossly over-used subwoofer-ness.

As usual, I don't know what the FOH goofball was going for, but it wasn't anything that resembled a musical representation of this once-great band's discography. The Fitzgerald offers a decent selection of beer and mixed drinks. I suspect that partaking in large quantities of alcohol would have enhanced my appreciation of the aural mess. It night was a disappointment, though. I've worked and spectated several musical events in the Fitz that were incredible. The venue wasn't at fault and anyone who has attended a Prairie Home Companion Show knows how good the room can sound, in any seat. It was a great opportunity for a band once known for quality and innovation to show off some of those traits. Instead, I was reminded that the past should usually be left for memories and that I should never leave home without my industrial strength earplugs.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Killing Music Loudly

This blog ( is an experiment in communications, which I guess is true for all of this kind of self-aggrandizing, self-marketing drivel. However, what I'd really like to do with Wirebender Audio Rants is to discuss some aspects of professional audio in an open, honest venue (which is why Anonymous Users may post replies here) where we can say what we think without disturbing our professional standings. In other words, if you can't really hear the difference between a real 1176 and a virtual 1176, you can simply say that here, anonymously, and stand back and watch the fur fly.

Google only allows for 10 subscribers, I'm going to be varying the mail-out list for the blog, often. If you are interested in the subject and want to get into this discussion, please go to the blog address and sign on as one of the Wirebender "Ranters." The motivations for creating this blog came last night during the usual ear-punishment some call "live music." As I was being beaten into a coma by overbearing subwoofers, knife-like HF and midrange horns, and a mix that would make a deaf person cringe and an otherwise excellent Dinkytown club, I started thinking about what I would do to the inventor of the subwoofer if I could catch him in a dark alley. Sometimes, I think that same punishment ought to be dealt to all of the inventors of amplified music products, but that's another subject. If there are any classes of invention undeserving of patent protection, it would be weapons, medical devices and drugs, and high power musical amplification products. The first and the last because of their undeniable detriment to progress and the security of the planet and the middle . . . usually for the same reason.

During my years at QSC Audio, I did hundreds of ABX tests on a variety of audio equipment and designs. In the future, I hope to do a whole lot more of the same when I get my new ABX tester built. One of the first things we discovered doing those tests was how fragile and unpredictable the human ear is. Since statistics demonstrates that a significant number of "true" results are necessary to prove a test, we quickly learned that the volume level of any test had to be kept low for accurate results. Pushing the level above 85-90dBSPL quickly turned the best ears into consistently indiscriminant tools. A testee who might have gone 10 for 10 at 85dBSPL would drop to 50% accuracy at 95dBSPL after only 5 attempts.

My conclusion was that the hearing mechanism both fatigues and self-protects, causing a loss of accuracy in high volume conditions. Twenty years later, I find that my tolerance for grossly out-of-balance mixes is considerably lowered. Part of that lack of tolerance is because I know it will only get worse as the night goes on. A FOH engineer who might be reasonably conscientious about muting unused open mics at the beginning of the show will completely forget about those phase-distorting sources after 10 minutes of 125dBSPL noise exposure. 30 minutes into that kind of show, the subwoofers are dominating the sound field, punctuated by screeching upper mids. Any subtlety in the mix will be gone along with the FOH engineer’s hearing.

The longer the FOH engineer has worked this way, career-wise, the less likely it will be that I can tolerate his work. As much as I love music, including pop music, it has become almost impossible for me to enjoy live performance because of the deafening (literally) SPL that live engineers think I need to experience. In 2008, I went to six live performances (outside of my school events) and enjoyed exactly one of those performances (including school events) because of excessive noise exposure.

It would be interesting to know why FOH engineers think all music lovers need to be punished for the crime of submitting themselves to a show.

Wirebender Audio Rants

Over the dozen years I taught audio engineering at Musictech College and McNally Smith College of Music, I accumulated a lot of material that might be useful to all sorts of budding audio techs and musicians. This site will include comments and questions about professional audio standards, practices, and equipment. I will add occasional product reviews with as many objective and irrational opinions as possible.