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    Live Rock For The Audiophile

    Introduction


    Three live concerts: Dead & Company, Yes, and Radiohead. From somewhere in the front 10 rows and back of the venue.


    The Grateful Dead, in 1974, introduced the famous "Wall of Sound" to bring a better amplification system for the audience at their concerts. Much has been written but the basic concept was that each instrument had its own amplifier resulting in less intermodulation distortion. The key to getting the best sound at a rock concert remains with this idea. 

     


    Dead & Co: Riverbend, June 2018

     


    Shakedown Street


    The vending area in the parking lot or a set aside field is an essential part of Grateful Dead culture and the band of fans and vendors that follow the group on tour. Fans usually arrive en mass about an hour before the concert for food, pop-up bars, t-shirts, memorabilia. Like "Alice's Restaurant", you can get anything you like. Shakedown Street is the The Grateful Dead tailgate, and not to be missed before a concert. The group has been touring off, and on, in one form or another for over 50 years.

     


    Current lineup


    The death of Jerry Garcia in 1995 marked the end of the original era. The other four original members got together for a series of concerts in 2015. The current lineup of "Dead & Co" includes John Mayer along with original Bob Weir, Mickey Hart and Bob Kreutzman

     


    Riverbend, June 2018


    We hung out at Shakedown Street before the show and then made our way to the pit. Very relaxed crowd and we easily made our way close to the front of the stage. The sound was fantastic as expected. Notice the individal microphones and amps for each instrument. Riverbend is an outdoor arena and there are large arrays of speakers above and to the sides, projecting sound to the larger audience. The sound we heard, primarily seemed to come from the stage amps and speakers. John Mayer did a great job and we had fun. Didn't think about the "sound system" during the concert. The individual guitar amps seem to be either the classic Vox or similar tube amps. Unlike the home system, in this case the "soundstage" is formed by the individual speaker/amps. I've learned that these are mic'd for output to the main PA system which is clearly Class D or similar high powered. Note the abundance of on stage powered speakers.

     

    





     

     

     

     

     

     

     


    Yes: PNC Pavilion, July 2018

     


    Returned to PNC Pavillion, the little brother of Riverbend and part of the same complex, for "the Yes "An Evening with Yes". We had seats in the right Pit approximately 8 rows from the front. As seen from the video clip, there are also small stage amps, but our seats were closer to one of the large arrays to each side of the stage. Steve Howe's guitar playing was itself magical. He is unquestionably a master of the instrument and, like Bob Weir, its remarkable that they have been performing for 50 years! From an audiophile perspective, however, when the band played together and loud, the individual instruments blurred together. I found this distracting. In this case being seated close to the edge of the stage was not a good spot to listen to "Close to the Edge". Further back near the mixing box, the sound was similarly blurred when loud. Rather than sitting back and listening to the concert, I found myself increasingly listening to the sound system.

     


    This wideangle video shows the banks of speakers. 




     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     


    Radiohead: US Bank Arena July 2018

     


    The site of the infamous The Who concert of 1979 in which 11 teenagers and young adults were trampled in the rush to enter the arena for sold-out festival seating. Cincinnati subsequently banned festival seating until 2004. We got general admission tickets. When we arrived at 5pm there was already an orderly line forming. The gates opened at 6PM. We headed right for the center of the moon shaped pool of people congregating at the front of the stage after grabbing a couple of beers from a vendor. Johnny Greenwoods Jujun opened. Note the individually mic'd instruments and VOX guitar amps. Perfect soundstage! 




     

     

    IMG_3747.JPG

     

     

     

     


    When Radiohead started I was mesmerized. There are many Youtube videos of concerts -- some terrific and with excellent sound but none of these compared to seeing and hearing them live and up-close.


    US Bank Arena doesn't have a great reputation for sound either but from our position the sound was terrific. Similarly guitar feeds into on stage Vox (or similar) amps. Huge speaker arrays way above and to the sides of us.


    My impression of modern rock has been multimic'd multitrack recordings assembled by the mastering process into a final stereo production. What amazed me was that the blend of purely acoustic sounds, with analog instruments and vacuum tube amps, along with electronic samples, midi etc ... and all live. During warm up it was clear that the drums had both a direct sound as well as a midi feed into sampling/DSP. Two drummers full time, and up to four with both the Greenwood brothers playing drums on one song! These complex rhythms are performed live. Whoever is routing the instruments through the MIDI/sampling is an unsung live performer! 


    Daydreaming is the opening song. Carefully organized, a symphony of motion, sound, light. The soundstage was full and ambient. I didn't listen for instruments in a particular location in space, rather sounds fill the space from right to left up and down, with reverberation from back to front. 


     

     

     

     


    Desert Island Disk the acoustic guitar and bass lead into vocals. In this case the guitar is precisely located on the stage which is otherwise filled with swirling electronic samples. "Different types of love are possible"... 

     

     

     

     

     

     


    Ful Stop the stage pounds with a hard driving beat, electronics, and blaring blue lights. Raw energy fills the arena. "You've really messed up everything." ... the guitars enter ... "Truth will mess you up." I'm hypnotized. 

     

     

     

     


    2+2=5 We head back to "Hail to the Thief" seamlessly. Thom Yorke is fully warmed up and on fire. 


    Myxomatosis The entire crowd is rocking to this raw energy version. Is the bass synthesized? I'm just having fun. This might have been my favorite song of the night ... might 


    Kid A MIDI Synth with a swirling soundstage, electronic. Wow this is live! Of all the songs, I'd have thought this was a studio creation. 


    All I Need Electronic Love Song. Swaying Back and Forth with my arm around my wife. Singing to eachother. The bells are real bells ... who would've thought that will all the synth and electronic equipment they'd bring real bells. 


    Videotape Awesome piano. Sure its a sampled piano. Do I care? 


    Lucky Back to OK Computer. Wow, I'm realizing that these songs flow effortlessly from 1997-2016. This is a unified performance. 


    Bloom of all the songs you'd think are synthesized, they are playing this live. Hmmm. Real drums.


    Ok so the rest is equally terrific and they close with How to Disappear completely, perfect. We use this as an opportunity to head up to grab some food & beer and the remainder of the review takes this into account. Firstly I realize how lucky we were to be so close because the entire arena is filled and everyone is standing even in the nosebleed seats. They do two encore sets: a total of 8 songs! Immediately I notice that the music is blurred. Its still as loud as it was on the floor but now loud and muddled. Its an entirely different experience.

     


    Second Encore

     


    The Bends Woah! Of course the crowd erupts and sings along. From 1995 blending in perfectly with music from this decade. 


    Weird Fishes


    Karma Police and Thom Yorks ends with an acoustic sing-a-long with the audience... perfect.

     

     


    Closing Food for Thoughts


    When you are having fun and it sounds right, the details of the soundsystem fade into the background. Modern guitar bands continue to use tube based amplifiers and these amplifiers are mic'd to send to the large PA system. Avoiding this PA system is the key to great sound. Don't worry about getting close and center because the large amps and speakers don't project at you, rather you get on stage sound which is remarkably better. This isn't subtle. The Dead were inventors/early proponents of the "Wall of Sound" i.e. individially mic'd and amplified instruments. Whether this is due to lower intermodulation distortion, avoidance of "Class D etc" amplifiers, or avoidance of overload distortion, the sound coming from the linear banks of speakers is horribly distorted comparted with the smaller on stage powered speakers. 


    This supports the idea that multi-amped systems with an amplifier per speaker element (at home "Wall of Sound") may be the best way to reproduce complex rock music. My experiences also support the idea to me, that the specifications of the individual ampliers remain critical regardless of the music source. 
     

     

     

     




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    Glad you enjoyed the shows but I am done with it. I used to love to go to concerts. My first was Led Zeppelin in 1970 and have been to too many since to count. The real Dead a few times, Led Zeppelin twice, Yes, Steve Miller, David Bowie, Kansas, Bob Seger, the real Allman Brothers, Bob Dylan, America, Seals and Croft, Kenny Loggins, Dave Mason, and probably 30 others, 

     

    My recent experiences though have made me rethink the whole thing and I doubt I will ever go again. Why? Deaf sound engineers who turn up the volume so loud it makes your ears ring and distorts the sound so much it is basically unlistenable. I recently saw Tedeschi Trucks (who I love) in a great hall but left halfway through because it was ear bleeding loud. I saw John Hiatt at the Ryman and it was so loud and distorted you couldn't understand any of what he sang or said. The worst was an "acoustic evening" with John Hiatt and Lyle Lovett. At the same venue as Tedeschi Trucks where our local symphony plays, it was the 2 of them on stage sitting and playing acoustic guitars. They could have played un-amplified and filled the hall with sound, but again, they were miked and it was so loud and distorted you couldn't understand what they were saying. I could go on. The only recent exception was when I saw Glenn Campbell on his farewell tour at the Ryman and the sound was excellent. I hate to be Debbie Downer, and I used to say "if it is too loud you are too old" and maybe I am, but I will no longer spend the kind of money they charge these days for a garbled mess.

     

     

     

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    That was one of the good things about the original Grateful Dead (and also now Dead & Co).  It was never so loud that you couldn't have a conversation.  I didn't see Dead & Co. this year, but did the previous two years, and the volume level was quite moderate.  You can get high res recordings of any of the concerts at nugs.net (as well as mqa, mp3, redbook, etc), and the sound quality is quite good.  As for the concerts themselves, it definitely isn't the same experience, but it an experience that stands on its own merit.  I think the long-term goal is to keep the tradition going long into the future, when all of the original protagonists are .... dead.

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    Radiohead...ACL 2016 Week 2...Awesome...one of the best shows ever I have seen at ACL (attended 10+ times).  A good live show is better than any cd/record.

     

    This year...Metallica...Paul McCartney...The National

     

    Thanks for posting.

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    Great article @jabbr I love rock concerts, but as you say, the trick is to get in front of the stage. I was once a FOH mixer for a number of acts in Western Canada and always used a calibrated sound level meter to keep it around 95 dB SPL at the mixing console back in the crowd. That was a good level, sounded clean and punchy, did not require ear plugs - no ear ringing the next day. 

     

    But that was years ago and now the trend is for ridiculous volumes. I saw one of my favourite alt bands at an awesome venue in Vancouver The SPL back in the room was over 111 dB SPL - insane. Must wear ear plugs. However, moving to the front of the stage I measured around 95 dB SPL  and sounded great and for an hour or two concert, don't need ear plugs.

     

    I agree completely on a multi-amped home system with one amp per speaker to reproduce complex rock. That's what I have in my listening room right now.

     

    Again awesome article!

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    Thanks for the article!

     

    I've lost my interest for giant stadiums.  I do have fond memories of seeing Jorma Kaukonen at a local venue holding a couple hundred people a few years ago.  You could walk up to the stage an shake hands in between breaks.  Similar experiences in NoLa clubs.

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    1 hour ago, Ralf11 said:

     

    I've lost my interest for giant stadiums.  I do have fond memories of seeing Jorma Kaukonen at a local venue holding a couple hundred people a few years ago.  You could walk up to the stage an shake hands in between breaks.  Similar experiences in NoLa clubs.

    No doubt! Small venues are great.

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    BTW, we are having an extended debate in the local paper on the... ah... propriety of having a youngster like John Mayer replace Jerry.  Also, there have been numerous concerns expressed re the -luxury- shows in California recently.

     

    maybe Dr. 40S will post his attendance impressions...

     

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    1 hour ago, Ralf11 said:

    BTW, we are having an extended debate in the local paper on the... ah... propriety of having a youngster like John Mayer replace Jerry.  Also, there have been numerous concerns expressed re the -luxury- shows in California recently.

     

    maybe Dr. 40S will post his attendance impressions...

     

    I don't think Dr. Palade was in attendance ... oh you mean his young replacement 😆Please!!

     

    John Mayer did a great job ... not Jerry of course but that's fine. He played well as a band member, no grandstanding. He didn't play his own material. Jerry has been gone for a long time and no one can replace him. The show was great. The vibe was great. The music was great. Really fun time. Of course it brings back old memories -- but John is a terrific and in my mind welcome addition as a musician.

     

    California concerns?

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    3 hours ago, jabbr said:

     

    California concerns?

     

    some are saying the high prices and luxo-feel is "wrong"

     

    I didn't go but a friend did and had a great time (OTOH, he lives in Mini-soda now)

     

    I saw a nice Jaguar heading to a Dead Show in the '70s so am used to the ... um... non-VW Bus crowd

     

    I should add that our local paper reflects the town - it is like the parking lot outside a Dead show 24-7-365

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    21 hours ago, jabbr said:

    Let me reemphasize — get as close to front and center of the stage — it’s NOT louder, you avoid the huge speaker arrays and the sound is much cleaner. When you are off to the side or much farther back the sound is both louder and garbled!

     

    For all the shows I mentioned we were in the first few rows. Relatively small venues, concert halls maybe 1500 seats, and it was ear bleeding loud. I got up and walked around the hall and went up to the balcony. Everywhere I went it was ear bleeding loud. It's not a case of where you can get in between the banks of speakers like at an outdoor venue. 

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    2 hours ago, bbosler said:

     

    For all the shows I mentioned we were in the first few rows. Relatively small venues, concert halls maybe 1500 seats, and it was ear bleeding loud. I got up and walked around the hall and went up to the balcony. Everywhere I went it was ear bleeding loud. It's not a case of where you can get in between the banks of speakers like at an outdoor venue. 

     

    Thats too bad!

     

    No doubt there are venues with really bad acoustics — likewise there are bad sound engineers — perhaps at these small venues they can’t afford good sound engineers or equipment?

     

    Grateful Dead has a really long history of using really great sound equipment — it’s legendary.

     

    Radiohead likewise uses surprisingly sophisticated sound — an entirely different level of complexity that’s amazing to see in real life.

     

    I was really disappointed with Yes whose music is complex and whose recording I use to stress test audio systems. The venue was smaller eg 3K or so vs 16-20K for the others. Perhaps they couldn’t afford to bring along their own equipment? 

     

    In in any case, sure it’s not only where you sit but the quality of the sound engineer & equipment.

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    I saw Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit play last year at The Rose Music Theater north of Dayton, OH, and the sound was really outstanding.  Not too loud, good and clear.  Obviously, the performance was excellent, at least from my perspective.  Venues that size are just about perfect - not too big, not too small.  I've seen all sorts of bands from stadium size to small intimate places, and, for me, places like Rose are about the right amount of everything. 

     

    Wolf Trap in greater DC is probably the best place to enjoy a band show IMHO - I've seen Wilco there a couple times as well as Cowboy Junkies, and they have a house sound that is subtle enough for the quiet that still has the ability to bite when the music calls for it.  When the government pays to maintain the venue, you'll find that it sounds just stellar.

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    It must be very difficult to go to a new venue every day or two and try to figure out - ahead of time - how to set up for best SQ.

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    I've long known that the sound up close is way better than back where the PA system is your primary sound system. Other than for bands like Cactus or the MC5, it's also nowhere near as body-tunneling loud. That may be why despite going to several concerts a month for years and years, my hearing is still exceptionally good in my 60s. (I also used to wear earplugs when performing, monitors deafened a lot of my friends...)

     

    The one exception to that was when a few bands toured with quadrophonic sound. If you weren't back far enough to be hearing the front PA systems, the sound mixing and behavior didn't make sense at all. Oddly, the most engaging place for the quadrophonic concerts was OUTSIDE of the quad zone - music meandered or danced around in front of you then. I laughed my way through most of an ELP quadrophonic concert - they did a lot of fun stuff.

     

    The superior quality of stage sound versus PA sound is one reason I don't go to live arena or even large stage shows any more. The cost to be up close verges on obscene for most bands, and the robot buyers gut the close up ticket pool.  After not enjoying a couple of very expensive concerts, I stopped going to rock concerts. With jazz concerts, they still play a lot of venues where you can sit so close you're hearing the music like you're one of the band.  That's my kind of engagement.

     

    For rock, concert videos, my big screen TV and my 7.1 audio setup are just fine for me now.

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    I photographed Pearl Jam this week twice at Safeco field here in Seattle, the baseball stadium with 47,000 in attendance. I've worked with the band for 25 plus years so got full run of the house to shoot the entire shows, and the sound, in an open air stadium, was nothing less than phenomenal, from the pit to the 300 level. It can be done. 

     

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    33 minutes ago, charlesphoto said:

    I photographed Pearl Jam this week twice at Safeco field here in Seattle, the baseball stadium with 47,000 in attendance. I've worked with the band for 25 plus years so got full run of the house to shoot the entire shows, and the sound, in an open air stadium, was nothing less than phenomenal, from the pit to the 300 level. It can be done. 

     

    OMG!!!!!!!!

     

    My favorite band of all time!!!!!!!

     

    I had tickets for both Seattle shows and for the Missoula show coming up. Unfortunately our three-legged Chihuahua broke her only front leg remaining and we had to stay home to care for her. 

     

    Im so bummed I missed those shows. 

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    Oh wow. Are we Facebook “friends?” Send me a request (Charles Peterson, Seattle - got a PJ shot for my cover), and I’ll friend you. I’m also doing a limited edition print run with 1XRUN to coincide with the tour. New print unveiled each stop. 10% goes to a local homeless charity in the spirt of the Seattle concerts. https://www.1xrun.com/exhibitions/charles-peterson-drop-in-the-park/.  These are about 1/5th the price of my usual edition of 16X20 but they won’t be available ever again at this size and price after Sept 12th. Sorry for the plugging, just thought you’d like to know who I am. :) 

     

    Been shooting these guys off and on for almost 26 years. And I just posted some great pics from yesterday’s Sub Pop 30th Anniversary on Alki Beach. Mudhoney, The Fastbacks, Metz, Shabazz Palaces etc. It’s now, August 11th, officially by decree of the Mayor Sub Pop Day. And I was there from the very beginning. Best, CP

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    What was Yes like without Chris Squire and Jon Anderson...

    My first album was Close to the Edge, so I have a personal view on who I consider the real Yes... 

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    2 hours ago, marce said:

    What was Yes like without Chris Squire and Jon Anderson...

    My first album was Close to the Edge, so I have a personal view on who I consider the real Yes... 

     

    The current "battle" between the two competing groups is not amusing ... Steve Howe makes the show, and still going after all this time! Billy Sherwood is an excellent musician ... I had seen "Yes" in the 2015 CT show after Chris Squire's death -- he selected Sherwood to continue in his stead. Im not a huge Jon Davidson fan but he does a great job of soundling remarkably like Anderson. They played mostly their old material. The keyboardist Geoff Downes also an excellent performer, better than when Tony Kaye returned for the second half ... bewildering changes in lineup over the years.

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