The Rolling Stones were certainly living up to the name of their new 2014 tour dates, which kicked off in Abu Dhabi in February. The 14 on Fire tour played three storming nights in Tokyo, then travelled to the Cotai Arena, Macau, where a Clair Brothers i218 three-way active line array system, specified by front of house engineer Dave Natale, made its debut with the band.
There is no doubt that the five shows, plus two extra dates in Shanghai and Singapore added after the tour was announced, saw the band – now mostly in their seventies – in top form, rocking arenas and delivering up the unique experience that is a Rolling Stones concert.
The Stones are a long-term Clair Global client, having first toured with the company in the 1970s, with Clair’s S4 and i5 systems used in the past. Mr Natale has mixed the band since their Bigger Bang tour in 2005, and is now a self-confessed fan of the i218 system. This isn’t faint praise; Mr Natale is somewhat a veteran of touring, from his first major outing as a young Clair Brothers employee under the tutelage of Roy Clair on a Yes tour in the late 1970s, and as a freelancer since leaving the company in 1987 to work with Van Halen. He’s experienced a few PA systems in his time, having toured with a wide variety of acts, from Liza Minelli, Tina Turner and Lionel Richie through to Fleetwood Mac and Mötley Crüe.
‘I decided on the i218 system for this show because it is simply a great sounding box, in my opinion,’ says Mr Natale. ‘Because of the full range capability, it offers you the choice to use it alone or with the iS218 subwoofer. I chose to use it alone. I do not like ground stacked subs for several reasons, one reason being that the people in the first 10 or so rows get pounded unnecessarily by low-end. That is simply not right, no matter how you look at it. The other reason is that the low end has a tendency to roll back on the stage, and this is generally not good for the performers.’
The choice of system was ideal for this venue, an indoor arena in the colossal Venetian Macau hotel with a seating capacity of up to 15,000 people. Originally constructed as a basketball arena, there are restrictions to what can be suspended from the roof. This could have been a problem if the system had needed subs; however the i218-Ms provide a frequency response of 38Hz to 20kHz from a single cabinet, allowing a single box solution to be flown.
Clair Global provided all equipment for the tour, with PA systems sourced locally in Abu Dhabi and parts of South East Asia. ‘We generally carry all of our own gear including the PA system when we are on tour in the US, Europe, Japan and Australia,’ explains Mr Natale. ‘When we tour in regions where the gear must fly from gig to gig, such as South East Asia and perhaps South America, we pick up PA systems locally in order to not incur massive air freight costs.’
Accordingly, a Clair Global i-5/i-5B touring system was used for the Tokyo shows, while an L-Acoustics K1 system was used in Abu Dhabi and Shanghai, and a Meyer Sound Leo system for the Marina Bay Sands concert in Singapore. The i218 system for the Macau show was supplied by Clair Brothers Indonesia, the company’s largest rental partner in Asia.
Technical support for the Stones’ crew came in the shape of Wayne Grosser, managing director of Clair Brothers Australia; Josh Sadd, senior R&D engineer at Clair Brothers Audio Systems and the Stones/Clair Global systems engineer Jo Ravitch, with Clair Brothers Audio Systems’ vice president of business development Fabien Bareille overseeing proceedings.
Initial system designs had been worked out in mid-December last year, using EASE Focus 3-D acoustic simulation software to determine the system’s coverage and mapping. The final system design was completed around a month before the March 9th show, with the team working on CAD drawings sent by the venue’s senior production manager, Stephan Reed, consulting a local rigging company for correct information about the venue’s loading capacities.
‘We went through the rigging, the loading points, the power supplies and what was available and what wasn’t, to be as prepared as possible before we arrived,’ explains Mr Grosser. ‘Clair’s senior product specialist Steve McCale carried out the first round of design, and Josh and the rest of us took over. It’s always a good thing to have a collective, and at Clair Brothers we work together as a team. Chris Fish and Clement Choi from DMT, Clair’s China and Hong Kong system support partner, came over to support us in Macau as it’s their territory, with a few of the elements coming from Hong Kong to make up the numbers.’
A main front of house hang of 14 elements per side was worked out, and the crew arrived at the venue two days before the show to bring their designs to life. Two main hangs were flown per-side, each consisting of 10 i218-Ms and four i218-LT long throw versions. A further 10 i218-Ms were hung from 15m scaffold towers for out-fill at each side of the venue together with four i212s at the top of the towers, covering the upper bleacher section. Four of Clair’s new kiT12 speakers provided front fill. The system was powered by eight Clair Brothers PLM 20K i218 amp racks, two PLM 10K i212 amp racks and a PLM4000 kiT12 10K amp rack.
With the last of the Tokyo dates falling on March 7th, the crew arrived in Macau less than two days before the concert. Here, the i218’s integral rigging system proved its worth, allowing the technical team to fly the system quickly and smoothly.
‘It takes about an hour to fly two main hangs with this system,’ says Mr Grosser. ‘One of the key things with a Clair Brothers product is that we’ve been our own best customer for 48 years, so we’ve had some practice at designing systems that work. It all comes down to engineering. Also, having no subs meant the system was all flown and totally clean. We wouldn’t have had room to stack subs even if the band had allowed it, as the front of the stage extended out into the audience with a cut-out tongue shape inside where the VIP area was.’
‘In my opinion the system performed flawlessly!’ adds Mr Natale. ‘For a one box system there was more than enough low end. This is a prime concern of mine.’
Adds Mr Grosser, ‘This system was powerful enough to cover the venue yet not too large for its rigging capacity. The top four elements of each array were our new long-throw i218s which have a 2.5-degree angle on the vertical and 90-degrees on the horizontal. The mid-range section is the same as the i218s, with six 6-inch drivers and two 18-inch ones, but they feature eight rather than three high frequency drivers. The eight cabinets hit the back nicely and the coverage was really good, even right up at the back with the follow spots. We were up there ourselves, and were hearing everything we would have done at FOH. The SPL was very even throughout the whole venue.’
Clair Global also provided Mr Natale with his front of house console of choice: a Yamaha PM4000. ‘I am a great believer in analogue gear,’ he explains. ‘As I am very fond of saying, "Your ears are analogue, and they always will be." I use the Yamaha PM4000 for its reliability. I like an analogue console because it will not “do” anything unless I tell it to. I know that this may sound a bit weird, but I don’t use any outboard gear for the Stones - no gates, no compressors and no effects.’
Onstage, monitor engineer Robert Bull was at the controls of a Midas H4000 console, with TC 1128 equalisers and Yamaha SPX990 effects units in the rack. The band was using a combination of Shure in-ear monitors, Clair 12AM stage monitors, R4 side-fills and i-5B drum monitor subs, powered by Lab.gruppen amplifiers.
‘As far as microphones go, I use good old Shure SM57s on the guitars and snare top and bottom, wired or wireless Shure SM58s on the vocals, Sennheiser 421s on the bass and saxes, Sennheiser 409s on the toms, AKG 414s on the overheads and Neumann KM184s on the hi hat and ride cymbal,’ says Mr Natale. ‘I use Radial Duplex and J48 direct boxes on the keys and Countryman direct boxes on the bass.’
The list of classic microphones and analogue consoles, together with the i218 system and its ability to perform without extra subwoofers, speaks volumes about the band and their experienced road crew. The clean, stripped-down system totally epitomises a band that’s finely honed from years on the road and in the studio, and a crew of audio experts who don’t feel the need to rely on the biggest (and newest) PA rigs, consoles and racks available.
Still belting out a multitude of classic hits and delighting fans of all ages, the Stones will continue their tour with 14 shows in Europe in May, June and July and will return to Australia and New Zealand later in the year.