John Mayer & Counting Crows

Sep 1, 2003 12:00 PM, By Heather Johnson

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“You can rest your bones on me,” reads a large, white sign held by one of the thousands of 20-something young women who jammed Concord, Calif.'s Chronicle Pavilion to hear guitarist/songwriter-turned-pop-wunderkind John Mayer. Dressed in baggy jeans and a long-sleeved, black T-shirt, Mayer, along with co-headliners the Counting Crows, had the packed house swaying and singing to their respective sets of familiar hits, well-crafted album cuts and outta-left-field cover tunes.

The 26-year-old Mayer built a vast network of MP3-downloading, tape-trading fans through rigorous touring and well-received efforts such as the acoustic EP Inside Wants Out, a 1999 DIY project reissued last year by Aware/Columbia. His sudden leap from AAA darling to Grammy-winning pop artist, however, occurred in 2001, when Columbia released the now-triple-Platinum Room For Squares, a full-band effort showcasing his emotive songwriting and fluid melodies. This summer, Mayer hit the road in support of Any Given Thursday, the Platinum-selling live DVD/CD released on Video/Aware in February. He's also giving fans a taste of the Jack Joseph Puig-produced Heavier Things, which hits stores in September.

FOH engineers Chad Franscoviak (John Mayer) and Bruce Jones (Counting Crows) both worked on Harrison's Showconsole, Dallas-based Showco's touring version of the Harrison Live Performance Console (LPC). The digitally controlled, analog audio mixing console features one centrally located, 16-fader subgrouping and auxiliary master section, flanked by two 20-fader input sections capable of controlling up to 80 live inputs. The console's instantly recallable settings, combined with a sophisticated dynamics section, 4-band parametric EQ and highpass filter, easily accommodated the three-act tour, which also included an opening slot shared by Maroon 5 and Graham Colton.

“It's a great-sounding, intuitive console,” says Franscoviak, an Atlanta-based studio and live engineer who began working with Mayer when he was still an up-and-coming club act and occasional session musician. “Like any computer, though, you've got to speak kindly to it; make sure you're on its good side that day.”

Frequencies leaving the console are monitored with Metric Halo's Spectra Foo software, which Franscoviak runs using the Metric Halo Mobile I/O and a Macintosh G4 laptop. “You can visually reference how the speakers, crowd and environment are influencing the mix, among other things,” he says. He also uses an Earthworks omni mic for room monitoring, and he records each concert using Tascam DA-78HR DTRS recorders.

Franscoviak keeps outboard gear to a minimum, using the Showconsole's onboard dynamics for most of the band's guitars and keyboards. Electric guitars are captured using a combination of Shure SM57 microphones and the Hughes & Kettner RedBoxes. For David LaBruyere's bass, Franscoviak opts for a Summit TLA-100A tube-leveling amplifier, while J.J. Johnson's drums are run through a pair of Avalon SP737 tube preamp/EQ/compressors. “I run the entire mix through an Allen Smart C2 Compressor,” he adds. Franscoviak also uses a Lexicon 480L R, TC Electronic M2000 Reverb and 2290 Delay, and an Eventide H3000 for effects.

When it comes to outboard gear and microphone choices, Franscoviak admits to “an incredible amount of experimenting” on Mayer's 40-date shed tour. “Almost every day I throw different mics up on something.” For this particular concert, Franscoviak chose a Beyer TM88 and a Shure Beta 91 microphone for the kick drum, a Neumann KM 184 on the hi-hat, a Shure Beta 98 for the toms and an AKG 414 for the overheads. A Shure SM57 captured the snare drum from the top, while another AKG 414 took care of the bottom. Franscoviak also used a Shure Beta 98 as a snare-rim mic.

Bass and acoustic guitar both ran though the Avalon U5 Instrument DI/preamp. Electric guitars were miked with Shure SM57s, while backing vocals ran through Shure Beta 58s. Meanwhile, Mayer's own deep, breathy voice translated well through a Shure SM86. “John's vocals have a lot of low-mid and high end, but not much midrange, and getting that requires a fair amount of soft compression,” Franscoviak says.

Keeping Mayer's rich vocals audible above a full rock band and a cheering, singing audience presents yet another challenge. “John's fans hang on every word, but that doesn't keep them from being pretty loud themselves,” Franscoviak says. “On the last tour, we played indoor venues, and the level coming from the crowd would overpower the P.A. A lot of the fans sing along with the set, so keeping the band up is always an interesting dilemma.”

For the outdoor tour, the Mayer crew relies on Showco's PRISM Sound System, paired with the Clair iO loudspeaker controller manufactured by Lake Technologies. Showco also provided invaluable tech service and support. “From my experience, it really performs best if you don't carve it up,” Franscoviak says of the PRISM system P.A. “It's all about the right mics, direct boxes, pickups, all of that, as opposed to hacking away at the EQ. It's the most well-thought-out P.A I've used, and gives very even coverage.”

At the Chronicle Pavilion, the PRISM loudspeaker system included five columns of four Showco cabinets (they tour with eight columns of four per side), four front fills, four underfills and six subwoofers per side.

According to monitor engineer Adrian Silverstein, the Clair iO DSP speaker controller provides excellent EQ for the Sensaphonics In-Ear monitors, worn only by Mayer and the technical engineers. “John sings so soft that the wedge just doesn't help Chad out sonically,” says Silverstein, who worked for St. Louis-based production company Airco Audio before hitting the road with Mayer last year. His career also includes a brief stint with Bon Jovi and the Goo Goo Dolls, under the guidance of engineers Raza Sufi and Jon “Boo” Bruey. For Mayer and band, Silverstein runs eight monitor mixes from the Shure PSM 700 beltpack transmitter/receivers through a Clair Bros. RF Power Amplifier, fused with Professional Wireless Systems Helical antenna.

Silverstein also uses a TC Electronic M5000 reverb — found next to the second Showconsole in the area affectionately referred to as “Monitor World” — on Mayer's vocals. In fact, the M5000 is about the only piece of outboard gear Silverstein uses, due to the Showconsole's array of channel dynamics. “In my opinion, if you keep it simple, you're going to get better results,” Silverstein says. “There's less room for error and you're going to get a more natural tone.”

With minimal outboard gear, Silverstein created a natural-sounding monitor mix, one that's able to “breathe” with the music, yet remains audible. FOH mixes for both acts sounded balanced and, mercifully, far from ear-splitting.

Like Mayer, Bay Area rockers the Counting Crows evolved from club-crawling road warriors to a chart-topping arena act, bolstered by landmark success of the 1993 August and Everything After. With a backdrop of mountainous Northern California behind them, the seven-piece played a half-acoustic, half-electric set that included favorites from their vast catalog (“Mr. Jones,” “Hangin' Around” “Rain King”), as well as a spirited cover of the Grateful Dead's “Friend of the Devil.”

Bruce Jones, a 30-year live sound veteran whose credits include REM, David Bowie, Rick James, Ted Nugent and Santana, among others, had his hands full accommodating seven musicians, four of whom change instruments from song to song. Guitarists Dan Vickrey, Matt Malley and David Bryson switched between bass guitar, banjo, mandolin and pedal steel, while keyboardist Charles Gillingham played acoustic grand, Wurlitzer, Hammond B3 and accordion. “Then, of course, everybody wants to hear Adam's [Duritz] vocals right out front,” Jones adds. “You have to keep your hands on the faders at all times.”

Duritz's distinctive voice stood out with the help of a Shure Beta 87 microphone and Sony MU-1 reverb. Jones double-mikes the guitars, using a combination of Shure KSM 32s, Beta 56s and SM57s. Two Shure 91s and a 309 cover the kick drum, an SM57 captures the top of the snare and an 87 catches the shell “to get that fat snare sound,” Jones adds. Audience mics were also Shure models.

Jones keeps two mixes going, one for the live audience and another, with drums and vocals down, for the audience at home. “We release CDs of every show,” he says. “People can go to the Website and get the CD from the board. I burn straight onto a Sony recorder.”

For monitors, engineer Kory Carter faces the daunting task of keeping the seven-piece sonically happy, especially one reportedly particular lead vocalist. Six of the seven bandmembers wear Ultimate Ears in-ear monitors. “We have three floor monitors onstage, and all the rest is in-ear,” Carter says. His mix fills more than 50 channels, but like Silverstein, the Los Angeles-based engineer uses minimal outboard gear. “We don't use a lot of compression or gates because it's all in the Showconsole,” Carter says, adding, “anything to keep it smaller!” He does use a Lexicon PCM 80 reverb and BSS DPR-901 EQ on Duritz's vocals, however.

Carter, who has worked with Counting Crows for more than seven of his 12 years as an engineer, has accompanied the band to small clubs, festivals and stadiums, including memorable dates with The Who, the Rolling Stones and Santana. “A lot of the crew has been here as long, if not longer, than me,” he adds.

Though different in style and background, both the Counting Crows and John Mayer place high value on the live performance, and they allow fans to take the experience home with them, whether it be via downloaded CD or taped in person. Mayer encourages and allows audiotaping, though no sound board or power feeds are provided. On this tour, like others from Mayer's career, fans will have more than enough set lists and stories to exchange. “I haven't seen any two shows performed the same,” Franscoviak says. “It's different every night… although John's gotten a lot better about following a set list.”


San Francisco Bay Area-based freelance writer Heather Johnson is a frequent contributor to Mix.






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