Tour Profile: Lucinda Williams

Jan 1, 2004 12:00 PM, By Christopher Walsh


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“That should be the porch up there,” says Nathan Harlow, front-of-house engineer for Lucinda Williams, gesturing toward the stage of New York's Beacon Theatre, barren but for a drum kit, amps and mic stands.

Williams, touring behind her Lost Highway Records release, World Without Tears, makes any stage her own, bringing her homey, Southern sensibility to any setting, be it an Austin roadhouse or an Upper West Side theater.

Armed with a 1954 Fender Esquire or Gibson J-45 acoustic guitar, Williams is spellbinding — 3,000 New Yorkers hang on every note: country rockers, and plaintive, solo acoustic performances alike. Four-piece band and audience, nothing separates the two. Williams' heartfelt, wistful voice fills the theater, complemented by Doug Pettibone's outstanding guitar work. Tremolo, pedal steel and the twang of countrified rock 'n' roll twang wash over the crowd.

Harlow is new to Williams' crew but he is a veteran of innumerable gigs at San Francisco's Fillmore and Warfield Theaters, along with multiple world tours, including the Further Festival, Primus, Prince and Rob Zombie. With Williams, however, variety can be found from one night to the next.

“We play tiny cowboy clubs with an Allen & Heath [console] or less,” he says. “We did some in Austin; little shows. They came off great, because she loves that environment. And then we do large venues with huge systems. You've got to go between the two of them.”

Perhaps to reflect the simplicity of her superb songwriting and straightforward delivery, the tour carries very little hardware; in fact, Harlow carries just one rack. Local sound reinforcement companies provide loudspeaker arrays, consoles, wedges and additional outboard gear, with RSA Audio Services of Edgewood, N.Y., handling the two Beacon dates.

“I use the Symetrix [551E 5-band] parametrics, two channels for the mains,” Harlow explains. “I just plug that in-line before their drive system. Typically, I'm only using two or three filters to tighten up the low end.

“I have an ATI Pro 6,” Harlow continues, pointing to the multimode processor. “It has a preamp, highpass/lowpass filters, parametric EQ, compressor and a gate that I never use. I inserted a BSS 901 for her voice; the frequency-dependent EQ really helps, because she goes from sultry to loud, and her lyrics are most important.”

For the Beacon Theatre, RSA provided Yamaha PM4000 consoles for both the FOH and monitor positions. Also at FOH are dbx 160 and 160XT compressor/limiters and a 166XL compressor/limiter/gate. Other effects include a pair of Klark-Teknik DN300 graphic EQs, Yamaha SPX900 and SPX990 multi-effects processors, a Lexicon PCM 80, a Roland SDE-3000A digital delay, a Behringer Ultra Curve and an Eventide H3000SE Ultra Harmonizer.

“I moderately compress the kick drum channels, bass DI channels and her acoustic channels,” says Harlow. “They go from a real soft, brushstroke-y snare to good, country-rock beats. I try to get that in a pocket, but not so squished that everything's the same. Then I do a drum subgroup, and then just compress the two background vocals, as I already have my vocal rack for Lucinda. The ‘visiting’ compressors are dbx tonight. We'll see what we have tomorrow night.”

Williams endorses Audix microphones. She and bandmates Pettibone, Taras Prodaniuk (bass) and Jimmy Christie (drums) rely on a complement of OM-6, D-3 and D-4 mics. “The one thing I've been changing out is the vocal mic,” says Harlow. “[Audix] sent out their new [VX-10] condenser vocal mic, and it's good. I used it just last night, and I'll use it again tonight.

“I've also been playing with different kick drum mics,” Harlow adds. “Right now, we have the Audio-Technica dual-element — the [AE2500] condenser and dynamic — which is really nice. Jimmy wanted to check it out, and I know he's going to love it for recording at home. He does a lot of that.”

To power the “back porch,” RSA supplied a JBL VerTec line array system. “We just bought the VerTecs a little less than a year ago,” says RSA audio engineer Mike Murphy. “We're in the process of changing over power, but we're still using the Carver racks that we had from our conventional full-rig system. So everything that's here is Carver PM 1.5s.”

The outboard supplement at the monitor position is similar to FOH, says Harlow, with additional Klark-Teknik EQs. “We use no compression, reverb or gates in the monitors,” he says. “That's all pretty natural. With this band, coming from the source, my job is to keep it clean and natural. It's really about sound reinforcement, as opposed to sound enforcement. I'm not trying to change anything; I'm just trying to make it a little bigger.

“She's an important artist, somebody who needs to be heard,” he adds. “It's a pleasure to try to get her lyrics across. Everybody feels like she's singing to them personally.”

Christopher Walsh is a veteran pro audio journalist.

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