Pearl Jam

Jun 1, 2003 12:00 PM, by Candace Horgan


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Pearl Jam, one of the most important bands of the 1990s, is still a vital force in American rock. Anchored by the passionate singing of lead vocalist Eddie Vedder and the guitars of Stone Gossard and Mike McCready, Pearl Jam — along with Nirvana — propelled grunge rock into the mainstream and fostered a host of less-impressive imitators. The band also pioneered the release of “official boot-legs,” a concept that has been taken up by groups such as Phish and String Cheese Incident. Each show can be ordered at; MP3s of each song from the show are available for download the day after the concert to tide fans over until the CD arrives. The group is currently on the road with a huge production in support of their latest album, Riot Act.

The band's sound engineer, Brett Eliason, has been with Pearl Jam since their first tour. To meet the demands of releasing the shows on CD, Eliason is mixing the show from a truck in the back of the venue, sending a feed to another console at FOH. He is using a Midas XL4 console on this tour. “I chose the XL4 because of its routing capabilities. I have signal going to a lot of places. I wish it had a little more in the way of inputs and outputs — especially outputs — though most people in a live situation don't run into that limitation. I have 56 inputs going, and for outputs, I send 22 lines to FOH, two outputs to stereo recordings and a 48-channel multitrack, all simultaneously.”

From the XL4, he sends one stereo feed to a Panasonic SV3700 DAT; one stereo feed to an Apogee PSX-100 A/D that sends a digital feed to an Apple Powerbook G4 running Pro Tools LE recording in 24/48; one stereo feed to a MOTU 828 FireWire recording setup that sends a feed to another Powerbook G4 running Peak Audio to do the MP3 mixes; and another feed to a 48-track Pro Tools hard drive system. Eliason explains, “When you go online to buy a show, you are given a link to go download MP3s of each song. We knew they would be traded, so we put them at low resolution so people would still want the CDs. The MP3s are uploaded to a Sony server. The 24-bit stereo files for the bootlegs are being uploaded by Wam!Net. We have sites from all of the cities we will play that let us upload the files to a mastering lab in Seattle. When the mastering engineers come in the next morning, the files are waiting for them. They then use the Wam!Net servers to send the mastered files to a Sony pressing plant, so by the second day, the disc images are available for pressing CDs. We are done within 48 hours, and the discs are shipped. I also have an HHB830 Plus CD burner in there so that the band can have whatever they want when they want it. We record everything they play, including soundcheck.”

Meanwhile, Eliason is sending submixes to a Midas Heritage 3000 console at FOH that is run by Mike Scerra, who fine-tunes the mix for the P.A. Says Scerra, “Brett sends me 22 submixes, 20 of which I use. The last two I use to monitor the mix through headphones. The K-T DN3600 is inserted on the left and right and used to control any blatant frequency problems. The Aphex Dominator is used to catch the peaks and contour the high and low end so things don't get too out of hand. The BSS units are standard omnidrive digital DSP crossovers. We run four of them and also use them for other finite EQ. We EQ with those first because you can get much tighter control of the frequencies instead of using the DN3600 to grab a whole octave. I'm doing a mild remix to make sure that the vocals are up and monitor the P.A. to make sure it sounds consistent throughout the show. We use almost no EQ on the console.”

Pearl Jam is carrying an EAW line array provided by Carlson on the current tour; Carlson's Alan Bagley is working as the system tech. “We used the EAW in Seattle for some one-offs we did last year,” Eliason says. “The Key Arena, where the SuperSonics play, is boomy and swirly, and the EAW worked great there; it was easy to control. I was very impressed that in the 300-level seats, you had clarity and power. I had friends sitting up there during the show, and they said they had never gotten that clarity that high up. At FOH, I think we run 102 to 104 dB A-weighted, at a typical 110 feet from the stage.”

Bagley has worked for Carlson for seven years, doing special projects like festivals. He explains the system setup this way: “We use two computer programs. One is the 760 Wizard, which tells us how to aim and hang the thing. To gather data for that, we spend time with some surveyor tools to figure distance and angles. After the system is up, we use Smaart Live to look for minor problems. Mike uses his voice and a couple CDs to fine-tune it further. They don't spend a lot of time at it. Here at Pepsi Center, we are using 24 KF760s and 24 761s — 12 on a side — 24 SB1000s subs — stacked three high and four wide on each side of the stage — nine KF750s and KF755s for rear coverage, and six JF2000s underneath the front of the stage for the nearfills. I'd prefer to put them on the front edge of the stage, but because of the front-line monitors being so close to the edge of the stage, we can't put them there. The Pepsi Center is a really tall room; the bottom of the P.A. is about 39 feet off of the ground, which is the highest I've ever run a P.A. That seems the best way to run line arrays, though, to assure better coverage front to back. Other than demo'ing other people's line arrays, this is a relatively new field for us. We've been an EAW company for a long time and like the way the boxes perform. We like the consistency of sound from each box. We thought about some other line arrays, but it would have been a real departure for us. Also, when we purchased this P.A., we did it specifically for this tour because the demo we did at the Key Arena went fabulously well, and Brett and Mike loved the system. All of the amps are QSC Powerlight 6.0s and 4.0s. We have the 4.0s for the highs and 6.0s for mids, lows and subs. We use two BL236s for the nearfills, 12 6.0s per side and three 4.0s for the front. We have additional QSCs on the rear P.A.s, three each of 4.0s, 3.4s, and 3.8s for the 750s and 755s.”

Monitors are handled by Karrie Keyes, who has been working with Pearl Jam for 12 years: “I started by doing shows in clubs and theaters in L.A., which is where I am based,” she says. “I was doing monitors for the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Pearl Jam was the opening band, so at the end of the tour, I hooked up with them. For years, I did both bands and leapfrogged back and forth. Since Pearl Jam and the Peppers overlap with each other, I sometimes cover for the Peppers' monitor guy, but I am pretty much full time with Pearl Jam now.”

Keyes mixes on a Yamaha PM 4000M, which she says is not her first choice, but the choice of the band. “We've done so many tours, especially in the early years when we would tour almost constantly, and that is the board they got used to. Every time I use a different console, the sound is never quite right.”

The monitor system is provided by Rat Sound Systems Inc. and has been designed especially over the years to meet the exacting needs of the band. Keyes details each player's mix as follows: “The monitor system is almost completely a Triamp system, predominantly using Klark Teknik DN800 crossovers and TAD 2-inch drivers with waveguide horns. These were designed for the band in order to make vocals as loud and clear as possible onstage. Stone has an L-Wedge for all instrumentation and guitars. He also has an S-Wedge for his vocal, a Trap 5 sidefill triamp cabinet with full instrumentation in it, and a Rat Sub cabinet for kick and bass. Ed has two S-Wedges for vocals and an L-Wedge for instruments. He gets guitar, his acoustics and ukulele, and a lot of cues throughout the show from Mike and Stone, but they aren't in there all the time. He also has four S-Wedges for rearfills with vocal, and two vocal monofills in Rat Trap 5 triamp cabinets on the stage. Jeff has an M-Wedge with a McCauley 15-inch driver in it. It is a triamp wedge, but I only use the McCauley in it, and he just gets low end from the kick drum. He also has a Rat-designed bass wedge in front of him, but it's controlled by his Ampeg heads. Mike has an L-Wedge and gets a little of Stone in it and that's it. That side of the stage has a lot of hearing issues, so I keep it quiet over there. Any high end just kills Jeff and Mike; they both share a Rat Sub that has low end from the kick. Matt has two Rat Trap 4 drumfill cabinets and a Rat Sub. He has just about everything in there; I don't think there is one instrument on stage that he doesn't have. Boom has an M-Wedge and gets kick and snare, his keys, all of Stone's guitars and Ed's vocal.”

While music is, obviously, the band's primary focus, the members of Pearl Jam have also gained notoriety speaking out on issues that concern them. During the 2000 presidential election, they encouraged listeners to vote for Ralph Nader. They have also been vocal in their (unsuccessful) challenge of Ticketmaster. And controversy continues to follow them: The song “Bu$hleaguer,” a scathing indictment of President Bush, and the group's stance against the war in Iraq have drawn criticism in some circles. They're sure to keep stirring things up, politically and musically, as the Riot tour continues into the summer months.

Candace Horgan is a freelance writer based in the Denver area.

Want to learn more about Pearl Jam's mic set-up onstage? Click here for the scoop.

Portraits of Pearl Jam onstage, by photographer Michael Weintrob /

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