Tour Profile: Primus

Jan 1, 2004 12:00 PM, By Candace Horgan

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For the neophyte at a Primus show, the chant struck up by the band's diehard fans seems disconcerting: “Primus sucks! Primus sucks!” “It just keeps happening and won't go away,” front-of-house engineer Derek Featherstone says with a laugh, from The Fillmore in Denver “The chant dates back to the band's early days.”

After several years away doing other projects, Primus — bassist Les Claypool, drummer Tim Alexander and guitarist Larry LaLonde — hit the road again this past fall. They have always recorded their live shows for archiving, and this tour is no different. Each show is offered for download to fans at www.primuslive.com at $9.95 for an MP3 and $12.95 for a FLAC CD-quality file.

“I am taking the 44 inputs from the band plus two Sennheiser shotgun mics onstage for audience and mixing that to 2-track live,” Featherstone explains. “The combined 2-track mix goes through a little left/right compression and is split to two CD-Rs and a DAT. I stagger the CD-Rs so they run continuously; usually, I start the second one after about 60 minutes. The DAT is a backup. The next morning, we FedEx either the CD-R or DAT to Back Office Music in California where they are prepared for upload. The set list is scanned each night and e-mailed to Zoltron who prepares the CD artwork and graphics you can also download.”

Featherstone, who works through Pro Media/UltraSound, has been with Primus for almost 14 years — “a crazy thought,” he says. Featherstone is using a Gamble EX56 console, which he's been using with the band on every tour since 1991. “It has incredibly good mic preamps, a good EQ section and is very flexible because of the patchbay. It's a great-sounding console.”

Featherstone keeps a rack of effects handy at FOH. “I have a couple of Eventide H3500s, a TC Electronic M5000 dual-engine unit and a TC 2290. For distorted choruses, there is a Roland SDE2500. I have a handful of Aphex and borrowed Crane Song compressors, and one UREI LA-3 for the kick drum. I also have several Aphex 622 noise gates. Primus is a pretty effects-heavy band. I've had most of my effects units for 10 years and have [more than 50] presets stored for each song — the idea being that there is a consistency between effects used on the records and what we reproduce live. On top of that, Tim uses some effects of his own for the drum solo, and Les uses a fair amount of effects processing for loops, distortion and samples.”

Featherstone's drum miking scheme is pretty extensive. For kick, he has an Audio-Technica AT2500, a Shure SM57 on snare and AKG 460s on the two hi-hats. For the three rack toms and the two floor toms, he employs Sennheiser 409s. Featherstone mikes the four Octobans with ATM35s, while the gong bass drum gets an Electro-Voice RE-20. On overheads, there are two Audio-Technica AT4050s, and the ride cymbal gets an AKG 460. On guitars, Featherstone has three channels of Shure SM57 on the cabinets. For bass, he uses Countryman DIs, though he doesn't mike Claypool's cabinets.

All vocal mics are Shure SM57s with a Shure 520DX on Claypool's Green Bullet harmonica mic for an effects mic. Claypool also has a wireless helmet mic on one song. “I think it is a Radio Shack cellular headset microphone with a Shure wireless unit.”

This tour, Primus is using a JBL VerTec line array system. “We have a total of 12 VT4880 subs and 20 VT4889 cabinets. We also use some Meyer MSL2s for front- and near-fills. We power the system with Labgruppen amplifiers with XTA processors. For system tuning, we run two BSS Soundwebs 9088ii with custom software. This is controlled with an IBM Think Pad and a second Think Pad running SIA Smaart Live Version 5.2. Monitor engineer Tom Lyon, system tech Tony Norris and production manager Tim ‘Quake’ Mark all share duties in tuning the system.”

Lyon is using a Gamble EX68 console. “It's actually an FOH board,” he says, “but the old-style patchbay lets you put anything where you want it, so I run the subgroups as aux sends. I'm using a total of two mixes of [Meyer] wedges, two of sidefills and a stereo in-ear feed for Tim, who is using Sensaphonics ear monitors. I love the sonic quality of the Gamble and that I can route anything anywhere.”

Lyon has a Yamaha SPX990 for ambient reverbs for the in-ears, but keeps it light. “Everything else is pretty dry. There is a little bit of outboard EQ and very few compressors in the monitor system. I have to keep it nice and loud to overcome the amps; fortunately, the guys are pretty self-policing about stage volume. We've been out for 10 days so far and it's been pretty smooth.”


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






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