Why won’t you talk about Costa Mesa?

Well, because it was my least favorite show of the tour, thanks for asking. I can explain why, and it has nothing to do with the performances of the band members directly, but what happened to our monitor mix right before we went on…

[UPDATE] I spoke to someone in the Furs organization yesterday and he corrected me- it was not our Aux Monitor mix, it was our entire digital I/O rig, which stands for Input/Output. In civilian speak, that’s EVERYTHING onstage and how it gets to the mixing board and then back to the speakers. So… it’s truly amazing that a show happened at all.[/UPDATE]

Let me quote myself, if I may, from a long letter to the Furs Faithful on their own webboard, Burned Down Days. I was responding to some thoughtful and gentle criticisms leveled by the band’s fans after the Costa Mesa show, and I am quoting a previous comment by a user named “skyler”:

The tour was fantastic and a great opportunity and I wouldn’t change a thing… except… Costa Mesa. And here’s why:

Quote from: skyler on 07/18/07, 01:02 AM
I was at the show tonight and there was someting horribly wrong with the sound. The sound for the Alarm and the Fixx was perfect. During the set up for the Fur’s set, Richard’s microphone didn’t work. Then when the Furs came on, Mar’s microphone didn’t work so you couldn’t hear the sax during Heartbeat. The reason Love My Way was performed during the encore was because the marimba part was playing out of time during the first part of the show and Richard stopped the song visibly upset but he carried on like the professional that he is and gave a great performance for the rest of the show.

Every bit of this is absolutely correct, and you possess a VERY sharp set of ears and eyes, sir ma’am.

Here’s what happened:

After the Fixx finished their set, they struck their equipment, I came up and set up my drums correctly, and people were rushing around getting ready for the Furs set to begin. Somewhere in this hurried set of preparations, someone, no doubt a local crew member trying to be helpful, unplugged the Furs’ auxiliary monitor mix. This killed power to our wireless mics (Richard’s vocal, Mars’ sax) and the minidisk player containing the marimba part for “Love my Way” and our submixes. Our front of house engineer (that’s the person who mixes what the audience hears) saw everything go dead on her board and knew something was wrong. She sprang into action and had to run down to the stage, while we, the band, had no idea that there was a problem. Security saw a woman running towards the stage and tackled her, further delaying her from fixing the problem.

Once she was able to get past them, she was able to plug the mixer back in, but because it is digital, then it defaults to factory settings. She threw a fast approximation of the mix together, rushed back to her station at the FOH mixing board, which was near the back of the 10,000 person crowd, and we started playing. We still had no idea that anything was wrong. In the meantime, Mars started blowing his sax, but his mic was still not in the mix. Our engineer had to leave her station AGAIN, come down and enable the sax mic. I don’t know the technical details of all of this, but what you saw and related her mirrors exactly what was happening.

NOW. By the end of “Heartbeat,” miraculously, our FOH engineer (and I would love to tell you her name and give you her email address so you could say to her “NICE RECOVERY!!!” but I don’t have her permission) had gotten order restored and the set was underway. However, the monitor engineer (this is the guy who is in charge of adjusting what the band hears) was a local guy, and somehow didn’t realize that he absolutely HAD to unmute the Minidisk player in my monitor for me to play “Love my Way” in time. See, in the version of “LmW” that we all know and love, there’s a marimba part that is a crucial part of the song. Now, it’s not feasible financially or logistically, to bring a marimba player on the road for one song. (Ever see a marimba up close? It’s the size of a zebra.) So, the Furs have the marimba part recorded onto a Minidisk, which I stop and start as necessary. (I hate to lift the curtain on this bit of magic and show the strings and wires that hold some of the show together, but I think it’s better if you understand what happened.)

Now, so that the hand can start in unison, there’s an eight count click before the marimba part starts. Some of you who have stood very close to the stage have heard that “tock tock tock tock” at the beginning of that song. This gives me four counts to get the tempo in my head, then four to count the rest of the band in, and Bang!, off we go.

Well, monitor guy was one bong hit past competent, I am guessing. I hit “start” on the track, waited for the “tock tock tock” and heard nothing, then suddenly, the marimba part for “Love my Way” was playing through the main speakers (the ones facing you, the audience). THE CROWD GOES WILD! Everyone on stage froze. I hit “stop,” then turned to face the monitor guy and gave him a look I call “The Big Eyes,” which is International Musician Sign Language for “Um… dude?” I thought, well, certainly by now he knows that he needs to unmute the Minidisk player in my monitor. Make that “two bong hits past competent.” The second try netted the same results as the first. I even tried, lamely, to count everyone in to come in eight bars late and we’ll try to catch up. Richard, wisely vetoed this idea.

This, of course, makes everyone onstage furious. There’s nothing like feeling silly in front of a few thousand of your closest friends.

Now, at this point, there are two people who should know what is going on. Me… and monitor guy. No one else has any idea why this isn’t working. Remember, none of us onstage knows about the chaos going on behind the scenes, we just know two things: Mars’ sax was inaudible in “Heartbeat,” and now this.

Richard, once again wisely, elects to move on to “Ghost in You,” so we did, and I will be the first to admit that we played it a little shakily for half of the song, because there was a lot of quantum weirdness going on.

AFTER THAT, i think that the show kicked into high gear and we played well right through the encore, even though we were somewhat shaken. The Furs, to their credit, rose above a series of obstacles that would have stopped many other bands IN THEIR TRACKS, and then put on a great rock show. Full stop. Respect to the Butler brothers, John, Mars and Amanda. The idea of calling a halt to the show never even occurred to them.

Afterwards, talking to our engineer and road manager about what was going on, I was stunned (STUNNED!) at 1. how much had gone wrong in the minutes before the show was supposed to start, and 2. how much they managed to fix before we got onstage. Full credit goes to them for their professionalism and also to the Furs for their indomitable spirit and commitment to great performances.

[…]

I don’t know what the future holds for me and the Furs. I was called at the last minute, and I won’t presume to know if they will ever use me as a drummer ever again, but I wanted to make sure that the record was straight about the last show.

As I said on my blog, “…it reassures me of something that I really like about this band (and for Richard especially): Every show counts. It really upsets these guys if the audience seems detached or if the show itself doesn’t go well. I think this speaks very well of their commitment to their fans and their music. It’s good to be part of an organization that really cares.”

So… that’s the long and short of it. It did sort of put a mild damper on post-gig celebrations, but that’s why it’s “Live” and not “Perfect.” I still think it was a strong show, and that the Furs are the most professional outfit I’ve ever worked with, so I left with much love and pride about the tour.

Later, I will talk about the trip home, and all that… LAX, here I come!

6 Comments

  1. Holy crap. “…she was able to plug the mixer back in, but because it is digital, then it defaults to factory settings.”

    My hat. Is. OFF. Your FOH engineer is superhuman. That default stuff is crazy. You’d think one could save settings to a template or something just in case. Oh well. Hope all is fine now and you’re home soon.

  2. Rick-
    home now and very happy to be here, thanks.

    There’s a strong possibility that there was a rough template saved, which is what allowed our FOH to get back in the ballpark so quickly, though I have no idea if that was the case.

    I do know that to hear everyone involved it was CHAOS trying to get everything back online. I don’t do live sound, so how these digital consoles work is a mystery to me, but it would make sense that there would be a template dialed up as a starting point for monitors. Of course, that changes with the venue’s acoustics… it was an amazing recovery, particularly considering she was battling security just to get back and forth.

  3. Zabird

    Again, I salute you guys for recovering so quickly, and so well. To be honest, I had no idea all that was going on! Except for not being able to hear Mars’ sax, and the “Love My Way” deal.

    And wouldn’t you know that those overly officious security people played a role in things! I hope the Furs’ people talked to the Amphitheatre’s people after the show about this.

    Oh, and before I forget, I think you played wonderfully.

    I just wish that the set had been longer (but I understand why it was the length it was) and that some of the yahoos in the audience near me hadn’t been there. There’s always a few, and they always seem to find me 🙂

    anyway, I enjoyed your tour blog, Patrick. Hope to see you on the next Furs tour!

    p.s. your dogs are cute!

  4. Tell the world, Bonnie. i don’t mind. I read that review earlier this week and thought “I wonder if I should say something…”

    I decided to let the fans do the talking, and I appreciate all of your support.

    Thanks.

    -p.

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