Total Production

Fleetwood Mac

December 2009 Issue 124

Rumours of TPi’s backstage presence at Wembley Arena were true. Mark Cunningham met the Fleetwood Mac crew as the anglo-american legends prepared to unleash their greatest hits...

“We don’t have a new album to promote... yet,” informed singer-guitarist Lindsey Buckingham. “But we decided to go out and do those songs that we all love, and hopefully, they’re the ones you love, too.”

    For the majority of the notably mature audience at Wembley Arena, this was good news and gazing at a set list generously peppered with some of Fleetwood Mac’s greatest ’70s and ’80s hits, I realised I was in for a retro-fest of mammoth proportions.

    With a trio of female vocalists and two back-up musicians to fill out the sound, the current Mac line-up has been a slimmed-down affair since Christine McVie retired from public view 11 years ago.

    Gentle giant Mick Fleetwood continues to look positively manic behind his two sets of drums, John McVie approaches his bass with assured calm and Stevie Nicks, even at 61, still maintains her ‘way out there’ mystical gypsy queen appeal.

    However, it was Buckingham’s soaring vocals and eccentric, often mesmerising guitar playing that stole the show  — his solo ‘Big Love’ was truly breathtaking.

    Yes, Ms. McVie was missed and despite the extra human resources on stage, her absence left a large void in the harmonic chain. Many of her songs such as ‘Little Lies’, ‘Songbird’, ‘You Make Loving Fun’ and ‘Everywhere’ were amongst the band’s best and whilst these were excluded, an understated, semi-acoustic ‘Say You Love Me’ was a mark of respect.

    Highlights? Well, anything from Rumours — the squillion-selling backdrop to one of rock’s most intriguing sex, drugs and betrayal soap operas — was going to be fine in my book.

    ‘The Chain’, ‘Second Hand News’, ‘Go Your Own Way‘ and ‘Don’t Stop’ were as powerful as I could’ve hoped for. There was even a nod to the band’s legendary co-founder Peter Green as his original colleagues and Buckingham found their mojo and delivered ‘Oh Well’ with blues conviction.

    The troubled Buckingham-Nicks love affair was always at the heart of the romantic circus that dominated Mac politics in the ’70s. Those days are long gone but perhaps for posterity’s sake, the warm (albeit theatrical) hug between the front duo was probably as endearing to the crowd as it was healing for them. Amen.

    Fleetwood Mac’s 2009 Unleashed tour went through six weeks of rehearsals at Sony Studios in Los Angeles early this year, before playing its opening show on March 1 at Pittsburgh’s Mellon Arena. Managed by Marty Hom, the tour arrived in Europe on October 8 with a Copenhagen date, and hit the UK 14 days later.

    Production manager Bobby Herr visited the UK a week early with rigger/carpenters Jack Deitering and Roland Castillo, and stage manager Larry Yager to meet the team at All Access Staging & Productions’ brand new UK operation in Woking, just off the M25.

    “They’ve been fantastic to work with,” praised Herr. “The quality of their staging is first class and they are very good people to know.”

    Since it began operating in the UK this year, All Access has been able to make a notable contribution to several world tours by supplying a rolling stage system within Europe, meaning that American-based acts need only ship their custom elements from home.

    As the firm’s Guy Forrester explained: “We put a rolling stage out on Green Day at the beginning of September and were then able to supply Fleetwood Mac with their full rolling stage as well. They shipped over the bullnose thrust, specialised drum riser and other key elements with the rest of their gear.

    “Their rolling stage is 5’ high by 56’ wide by 50’ at it deepest point. There are over 70 Versa decks making up the stage, with three set of stairs and one easy access lift.”

    Rock-It Cargo has handled the air and sea freight with Mark Cahill co-ordinating with its L.A. office from the UK. Herr has used trucking firm Redburn Transfer “forever” and John Ward is the familiar lead driver.

“Apart from power and truck sizes, one of the main contrasts between touring here and in the States is load-in access,” observed Herr. “We’re very spoilt in the States with large docks for trucks to load-in, pretty much everywhere. It’s not quite as easy in the UK but we cope.

    “Another major difference is catering. In the States, you’re often getting different standards from gig to gig because it’s usually provided locally by the venues. Sometimes it’s good and sometimes not.

    “It’s such a contrast here, where there is a specialist catering industry for tours, and we’ve really enjoyed Eat Your Hearts Out’s contribution. They’ve got to know what we like, the food’s going to be great and they make us feel very looked after. Of course, that places extra demand on trucking, and we had to go to EST to provide the extra truck for catering.”

    A keen surfer, Bobby Herr started out in the early ’80s as a guitar tech with the Beach Boys and Jan & Dean. He’s worked on the last two FM tours, the previous one being Say You Will in 2003-04 — the first without Christine McVie.

    “Back then, I was the stage manager and Chris Adamson, who advanced this production with me, was PM. Chris later went off to do John Mayer and left the tour to me. It just made sense for me to step up because I’m very familiar with the band, I also work as Stevie’s production manager and have worked with Lindsey in the past, too.”

    Fleetwood Mac’s crew and production vendors have changed very little over their most recent tours, with many of them also touring with Buckingham and Nicks’ solo projects. It’s still Clair Brothers on sound [through Audio Rent in Europe], PRG Lighting, Phoenix Bussing and Premier Aviation for air charter.

    The only significant change is the video supplier — a role that has been passed to Chaos Visual Productions, a company founded at the start of 2009... more of which later.

Production designer Paul ‘Arlo’ Guthrie of Minneapolis-based Toss Film & Design is responsible for all the visual styling, taking in lighting, video and set, as well as shaping the video content.

    After designing the band’s more complex Say You Will tour, he decided to simplify the look and use modern technology to create hip, semi-retro themes.

    If proof were needed that lighting and video are uniting, it was to be found on the Unleashed tour where Guthrie’s use of Martin Professional’s LC Series 40mm pixel pitch LED panels are effectively crossing into each genre.

    He said: “I spoke early on to Brad Haynes at Martin US about incorporating EvenLED [LED panels] into six large scale curved light boxes that are the centrepiece to the design but logistical obstacles made us move in a different direction.

    “On advice from our crew chief Ronald Beal at rehearsals, we realised the LC panels would fit into our set pieces and accomplish what we wanted to from the beginning, and from the second they powered up they looked fantastic.”

    A total of 42 1m x 2m LC 2140 panels are installed into six pods — four suspended above the stage and moved into a variety of positions via Kinesys automation, and one either side behind the drum riser — which run graphical content for effects and receive projected imagery, live camera feeds and straight light from six High End DL.3 digital moving heads.

    The LC pods are fed DVI 1024 x 768 video by a PRG MBox EXtreme media server and Kramer DVI distribution amps. Renowned for their ease of set-up, the reportedly stress-free LCs use standard Prolyte CCS6 conical truss connectors. With no external power supplies or drivers, each unit comes with everything it needs built in.

    Guthrie’s lighting design is furnished by PRG, whose Concert Touring division’s vice president, Curry Grant, previously played a notable role with Fleetwood Mac as their LD and close associate.

    As well as the DL.3s, PRG’s kit includes five PRG Bad Boys, eight Vari*Lite VL3000 spots for key lighting, 14 VL3500 washes for stage washing, eight VL1000TS spots and eight VL500 washes for tungsten sidelight and floor lighting, plus 16 Altman Mini Strips.

    Guthrie commented on the still-new Bad Boy luminaire: “The quality of the beam and the precision of its execution are phenomenal. The designers haven’t skimped on components and the Bad Boy works beautifully — the dimming, the movement, the optics, all have a precision that is a joy to work with.

    “I also love the colour system. We have five of them on our upstage truss and they easily cover the entire stage. It’s an ideal choice for touring work, with higher trims, longer throws and simply brighter everything.”

    PRG also supplied its Series 400 Power and Data Distribution System, along with trussing and crew, which includes Anthony Ciampa, Charles Dave Evans, Tim Saunders, Patrick Thomsen and Ryan Textor.

    In addition, there are 20 moving bars of six LED PAR cans — variously known as ‘MiPARs’ or ‘Arlo PARs’ — that are unique to this show. Built and supplied by Chaos, each have Barco 510 OLite LED clusters custom-fitted to enable video to run through them, via Barco D320 processors. The 120 fixtures feature a total of 720 OLite modules.

    All of the rig is controlled via a grandMA full-size console by Guthrie’s lighting director/programmer, Axis DeBruyn, a friendly guy whose parents were very cool when it came to naming their offspring.

    “I was named after a Jimi Hendrix album and a Steely Dan album was responsible for my sister being called Aja!” explained DeBruyn, who previously assisted Elton John’s LD, Kevin Bye.

    “The grandMA was Paul’s choice and that’s kind of how I got involved because I own a grandMA and have become a bit of a wizard with it! It’s a fantastic board to use with media servers and it’s a very stable, reliable piece of kit. I can network it very easily with a laptop. For me, there’s nothing out there that can compare.

    “It’s Paul’s show and I very much keep to his cue design, but there have been a few opportunities for me to be creative such as when we played the Zenith in Paris. It was a much smaller show with a reduced rig, so I had the chance to do a few of my own fill-ins.”

Video director Bob Higgins’ long career in concert video is almost as colourful as the terpsichorean shapes he throws as he cuts the screen content, dressed head to foot like a Fright Night version of La Nicks. Well, it was Hallowe’en.

    A freelance touring technician and director before taking a ‘day job’ with PSL, Higgins later co-founded the L.A.-based XL Touring Video with Barbara Riedling.

    “The video industry is particularly incestuous — everybody in it has worked and competed with each other,” noted Higgins. “And now, I’m freelancing again while Barbara has joined Chaos Visual Productions, the new video vendor for Fleetwood Mac.”

    Higgins on how he dovetails with the differences between rhe four Mac principals. He replied: “Everyone knows how much I adore Stevie, which is why she rarely feels a need to ask for anything... except for one of my outfits!

    Mick and John have little creative input in the video side of the show, which is their choice. In fact, the only thing I’ve ever done for John is buy him sailing magazines!

    “In stark contrast, Lindsey is such a specifist and he’s involved all the way along in the production design to the point where he could be labelled the producer.

    “Lindsey calls me a jazz musician because as a director I like to improvise, but he explained to me that this show is more like a play. It’s very scripted in my head now and it works. Before every show we have to measure by laser the inclination and distance of Lindsey’s camera. He’s very specific and even more so about the angle of the shot, because he knows precisely what he wants the audience to see.

    “The amazing thing is that even though he puts so much of himself into his incredible guitar playing and singing, he’s also keeping an eye on the screens. He’d notice if it’s not right but I have the math that keeps us consistent.

    “For some people, his attention to the most minute detail could be frustrating, but once you get over yourself you realise that he’s absolutely right. ‘LB Approved’ is the standard by which everything here is gauged.

    “It’s no secret that this band has a very dramatic personal history and many of the songs are diaries. So I listened back to all the songs and read all the books, so that when there’s the ‘hostility’ part of a number, my cutting is harder-edged, and when the song is more kind, I soften it up and use dissolves.”

    One example is the soft wipe that brings Lindsey and Stevie together on the 16’ x 20’ side i-Mag screens, as if the physical distance between them has disappeared. As an idea it’s fairly archaic, but it’s perfect for this pair.

    Higgins takes visuals from nine cameras — a mix of Sony DX-D50WS on long lenses, Sony BRC 300 remotes, Toshiba Hi-Def ‘Ice Cubes’ and XC 999 ‘lipstick’ cameras — and cuts on a Grass Valley Kayak HD-300 console.

    His team includes video engineer Seth Sharpless, LED tech/camera operators Adam Finer and Sixx Williams, and Nate Fountain who takes care of the Barco HD FLM 18 20kW projectors feeding the i-Mag screens.

Mixing at FOH is the Mac’s long-time engineer, Dave Kob, whom I last saw at Wembley when he was on The Who’s Quadrophenia tour in 1996. He’s worked with Fleetwood Mac in various audio guises since 1978 when, on the second run of their Rumours tour, he assisted engineer and record producer, Richard Dashut.

    “As much as the set list is carved in stone, there’s still an element of ‘you never know what’s gonna happen next’,” said Kob. “This is a band that doesn’t play to clock and is very spontaneous, such that my mix has evolved over the length of the tour.”

    On the Unleashed tour, Kob is using a combination of analogue and digital control in the shape of a Yamaha PM5000 console and a Digidesign (Avid) Venue Profile ‘sidecar’.

    “I’m having to manage a serious amount of inputs which suggested that I divide them accordingly,” he told me. “There aren’t many digital inputs for this band but those I have are put through the Profile. There are a few backing tracks and a couple of Lindsey’s songs have Pro Tools content running with them. And I also feed Mick’s downstage cocktail drum kit through the Profile.

    “It’s just a logical way of freeing up space on the main board, the PM5000, because if truth be told I’m still an unrepentant analogasaurus at heart!”

    Kob continues to favour Yamaha’s wares and around 2003 he graduated from the PM4000 to the 5000, which has now ceased production. “It’s what I know and love, and I’ve still yet to hear a digital alternative that sounds better and is more practical to work with. Simple as that.”

    Clair Brothers continues its long association with The Mac and, as expected, the Philadelphia-headquarted global rental giant is fielding its latest proprietary line array system, the Lab.gruppen-powered, i-5 — a product in which Kob had some involvement.

    “Fleetwood Mac was the second band to take i-5 on the road when it was at the prototype stage,” Kob informed. “We’ve been smoothing it out and it’s sounding great.

    “Trip Khalaf and I kind of instigated the project. We yelled at Clair Brothers about two years ago to take another look at the i-4 and make some significant upgrades. R&D people collected data from various tours and although it’s still a work in progress, the improvements in sound quality are quite noticeable.”

    Kob and system technician Jim Ragus were cursing Wembley Arena for its “insane acoustics”, blaming the underground Olympic swimming pool for the “unwieldy resonance” that they fought tooth and nail to conquer over the two nights they were in residence.

    It’s by no means the first time I’ve encountered comments from engineers about this problem. In fact, I once suggested to Wembley management that they could fill the troublesome void with a non-destructive temporary dense foam  — a suggestion that seemed to disappear into a void of its own!

    “As far as I’m concerned, they’ve spent tons of money refurbishing this venue and it looks nice outside, but it still sounds bad,” insisted Kob. “I’ve walked the room with Jim during set-up, using our remote WiFi system-tuning gizmo, and I tell you, it’s a job and a half.”

    Kob carries his “usual outboard kit” with him on every tour, along with the occasional exotic addition. “I put a Manley Slam compressor on John’s bass for some warmth, plus I thought it would look cool even though it cost Clair a lot of money,” he joked. “I won’t leave home without the Summit TLA-100s and DCL-200s, the TC delays and Yamaha SPXs for drums.”

    Regarding microphones, Kob said: “All the major brands are well represented on stage, from Shure, AKG and Sennheiser to Milab, Beyer and Audio-Technica... and more.”

    He recently switched Nicks over to the beyerdynamic TG-X 80 — a model whose maximum-volume-before-feedback capabilities proved to be a boon.

    “I’d been trying to get her and the girls on that for about six months and finally got there when we started in Europe,” said Kob. “Stevie’s previous mic was hyper-cardioid and had such an acute proximity effect that it didn’t pick up anything else, but if she was an inch away from it, her voice went very thin.

    “The TG-X 80, while still having a tight cardioid pattern, is much less severe in that way. It’s just a great-sounding microphone and I’ve always highly rated Beyer products, going back to the old M500 ribbon days.”

    Buckingham continues to sing with an Audio-Technica 6100 mic and there’s the surprise addition of Royer Labs R-121 ribbon mics on guitar cabinets.

    “The great thing about this band,” added Kob, “is that they play in front of a wall of amplifiers. That’s refreshing because too many bands hide them away and that’s just not rock’n’roll to me!”

    Ben Rothstein, Donovan Friedman, Matthew Patterson and Tino Kreischatis complete the audio crew.

The long stretch of Venue D-Show console surfaces at the stage right monitor position are jointly manned by engineers Rachel Adkins and Ed Dracoules, with each taking responsibility for separate aspects of the overall stage mix.

    “I look after Stevie and the three backing singers [Lorri Perry-Nicks, Sharon Celani and Jana Anderson], as well as taking care of the tech mixes for crew,” said Adkins. “To my left, Ed runs the mixes for Lindsey, Mick, John, Neale Heywood [guitarist], Brett Tuggle [keyboards/guitar] and Will Alexander, Brett’s technician.”

    What informed the choice of console? “Familiarity, more than anything,” explained Adkins. “I’ve used the Digidesign system for Stevie’s solo tours and it’s a desk I’ve become very comfortable with. I find I can get where I want to be quickly and it’s pretty intuitive.

    “There’s not too much processing going on, certainly not much use of plug-ins although I use some of the Crane Song stuff and Digidesign’s own Smack compressor... but that’s about all.”

    Monitors are a mixture of wedges and the in-ear kind. Clair 12AM wedges line the front of the stage and the rear of the drum riser, with Mick Fleetwood adding a pair of ML18s for a low end boost.

    The larger than life Fleetwood also uses Future Sonics Ear Monitors which are wired behind the main kit and wireless for when he moves downstage to his smaller cocktail kit.

    For Nicks and the backing singers, it’s an in-ear situation — the lead chanteuse only listens to the wedges when she feels she needs extra reinforcement. The choice here is Sensaphonics, with all of the IEMs run in line with Sennheiser G3 systems.

    During rehearsals, Sensaphonics president Dr. Michael Santucci flew out to take ear impressions for new sets of in-ear monitors. “Stevie’s a fan of the ProPhonic 2X-S,” said Adkins, who also uses Sensaphonics’ dB Check in-ear sound level analyser to reference the dB levels of the artist’s in-ear mix. “It’s become an invaluable tool,” she added.

    The Unleashed tour travels to Melbourne at the start of December for its final leg of 10 dates, ending in New Zealand on December 20.


Fleetwood Mac

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