With inflation spiraling ever upwards, not many groups can afford to tour extensively, and fill the large arena so popular a few years back. Bruce Springsteen is one of those superstars who can sell out 16,000-plus seat venues for four nights in L.A.,and still turn many thousands more away.
Springsteen’s music is hard to reproduce live, especially at an in-the-round venue such as the Los Angeles Sports Arena. He layers his instruments, but many overlap into the same areas.
On record they produce textures of sound; in concert the instruments can easily mask or muddy one another. The high energy level of a concert performance - as well as the proper musical balances between players must be maintained throughout a wide dynamic range, as the repertoire shifts from exploding, steamrolling rockers to down-to-earth, romantic street ballads.
Springsteen insists on the best sound reinforcement possible and schedules a sound check for every afternoon at four o’clock; regardless of whether it’s an opening night or a repeat performance. He’ll walk through every section of the arena to ensure that patrons in the least expensive seats will be able to see and hear as well as those in the most sought -after front-row areas. No seat for the L.A. Sports Arena show was to be more than $12.
When Springsteen heard about scalper’s prices of $50, $100 and $200 a seat, he made a public announcement to the audience during each of the four shows about a pending bill in the California legislature, which the fans should support in order to put an end to the “rip-offs” in the concert business.
With his own group - the E Street Band - and road crew, Springsteen spared no expense in these days of industry cutbacks by providing everyone with their own rooms at fine hotels along the itinerary. This fact is brought up only to point out the climate of the concert presentation, and the family feel and dedication of all involved to provide audiences with the best possible entertainment under what proved - at least in L.A. - to be severe, adverse conditions.
Bruce Jackson - click to enlarge
The PA company chosen to do the sound was Clair Brothers of Lititz, Pennsylvania. Australian-born Bruce Jackson, whose credits include Elvis tours from 1971-1977, Three Dog Night, Cat Stevens, Rod Stewart, and more with Clair Brothers, is chief sound engineer. His crew includes Chris (C. J.) Patterson doing monitors, Stan Horine, assistant sound engineer, and “Midget” and Tony “Brokowski” Gallicchio on set-up and maintenance.
Several weeks before the scheduled appearance in Los Angeles, Bruce Jackson, Springsteen and George Travis, who is in charge of tour production, visited the Sports Arena to determine whether or not they really wanted to do the show there at all. Springsteen didn’t mind the design of the hall, even though it’s not as good acoustically as the Forum, the usual choice for large music concerts.“I didn’t actually do any acoustic testing the day of our visit,” says Jackson. “It was just a matter of identifying a series of latent problem areas based on my experience with rooms like that.”
In the upper concourse there is a high, stark concrete wall that runs all the way around the building. The hall is oval-shaped, and at both ends are great arcs which focus the reflected sound; the stage is positioned right in the center of the focal point of one of the arcs. Any sound from the stage speakers bounces directly back on to the stage area, and makes any on-stage control unpredictable because of leakage problems and abnormal feedback potential.
This high-level concourse is reinforced by another concrete concourse located one seating section below, and which also extends all the way around the building. At the lowest level - floor level - is the foyer or entrance area of the coliseum. The foyer is only separated from the main room by structurally functional concrete pylons, which serve to hold up the building and allow direct access to the outer ~ area. This latter area is constructed almost entirely of tile, concrete and glass.
In essence, the main arena is acoustically coupled directly to an echo chamber that runs around the perimeter of ‘the main room, The intended remedy was to hang heavy drapes on all of the large, reflective concrete surfaces, and between the main room and the foyer. The latter idea would, to a degree, isolate the two areas, and reduce the amount of sound transfer from one to the other. Unfortunately, drapes of the appropriate length couldn’t be located, and a compromise had to be struck.
In addition, the fire marshall at first objected to the drapes on ‘the grounds that they were a potential fire hazard (he tried to burn them, but they were fire retardant), and also because they could impede, entrance to and exit from the hall. However, since the drapes were approximately three feet too short, the objection to impeding exits was dropped, although the area was not sealed off as completely as planned. The drapes were rented for the four-show Los Angeles engagement from West Coast Theater Supply, at a cost of around $7,000.
Figure 1 - click to enlarge
Another potential source of problems was sound bouncing around the inside of the metal ceiling.
To break up these reflections, drapes that are normally hung as a backdrop for the stage during performances to only the front of oval-shaped halls were pressed into service (Figure 1). Each drape measured approximately 50 feet long by 25 feet wide.
As far as possible, within limitation of the ironwork located in the ceiling, positioning of the drapes approached all the way around the stage, placement being almost directly above the house console to break up reflected sound coming from the back of the room.