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Taming The Beast: Assembling A Unique Monitor Rig For The Mickey Hart Band
In the words of monitor engineer Elijah Topazio, the rig he rode herd over on the recent concert tour by the Mickey Hart Band is a constantly evolving monster...
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“Ambience is great,” adds Joe Bagale, the band’s keyboardist/guitarist. “I used to always find myself taking the ears out sometimes just to hear what is going on. Now it has that.”

The multiple banks on the A360s also allow band members to create a discreet mix for the ever-changing “brain waves” portion of the set and the portion during which they play Grateful Dead songs.

“On this last tour, we also had Tea Leaf Green opening and using our backline,” Topazio says, “and we set up a scene for them as well, so when they walk on stage it’s seamless. When musicians’ lives are easier, my job is easier.”

Tight List
A lot of ambient sound gets into the numerous mics on stage. To compensate, both Hart and Hall’s vocal mics have switches so they can turn them on and off.

In addition, Topazio deploys the foot operated pressure mats the Dead previously used to mute other mics when necessary. The sheer number of instruments in play makes for a tight input list, requiring Topazio to be economical with mics, but individual preferences of the players and their gear also drive choices.

For Greg Shutte’s drum kit, Topazio puts a Shure Beta 52 on kick and close-mikes snare with a beyerdynamic M 201 (top) and a Shure SM57 (bottom). Sennheiser e604 cardioids are deployed on toms, AKG 414 condensers for overheads, and a Neumann KM 84 for hi-hat. “Mickey really needs the bright sizzle of the hat and a studio mic works very well for that,” Topazio notes.

Reed Mathis, bassist for Hart’s band as well as for Tea Leaf Green, plays through a Fender Twin and uses many heavily effected sounds. “It’s basically another guitar,” Topazio says, “so I use a Sennheiser MD 421 on the amp and a Radial ProDI to capture the rest of the spectrum.”

Elijah Topazio mixing stageside on an Avid SC48. (click to enlarge)

Rhythm guitarist and keyboard player Joe Bagale also plays through a Fender Twin, which is miked with a Sennheiser e609 dynamic supercardioid. Another Radial ProDI captures the sound of Bagale’s keyboard – “mono out because we’re watching our inputs,” the engineer adds.

For lead guitarist Gawain Matthews’ Vox AC30 amplifier, Topazio applies a Royer R-121 ribbon mic. “It gives us great tone. I have a little spike at 3.15 kHz (Matthews’ preference), “but other than that we keep the Royer completely flat.” For backing vocals, it’s Shure SM58s all around, four in all. Lead singer Crystal Monee Hall goes between a Shure KSM9 and a Sennheiser e935 as her primary mic, with an Audix OM7 running through an F/X unit for effected vocals. Hart’s choice is a Shure 55, which he’s used since the 1980s.

One of the most important sonic elements for Hart is Sikiru Adepoju’s talking drum. “It’s a drum he made with his own hands,” Topazio explains. “I use an Audix D6 mic on that. When he taps on the rim you get high end that sounds like an antelope running, but it goes all the way down to the point where it can distort subs. He really drives the rhythm of the band and Mickey looks to him to keep time. I’m a big fan of Audix because they have such a wide spectrum and will pick up that intricate nuanced sound, but also go all the way down to 20 to 30 Hz.”

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