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Return To Form: Reinforcing The Special Energy Of The Black Crowes

The sound approach for a band known for delivering straighforward rock 'n' roll

By Greg DeTogne May 9, 2013

Brothers Chris and Rich Robinson, leading The Black Crowes on their latest tour. (Photos by Paul Natkin)

The Black Crowes have returned with this year’s Lay Down With Number 13 tour, emerging triumphantly fit and in full fighting form from an “indefinite” hiatus announced in April, 2010 that put performances on hold in the U.S. after the band played San Francisco’s Fillmore Auditorium later that year.

Now, with the band’s fourth live album, Wiser for the Time, released in March of this year as a digital download and 4-record vinyl set, timing was never better for the act to hit the road. Playing something for everyone, on each date there’s a brace of familiar hits, plenty of deep catalog material, and the cool covers they’re known for. 

Building the dynamics of such a show and bringing it to the listeners at each stop is a job that begins at front of house, where engineer Bob Coke resides. Coke, who calls France’s Brittany peninsula home when he’s not on the road or at his other house and studio just outside Paris, brings a perspective to the proceedings which is at once fresh and still grounded solidly in precedent.

Together, Coke and monitor engineer Drew Consalvo are the only manpower giving guidance to the entire spectrum of the tour’s sound reinforcement, keeping with current trends stressing the lean-and-mean. Beyond their sonic orchestrations onstage and in the house, Doug “Red” Redler serves as band member Rich Robinson’s guitar tech, while Greg “Chief” Frahn does double-duty as stage right guitar tech and stage manager. Nick Forchione completes the list as the tour’s drum and keyboard tech. 

Given his decidedly French provenance, it’s surprising when first meeting Coke, who greets you with perfect English bearing the inflection of perhaps the upper Ohio Valley. “I’ve called France home for many years,” he says, “and I even have the rest of the crew speaking some French now. But yes, I am American born-and-bred. I initially worked with this band in Europe, and it was just amazing seeing these guys out live the first time. The vocals are beautiful, the harmonies rich. On guitar, everyone is master of their tone.

Crowes bassist Sven Pipien and guitarist Jackie Greene. (click to enlarge)

“There’s a lot of maturity here. These musicians know themselves and each other, and each one complements the whole as well as the individual parts. There is a palpable air of true musicality in everything they do. Real sounds made by real instruments, all guided by a mindful human touch.”

Very Physical
Coke was one of the first people to go out with digital in France. While with a French rock band early in the decade just past, he manned a Sony DMX-R100 digital console. As technology evolved, he was commonly seen behind Yamaha’s PM1D and PM5D, and then Avid’s VENUE Profile.

When it came to this tour, however, he decided to go with analog gear befitting old-style rock ‘n’ roll. Turning to the sound company of choice for the tour, Camarillo, CA-based Delicate Productions, Coke assembled an assortment of classic gear implemented around his crown jewel, a Midas Heritage 3000.

“Rock music doesn’t have a tremendous amount of sub-bass,” Coke says, giving better definition to his analog ways for The Black Crowes. “This isn’t hip-hop, we’re trying to get a certain kind of energy out of the system, and I’m not looking for anything below 80 Hz.

An analog Midas Heritage 3000 is the choice of FOH engineer Bob Coke for this tour. (click to enlarge)

“The energy level onstage that drives this band is quite a bit higher – between 100 and 400 Hz. That’s where all the good warmth is, and the Midas just reproduces that with total accuracy. You can feel it physically. That’s a large part of this show too, it’s very physical.”

A 48-line snake winds its way from the stage to the Heritage 3000, and in his own words it’s “pretty much full.” With 40 mono inputs and six stereo channels, three of his stereo channels are used for delay and reverb returns, while the other three—channels 41, 42, and 43 respectively – are used for keyboards.

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About Greg

Greg DeTogne
Greg DeTogne

Gregory is a writer and editor who has served the pro audio industry for the past 32 years.


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