Five-time Grammy award winner Celine Dion has resumed her residency at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas, with her long-time front of house engineer and tour manager Denis Savage, and systems engineer Frankie Desjardins, choosing the Solid State Logic L500 live console for front of house duties.
Desjardins is chief technical adviser at Solotech. He has also been the systems engineer for Dion and Savage for over 20 years.
“The show might look simple enough, but it’s actually quite complicated,” he explains. “There are 128 inputs coming from stage via the SSL Alpha-Link Live R converters. A MADI router distributes those streams to the two monitor consoles, front of house, and a Pro Tools rig for recording.
“The SSL sees about 110 inputs as some of the original sources are crowd mics and so on, though of course we don’t use 120 inputs of every song; Celine has a large repertoire in both English and French, spanning a long career, and even if you only have one song with an accordion, you’re going to need an input for it.”
“The fact that we can manage so many inputs into the L500 is a big plus – and the footprint is really small now that everything is inside the console. In the past we had to have a dedicated processing rack. There are a lot of FX in the console as well, which also helps a lot.”
Savage has been Dion’s tour manager and front of house engineer for 28 years. He sees the advent of the programmable live console as one of the most significant changes in over that time.
“It’s rare you run a show under 100 channels these days,” he says. Everybody goes mad with the orchestration because they know you can just program changes into the snapshot memory… Before that, 50 or 60 channels was a very big show.”
Savage notes that their own arrangements have changed over time too, and with experience his own strategy has evolved: “We’re heading away from trying to do the record… My goal is to make sure that whatever the audience sees on stage is what they hear… If you see the percussionist playing a little shaker, you want to hear that little shaker. If you go to see an orchestra you always hear what everybody is playing. I think rock and pop should be the same.”
The SSL L500 has been one of the main enablers for Savage: “I really like the way this console sounds. When we started rehearsing both Frankie and I thought it sounded much wider and deeper than anything we had before. Even my own outboard reverbs were more ‘present’.
“I don’t use much outboard gear any more since I got this console. I still have a few things – my go-to reverbs and so on. I’d actually be interested to do a show only with the internal stuff.”
The SSL L500 has 96 slots in its internal FX rack with over 45 different effects to choose from – that is, in addition to the 208 fully processed paths that all include parametric EQ, full dynamics, an all-pass filter, delay, and tube emulation.
Of particular note is Savage’s use of the SSL FX Rack Dynamic EQ in Celine Dion’s vocal channel. It is very capable of the kind of subtle control that he needs, preserving Dion’s amazing signature vocals: “If her voice does get harder I grab that with the EQ,” he says. “But she’s a great, great singer and she’s always on top of things. She controls her instrument so well… We get a feeling of such power, but she controls it so well.”
The console has been through extensive rehearsals and many performances since it was specified for the show, and it continues to impress both Savage and Desjardins. Dion recently performed her 1000th show at the Caesar’s Palace Colosseum, and the SSL L500 had the best seat in the house. “We’re very happy with it,” says Savage. “It sounds really good and is super sturdy – we’re happy to have it.”
“We can really customize the way we want to work,” adds Desjardins. “You can do the same thing in two or three different ways and it can be adapted to the way you want to do things, so your workflow is easier.”