“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.” – Charles Dickens
Comparing the cancellation of this summer’s Limp Bizkit tour after only six shows to the “winter of despair” that Dickens spoke of in A Tale of Two Cities is without doubt a little harsh, but after the thrill and excitement of getting out again for the band and crew, sticking a fork in it all was nothing short of a big letdown.
“The worst of times for this tour was indeed its cancellation due to renewed Covid concerns,” said front of house engineer Tony Cooper, who along with monitor engineer Rodney Rollins and a small group of seasoned techs comprised the barebones crew that kept the show rolling through two Midwestern dates outdoors in mid-July, an evening at Metro Chicago before a crowd of 1,100, a strutting and jubilant return to Lollapalooza, and then two more stops before grinding to a halt on August 6 in Asbury Park, NJ, just prior to the band taking the stage with all its gear setup at the Stone Pony Summer Stage.
“On one hand you kind of felt like Charlie Brown every time Lucy moves the football right before he goes to kick it,” Cooper adds, describing the psychological impact of the tour’s unexpected end. “But it wasn’t all bad. The best part was that after 18 months we were able to get out and play some damn good shows. Let’s not lose sight of that and keep moving forward. There will likely be a number of things on the books over the next few months that will disappear as well. We’ll have to deal with that and be creative as we all keep putting things back together.”
As the touring sound industry dips its toes back into the waters, caution is the watchword across the board, with mindful care being given to operations at all levels in order to reduce financial exposure in the event of more cancellations. For Limp Bizkit, caution also meant traveling leaner-and-meaner than ever, with only half of a truck of production gear going out with the crew containing the very bare essentials. Picking up PA at each stop that ranged from the legacy Electro-Voice X-Array boxes still in use at the Metro to d&b audiotechnik, L-Acoustics and NEXO rigs, the tour only carried its own audio control, backline pieces, and monitor package.
“If you’re only going to take a few things,” Cooper explains, “they have to be key components, and only what is absolutely necessary. No mic stands, wedges, side fills, nothing. With 52 inputs coming from the stage, I was on a DiGiCo SD12. That’s all I needed. It’s a great sounding board, leaves a small footprint, and is easy to use. I didn’t even have the Quantum revision, or a Waves server, nothing at all extra or above. We basically subscribed to a philosophy that a board, some mics, and a band was enough. Keep it simple and turn it up. Simple, but mighty.”
He didn’t use scenes on this tour for a number of reasons, one being he just prefers to mix a show from beginning to end. Also, if there are changes he wants to remember them just in case he finds himself on another console down the road.
“I feel I should always know all the material and cues completely,” he says. “With Limp Bizkit I really didn’t need scenes anyway. It’s just a straight-ahead rock show. I had most of my compression across various groups. My mix is a lot more musical doing it that way and follows what this band is doing more closely.”
Limp Bizkit frontman Fred Durst – seen on this tour sporting “dad vibe” greying hair that may be a visual precursor to material based around fatherly themes soon to be heard on a rumored new album – was joined onstage this foreshortened summer by band regulars Sam Rivers (bass), Wes Borland (guitar and vocals), and DJ Lethal. On the drum riser, newcomer Brandon Pertzborn (drummer for Marilyn Manson) brought up the backline beat.
“The nature of the band itself was in no small part responsible for our ability to keep this tour exceptionally lean in terms of gear,” Cooper makes clear. “They brought an incredibly rich sonic palette to the gigs for us to work with. Drums were solid and tasteful, bass had an amazing tone and never missed a beat, the DJ is one of the best, guitar amazingly creative. Out front, Fred has a personality that translates directly via his mic in a fashion that connects with everyone in the seats and brings it all together.
“Vocals brought the usual challenges – sometimes I had get them out there a little more, and at others I had to tuck them back in. As far as the guitar cabinets went, I took my usual approach: I didn’t add anything except high and low-pass filters as needed, then with the mics in the right spots, I turned it up as loud as it would go, that’s it. The guitar player was responsible for the tone, and in this situation we had the fountainhead of tone, Wes Borland, who creates tone onstage as an art form. Overall, my preference was to run in the house at between 118 and 122 dB. This show wasn’t about sheer volume, however. On the nights when we had to keep it at 105 I still was able to paint a beautiful sonic picture.”
Plan Of Capture
With Rat Sound Systems (Camarillo, CA) providing the gear the band carried, both mic selection and the input list blueprint were largely inherited from Limp Bizkit’s regular FOH engineer Bryan Worthen, who was out with his client Foo Fighters during the tour’s planned run, having handed his usual role over to his good and trusted friend Cooper for safekeeping. Almost entirely Sennheiser in number, microphones included 935 vocal mics hardwired for band members along with four wireless channels – three for Durst and one for guests.
Across the drum kit starting at the bottom, a 902 resided on the outside of the kick, while a 901 was on the inside, joined by 904s mounted atop the rack toms, 902s on floor tom, and a combination of 905s and 614s covering snare top and bottoms respectively. Ride, as well as overheads left and right, were Sennheiser 614s, as was high-hat.
At Lollapalooza, held among the towering, steel and glass canyons of the RF nightmare which is Chicago, frequency coordination for the vocal and guitar wireless was done weeks in advance and approved. The night before the band loaded-in however, Cooper and the crew were told a local TV station had just begun broadcasting right in their assigned vocal range. Luckily, at the last moment Sennheiser was able to deliver receivers and transmitters operating at different frequencies, and the show went on.
A large portion of Limp Bizkit’s sound is forged by Wes Borland’s guitar. “Outside of the vocals, guitar is right up there,” notes guitar tech Jeff “Kadaver” Thoreen, who has spent the last 12 years with the band. “And it has to be heavy—we definitely have to have a heavy guitar sound.”
Heavy in this case finds its roots in dirty and clean channels emanating in the former instance from a pair of EVH 5150 heads, and in the latter from a Roland JC-120 stereo combo amp. Sennheiser 935 and 609s are applied to the fronts of all the guitar cabinets, while in the case of the JC-120, an Aston Spirit large-diaphragm condenser is mounted at the rear as well, thrown out of polarity with the front to maintain proper alignment.
“The dirty channel is actually really dirty,” Kadaver is quick to underscore. “We use the high-gain channels of the EVH amps – the red channel in each – and like the JC-120, they just stay on throughout the whole show. Wes uses an A/B switcher on his pedal boards to change from dirty to clean. The JC-120 is exceptionally clean. Very pristine sounding, lot of low-end, lot of mids, crispy highs. But we try to not have too many sparkling highs. With the nature of this band we like to maintain a dark sound.”
A total of seven guitars were used on the tour, a reality necessitating the use of seven wireless packs sending signals to a Shure Axient digital AD4D dual-channel receiver. A simple Y cable at the rear of the unit created a single output that traveled to Borland’s pedal board, where signals then entered a splitter box with sends to the dirty and clean sides. The A/B switcher is found in the middle of the board, allowing Borland to select from the right (dirty) side of his effects, and the left (clean) side. Since all incoming signals are split almost immediately as they arrive at the board, he can easily prep one side or the other before he switches over to it.
“Know this too about the guitars themselves,” Kadaver relates, “they are outfitted with high-gain Seymour Duncan Invader SH-8 passive pickups that provide higher output. In turn I set the wireless to be balanced just as if I was using a cable, as I want it to be seamless in the rig, not part of the gain structure. We use these hot pickups to push the preamps a little bit on the dirty channel and give us a little more drive in the front end.”
Removing The Stress
Just as in the house, Rodney Rollins presided over monitor world from the surface of a DiGiCo SD12. Rollins, who has known Fred Durst since well before the frontman became a founder of Limp Bizkit, notes that the band is easygoing in their work habits and comfortable onstage.
“This is anything but a needy band,” he says. “They are quite the opposite actually, doing everything they can on a regular basis to help take the stress out of the crew’s day.”
In seeking to provide each band member with more options and autonomy in the creation of their individual mixes, Rollins developed a stage monitor blueprint offering a large degree of personal control over their in-ear monitors, as well as the ability to fall back to the conventional wedges and side fills found at each venue, the latter option being one only Durst chose to use at times.
At the heart of the onstage system was a 10-port, ME-U PoE monitor hub from Allen & Heath, which was used in conjunction with five Allen & Heath ME-1 personal mixers and a Shure PSM 1000 personal monitoring system. Equipped with Allen & Heath’s DMI-ME option card as a direct interface to the ME-U hub, Rollins’ SD12 had the capability to send up to 40 channels to each ME-1 personal mixer. By dividing his inputs up into 11 different stereo and mono groups containing individual instruments, vocals, and effects, he was able to give each band member the freedom to adjust their own mixes as they saw fit.
“Utilizing this system provided a number of advantages,” he says. “Onstage, the musicians were able to make changes on the fly with a lot greater immediacy than I could have, and fine tune their mix just as if they were in a studio setting. From my perspective, what we created added a lot more to the definition of what a monitor mixer is as well. You find out quickly that you are not the only one mixing. As a result, you have to monitor everything a lot closer, but the detail and diversity of your individual mixes increases dramatically, and the musicians always have what they need, right when they need it.”
After the tour’s first cancelled date in Asbury Park on August 6, promoters and the band struggled to try and keep future dates, but it was to no avail as safety concerns continued to trump their best efforts.
“In the end we just had to deal with it,” Rollins concedes. “Kadaver actually sold his house thinking he was going to be on the road for some time, and then discovered he had nowhere to go home to when the tour ended prematurely. It eventually worked out for everyone, and now we can only pick up the pieces and start putting it all back together again.
“After being on the sidelines for so long, I didn’t realize how much I truly missed these events. They are a lot more than just entertainment. They are living art, part of our culture, the way we interact with each other. We have to get back to life fully and will. There’s a risk in being human we have to accept – and live with that too – all along the way.”