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Road Stories #3: Where’s The Kick?

Another audio adventure long ago in the Great White North, this one right in the heart of downtown Toronto on a cold winter night...

Much has been made over the years about the difficulty of winter touring in Canada. What with long drives on empty snow- and ice-covered roads, instruments too frozen to play, finding out that the motel turns off the power to the block heater outlets at 7 am…when you wake up after a gig, at 11 am, truck frozen solid, and so on.

With all of the winter hazards and hardships planted in your mind, here’s one that took place right in the heart of downtown Toronto one cold winter night in 1987.

I was mixing the Scott Merritt Band at the Horseshoe Tavern on the Queen Street West strip. Everything had gone fine for the first set; however, when we came back after the break for the second set, I immediately noticed that I could neither hear, nor feel, the kick drum.

I quickly ran through the check list, trying to isolate what could have happened while I was away from the console:

XLR plugged in? Check!
Gain set the same as it was? Check!
Insert patch still all the way in? Check!
Inserted gate opening? Check!
Channel showing signal on the LEDs? Check!
Hear it in the PFL? Check!
In the mix output (in the ‘phones)? Check!

So it was hitting and leaving the desk as it should be…must be something happening in the PA. I leave the console and head up to the stage to see if an amp has failed or been turned off, etc. The journey has me working my way across the dance floor, which is crowded, albeit with folks who are moving around kind of listlessly (the act was far from dance oriented, more in the alt-folk rock realm, but even so, the dancing was pretty lethargic).

Finally I reach the front of the stage and a glance at the subwoofers quickly reveals the problem. Locally designed and built boxes called the “HzQuake,” they were a folded horn design with the 15-inch (or 18-inch in some) driver firing backwards into a phase plug, which directed the sound through a 5-foot long passage on either side of a long V-shaped center piece.

This made for a box that could really punch the bass…a marvel to behold, outdoors. Indoors, all of that throw could overwhelm a room pretty easily. As a side note, if you played a Toronto venue called The Guvernment in the late ‘80s through the ‘90s, the house rig had a wall of something like 16 of these subs across the front of the stage. But I digress…

Anyway, because the subs were a folded horn design, they never had – nor needed – front grilles. So the “face” that they presented to the audience was four neat 2-foot by 2-foot cubbyholes (per side), in which this audience decided they could store…wait for it…their winter coats!

I noticed instantly that all four subs were literally stuffed with parkas, as well as assorted scarves and hats. As I started pulling all of this paraphernalia out and dumping it on the floor, I began to hear angry cries of “Hey! That’s my coat…Whoa!” – the “Whoa” being the part when the kick drum started hitting the floor and the dancing became a lot more like…well, dancing!

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