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Inside Story: Sound Reinforcement For AC/DC’s Black Ice Concert Tour

Detailing sound for AC/DC live in concert - one of the biggest tours of the year - as well as the insights and views of the audio professionals who've put together and drive a system providing excellent sound reinforcement, night after night

By Nort Johnson December 23, 2008

AC/DC in mid-concert form, with sound by a veteran crew utilizing premium components like EV X-Array. For more images, be sure to check out the photo gallery that accompanies this article.

In 1976, I was hired on the local crew to pitch and bail scaffolding and deck for my first stadium show at the historic Comiskey Park in Chicago. It was a July 8 truck tip and the day of the show was July 10. The temperature hovered around 100 degrees for the duration.

We erected the monster in the left center field bleachers over the seats where Babe Ruth and Nellie Fox used to tear the hides off of well-greased Spauldings.

On the day of show, we were not concerned about Ruth or Fox but rather the headliner of the day – Aerosmith and support bands Rick Derringer, Jeff Beck with Ian Hammer. But first, there would be some band from Australia. The entire crew had never heard of AC/DC.

Fast forward 32 years and on Saturday, November 1, 2008, I found myself standing in the parking lot of the Allstate Arena outside Chicago at about 11 a.m. waiting for the sound crew bus to arrive. This was the third sold-out show of AC/DC’s Black Ice Tour.

Security was tight. About the tightest tour security I’ve seen in 30-plus years. Two weeks prior to the show I was told this article would not be possible. Tour security and production would not allow it. Then Harry Witz and Paul “Pab” Boothroyd got involved and cleared the path.

Witz (Clair Global) has designed and built some of the largest PA systems in history, which include Monsters of Rock in Moscow (1,000,000 people) and several of the Rolling Stones tours among others, and he’s also been a consultant for Electro-Voice for many years and was part of the design team for X-Array and XLC line array.

Pab is a mechanical engineer by trade, originally from Birkenhead, England – the other side of the river from Liverpool. He started out in this business when he received a call from a girl in a band to fix a van, and ended up rigging sound. He provided basic sound for local bands in clubs and pubs during the Margaret Thatcher years, and has worked with Paul McCartney since the late 1980’s and AC/DC since the mid-1990s. His first country tour with Faith Hill last year marked the first time he’s done sound in the round.

Pab and Witz both worked together on the design and deployment of this tour’s system. “It’s about 25 percent bigger than the Stones No Security Tour,” stated Witz, as we started our tour of the system, arrays flying overhead. “After deploying those things for years, we’ve learned new tricks on the combination of boxes and where they go into the array.

“This particular configuration in the array has not been done before and it’s working real good. We’re using a Clair/Lake DLP for the front end of the system, and the amp racks for the 96-box X-Array loudspeaker system all have XTA processors in them. Clair figured out a way to integrate both of them together so that they operate off the same tablet. It’s a real slick system. Clair has used tablets to control their Lake systems, the Clair IO and Lake DLP’s. They run as one now – we’re probably the only ones who know how to do that.”

When we reached the audio bridge in the large arena, I almost fell over with excitement. There sat a Midas Pro 40! I had not seen one of these deployed on a tour this size in years. I got fired up and when Pab walked up behind me and we started to talk about it. I needed to know how old it was and where it had been. In its day, it was the staple of touring consoles.

“The drawings show that the desk was hand built in 1985 or 1987… somewhere in that period,” recalled Pab. “It originates as a concert sound console in the UK which was marketed after such acts like Dire Straights, so it might have been one of the desks Peter Grainger used to use back in the late ’80s. It’s a desk I’ve used many times in my career and it’s a beautiful console.”

It’s the proverbial Rolls Royce of FOH consoles. Pab continued on the highlights of this old road relic and some of his favorite desks. “There’s gold connectors in there which are high quality connectors. It’s been fault free,” he said. “A couple of world tours I did with AC/DC were on a XL4, which is probably my favorite analog console still because it has a wealth of features.

For more images, be sure to check out the photo gallery that accompanies this article.

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Kurt Jeske says

“The X-Array is amazing, with the tweaking that Witz and Clair have done serving as yet another testament to this industry’s technology forward leaps. All night, the PA sounded as good as any line array. It’s a fast machine, they keep the motors clean and as a result, AC/DC is now one of the best sounding shows that I’ve ever seen.”

They must not have seen the same show in Chicago that I did. Everyone in the section I was in was very disappointed in the sound quality. It was extremely bright with muddy vocals and way to loud. My ears rang for 3 days afterward. Wish I had brought my plugs but I figured with the quality of sound by lesser groups I would not need them for the such an accomplished group.

Great show but terrible sound.

Jeff Hatfield says

EV still sounds like EV to me; regardless of the console and processing.
It’s still hard to beat Vdosc… 
But… regardless of the PA, Console & Processing, there is still no excuse for indistinguishable vocals in the mix.  Most sound guys just don’t get that; and instead, spend interminable ammounts of time working on toms, mic placement and SmaartLive, instead of listening.  So much for that lost art….

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