Monday, September 1, 2008

Sound at the Schwab

I had speculated about whether the quality of sound at the Les Schwab Amphitheater was an attribute of the venue or due to the equipment and crew belonging to the artist. Yesterday's Mingo Fishtrap concert answered that question for me: the artist brings their own gear, the amphitheater has no sound system of its own. So it's the artist, the ears of their sound guy, and their equipment budget that determine the quality of the sound.

Mingo Fishtrap--guitar, keyboards, bass, drums, and four horn players (including the highly-important baritone sax)--plays funk. They are a a club band--an extremely good club band--with roots in James Brown and his band, the J.B.'s, Tower of Power, Motown, and Stax. Their equipment is well-suited for enclosed spaces, even big spaces. Even so, when playing outdoors, which requires a lot more power than indoors, the band had a pretty darn good sound, all things considered.

I do make it a habit to sit near the sound man because he's mixing the sound according to how it sounds where he is, so we set up a couple lawn chairs on the grass, I bought a couple beers from the Bend Brewing Co. booth, and we all had a good time.

(Bass player geek note: he had two basses onstage, a p-bass and a j-bass, both 4-string. The j-bass sure looked like a Fender but the decal on the headpiece said something like "SX." I don't know what that was. [Addendum: could he have been playing a $140 "SX" j-bass knockoff from Rondo Music? It sure seems so. The logo on the headstock looks exactly like what I made out on his bass!]. He never played his p-bass. His bass was plugged into an Ampeg SVPro preamp, followed by a dbx 160a compressor/limiter, then into a Crest power amp. A Furman power conditioner keep the line-level gear happy [I'd like to find out whether it really makes a difference to the sound]. The cab was an SWR single 18''. Judging by the lamps on the compressor, he was hitting it real hard. He was plenty loud, but as totoro commented earlier, his tone was muddy. This maybe because of the big slow woofer. J-basses are famous for their growl, which helps define pitch, and a little more growl would have been right nice. He played fingerstyle and if I could play a fifth as well as him I'd be a happy man. He's the father of the lead singer/guitarist.)

These are accomplished player who know their stuff. A joy to hear such a tight band playing one of my favorite styles of music.


  1. I thought that big 18 was part of the problem, maybe even a pair of 10's would've barked out some mids at us. That bad was incredibly tight, though. Even when the singer/guitarist took off running into some fiery solos, he was dead on along with the rest of the band. Great bassist, too I agree. Bela Fleck is coming to the Tower sometime, wonder if Wooten will be along, too. Binoc's and a journal to keep gear lists in, req'd concert going attire from now on, I love that stuff.

  2. Oh well now -- Wooten. I wonder how a fellow can find out such things before laying down the green for tickees.

  3. Just looked at the Flecktones' website. Wooten is a solid, all the time, permanent member on bass and their tour dates include Bend on November 1th. Wow. Victor Wooten in person. I feel like, unless it's prohibitively expensive (which some Tower events are,) Boston and I will be there. Maybe I'll take Sommer, too. :)

  4. My guess, the precision bass was a back-up. It stops the whole band when the bass player has a technical, so a second unit is mandatory in a pro touring band. Lots of stuff can happen on the road to take out electronics, and one can never tell when it's going to happen. Bass is critical; you can't jam without the bass player. Period.

    Since when does growl define pitch? Growl is distortion, which contributes to muddy bass.

  5. "Growl is distortion, which contributes to muddy bass."

    I dunno... Jaco was known for having 'growl' and I don't think of mud when I think of Jaco.

    BTW, did y'all hear about this?:

    You guys are gonna see Woot, eh? I hate you. :/ hehe

  6. @ refisher: I promise I will think of you while watching Wooten.

    @ closerok: I consider "growl" to be due to midrange harmonics without which pitch is harder to distinguish.


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