Ann Wilson Rocks Solo

by Kevin M. Mitchell
in Production Profile
Ann Wilson of Heart 2017 tour photo by Steve Jennings
Ann Wilson of Heart 2017 tour photo by Steve Jennings

With sister Nancy tied up with another project, Ann Wilson has hit the road with her appropriately named “Ann Wilson of Heart” tour. The first leg included 20 shows that kicked off March 8 at the Moore Theatre in Wilson’s hometown of Seattle and wrapped up on April 7 at the Park Theatre PAC in Providence, RI. The second leg, including 23 concerts, is slated to launch May 19 at Indio, CA’s Fantasy Springs Casino. It continues through early July, wrapping up in Anaheim, CA.

In a pre-tour statement, Wilson said, “the stage is a magical place where I can be beautifully in and out of control, where I can build a fire and then jump into it. I’ve never been much good at talking, but I can sing, and when I sing, I connect with people in a much deeper, higher way.” The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame vocalist added that fans “can expect the unexpected. The music will be a mix of songs that have powered my life; iconic soul stirring covers, songs from my years of solo work and the unforgettable songs of Heart.”

And in this regard, she definitely delivered, with the tour providing Wilson with the opportunity to reinterpret some Heart classics, plus dive into a wide array of covers from her heroes including Jimi Hendrix, Yes, Peter Gabriel — and even Screamin’ Jay Hawkins and Ray Charles — among many others. She’s pushing herself, her band and her crew to long two-plus hour shows and getting rewarded by the crowds for doing so.

For the tour, Wilson selected her backing band from the usual suspects — folks who have played with Heart and/or her side projects, including guitarist Craig Bartock, bassist Andy Stoller and drummer/percussionist Denny Fongheiser, along with veteran studio/touring keyboardist Dan Walker. She’s also taken out the Heart crew family, including veteran sound engineers Matt Sabin (FOH) and Matt LaVoice (monitors), both of which have done stints with Heart.

FOH engineer Matt Sabin. Photo by Steve Jennings

Being “Volunteered”

Sabin is a Midwestern boy, growing up in Cincinnati and Chicago. “I had a musically influential family,” he says. “My paternal grandmother was an accomplished pianist, my parents loved a variety of different artists, and my siblings and cousins all played instruments. I gravitated to the drums at an early age and have played in bands throughout my entire life.”

At 18, he was working local Chicago venues when he stumbled on mixing. “Someone was sick one day and I was ‘volunteered.’ From then on, I just wanted to mix.” He was mentored along the way at Chicago clubs like Double Door and Metro, and he has also worked in local studios.

By age 22, he was touring with some Chicago-based bands, and he has since supported other acts including Cheap Trick, Shiny Toy Guns, Hugo, Avalanche City, N.E.R.D. and Tinted Windows, to name a few. “I’ve also worked at a lot of Chicago venues, and with theater and art companies, designing, installing and creating for them.”
Sabin got into the Heart family when he subbed as a drum and keyboard tech for the band in 2008. Four years later, he became a permanent tech, and during that time he mixed FOH for Ann’s solo project. Last year, he moved over to mixing monitors for Heart, and now he’s back at FOH for Ann’s tour. “We are playing mostly theaters with 1,200 to 3,000 capacities,” he says.

Ann Wilson of Heart 2017 tour photo by Steve Jennings

The FOH View

Both Matts are working on Avid VENUE SC48s. “We are both versed in the Avid software and surfaces,” Sabin says. “It was the best bang for the buck that we felt could get the job done.” LaVoice adds that the Avid SC48 wouldn’t necessarily be either of their first choice, but there are budget issues and a packed truck to contend with. It’s a modest tour across the board, and they are using the amps and stacks provided locally or already hanging in the halls they play. “I have had no problems,” Sabin says. “Every P.A. has been well maintained, and the local engineers and techs have been knowledgeable, helpful and open to any requests I have.”

Otherwise, Sabin says he’s not using a lot of plug-ins (just Echofarm and some ‘verbs) due to the DSP limitations, but “I get the job done just fine with the surface gates, comps and EQs. The sidechain filters available on the gates and comps when used properly pretty much let you shape anything you need to. They are very solid features.” He’s also carrying a Lake Contour for EQ on his left/right sends and uses a dbx 120 subharmonic synthesizer on various instruments at different times in the set for impact. Interestingly, a couple of MXR guitar effect pedals are being used at FOH, which he says he likes to use for one-off sounds in certain tunes, like Wilson’s version of The Who’s “The Real Me.” “I didn’t want to burn up DSP for these one-off cues.”

All guitar amps are miked via Sennheiser Evolution e906s, and the bass cabinet has a Beyerdynamic M88 on it. The drums have a wide assortment of mics including Shure Beta 91s, 57As and SM81s; Audix D6s; and Sennheiser 904s, among others. Background vocals have wired Shure SM58s, and Ann is using the wireless version. “It’s the first time I’ve used the 906 as a snare mic. I went with this mic because the drummer has an extreme angle on his snare that my normal choice [a Shure Beta 57] was too obtrusive to his playing when placed correctly. The mic would stick out over the drum and I just couldn’t get it on axis, so I put the 906 on and here we are. It works great in the application.”

Sabin says his biggest challenge with Ann Wilson’s tour is the dynamic and musical range of her set. “The band goes from big rocking Who songs, to quiet acoustic folk tunes like their medley of Yes’ ‘Your Move’ and Black Crowes’ ‘She Talks to Angels,’ to loop-driven originals and covers, and then back to emotional songs like Peter Gabriel’s ‘Don’t Give Up’ and Heart’s ‘Alone.’ The pacing is quick and there are a lot of moves that snapshots can’t cover when you are using a different P.A. every day, so I just try to keep up.” But it’s not that hard, considering who he’s working with. “The good news is, I’ve got Ann Wilson on vocals every night, and you can’t ask for much more than that!”

Monitor Engineer Matt LaVoice. Photo by Steve Jennings

“A Great Vibe” on Monitors

Monitor engineer LaVoice grew up in New Hampshire and got a B.A. in technical theater from Keene State College. “I played in bands in high school and started doing sound in musical theater in college. In 1994, I got a job with Sound Image and have been with them ever since.” He’s mixed monitors for many acts through the years, including The Go-Go’s, Diana Ross, Babyface, Lindsey Buckingham, Billy Idol and Lenny Kravitz, among others. Most recently, he handled monitors for the “Celebrating David Bowie” tour in January. Sound Image first sent him out with Heart in 2006 and he has been working with them for most of their tours since.

“For outboard, we are using an Avalon AD 2022 Class A preamp on the bass DI and [guitarist’s] Craig’s acoustic. It definitely warms it up and is really pretty sounding,” he says. “Aside from that, there are just a couple of Fairchild compressor plug-ins on the keys to lightly compress any loud patches that come through.” He says he doesn’t use compression when handling monitors.

Plenty of action in the drum department — a fairly small DW kit, but with an Akai MPC Renaissance, Korg WaveDrum, djembe, doumbek and assorted hand percussion. Photo by Steve Jennings

“I think it’s really important that the band has dynamics. I think it’s a big part of what is missing in music these days. Everything is squashed and it really drives me crazy.” No wedges clutter the stage and everyone is on IEMs, via Sennheiser SR 2050 hardware. Keyboardist and drummer are hardwired, the other wireless.
“The biggest challenge is just maintaining consistency with the mixes throughout and assortment of different-sized venues,” LaVoice says.

“The show is all about Wilson playing songs she enjoys and has an emotional link to,” Sabin says. “There are a few reimagined Heart songs in there as well. The crowd loves hearing the Heart tunes, but they also really get into a lot of the covers. They sing along and dance — it’s a great vibe.

“The crowds have been very enthusiastic,” LaVoice adds. And he’s not exaggerating — as this article was being written, Ann Wilson announced that the tour would be expanded, with a second leg that begins next month and continues on through July, with a last show at The Grove in Anaheim, CA — something that’s always good news for both artists and crew alike.

Simple-but-effective miking of Craig Bartock’s guitar rig, with a hung Sennheiser Evolution e906 on the sweet spot of each amp. Photo by Steve Jennings

 

Ann Wilson of Heart 2017 Tour

CREW

  • FOH Engineer: Matt Sabin
  • Monitor Engineer: Matt LaVoice
  • Production Manager: Joel Bennet
  • Tour Manager: Mark Chamberlain
  • Assistant Tour Manager: Amie Kirkman
  • Backline Tech: Jeff Ousley
  • Guitar Tech: Edward Mendoza
  • Drum and Key Tech: Roland “Lindz” McKay
  • Lighting Director: Gabi Scheff
  • Video/LED Tech: Raymond Hernandez
  • Equipment Truck Driver: Rich Wilkenson


GEAR

  • MAIN P.A.: House provided or local racks/stacks
  • FOH Console: Avid SC48
  • Outboard: dbx 120 subharmonic synthesizer
  • Drive EQ: Lake Contour
  • Monitor Console: Avid SC48
  • Preamp: Avalon AD2022
  • IEM Hardware: Sennheiser SR 2050
  • Wireless Mic: Shure UR4D with SM58 capsule
  • Mics: Shure SM58 (BG vocals); Sennheiser e906s (guitar amps); Beyer M88 (bass amp); drum mics: Shure Beta 91 (kick in), Audix D6 (kick out), Sennheiser e906 (snare top), Shure Beta 57 (snare bottom), Sennheiser e904s (toms, djembe, doumbek), Shure SM81 (hi-hat), AKG 414 uls (overheads).
  • Direct Box: Radial Space Heater (keys)