Morrissey: Peace By Piece

by Thomas S. Friedman
in Production Profile

The L-Acoustics K2 rig proved just right at Red Rocks. Photo by Jon WinklerMoz Sweeps the States on His 'World Peace is None of Your Business' Tour with Thunder Audio

Stephen Patrick Morrissey, best known simply as Morrissey or “Moz,” has never been one to shy away from controversy. Whether publicly voicing his disgust for England’s monarchy system or lambasting the global meat production industry for “murder,” the former Smiths’ frontman always has plenty to say — both in speech and song.

Most of the tour stops were mid-sized venues, such as Chicago’s Civic Opera House.With a prolific solo music career now creeping up on three decades, Moz just completed a two-month U.S. tour running through June and July. Supporting his tenth and latest studio release, World Peace Is None Of Your Business, the production stopped at some of the country’s most historic and opulent performance spaces — including New Orleans’ Saenger Theatre, Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium, Chicago’s Civic Opera House and St. Paul’s Fitzgerald Theater — not to mention larger venues like Denver’s picturesque Red Rocks and New York City’s famed Madison Square Garden. After some time off, Morrissey begins a European tour leg next month, kicking off on September 15 at the Plymouth Pavilions (Plymouth, England) and wrapping in Skopje, Macedonia in mid-October.

Although Morrissey has racked up considerable miles with several different touring sound companies in the past, Livonia, Michigan-based Thunder Audio was tapped for this summer’s trek — its first outing with the artist — and supplied an L-Acoustics K2 system for main P.A. duties.

The Chicago P.A. utilized a simple stacked arrangement.Bringing Out The Thunder

“I’ve used L-Acoustics Kudo arrays in the past, and the band have relied on ARCS sidefills for more than a decade, but we hadn’t ever toured with K2,” says Dave “Milky” Millward, Morrissey’s go-to FOH engineer since his 2004 release, You Are the Quarry.

“K2’s fidelity has been remarkably good, and I’ve been tremendously impressed,” he enthuses. “Certain songs have a lot going on, and in the past I’ve had to make decisions like, ‘I’m never going to make that particular element heard, so I’ll just leave it alone.’ But, with this P.A., I’ve found that some of those subtle nuances I couldn’t bring out on other systems suddenly now had a place in the mix. It was really quite astounding.”

Millward further appreciates that he has very little frequency tweaking to do on a nightly basis. “We have four   LM 44s that we’re using for overall system EQ, but I’m hardly touching them,” he says. “This is the least EQ’ing I think I’ve done on any P.A. for years!”

The typical loudspeaker setup for most nights, according to Thunder Audio system tech Jon Winkler, has been 14 K2 flown per side, each paired with an adjacent hang of four K1-SB low-frequency extension enclosures. Four SB28 subs (ground-stacked below each array) augmented the LF, while three ARCS II cabinets sitting atop two more SB28 on either side of the stage served as sidefills. The entire system was driven by 30 L-Acoustics LA8 amplified controllers housed in 10 LA-RAK touring racks — five on each side of the stage.

Stage right P.A. and sidefill arrangement for Edgefield show in Troutdale, OR. Photo by Jon WinklerGoing Large for MSG

For the larger Madison Square Garden show, Thunder Audio contacted Red Hook, New York-based Firehouse Productions to supply 24 larger K1 enclosures — flown 12 per side with four K2 downs. Thunder Audio’s own inventory of 16 K2 per side was deemed more than sufficient to handle Red Rocks, the tour’s next largest venue.

Winkler, who took Thunder Audio’s K2 rig out with Vampire Weekend last fall and Yusuf Islam (née Cat Stevens) earlier this year, points out that the system’s flexibility was absolutely mission-critical to the success of the this tour: “Given the wide range of room geometries, K2’s rigging versatility really came in handy. There were times where we found ourselves flying the whole system one day, ground-stacking everything the next, then doing a combination of half-flown, half-ground-stacked the day after that. The K2-Bump rigging frame made it easy to accommodate every venue we visited, no matter how different it was from the day before.”

The Mix Position

System Engineer Jon Winkler (left) and FOH engineer Dave ‘Milky’ MillwardWith Thunder Audio supplying the stateside P.A. and road crew, SSE of Redditch, England continues to globally furnish the house and monitor control packages. For the past three years, Millward’s FOH console of choice for Moz has been Allen & Heath’s iDR10 modular MixRack and iLive-80 Control Surface equipped with a Dante Card for multi-track recording and virtual sound checking. Millward also carries an A&H PL-10 compact mixer for remote control and 64 channels of Dante are available for archiving shows to a MacBook Pro running Pro Tools.

“This is my third time around the world with this console, and I love it,” Millward shares, noting that his input tally for this leg added up to 44, not including additional audience mics for the multitracks. “It’s easy to air freight and takes up so little space. Plus, I don’t tend to rely on a lot of plug-ins or other processing.”

And he’s not kidding; he has no outboard gear, and is very sparse in his selection of what to use on the desk. “Over the years, I’ve tried all sorts of things with other consoles — Focusrite ISAs, Summits, Avalons, and so on — but since using the iLive, I’ve just used the built-in microphone preamps and channel compressors, because they’re just so good. I put a little bit of dynamic compression and subtle reverb on the lead vocal, which helps eliminate some brittleness and smooth it out at times, but that’s about it.”

Morrissey prefers a hardwired Shure KSM9 HSWith so few “bells and whistles” applied to Morrissey’s voice, having the right microphone is absolutely essential — especially in light of the fact that his lyrics bounce between cleverly witty and affectingly powerful. In recent years, that solution for both tone and intelligibility has been the handheld — and hardwired — Shure KSM9 HS condenser mic.

“Obviously, his voice is paramount,” Millward describes. “But at the same time, he doesn’t want to have his voice ‘up here’ and the band ‘down there.’ He really likes having the power of the band, and since I’ve been with them — and particularly since the Ringleader of the Tormentors tour  — they’ve gotten louder and more ‘rocky.’ So it’s a bit of a balancing act, but the KSM9 HS helps his vocal really occupy the right place in the mix and sound clear and warm, which is a great complement to his smooth voice.

“And Morrissey is keenly aware of how everything sounds,” Millward adds. “When we initially switched from his previous KSM9 to the newer HS version, he noticed the difference straight away and commented on how much he enjoyed it. And we can tell by the looks on the audience’s faces that they can hear every word.”

And in This Corner...

On the stage end of the analog cable split is Will King, who served as a monitor tech for Morrissey several years ago—prior to moving to Sydney and running FOH for Australia’s X Factor and The Voice television shows. King rejoined the crew this year as the monitor engineer and manned an Allen Heath iLive-112 likewise paired with an iDR10 MixRack.

Although IEM systems have been suggested from time to time, King points out that Moz strictly prefers the hardwired mic and wedges combination. “He really likes to feel the crowd and room—especially in these beautiful old venues — so in-ears, when suggested, have always gotten the thumbs down. His rider calls for a pair of d&b M2 or self-powered Meyer MJF-212 wedges at center stage paired with the band’s sidefills, which are three L-Acoustics ARCS II cabinets sitting on two SB28 subs 40 feet apart on either side of the stage. Those are really nice — a bit warmer and tighter than the original ARCS — and they’re the single most important element to the vibe onstage. Plus, I personally love that they’re considerably lighter than the previous models!”

King notes that he manages a civilized total of nine mixes, including three stereo Sennheiser G3 IEM sends for keyboard / accordion / trumpet / didgeridoo player Gustavo Manzur, drummer Matthew Ira Walker, and guitarist/musical director Boz Boorer, who only occasionally pops in a single earpiece for the click track. Walker and Boorer each also have a single MJF-212 wedge, as do guitarist Jesse Tobias and the band’s newest member, bassist Mando Lopez. Beyond the three in-ear mixes and four wedge mixes, King further supplies two more stereo mixes for backline techs as well as sends for the stereo ARCS II/SB28 sidefills.

“I run sidefills off of a stereo aux as opposed to two separate buses, then use the pan to adjust things,” says the monitor engineer. “The left sidefill is the left side of that stereo aux, and the right is the right, which is very simple. I also like to keep the band members placed in their general stage positions in the sidefill mix so it feels very natural to Morrissey as he moves about the stage.”

And move about he does. “He’s a very active lead singer, roaming all over the place,” Millward chimes in, “and his microphone cable, which he swings around, becomes part of how he moves. Consequently, we keep the deck as clear as possible, right down to eliminating the use of stage lip fills.”

Speaking of roaming, Millward notes that he likes to “put a lot of inputs into the system, so I can walk around with my iPad and switch off in-fills [typically a pair of d&b Q10s] and balance things up without requiring that the system tech be present. Jonny [Winkler] did the bulk of the system setup on this tour, and then I would walk around and adjust things to taste using Allen & Heath’s iPad app, which is great. I’ve known people who have mixed entire shows on it.”

The Big Picture

Now that the summer U.S. tour leg has wrapped, Morrissey’s schedule takes a brief hiatus with only three performances on the books for August. But, come September, he’ll be heading back to the U.K. and Europe for a couple more months on the road with a full gear complement once again backed by SSE.

“At the end of the day, when you find people that you like how they work, but also enjoy their company, you want to hang on to them,” sums Millward. “There are some great P.A. companies in the world, but the only things that make them great is that their gear is really well put together, it’s easily serviceable, and their people are decent to deal with. But when you get out on the road, it’s the crews that literally decide the tone and fate of the tour. Thankfully, the crews from both SSE and Thunder have been lovely — and I don’t necessarily consider myself the easiest person to work with. Actually, I take that back; I think I’m really easy,” he laughs “As long as everybody does exactly as I say, I’m absolutely fantastic to work with!”

 

Morrissey World Peace is None of Your Business Tour

Crew

Sound Companies: Thunder Audio (USA); SSE (Europe)

FOH Engineer: Dave “Milky” Millward

Monitor Engineer: Will King

System Tech: Jon Winkler

Production Manager: Mitch Cramer

Tour Manager: Jacob “Jake” Rosswog

 

Gear

P.A. System

Main/Aux Hangs: (28) L-Acoustics K2 (14/side)

Subs: (8) L-Acoustics K1-SB (flown 4/side); (8) L-Acoustic SB28 (ground stacked 4/side)

Amplification: (30) L-Acoustics LA8 amplified controllers in (10) LA-RAK touring racks

 

FOH Gear

FOH Consoles: Allen & Heath iLive-80 Control Surface with iDR10 modular MixRack; Allen & Heath PL10 utility mixer

Recording: Dante feed from console to MacBook Pro running Pro Tools

Drive System: (4) LM 44s

Vocal Mic: Shure KSM9 HS

 

Monitor Gear

Monitor Console: Allen Heath iLive-112 with iDR10 MixRack

Sidefills: (6) L-Acoustics ARCS II (3/side) with two SB28/side

Wedges: (4) d&b M2 or Meyer MJF-212

IEM: Sennheiser G3