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No Journalist Allowed

Steve Vali, Production Manager for the Marcus Amphitheater  walked me out on stage and introduced me to Dick Adams, Pearl Jam's Production Manager. We met, shook hands, and he told me where to find Dave Rat and Bret Eliason.

They had a 10 a.m. call that morning.  It was 11 a.m. Yet, Rat already had one cluster of his Rat traps flying.  I didn't want to bother him and decided to make my way to the FOH.  Before I could make my way off the stage, Karrie Keyes (monitor engineer) stopped me for a quick, "Hi, thanks for coming," a nice warm welcome from a very busy lady.  At about the same time, I was approached by Smitty (monitor tech) with a handshake and "how the hell ya been?"

I walked up to the FOH.  Eliason was also very warm in his welcome and we talked for about 15 minutes.  Near the end of our conversation, he told me, "You know, there's no journalists allowed these three dates.  Absolutely none."  I gulped hard and Dave Rat came walking up.  I asked Rat about my credentials and out of the corner of my eye, I looked at Eliason and he was smiling.  Rat walked us into the Pearl Jam's production office, where I stood by the door waiting to hear that I had driven all that way from Chicago for nothing.  Instead, I overheard a voice saying "Dave, if you say he's a cool Joe, than he's a cool Joe.  We talked about this before and its been okayed by everyone."  I stepped into the room and it was Eric Johnson, Pearl Jam's road manager.  Live Sound! International was the only publication in the world at this point to be granted all access to Pearl Jam's 1995 "Sponsored By No One" summer tour.  They had closed it off to print, television and radio media.  Rat explained there was a trust factor involved.  I nodded in acceptance.  He pulled out a list of names and phone numbers of trade industry journalists on a crumpled piece of paper who had contacted him, another nod was given.

Pearl Jam - The Human Element

By Nort Johnson

The human element of our industry equates somewhat low on the corporate live sound and major concert touring richter scale.  There was a time, lets say twenty five or thirty years ago, when bands hired their friends.  A good example of this might be the relationship between the Grateful Dead, UltraSound and their entire entourage.  After all, it's the 90's, operating and running a major tour has become big corporate business.  By the time an act has their first gold record - their friends, the people who sweated it out through the early years, are usually replaced.  All of a sudden business managers come into play who advise the new mega stars on their new mega replacements, ie. a new sound company, the latest and greatest FOH engineer, new backline help, etc.  This essentially replaces all the folks who toiled through the early development of the act.

Pearl Jam, who have become a household word in the 90's, have become a good "exception to the rule" of the steadfast corporate laws of this decade.  They have somehow managed to retain most of the crew who roughed it out with them through the early club tours.  Tim "Skully" Quinlan (instrument, stage, and tour technician), has been with them from the beginning.  After the recent 1995 summer tour was over, he drove the band's gear back to Seattle, just like he did in the early days.  The only difference is today its a little more profitable for him. Brett Eliason (FOH engineer), also weathered through the lean mean days and when it was time to hire a sound company, the band left it up to Eliason to choose.  His decision was not solely based on affordability or equipment, but also based on the human element.  After touring as a support act for the Red Hot Chili Peppers in 1991, Eliason chose Rat Sound.

"When I met Dave, Karrie and Smitty the vibe was there,"  Eliason says. "To begin with, the outlook from the band from day one was pretty clear.  The reason they were hiring the people that they were was because they wanted a good vibe.  They wanted us to get along like a family.  We were pretty much pups when we got into this.  I had quite a bit of studio experience but I had never gone out and done any other road tour before Pearl Jam.  They were trying to find people that were competent at their jobs, that would grow with them and create a family environment.  The immediate crew and band have been together so long that we're all great friends."

                                                          RATS IN THE FAMILY

During the onset of Pearl Jam's first club tour, Dave Rat, Karrie Keyes (monitor engineer), and Smitty (monitor tech and no last name  - "it's just Smitty"), were propositioned by the band and Eliason on the possibility of supplying a rig for their first tour.  "Me and Smitty talked to Stone [guitarist Gossard] about putting a system together for them because they didn't have a lot of money at first," Keyes explained.  "Just tell us what you can afford, we'll put it in a truck and we'll do it," she told him.  "I actually turned down doing the Chili Peppers in Europe for Pearl Jam's first tour.  There were other contracts at the time too.  Nirvana was getting ready to go out and we had worked with their management before.  At that time, that would have been the thing to go after, the Peppers or Nirvana.  There was another band, Social Distortion, that Smitty and I have known for years, and they wanted us to take out a rig with them.  But we both said, `No, we want to do Pearl Jam.'  Dave was cool, he said he didn't want to do it.  He was the FOH for the Peppers, so he went with them to Europe.  He told us we could do whatever we wanted with the rig.  He knew we weren't going to make much money but he said, `If that's what you guys want to do, then go for it.'"

From that point on, it's been Keyes behind the monitor desk and Keyes alone, except for the infamous Smitty of course who stays glued to her side like Rin Tin Tin to Sergeant Preston.  They work well as a team together.  It was Smitty who braved the mosh pits of the early days and dove head first after Vedder into the crowd with extra mic cable in hand.

So what kind of qualifications did Smitty have before Rat sound and Pearl Jam?  "Dave Rat hired me because he didn't want me to go out and get a nine to five job."  Smitty confesses, "I was just a local crew guy pushing boxes and I had only been doing that about a year.  I remember him telling me, `No!  We can't have you going out and getting a nine to five job!  The Chili Peppers are going out on tour, we'll teach you how to do monitors.'  I thought it was a joke.  I called him up the next night and asked him if he was serious and he said, `Yeah I'm serious!'  And I said why would you even consider hiring me and he said, `Well you're funny.'  And that was the qualifications for the Chili Peppers/Pearl Jam/ Smashing Pumpkins tour - I was funny.  When he hired me I had never wired anything up.  I spent a month and a half learning what an amp rack was and what it did.  He taught me the mics and how to wire the stage.  I had no tech background at all.  And now I'm the monitor tech for Pearl Jam and it totally rules!" he says laughing.  "It's amazing!  I laugh every time I look out, like tonight in Soldiers Field, and there's 50,000 people here.  My friends in San Francisco couldn't believe it.  They were like, `Dude, you were on the stage - you really do have a job!"


Keyes  elaborated on what it's like mixing one of the loudest on stage mixes in the music business.  "When we first started working with Pearl Jam on the Peppers' tour, we tried ringing out the monitors but there was no way.  Keyes concurred, "I don't have to ride them as much anymore.  For one, we have a little more stage room than we used to have, but the first couple of years Eddie had his mic everywhere.  It was either in a guitar rig or a monitor wedge or a side-fill.  I think the band has mellowed and learned some limitations."

Even though Keyes says they have more room now, the actual stage's playing field on this tour is relatively small compared to most major touring acts.  The stage in Chicago's Soldiers Field dwarfed the set.  It's only 33 feet from sidefill to sidefill and 16 feet from the center monitor to drummer Jack Irons small drum-riser which is less than one foot high off the stage.  This makes for a very intimate setting for the band as well as the crew.  "One thing that's helped on this tour as opposed to the last is, we're using a headset instead of fills on the drums."  The stage was modeled after their rehearsal room in Seattle and includes a replica of work by an artist, a friend of Gossard's.  A copper hand crafted chandelier flies about 12 feet above the stage and it's this piece of artwork that helps create a kind of false ceiling for the band.  This left the perfect opportunity for "those dirty Rats" to conceal two of their tri-amped wedges for center stage fill which eliminated stage wedges behind Vedder.  This leaves the stage less cluttered in a sense.  They still have all the stuffed toys, plants, candles, and other fixtures that they use in their rehearsal space, right down to the Oriental carpet for Keyes mix position.


A band like Pearl Jam can create a testing environment for pro-audio akin to the nuclear testing in the western deserts of the United States in the 1950's.  Karrie Keyes, Rat Sound and Pearl Jam were instrumental in helping Audex develop the R.A.T. version OM7 vocal mic.  "When they first came out to demo the mics at the shop, they sounded pretty good but they didn't have a round grill on them," Rat explained.

"We knew most of our clients wouldn't work with them having the flat grill on top so they put a round grill on top that made it look and feel more like a 58 which is what the bands were used to on their lips.  It also helped us get more gain before feedback because it was closer to the diaphragm.  We ordered some with the round grills and they were really successful.  Then Audex started doing testing of these specific mics on their own.  Audex found that they were way bassier than what they felt the mics should be.  Then Audex started rolling off the bass on them without telling us.  We started getting ones that were thin, so we were getting two different types.  We complained about the change in sound so I talked to the guy that designed them.  They sent us out a dozen mics with all different roll offs.  We went through them and selected something similar in sound but a little bassier than a 58 but had almost the same gain before feedback as the ones we were using.  Audex kept the one mic out of the twelve we selected as a reference.  Now all the Audex OM7's you order with the round grill come to that spec."


The Voodoo Dance

"Our first show opening for Lollapalooza at the Shoreline Amphitheater was probably the biggest nightmare the crew ever had.  Everything that could go wrong, went wrong," Bret Eliason reflects.  "The backline wasn't working, the monitors were crazy, I had begged the sound company to make sure I had a spare vocal mic.  They didn't understand the importance of that.  They weren't use to working with bands like Pearl Jam, I think at that point, and least not the guys that were working out there.  During the first song, Eddie smashed his vocal mic.  You know, he throws that thing around, and he did it a lot more back then.  I went three songs without a vocal mic.  I reached up to crank up the subs up a little bit and got my hand slapped off the board.  It was just a bad day.  We had a big crew meeting that night.  We came to the conclusion that partly it was just a bad day, there was bad voodoo, and part of it was there were things that we should have followed through more with.  So we decided we needed to create good vibes, good voodoo, before shows.  So we decided to do what the band use to do, and that was go behind the backline, get into a huddle, and focus before the show."

What Eliason is talking about, is what has become a ritual with Pearl Jam's entire crew.  About five minutes before the band walks out onto the stage, Jeff Ousley (guitar tech), Jimmy Shoaf (production assistant), George Webb (bass tech), Nicky Alexander (drum tech), Gary Perkins (stage manager), Sony Felho (sound tech), Skully (guitar tech), Kevin Shuss (first tour merchandising/last tour production assistant/this tour archive videotographer/next tour sound tech), Smitty and Keyes join in the huddle.  They talk, they scream, and they stomp their feet for about 20 seconds in a show of solidarity.  Then all at the same moment they high five each other, hug, and shake hands all around.  It drives the fans into a frenzy, just minutes before the band takes the stage.  If you've every seen the cover of Pearl Jam's first album, Ten, you get the picture.

Pearl Jam is unique in a lot of ways.  Musically, they have created anthems for a whole new generation but are still able to impress and awe previous generations.  Pearl Jam's live performance compared to most acts of the 90's, is like comparing Chernoble to a bonfire.  I remember Eddie Vedder telling the audience the first night in Milwaukee that if the previous generation was "X," then they must be the "Y" generation. "Keep asking questions!" he declared.  A valid statement to an impressionable audience caught up in the everyday turmoil of the 90's.  After all, if you don't ask questions - How do you know what's going on?  How do you learn?  And how can you be taught?

Live Sound! International would like to thank Kelly Curtis, Eric Hausch, Eric Johnson, Dick Adams, Steve Vali and James from Monkey-wrench Radio for their undivided attention and cooperation.  We would like to express our thanks to  everybody in the band or on crew we didn't mention.


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