Your browser is out-of-date!

Update your browser to view this website correctly. Update my browser now


Rush: digital men and an analogue world

Canadian band Rush have been around since the early 1970s and are evidently still going strong. Reinhard Rasen caught up with them in the midst of last month's European tour at the Newcastle show which took place at Metro Radio Arena...

Canadian power trio Rush have been fairly regular visitors to British shores in the last ten years. Last month saw them touring Europe with their Time Machine show and, as in 2004 and 2007, Clair Brothers provided the full event production for the dozen dates, writes Reinhard Rasen. Rush like to give value for money, and this tour was no different: a three-hour set, perfectly blending the stunning video with lighting and audio and an inventive stage design. The cavernous surroundings of Newcastle’s 11,000-capacity Metro Radio Arena may be multipurpose in nature, but its forte is certainly not in acoustics. However, the team of seasoned Clair pros know a few tricks in tackling tricky venues. Entertainment technology has advanced since 2007, so what makes Rush’s recent visit a little more interesting are the changes the technicians have adopted over the four years. “We sometimes beta test equipment for manufacturers,” commented Californian sound engineer Brad Madix. “But by and large we like to stick to a game plan in rehearsals leading to the tour.” Madix was once again joined by monitor engineer Brent Alexander, and between them they satisfied the capacity audience and the three most critical ears in the room: those of band members Geddy Lee (bass and vocals), Alex Lifeson (guitars) and Neil Peart (drums). Madix himself has worked with Rush since 1990 and is given the full permission of the band to create his own sound, but the band members can be hands on. “Geddy and I were listening to playback and discussing the blend of the bass inputs. I showed him the faders and asked him to put them where he liked it. Once he found the balance, we set it. Similarly, Alex did the same with Brent on monitors when he was struggling with his acoustic and EQ’ed it the way he wanted.” Having taken the Crane Song Phoenix plug-in to heart on the Snakes & Arrows 2007 tour, Madix has gone further with his soundscapes. “I am still working on the Avid D-Show Profile board, which is loaded with some interesting plug-ins, as I did for Snakes & Arrows. I came across the API 2500 compressor and now use it on the vocals – it’s great for tonal shaping. I have also plugged in an SSL Channel Strip and API 550A equaliser. I’ve used the original before, but I haven’t had the opportunity to compare the SSL plug-in against the hardware. But I would have to say that the plug-in would stand up side by side against the real thing. I saw Eddie Kramer recently on a video comment that he couldn’t tell the difference with the Neve plug-in either.” Geddy Lee’s original bass signal is split through an Avid Eleven Rack, whilst Alex Lifeson’s direct guitar is fed through Palmer PDI-03 speaker simulators, which are directly connected to the speaker outputs of the amplifiers. “There are two main guitar inputs, one very effected and quite wet, the other completely dry – no flange or chorus or anything. We’ve adopted Waves PS22 spread plug-ins to give the guitar a wider image. The SSL buss compressor comes into its own on the solos. I’m using two separate stereo drum busses into the SSL plug for the drum sound together with some Crane Song and Pultec MEQ5 for the midrange, which I then blend together.” 
King of the kit Peart’s customised drum kit is a working piece of art. Drum Workshop produced a barrel-stave redwood kit with copper leaf and silver alchemy symbols, which drum technician Lorne “Gump” Wheaton has to lovingly piece together and disassemble for each concert. It is home to no fewer than 22 microphones, including the slim-line Audio-Technica pencil condensers and dual-element kickdrum microphones. “I started to use Audio-Technica microphones when they brought out the AT4050,” professes Madix. “You can use their microphones on lots of different things and get great sounds out of them – they’re very versatile. Their microphones have a mid-range that I personally like. I’ve not heard anything quite as impressive as the AT4060 tube mics overhead. There is a Neumann KM 84 on the ride, as well as some Shure SM98s below the splash cymbals and on the snare. In fact there are a total of three mics on the snare where the SM98 is joined with an AT23he on top and there is an ATAE3000 on the bottom.” Four AT6100 vocal microphones are positioned on stage for Geddy Lee – one behind his keyboard and bass pedal rack, another on stage and a third as back up. Alex Lifeson has a matching microphone for backing. The band decided to use in-ears in 2002, which has added to the clean on-stage appearance. Wireless monitoring included three Sennheiser 3054 transmitters and Ultimate Ears UE-7’s have ensured a 24dB reduction in volume. There are some unusual customised copper microphones adorning the Time Machine artefacts on stage, which could soon be manufactured for the masses. Clair Brothers’ own line array system was once again employed on the tour: fourteen 18” i-5s and fourteen single 18” i-5Bs (ten were hung for the Newcastle concert) hanging either side of the stage, with eight i-5s per side making up the side fills, all powered by Lab.gruppen PLM20000Q amplifiers. (The i-5s have been remodelled on the original i-4s.) As in previous years, Madix has made calculations using his Clair I/O, Lake EQ and Gateway wireless tablet to ensure the best possible mix for all the seats in the house. Primarily a Mac man, Madix continues to use a Metric Halo SpectraFoo. “I feel that I can watch things more in real-time with SpectraFoo whilst mixing.” Madix has his views on sound levels too. “I like to keep it at around 98dB without the vocals. Reverberant field is reverberant field. If you make the perceived volume higher by manipulating the dynamic range of the mix, there’s a little less range but it’s more in your face.” During the performance, the crew are relaxed, preferring to oversee the system. As the title of the 1984 Rush album suggests, they epitomise ‘Grace under Pressure’. It would appear that the real homework is performed during the rehearsals prior to the tour, when the musicians and the main technicians got together at Clair Brothers Canadian rehearsal facility in Toronto in March. “We came off the road in October last year and didn’t really need to change a lot,” furthers Madix. “I found the API plug-ins on the last leg of the tour, but didn’t want to introduce it until we came off the road. I don’t like to tweak anything we haven’t rehearsed and saved to set. ” As the band take to the stage for Spirit of the Radio heralding the start of the 180-minute marathon, Madix’s crisp but fat sound is very evident. There are many layers of vocals, keyboards and guitars occupying the mid and upper-mid range, but they seem to blend perfectly. Having released their debut album in 1974, Rush are hardly fading away and continue to push the technological boundaries both in the studio and on stage, with a little help from their inner sanctum of technicians.