News From The Woods - July 3, 2002

NEWS FROM THE WOODS

By Bob Ketchum

Originally Published July 3, 2002


"Rejuvination"


I've been to a lot of great concerts in my time. I was even a concert promoter for a period back in the 70's, so I have many reasons why some are more memorable than others. I can count the number of my all time favorite concerts on two hands. Let's see…..

1971-
Led Zeppelin in Memphis
Grand Funk Railroad in Little Rock (with Bloodrock)
Creedence Clearwater Revival in Tulsa

1972-
Yes in Oklahoma City
Deep Purple in Memphis (with Cactus)
Trapeze in Ft. Smith

1973-
Alice Cooper and Ted Nugent in Little Rock

1974-
Todd Rundgren in Fayetteville
Boston in Memphis

Also, on July 4th, 1975, on the day I got out of the hospital after 13+ weeks recuperating from a gunshot wound in Tulsa I went straight to a concert at the Tulsa Fairgrounds for a concert by The Beach Boys, Leon Russell, and Trapeze.

Then there's quite a gap when I moved back home to establish the studio. But I later got to see Crosby, Stills and Nash on the "Daylight Again" tour in Tulsa (with Joe Vitale and Mike Finnigan as "sidemen"). That was the best concert I'd ever seen to date. The only other band I was eager to see was The Eagles. But that opportunity never presented itself . . . . . until last night.

I have friends who wanted me to be the DJ for an upcoming family event, but they know I would never accept payment for my services, so they conspired to snare me in a way I could not refuse. They arranged to purchase two tickets to an Eagles concert in Little Rock and then sprang them on my wife and I with the added enticement of also watching Robert for the evening. It was an offer I could not refuse even if I'd have wanted to. We had to go.

And go we did.

We arrived in Little Rock by mid afternoon and stopped to get a bite to eat and stroll through a mall before the concert. We got to Alltel Arena about 90 minutes ahead of concert time to just cruise by and check out the facility. I had heard that there was no parking lot for Alltel but did not understand the true meaning of that statement. It seems that for an event like this, every business closes up and charges parking space. Playgrounds, yards, back lots, sidewalk pull-in's… they are ALL FAIR game. We got within two blocks of the place and cars were already seeking prime parking spots. Putting two and two together, I quickly surmised that within thirty minutes the available spaces would be filled up back to another four blocks, so we decided to park immediately.

We found a space that advertised "constant supervision during the concert". That sounded safer considering the neighborhood and the fact that I have a new sports car with a ragtop. After paying my ten spot we were directed to the back of a large metal warehouse on the grass. H-m-m-m-m-m….. There were of course other cars parking before and after mine so it seemed we were there for the duration, like it or not. Jane and I looked at each other, flung the fuzzbuster under the seat and hoped for the best. The good part is that we are within direct line of sight and one block from the entrance to the arena. It's a short walk and as we approach the building I see an enhanced police presence. It hasn't even been a year since 9/11 yet and it is the Independence Holiday, so I suppose that should be expected. I found out later that was due to the crazy parking fiasco. There was an ever-present security force in all areas of the facility, most noticeably the pat down at the front gate.

Looking at the seating arrangement chart back home I was a little concerned about our seating, but after discovering how the stage was set up I quickly realized we were in a very good spot. We sat directly to the left and slightly behind the front of stage. At first you might think it was a poor spot, as the couple next to us thought when arriving at their appointed seats. The PA mains were flown in an array down from the ceiling to the front of house floor seats. There were side fills flown for the audience as well, so we got a nice mix but not at a high volume, therefore we could hear subtle things like the audience singing along with the words. Also, we were as close as the expensive front seats to the stage, just slightly above the back stage and right over the band's exit. I had a view of the entire backstage area and stage left, which contained guitar support and the recording set up. Perfect for someone like me. Not to mention we could see things going on backstage that the general audience in the front missed, like when a road crew member escorted Don Henley's young son, about two years old, to the backstage and seated him about ten feet directly behind his Daddy during the concert. He sat there on his own drum throne and wore earplugs and played air drums. That scene alone was worth a thousand front seat tickets.

If you want to get up to speed quick with the current state of concert technology, attend a concert from a band on the "A" list and you won't be disappointed. You'll see the very latest of everything. The modular stage itself was very understated in its construction. The gear was ergonomically arranged to best facilitate the bands needs and access. My first inspection suggested that there was nothing special about the set up. A second glance confirmed that everything is much smaller than it used to be.

First, the lighting.

There was a quad grid of chrome construction over the outer perimeter of the stage, with the usual par type cans installed, but not in very large numbers. Then there were these "other things". They looked like a motorized black metal football, and had lighted LCD displays on each base. These devices could generate and focus a beam of light of any color and insert moving scrims or special gels with patterns and move in unison or randomly in any direction relative to the mounting bracket. Computer-controlled, they could be used for pin spots, wide floods, front projectors, background scrim shots, or directed at the audience for a very pleasing looking shot for the video cameras (more on that in a moment). With the band on stage, an ambient stage light of deep blue was maintained for the players to see when moving positions on stage between songs. Other blue lights were mounted to beam directly down the inside of the scaffolding itself, creating a cool blue "box" for the stage to sit in for the night. In addition, a back spot light crew of four were strapped into seats installed inside a scaffolding grid and hydraulically raised up to the stage ceiling where they received intercom instructions from the lighting director situated at the front of house. Using the computer control to create mood lighting for the concert gave them tremendous flexibility to create many types of effects. The result was that the lighting never got boring, and often spurred the audience into a frenzy during key points in the performance. It certainly enhanced the video. And speaking of video . . .

A major contribution to the overall experience was the presence of two very large projection screens, located on each side of the stage front. At first we were bummed because the logo on the screen was backwards to us. However, once the show started, the video crew got to work and simultaneously conducted a three camera live shoot of the event which was broadcast to the big screens (as well as the private monitors in the special VIP boxes), and we discovered that other than being reversed, the image was just as good seen from the back side. So when a player was standing at the front of the stage and singing to the front of house all we had to do was look up and see a two-camera close up of him. It was the best of both worlds. CAM1 position was directly behind the PA mixer fixed with a great zoom lens and situated at the video production center. CAM2 was on a jib crane to the right of the stage and manned by a single operator. CAM3 was hand held by a video crewmember up on the stage itself. He obviously did a lot of running around but was so low key in his movement that I cannot recall ever seeing him relocate for new shots. Only when I saw the result of his particular angle did I realize he had moved. The lighting was such that you never saw the CAM3 operator on the stage with the band. The cooperation of lighting and video crews was evidenced by the lack of awareness on the audience's part of anything other than the Eagles performances. It was a real testament to coordinated and orchestrated rehearsals.

My theory is that the video crew is contracted by the band to archive the tour (as well as give the audience a special thrill for their money). I will say this- When in the course of a hit song the signature guitar lick came up, they were already on him, even if it was for a two-second shot. They had not only the stage show choreographed, but the video crew was well rehearsed on the song arrangements. I expect to see the best of the best on a DVD release in the near future. Oh, by the way, they were also recording the concert on multitrack to digital. Fifteen minutes before showtime, a tech came over to stage left and cranked up his computer to record the night's show. They probably record it all to removable digital drives, and then take out the drives and label them for storage. Ditto for the video producer. He'll have not only the master tapes from each of the three camcorders, but the master tape of the live video show as well. Months (or even years) from now they will be able to recreate the entire concert with three cameras and sync up to a postproduction mix of the multitrack master…. All in 5.1 no doubt. Get the DVD, it'll have the "Director's Cut" with never before behind the scene moments of the band like that time in Little Rock this middle aged guy in a Hawaiian shirt near the back stage kept shouting "YEAH!! YEAH!!" and frantically waving at Joe Walsh. Bet I don't even make the credit roll . . . .

And as for the band - - -

Well, this IS The Eagles, you know !!

It finally dawned on me. I couldn't believe I had actually MADE IT to an Eagles concert (before they REALLY broke up) ! Thirty seconds after the start of the first song, I got a little tearful realizing how fortunate I was to be here and carefully kept anyone nearby from seeing me brush my eye. Jane knew. She always knows.

The core of this touring band is The Big Four. Glenn Frey, Don Henley, Timothy B. Schmit, and the incomparable Joe Walsh. In addition, the band brought aboard three extra sidemen… another drummer for when Don Henley was up front singing or playing guitar and to play percussion; a keyboardist who took the appropriate parts when Glenn Frey was up front playing guitar and sometimes assisted as second keyboardist; and a GREAT guitarist who shared stage front with The Big Four. They introduced him but to be honest I was so caught up in the moment I cannot recall his name or the recognizable name of his band. But his guy was good! He had learned all the Eagles signature guitar licks (even some of Joe Walsh's) and played them letter perfect right on the mark. That allowed the guitarists to concentrate more on singing and other support roles. The Eagles have a very multi-layered instrumental sound with lush and rich vocals throughout and this would be a monumental task even for the original players to reproduce all that at the same time in a live situation every night for thirty dates.

They played all the major Eagles hits, starting the concert with an a cappella version of "Seven Bridges Road" and then jumping immediately into "The Long Run" and a string of other hits before a finale of "Desperado". They played an hour before taking a short break, then came back and played another two hours, including four encores. Several Don Henley hits like "Dirty Laundry", "The Boys Of Summer", "Down On The Sunset Strip", and "All She Wants to Do Is Dance" were executed as precisely by The Big Four as if they had been original Eagle songs from the start. Glenn Frey took several spotlights at both piano and guitar, and Tim Schmit sang his featured Eagle hits. But when Joe Walsh did just about anything the crowd went bananas!

I once wondered what Joe was thinking (what were THE EAGLES thinking?) when it was announced that he had joined the Eagles. Now I know it was not only a good career move for him, but also a shrewd move for the Eagles. As masterful artists, the Eagles are wonderful Tunesmiths as well as accomplished performers, but due to their concentration on stage in keeping with the framework of the Eagles sound and personality, they tend to look all business and busy themselves with sounding as true to the music as possible. Therefore they sometimes lack in showmanship and projecting a strong stage personality to the audience. Enter Joe Walsh- resident madman. He is as loose as they are structured and offers a nice balance for the audience to latch on to. During solos he produces more rock and roll grimaces than Robin William as Popeye while stomping his feet or jumping up and down and generally stalking the stage. Ever the self-admitting rock buffoon, Joe brings such a childish innocence (or is it seasoned and well thought out façade) and good natured "YIPPEE YAHOO!" to the band that the crowd just gets caught up in it. It's hard not to feel tickled when watching Walsh do a patented "Joe solo". He makes each solo, worn though it may be through the years, sound like it's fresh out of the pan, just by the way he plays the moment. Highlights of the evening for this Little Rock audience were Joe's own contribution to the band "Pretty Maids All In A Row" (my favorite), as well as a healthy sprinkling of solo efforts, including "Funk 49", "Over And Over", "Life's Been Good" and "Rocky Mountain Way", one of the encores.

Now that's not saying Don or Tim or Glenn don't command a stage. They do and deserve a lot of respect for their efforts. It's just that Joe is……. Well…. He's JOE. The couple sitting right next to us had never seen the Eagles before (and I suspect they haven't been to too many concerts either) and they asked who the "long-haired guy" was (Tim), which instrument does Don play the most (drums), and who is the clown in the red pants (Joe). Then the girl asked me who may favorite one was. Feeling a bit like I was being interviewed by Tiger Beat, I answered… "Joe". I then asked her who she liked best and she said "the funny one" (Joe). It's obvious to even the least experienced concert attendee that Joe Walsh is up there seemingly having the time of his life. Even I, the grizzled and seasoned player, got caught up in his infectious behavior. I don't recall laughing so much since I last saw Elvin Bishop's bubbling personality command the audience at a Blues Fest in Little Rock many years before.

If you want to see a real slice of American life, go to an Eagles concert. We saw 60's throwbacks with waist long hair (a guy) wearing calfskin boots with fringe riding all the way up his legs to his thigh. I met a couple of shall we say - overweight - middle aged ladies from Malvern that could barely squeeze into the cramped seats at the arena. A couple of grandmothers were sitting right in from of us and one was on the cell phone to everyone, telling them all about the atmosphere at the concert. For that matter it seemed like EVERYONE was on a cell phone talking to someone else. I guess everyone just wants their friends to know they are at "AN EAGLES" concert! A large portion in attendance were middle aged businessmen looking like they were in professional positions and who were coming down to rock the house. We knew there were some VIPs present and counted at least a dozen big stretch limos waiting out front at concert's end. To the band, no doubt it was the usual circus.

They must have been wanting to reach inner America with this tour, as they shunned the major venues and instead chose cities like Fargo, Grand Rapids, Moline (and Little Rock) to lay siege to. Frankly, I was shocked to read that they had planned to play Little Rock until I saw the list of other cities across the US and Canada and I realized this was a "Mid-America" tour. In any event. I will forever be indebted to my friends who brought this all about and to the Eagles for playing close enough for me to reach in a time of tight work schedules. It was a night I shall never forget.

And to Joe:
You came back to our section and waved at us. I waved back. You didn't see me but you were looking right at me. I saw you.

Damn fine gig!

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