Sound Check Journal

In his excellent book How Music Works David Byrne discusses how styles of music are suited to the architecture of the halls where they are performed. Here in Europe many of the venues we play were built before the invention of electric instruments, so each room presents a different challenge. The PA systems and technicians are of consistently high quality, but it’s up to the band to get the basic sound right. If we haven’t done that, there’s nothing the PA can do to save us.

Our show at Charivari in Ulm, Germany, was early in the tour, before we started making radical adjustments, but that’s where we learned our first lesson. The building was a stone fort built by the citizens of Ulm to protect the city from the army of Napoleon, only he got there before they could finish it. Today the fort houses a children’s art school and several times a year serves as a concert venue. Low stone arches reflect the sound straight back down, and it gets loud very quickly. We did the best we could, and nobody complained. But that’s a low bar. Lesson learned.

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Rossini Saal in Bad Kissingen was built in the 1860s. The room projects sound in a way that probably worked for acoustic chamber music but is flirting with disaster for an electric band. Our band members went out into the room and listened as others played their instruments on stage, and then adjusted accordingly. I ended up with an amp setting I would never have dreamed of under usual circumstances. The concert went fine.

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At the Rathaus in Neuoetting we were happy at sound check, but once the room filled with people everything changed. Their relatively soft bodies and clothing soaked up the sound. By the third or fourth song we got everything dialed in and went on to have a great show.

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Zur Linde in Affalter is like an old-school rock club. It reminded me of the Agoras, a chain of venues we used to play from Ohio to Florida. This kind of room I know how to play.

Tomorrow will bring a new challenge. But tonight we have off, and I’m writing this in a spiral notebook at a table in biergarten as the sun is setting and birds are singing. All in all, it’s a pretty good life.

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