TWEAKING ON THE ROAD by Carl Verheyen
My band tours a lot, so the need for
rehearsing doesn't arise too much. We can usually straighten things
out at a sound check or talk down arrangements and work through problems on
the tour bus. Sometimes we'll have one "refresher" rehearsal in town before
hitting the road, but we're not a huge production requiring weeks of full
rehearsals with sound and lights.
The only downfall with keeping a crack commando team in shape like this is the gear. In the case of a European tour, I keep the bulk of my touring gear over there so I have very little to bring on the flight. This has become more and more important as various terrorist boneheads keep messing it up for all of us working people that need to travel with their at least a few of their tools. In the past 9 years I've seen weight restrictions get lower, carry on luggage get nixed and overweight fines get higher. On my current tour I was allowed just one carry on and it had to be my guitar, so my lap top needed to be checked which is always risky (and not even recommended by the airlines).
Upon arrival in Europe we usually spend the first day resting. But the very next day is often the first show and the unpacking, setup and checking of the gear usually makes for a very long sound check. Before you know it you're onstage wondering why there's no high end from the left 4X12 cabinet and the reverb is buzzing on one of the clean amps. The next day you're off to another town, setting up on another stage and before you know it you're counting off the first tune. Although I report everything to my tech, problems seem to build up and nothing gets fixed without a little down time.
Two days ago we drove from Zurich, Switzerland to a small town near Bonn, Germany. The band had a day off and we were happy to find out that the venue and the hotel were one in the same: a beautiful castle called Schloss Gymnich. After a nice dinner at the castle we were shown the venue for tomorrow nights concert. It was a "great hall" in the castle, especially designed all those years ago for music and acoustically excellent.
The next morning after breakfast I awoke to the peaceful countryside sounds of birds and distant church bells. With no travel scheduled and no errands to run in town I could look forward to the entire day at the castle. I knew what I had to do and looked forward to it......
I instructed the road manager to unload all the guitar gear from the truck. I opened all my cases and went through every cable in the various snakes and checked out all the amps individually. We replaced tubes and tweaked the knobs until each amp sounded great, then turned our attention to the guitars. When I finally hooked everything back together the rig sounded like I remembered from the last tour, full and warm. The buzzes were gone and the tone was inspiring, and I didn't need to rent a rehearsal studio to ring it all out. The show was one of the more memorable ones in recent years, and the comfort factor of staying upstairs from the concert hall made it feel like a mini vacation!
What I've learned is this: Sound check is really no place to do this type of work. Sound check is for getting the drums to sound right at the front of house and getting monitors together. It's for balancing the band and making it comfortable on stage to perform the music. I can't reasonably ask my band to forgo that important part of the gig so I can tweak my gear. From now on I'm going to insist my promoter schedules a day off in the first week of the tour with all day access to the next venue for this very reason. It doesn't necessarily need to be a castle, but it sure was nice!
Carl Verheyen Rocks the House