2011 was when the settling in got really serious.
The opinions expressed are mine only. These opinions do not necessarily reflect anybody else’s opinions. I do not own, operate, manage, or represent any band, venue, or company that I talk about, unless explicitly noted.
One day, Mario and I couldn’t take it anymore.
Fats without acoustical treatment was an earth-shattering, punishing experience, and the excitement at the newness of the place was starting to wear off. People were beginning to complain. We weren’t enjoying things as much as we could have been. On one especially loud night, we looked at each other and knew that something had to change.
So, I suggested to Mario that some acoustical treatment might help. I figured that something would be better than nothing, so I proposed a relatively small amount of inexpensive “wedge” foam. Mario was even more receptive to the idea than I had hoped. I was pretty nervous about floating an idea that would cost money, but I shouldn’t have been. As I’ve said before, there was a real enthusiasm in play. We ended up calling a workday, and I walked in to see that about two and a half times what I had asked for had been ordered in.
After the foam went up on the walls, Fats was never the same.
In a great way.
At first, I was reluctant to say that the treatment was really doing much. I didn’t want to overplay the contribution. In the end, though, I’m pretty danged certain that treating the space was one of the greatest “post overhaul” investments that the Fats basement ever had. It made me seem like far more of a sound ninja than I actually am, because it made my job markedly easier.
Seriously, folks. If you fix one thing about a venue, fix the acoustics. I’ll take an okay PA in a great room over a great PA in a tough room any day of the week…and twice on Sundays. I’ve never done a truly quantitative analysis on this sort of thing, but my best guess is that the influence of the space on the sound of a show is at least an order of magnitude more important than the gear involved. (Assuming that any given choice of gear is capable of handling the necessary fundamentals, of course. A half-busted boombox from the Five-And-Dime won’t do any show a favor.)
The same drive for improvement that caused the manifestation of the acoustical treatment also enabled another huge improvement: The custom-built digital console that ended up running the bulk of Fats shows. Mario and Mishell stopped by my family home for a dinner meeting, a meal that took our relationship from “friendly bosses and employee” to “friends.” A lot of hopes and desires for what Fats could become were shared that evening, but the big one for me was an upgrade to the mix rig. I had been nursing the idea of a computer-based console for a while, but now I actually had the income necessary to try it. At the same time, it was a real risk. The chances of it not working to satisfaction were significant.
Mario and Mishell promised to back me up if the experiment ultimately failed, and that gave me the confidence to jump in.
The experiment did end up working, though, and what we got was a virtual desk which could compete with an Avid console in certain respects. I mixed a LOT of shows on that rig, and it’s now very difficult for me to imagine doing serious work with anything that’s less capable.
The year of 2011 was also the year that I met Floyd Show.
Floyd Show, AKA “Tim Hollinger knows more about Pink Floyd than Pink Floyd,” was one of those precious rarities that only comes along once in a great while. They were an ambitious project, with a LOT of people and gear involved. There was so much to them that they initially declined to play at Fats – we didn’t have enough space.
Well, dangit, Mishell wanted some Floyd Show, so Mario extended the stage.
It was completely worth it. From soup to nuts, it was worth it. It was worth it to meet all the players in the changing lineup. It was worth it to work on a show that required multiple techs to operate smoothly. It was worth it to load in and set up all day. It was worth it to make music and friendships with people who respected and adored the source material to a fanatical degree. It was worth it to put in all the effort, and then get to stand back and say, “Check THIS out!”
If you didn’t have a sense of pride after constructing a Floyd Show gig, you couldn’t possibly have been paying attention.
That first time that Floyd Show started playing, Mishell, Mario, and me all had our jaws smack the floor. It was as though the real thing had been crammed into a Sugarhouse basement. There was a sort of unreal magic to what happened at that first night, even though we had to submix a bunch of channels. (We didn’t have the new FOH setup yet.) On subsequent nights, I would feel disappointed that the same magic hadn’t quite happened again.
With Floyd Show, you were in the presence of folks (especially Tim), who made you want to do more and more for the production. When Tim asked if it might be possible to mix things in quad-surround, what do you think I said? And, of course, we did. We got the routing figured out, ran cable, and put FX behind the audience. We also talked about how cool it would be have to some real, honest-to-goodness, moving-head lights. I got it into my mind that it would be great to surprise the group at one show with some kind of intelligent lighting setup. I started putting plans into place. I was going to blow everybody’s minds.
Before I could pull it off, Tim passed away suddenly. No more would I hear the refrain when he came down Fats’ stairs: “What’s up, Danny? Do you have your toolkit, man?” (The dude’s guitar rig was always broke, and he always got it fixed before downbeat.) The unending stories about how Pink Floyd’s albums were created, and the jokes about technical problems being all David Gilmour’s fault, halted into silence with the abruptness of a tape machine that had stopped with a bang.
Of course, all of Tim’s friends put together an epic show to bid Mr. Hollinger (and the band, because he WAS the band) a fond farewell. The result was as unforgettable as could be imagined, with days of preparation leading up to a roaring finale that – finally – recaptured the elusive spirit which had permeated the very first night. We had bottled the lightning once again, and on the day where we absolutely had to do so.
Plus, I had those moving lights. I sprang for them a little bit early, because I knew that I might not have any more chances, ever, to do a gig with Floyd Show.
The house was packed.
The players were on point.
The mix cooperated beautifully.
It was incredible.
It was the show I had so wanted to do with Tim.