Eskimo Joe Live At The Corner
The Corner Hotel is one of the busiest live music venues in Australia, while this year Eskimo Joe has been one of the busiest live bands in Australia. Christopher Holder puts two and two together.
Playing the Corner Hotel is a big deal. If your band has any serious aspirations, then playing the Corner is a significant notch in your belt.
The Corner just oozes live music. The look and atmosphere screams ‘credibility’, and the punters love it – you won’t see any poseurs or self-conscious chardonnay sippers here. To coin a phrase: live music takes centre stage at the Corner.
And that’s the main reason why AT chose the Corner Hotel for this feature: it’s great to meet high-flying engineers and see how big-budget concert productions are done, but occasionally it’s nice to head to where the rubber hits the road.
So, we knocked on the door of one of the hardest rockin’ pubs in Australia and talked to one of the hardest working bands in Australia – Eskimo Joe.
BACKING IN TO THE CORNER
A couple of weeks prior to the Eskimo Joe gig I rocked up to the Corner for a chat with Paul Martin. Paul’s been with the pub ever since it changed hands 10 years ago – shaping the pub’s future as a live venue in the process. Paul was given the job of spec’ing the sound system, maintaining it, and making any subsequent changes to its infrastructure. In short, Paul is Mr. PA at the Corner (and, incidentally the Northcote Social Club some 20km north). Paul has an instinctive knowledge of how musicians, punters and visiting sound guys like to cane sound equipment, and it’s a tribute to his instincts that the backbone of the system he installed 10 years ago remains large as life. And this is a rig that gets a thorough workout six, sometimes seven, nights a week (apparently the record is 43 shows on end!).
The 800-capacity main room at The Corner has a main stage and a smaller secondary stage. The idea here is that the support band plays on the smaller stage during changeover on the main stage, allowing for a luxurious 45-minute setup time.
The secondary stage features a Midas Venice FOH/monitor console from which four monitor sends are available. There’s a fair amount of welly in the system (10kW out front and 2kW on stage).
But the real action is on the main stage. At the mix position sits the hardest worked Yamaha PM3000 you’re ever likely to meet – an ‘old workhorse’ as Paul likes to describe it. Alongside that there’s a couple of racks of graphics, processing and effects – mostly the usual suspects. Certainly there are enough compressors and gates for just about every requirement. Or, as Paul puts it: “there’s enough bling bling to make any engineer happy”.
There’s 16kW of power out front and about 7kW for foldback. The FOH speaker system is based on Adamson SX18s. At the time of purchase Paul was tossing up between the (then brand new) EAW 650s and the SX18s, but was so impressed with Adamson while on a Canadian tour he decided to go for the largely unhailed alternative: “They were the first to have waveguide flares, so their top end was so much smoother – it makes it easy to pull up a vocal sound,” noted Paul. Across the front are six dual-15 subs (JBL 2226 drivers).
ANATOMY OF A GIG
A gig at the Corner normally starts around 3:30pm. That’s when the in-house engineer will come in, turn on the PA, give the consoles a dust down and have a look at the stage diary to see if there are any problems he should know about from the previous night. Paul’s instigated a ‘rolling’ roster of five in-house engineers. They’re all touring professionals and to have their fresh perspective after they return from overseas tours helps to invigorate the place. And, the fact that no one engineer is chained to the job for months on end keeps the role fresh.
At around 4pm the band will turn up for soundcheck and generally within about 20 minutes will be making some noise. Soundcheck will need to finish up no later than 6 or 6:30pm. That gives the support band around an hour for a check at which time (8pm) the room’s quiet in readiness for open doors at 8:30.
That might be the typical scenario, but I was catching Eskimo Joe on the third sold-out night at the Corner, and the timetable was a wee bit different. I sauntered into the pub at around 4:30pm looking forward to at least half an hour of ‘tchoo tchoo’ mic checking and spontaneous jamming. No siree. The band had already flown through a 15-minute soundcheck and were high-tailing it out of there! Not only was it the last of three nights at the Corner, it was the last night of a six-week regional tour of Australia and just prior to the gig the boys were being feted at a record company dinner – nice to see a bit of recognition for a long campaign.
‘Humble’ sound guys, on the other hand, aren’t afforded the same sort of record label largesse! So I was able to track down the band’s FOH engineer, Jim Scott, for a chat.
Christopher Holder: Jim, you’ve been mixing the band since day dot – an eight-year association – how did this tour compare?
Jim Scott: This time around it’s been a regional tour, which means lots of RSLs and lots of RSL food! But it’s been a good tour. We trucked a PA for most of it, and only used in-house PAs for the odd gig such as the one here at the Corner. We had three really good PA companies on side, with really good crews and top quality gear – half-size concert rigs, if you will.
CH: What are the dangers in using in-house PAs?
JS: The main danger is that venues overestimate the capabilities of their equipment. Generally the equipment they have is fine, it’s just that they’re not always used to having a full house and a band that’s used to six sends of foldback and at least two double 18s as sidefill. So when you’re faced with two double-15 front-loaded and one top box… well, they’re going to get driven as hard as they’ll go. (Without blowing anything up hopefully… I don’t think I’ve blown up anyone’s PA just yet!) Or even worse, you get there the night after another touring act and something is blown. Then, being an in-house system, they generally don’t have a tech they can call to get it fixed – you just have to get away with a farting horn all night.
CH: What do you take with you by way of a ‘survival kit’?
JS: I carry four channels of dbx compression – one of those units is a dbx 166, which also does gating – and a Urei LA-4 compressor which I put across the snare. It might not sound like a lot, but you’ve got most emergencies covered – like when the in-house processing goes down. Just as importantly, you’ve got to make sure you take the right loomage with you. You can’t rely on finding looms with pin hot wired the same as yours. You need to be able to flip and be flexible.
CH: How do you get to that ‘clean slate’ – that point from which you can start to make your own adjustments?
JS: If you’re lucky, you’ll pop in a CD, turn it up and, hey, the engineer who was there last night was awesome and you might only have to tweak a couple of dB here or there. Or you might just have to flatten it and start from scratch. I was at the Barwon Club a couple of nights ago, and rather than just flatten the PA, I had a quick listen, and whoever was in there the night before – I think it was the house engineer – had the system sounding great. It was just a case of notching out a few harsh frequencies that I know my band’s guitars produce. I saved myself at least half an hour’s work.
Everytime we play in Darwin there’s an amazing energy, but a lot of the time it can be bogan-ed up Bundy-fuelled energy
CH: How does the Corner rate when it comes to ease of tuning?
JS: The Corner is a different venue to most in that the management of the hotel has given over the reins of the sound to people they trust. Paul Martin and the people he works with are all highly experienced. The other thing here at the Corner is that the room and the processing have been set up really well. Which means you’ve got a clean graphic to kick off from – you’re EQ’ing to your taste because the room’s already well set up.
CH: What are the main challenges with Eskimo Joe sound-wise?
JS: Sonically we don’t have too much trouble. The thing I have to look out for is cymbal spill, because our drummer hits quite hard. One of his good friends is the drummer in the support band so they get very competitive. Cymbal wash is a great concern of mine, it’s a constant battle.
CH: Do the guys like a loud stage?
JS: They do now. They didn’t used to… they used to be really reasonable when it came to stage volume. But as all tours go on, they get louder and louder as people’s ears get tired. Every musician wants their foldback to be as big as it can be but sometimes you’ve got to strip it back and restrict yourself to just a pair of wedges each for the singers and that’s it. I can understand the musicians’ perspective. If you can have full concert production and sidefill and all that, it’s very nice. We’ve had that for a lot of this tour.
CH: Are you working quite hard during the gig?
JS: There are a lot of cues and I’m mixing the whole time. Those fills and solos, they do actually need to be ridden otherwise they just get lost. While it’ll still sound like the song, a lot of the dynamics get lost without riding those cues. The guys do use boosting and EQ a lot on stage, but they still rely on their sound engineer out front to be doing more than just smoking and drinking a can of Bundy and coke – they’re hoping that you’re listening for those little fills.
CH: What have you identified as the ingredients of a good and bad gig?
JS: In my experience, bands really know when it’s not sounding right. These guys say things like: “there seems to be less interference from front of house”, which means they can hear themselves better on stage, and as a result their instruments are in the right places working together with the stage rather than fighting against it. You might think that the key is to make sure the PA isn’t overpowering their foldback, but it’s the other way around. A lot of that balance comes down to them pulling their heads in and playing to the size of the room – once the stage sound starts overpowering the PA then your job at front of house becomes very difficult… the band and the engineer end up fighting each other sonically.
CH: What’s the best advice you wish someone had given you when you were starting out?
JS: I’d say, make sure you give yourself plenty of time. It’s worth getting out of the bean bag half an hour earlier and getting down to the venue, working through the system and getting it to your own ‘clean slate’ position. Quite often you’ll get in there and the rig’s been doctored to somebody else’s tastes – you don’t know what state it’s been left in. If you’re starting out, I’d give yourself a couple of hours before soundcheck just to make sure everything’s working, and set it up to how you like it – hopefully before the band arrives. Don’t forget: musicians get bored very quickly. You don’t want the band to be bored and making a load of noise, that only makes your job harder.
POST GIG EUPHORIA
After the final encore – and a few minutes’ grace to let the guys have a shower and to knock the top off something cold – I entered the post-tour party that was the Eskimo Joe backstage band room. Kav (vocals) and Stu (guitars/bass) were looking pretty darn relaxed when approached them for a chat.
Kav Temperly: I’m feeling very relaxed. The second I stepped off stage I felt very relaxed. I’ve been keeping my drinking and smoking on tour to an absolute minimum – just to keep my voice working. Now I’m having a beer and I couldn’t be happier.
CH: What gigs would be on this tour’s highlight reel?
Stu MacLeod: We had two really good gigs in Darwin. Every time we play in Darwin there’s an amazing energy, but a lot of the time it can be bogan-ed up Bundy-fuelled energy… but not this time – it was probably the most fun I’ve had on stage in my whole career.
CH: What deserves special mention gear-wise for this tour?
SMacL: There have been some real highs and lows with our gear this tour. We’ve got two new amp heads. One of those is the Matchless, which is Joel’s baby, and I’ve upgraded my old Marshall JCM800 to a HiWatt Custom head – that’s doing wonders. Jim can’t stop raving about how good they work together. He’s very happy at the mixing desk.
That’s the good news. The bad news is on the pedal front. We bought the Line6 Delay Modeller pedals. They just sound so good and we’re so in love with them, but it’s a love/hate relationship because they just keep busting on us. It’s a power supply problem. We’ve gone through three to this point. Then there’s the Aphex Punch Factory, which is an optical compressor. Again, it sounds amazing and we record a lot of stuff with it. Trouble is, I think the input jacks and the stomp switch are all directly soldered to the main circuit board – no wire buffer at all – so it can’t take much of a knock. So, there’s bit of a design flaw in an otherwise amazing pedal.
Kav Temperly: After this tour I’m keen to take another look at our leads on stage – we have a lot of leads. The ones on the likes of the bass and guitars are fine, but the acoustic – because it comes off stage and everyone plays one at some point – definitely needs to go wireless.
CH: And I gather you’ve been demo’ing quite a bit while on tour in preparation for recording the next album?
SMacL: That’s right, and we’ve just got some new laptop power on the road: out goes a dodgy old PC and we’ve just bought a new G4 Powerbook. We’re using a [Digidesign] Mbox interface – which is great to travel with. Software-wise we’ve been using [Propellerhead] Reason and the Native Instruments B4 plug-ins – which is awesome. Combine all that with a [Shure] Beta 58, a [Line6] Pod for guitar tracks and we’ve been very happy.
they still rely on their sound engineer out front to be doing more than just smoking and drinking a can of Bundy and coke
CH: Would you say that the purchase of new gear – like the new amp heads – represents a new phase in the band’s life?
SMacL: There are definitely distinct phases in a band’s life. Each time we’ve upgraded personnel or equipment it’s just made life so much easier. For us that process started with Jim at front of house. About six weeks after we started playing as a band we asked Jim to come on board – he’s our secret weapon. And he’s good to have on the road – he keeps us entertained in an insane kinda way.
And then you have your moments when the band has a bit of cash and you’ll do a bulk gear upgrade. Then you learn how to use your equipment again, get your new sounds and that’s your new show. Every upgrade you have you feel one step closer to being as comfortable as you can be on stage – and that’s when you play your best shows. When you really believe in your equipment and yourself then you can really back yourself.
CH: During your set it’s a real case of ‘musical guitars’ – the three of you are swapping bass and guitars left right and centre. What’s that about?
KT: In the studio it’s not about what instrument you should be playing it’s about who comes up with the part. So if you come up with a guitar riff then you’ll just play it on that instrument. And everyone has his own characteristic sound… almost regardless of the instrument. So if you want to get the feel of that song off the album then you need that person playing that instrument.
SMacL: Our roadie’s definitely had his work cut out for him on this tour, that’s for sure. I remember on the first night of the tour, after the first gig, we saw our roadie sitting in a corner writing numbers down. We asked him what was going on. “Do you realise I did 23 changes in that set!”
CH: How do you make your rehearsal times as effective as possible?
SMacL: Luckily we’ve managed to secure a spot at a place in Fremantle called the Fly by Night Club. They’ve got a big stage and a smaller stage, and they’ve let us do whatever we want in the smaller room. We’ll book in a time, set up on stage with a couple of foldback wedges. We leave the door ajar to let the air in and people will wander in from the street so we can have bit of an audience, they’ll sit down and have bit of a listen.
CH: And how important are those rehearsals in refining the flow of your set?
SMacL: If you don’t take rehearsals seriously then you don’t make time for the spontaneous moments. For example, something will stuff up and you make a mental note – I wish we’d gone down that route. And then you’ll bring it up at the next rehearsal. That’s when you can rehearse those segues between songs to just make the set flow a bit better. Especially over a six-week tour you can really perfect those transitions. That’s what turns it into a smoother, tighter set, when you can create a mood and continue it without awkward pauses. It’s not just a series of songs in a row, it’s a musical tapestry.
CH: Any final tips?
SMacL: Invest in strap locks! There’s no worse moment than when that strap falls off and the guitar hits the deck!