Canadian rockers Barenaked Ladies reunite with west London rental company for latest UK tour

Following the recent release of Fake Nudes, arguably the most dynamic album of their colourful, 30-year career, Barenaked Ladies crossed the Atlantic in April for an eight-date tour of the UK – the latest in a long line to credit Entec as the Ontario band’s sound and lighting provider.

Culminating with a sold-out show at the Roundhouse in Chalk Farm, north London on April 27th, the band – Ed Robertson, Jim Creeggan, Kevin Hearn and Tyler Stewart – followed the hugely talented and comical warm-up act Boothby Graffoe with an intimate acoustic set, laced with witty banter and impromptu raps. It was a testament to the Barenakeds’ experience that they overcame an awkward keyboard failure with seasoned professionalism, delivering both new material and classics such as ‘One Week’ (the 1998 song that broke them in Britain), ‘Brian Wilson’, ‘If I Had $1,000,000’ and their theme from ‘The Big Bang Theory’.

Presiding over a seven-man crew, tour manager Chris Stapleton was originally introduced to Entec’s Noreen O’Riordan in 2007 by Phil McDonnell of Horizon Entertainment Cargo and crew bussing service company CSUK. “We’ve been close to Entec for a long time now and it’s a very positive connection,” said Chris. “It began purely with lighting and then, five years into our relationship, we also put our audio into Entec’s hands. It was another smart move on our part and I’m now very happy to be liaising with Jonny Clark [head of sound] who has been a rock.”

A Canadian, like all of the band and crew, Chris describes Barenaked Ladies as one of the hardest working bands in the world. Their touring pattern sees them visit the UK every 18 months to two years. “For budgetary reasons, it’s been a dry hire situation throughout most of our time with the company, with modest packages that we augment with in-house rigs. They obviously vary quite a bit from gig to gig, sometimes wildly, but we always make it work. We own duplicate sets of kit and we send over our ‘B’ package by sea freight. Entec’s goal is to match or approximate the major elements of our ‘A’ package, and they do a fantastic job.”

LIGHTING

One of the key equipment matches was the grandMA2 light console, supplied to lighting director Darren Knorr along with an On-PC Command Wing, 13 Robe Robin 600 LEDWash moving heads and Tomcat truss in a variety of lengths. Although Darren has travelled far and wide with the band as a technician, the Fake Nudes tour has been his first in the LD hot seat.

Commenting on his choice of desk, he said: “I’m a 100% dedicated MA2 user and I’ve worked with them since they came out. I grew up with MA Lighting products and in the kind of situation we have on a tour like this where I’m presented with a different collection of house fixtures at each venue, I wouldn’t want to be without an MA2. By using the cloning function, I can apply presets to any given rig and get reasonably close to a uniform look between shows, and that’s really essential.”

The UK tour was Darren’s introduction to the Robe 600s, as he explained. “This is the first time I’ve used them and I wasn’t sure what to expect but they are very powerful for their size and extremely versatile. I have enough to play with and they go in wherever I can put them, such as on the vertical truss. I’ve loved some of the effects I’ve been getting out of them so I’ll definitely take them again.”

Discussing his lighting style, Darren stated: “I am not one for revealing all my cards too soon; my approach is to very gradually build the show from the intimate acoustic set at the start where I’m literally using just four lights, then slowly adding fixtures with some colour changes and a little more movement, until we get to the big hitters at the end when everything is bright and punchy.”

SOUND

At the stage end of the multicore was John Sulek, Barenaked Ladies’ monitor engineer for the last 25 years, who mixed on a Soundcraft Vi6 console. “The band’s own Vi6 received the same upgrade as the one we’ve hired from Entec, so it’s been very easy for me to dump our show file straight in and gain a good running start,” he commented.

The RF element of the production extended to four channels of handheld mics (Shure UR2s with Beta 87C and Beta 58A capsules), four guitar packs and six channels of Shure PSM1000 in-ear systems, with Entec looking after the frequency licensing on behalf of the act. “With reverb returns I’m generating 62 channels,” said John, whose IEM spec took into consideration Boothby Graffoe’s guest appearance on ‘Be My Yoko Ono’.

One of the equipment items that particularly impressed the monitor engineer was Entec’s custom 12kVA INDU isolation transformer package. John observed: “I really admire their work on this because previously we would always have a second 240V mains distro for the UK and then a separate 110V stepdown distro for our stage backline power. However, Entec’s system is a single unit that handles everything and being able to have a solution in one case is very important from a trucking perspective. In fact, I’ve never had one that’s been packaged in one unit before so this is pretty unique.

“In the past, I have noticed that it’s tricky to get a transformer to fire up without tripping the RCD that’s feeding it, but Entec has overcome this issue and built a very stable solution. It operates quietly without the kind of mechanical hum that can be distracting. We just plug it in every day and away it goes.”

A variety of PA systems greeted the sound crew throughout the UK run, but to help gain as much consistency as possible onstage, Entec’s package also included pairs of d&b C7-TOPs and C7-SUBs, powered by D80 digital amps, for use as sidefills.

John’s arrival in the Barenaked camp in the early ’90s came at the recommendation of FOH engineer Robin Billinton after the pair worked together with another homegrown Canadian act. Robin qualifies as the longest-serving crew member, having joined over 27 years ago when the band were fresh from signing their first major deal with Reprise Records. The latest UK tour saw Robin take charge of a 96-channel Avid Venue Profile package.

“From a practical standpoint, the Profile is easy to source almost anywhere in the world and sufficiently compact to allow you to work in tight spaces,” said Robin. “It’s providing everything I need so I have no complaints. I’m probably one of the least demanding sound engineers you’ll ever meet. I just need reliable equipment, attention to detail from the supplier and I’m good to go.”

As well as providing unlimited humour on the road, this band is a joy to mix, according to Robin. “For a four-piece band, I have a lot of inputs from the drums and keyboards, and everyone sings, so it adds up to more than 50 channels. I’m mixing left to right; I don’t use VCAs so it tends to be a very ‘active’ approach to the mix, which is how I’ve always done it.”

Despite the range of plug-ins available, Robin prefers the simpler route: “I go with stock processing. Maybe it’s because I’ve been a sound guy for so long, but I’ve never got into plug-ins although I can see how some people can get hung up on detail like that. I use what’s in front of me. On the Profile, for instance, all the reverbs, delays and compressors sound fine to me. There is only so much that plug-ins can do to solve a problem, the biggest always being the room, of course, and some could be a lot better than others.”

He added: “We have reached a stage whereby the quality of house systems is now very good. It’s way ahead of where we were 20 years ago and it’s up to the production crews to make the most of what’s there because people now pay a lot of money for tickets. They have a wide range of entertainment options to choose from so we owe them a good show or they may not want to come back next time.”

At the end of the Roundhouse show, Barenaked Ladies returned to the stage with a dynamite cover of Queen’s ‘Another One Bites The Dust’, as lead singer Ed Robertson swapped roles with drummer Tyler Stewart. Chris Stapleton, meanwhile, reflected on another successful jaunt. “While it’s gratifying to see a lot of fans that have remained loyal for years, it’s also exciting that songs like the ‘Big Bang Theory Theme’ have encouraged a new generation to get into the band, so we now have a good age span at the shows.

“Once again, Entec have delivered exactly what has been required of them. What I love most about the company is that their structure allows them to keep things personal. You’re not the 50th band on their list of priorities and you never get lost in the chain. There’s always somebody who will deal with you on a human level and so the customer service is amazing.”

Barenaked Ladies are back on the road in North America this summer with their Last Summer On Earth 2018 tour, featuring special guests KT Tunstall and Better Than Ezra.