The other side of the coin

October 20, 2016
 by Paul McGowan

Yesterday I waxed enthusiastically of the music and sound quality in Nashville’s 3d and Lindsley country music venue. Today I’ll share the opposite.

Our success with excellent live sound emboldened us to venture out once more. Perhaps this Nashville music scene was unique, focusing on great sound, rather than necessitating ear protection.

The Station Inn was recommended to us as the second best live venue in town. Unlike the first, this room looked like an acoustical disaster. Its low ceilings and square dimensions suggested major sonic problems, and we asked the bouncer for an opinion. “Best sound in Nashville,” and he spit on the sidewalk. “Them other places play it too loud.”

Not more than three notes into the first set and I was running for the bathroom, preparing my wetted napkin earplugs I use in emergencies. Good grief!

The music was horribly loud. To make matter worse the room supported a thunderous resonance between 100Hz and 200Hz. It literally howled when certain notes were hit. The others in the bar seemed not to notice.

My ever-brave wife, Terri, approached the sound man and complained.

“My husband says it’s too loud,” she yelled over the music.  “He has to wear earplugs!”

“Me too!” bellowed the sound man, “Go sit, little lady.”

When the sound man has to wear hearing protection, it’s a good sign it’s time to leave.

Thanks goodness for Uber.

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41 comments on “The other side of the coin”

  1. Who dares to decide if human music instrument (voices not included) tradition started with flutes and string instruments or with drum-like instruments and thus just rhythm generators? There even may be lovers of military marches. It would be most interesting from a psychological point of view why people love 120 dB SPL not allowing any further communication. These people seem to prefer perceiving sound not by their ear-drums but by their hole body. Some car stereo aficionados come into mind.

  2. I blame it on the band. Most bands started in pubs and clubs. My nearest pub with room for a band, The Clissold Arms, is famous for being the home of The Kinks, who started there in the early 60s. Elton John and Rick Wakeman started off as blokes in a pub on a piano, more recently Amy Winehouse played the local pubs in Camden Town through her whole short career. I remember Elton John and Ray Cooper playing the Dury Lane Theatre in 1979, a large theatre, with little amplification. In recent years I’ve heard Coldplay in a 60,000 seat stadium, shortly afterwards we heard Chris Martin and Jonny Buckland do an acoustic gig in front of 300 people in a church hall. That was just brilliant. Years ago we went to a small acoustic gig by Travis (like The Kinks, from Muswell Hil), which he said reminded him of when they used to busk in the tube. None of these bands had any trouble adapting to the venue they were playing. Thats part of being a musician and they should assert their musical rights.

    1. Indeed. And there are a lot out there talking about democracy without having fully understood the basic requirement: well and comprehensively informed, mature and responsable voters and candidates caring for public welfare. Similar in music: harmony or brute force noise. 🙂

  3. I seem to get the impression that the term ‘live sound’ is not about purely un-amplified sound as the singer in the venue that Paul is so enthusiast about used a mike and the Hawaiian guitar is electronic with amplifier. Perhaps Paul should expose himself to classical music which is most really live and not through an amplifier.

    1. Of course, and classical, especially opera, is my go to venue for great sound and music.

      But there’s no good reason amplified sound can’t be excellent and ear-pleasing. Problem is, it’s almost never that way.

      1. There’s a superb music complex in Reykavik called Harpa. It’s completely whacky-mad, like everything in Iceland. It seems to be half in the sea and looks like an iceberg.
        That aside, it comprises a series of halls of varying sizes, that all have adjustable acoustics and the middle one (Silfurberg) is specifically designed for amplified sound.

  4. I had a similar experience going to see a neighbor’s band in a local club. I went to the sound guy and asked (shouted to be heard) if there was any chance he could turn it down. He was wearing ear protection. He yelled, “I KNOW – BUT THAT’S THE WAY THE OWNER WANTS IT!”

    1. Truth be told, that’s actually what this sound guy said to Terri. I didn’t buy it, so when they took a break, I asked the band. No, that wasn’t what they wanted and were appalled it sounded too loud to us.

      I think sound guys are many times just the guy who is technical enough to twiddle the knobs, but without any credibility when it comes to sound.

      1. Often true. It usually doesn’t pay much, if at all, at least in small venues.

        I mentioned the exchange with the sound guy to my friend in the band between sets, and he said their monitor sound onstage was clean, balanced, and not too loud. They probably could’ve turned off the PA mains completely and had better sound in the house. 😀

  5. My own band, Horns a Plenty, is 5 horns and a drummer. I make a point of telling people that we perform without amplification and I almost always get a blank stare in response.

    Years ago I caught a show at Bimbo’s 365 in San Francisco, featuring Chris Calloway. She’s the daughter of Cab Calloway. She had a full big band behind her, mostly of guys who were members of Local 6. There were some GREAT players in that band – John Handy on tenor saxophone, as well as my own personal hero, Johnny Coppola, who used to play lead trumpet for Woody Herman and Stan Kenton.

    The room was good sized and held about 300 people. All you could hear was the bass drum and the bass guitar. You barely knew there were 13 horn players on stage. The complete moron they called a sound man was obviously an old rocker. It was one of the worst musical experiences I ever paid money for. It’s probably the one time in my life I seriously considered murder.

    1. Hey Russ, followed your lead, checked out your website and listened to the musical offerings, tight sounding unit, my compliments.

      My parents danced at Big Band shows in Chicago in the 40s, certainly the precursor to Rock n Roll. Tough to fathom you grew up in San Francisco in the 60s and never attended a Bill Graham show, Avalon, Fillmore or Winterland for that matter, not even a Miles Davis or John Coltrane performance?

      Any interest in Blood Sweat & Tears or Chicago back in their day?

      1. I enjoyed BS&T as well as Chicago, but never saw them live. I was a real geek in the late 60’s and mostly listened to classical music then. I went to Cal Berkeley in 1972 and started playing big band. That’s when I started listening to big band and bebop. I was into Count Basie, Buddy Rich, Maynard Ferguson, Freddie Hubbard, Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, as well as Maurice Ravel, Beethoven, Mozart and Gustav Mahler. That was also a time when I discovered Tower of Power, Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Yes, Chick Corea, Weather Report, Clifford Brown, Phil Woods and Dexter Gordon. My tastes in jazz and classical have gotten deeper since then of course, but I’ve never cared much for pop music, Disco (it was bad when it was new), rock, hip-hop, etc.

        I once worked at a small hi-tech startup where when you joined the company, they’d have a little celebration and in front of everyone, ask you what was your first rock concert. They were totally stunned when I said I’d never been to one, but that the first real concert I remember seeing was Seiji Ozawa conducting the San Francisco Symphony in “The Rite of Spring” and “L’Histoire du Soldat”. They’re still a couple of my favourite pieces of music.

    1. The last time I watched that show it was mostly filled with the country music I do not enjoy – the more pop or top 40 style. Ugh. Too commercial. Give me the Bob Wills, the Ernest Tubbs, the great and soulful musicians of the past.

      I just heard of another offshoot of country that combines rap and country.

      Guess what it’s nicknamed.

      1. I feel that, Paul. I still sometimes watch the Grammys though it is often fairly odd.

        There are occasional bits of brilliance. Good performances, nice staging, etc. As an Academy member, I voted for many years, but then was worn down by the process of reading through lists of 600 nominees PER CATEGORY I had never heard of. Actually no one has heard of them – it was clearly used as a tactic to get the names of new bands and songs to pass by the eyeballs of voting members.

        The telling bit was that world-famous artists would submit ONE entry in a given category that they actually qualified for, and new, unknown bands’ labels would submit a half dozen tracks from the same album over and over again in multiple categories, even though they didn’t have a chance in heck of winning. And the Academy was cool with that, I imagine, as they had to pay fees for each entry.

        But I’m just a jaundiced old guy 🙂

    1. I like little feet as well. My wife had ’em. But let’s stick to music.

      “If you be my Dixie Chicken
      I’ll be your Tennessee Lamb
      and we can walk together down in Dixieland”
      – Little Feat

  6. One pop band that had truly great sound live was Joe Jackson. I saw him two or three times, with different dates, who all turned to me at some point a couple of songs in, with a big smile/look of disbelief, saying “WOW”. Expected some rock and roll, a couple of hits, etc. and they would just stun you with musicianship, professionalism and album-ready sound. If I recall correctly, the Body and Soul album may have been recorded “live to 2-track” in a venue w/o audience.

  7. I attended a Porcupine Tree concert in 2009 and took my in-ear attenuators but the mix was so STUPIDLY loud that I had to swap those for the sponge type of plugs. The attenuators have less of an impact on the fidelity whereas we all know the sponge plugs change everything. A lot of fellow attendees were covering their ears and I think some even departed due to the volume.

    Paul, I’m slightly surprised you don’t carry hearing protection with you when live music is a possibility.

    1. A pity of the loudness.
      Although I feel you “have” to hear this music loud, it can be too much of a good thing.
      But Porcupine Tree is a good band.
      I’ve got a few cd’s of them. And in my home no loudness problems.

    2. Radiohead in the enclosed 20,000 seater O2 arena was mind-numbingly loud, only surpassed by a dance show by the composer/choreographer Hofesh Shechter, involving over 200 drummers and about 24 electric guitarists. It was a serious out-of-body experience.
      If you’re going to go loud, the best advice is to do it properly.

      Curiously, the next thing I saw Shechter choreograph was Orfeo & Euridice with Sir John Eliot Gardiner, the Monteverdi Choir and English Baroque Orchestra at Covent Garden. That was something special and slightly lower sound pressure levels.

    3. @loop7

      I’ve heard Porcupine Tree and afterwards Steven Wilson with different fellow musicians a couple of time, I think ten times or so. There was one single concert, when the sound was awful. This had to do with a substitute at the mixer because their origin sound engineer had a flu.
      By the way I truly like the remastering work of Steven Wilson on old Prog-Rock programs from King Crimson to Jethro Tull and others. These were one of the first “remastered” editions I paid money for, because they are so excellent.


        1. Just saw where “Songs From the Wood” has been remastered by Wilson and released. That’s one I do not yet have. $37 from Amazon for the full box set or $21 from HDTracks for the download.

  8. A very good example of what the mind does not know the ears don’t hear or ignorance is bliss take your pick. I bet the people at the bar were using the music as background music and took it for granted that this is how live music sounds. They probably never heard of room resonances most of them at least. Take for example the bouncer and his reaction to your comment. Humorous is it not ? Regards.

  9. I may have told this story in the past. I won two tickets to see Brandi Carlile at the Pabst Theater, possibly the best acoustic venue in all of Milwaukee.
    It was general admission and thanks to my ex, we got there late, well late for a GA show. We got two seats in the last row of the main floor, and they do have two balconies. It seats about 1300.
    The first act was a young woman with a band. First song in, my ear peaces were out and in my ears. I should mention that we were about 6 seats to the right of soundboard. The mix was too loud and raw sounding.
    When they were setting up for Brandi, a different guy took over the board. The sound was transformed, no need for the ear protection, and considering we were up against the back wall, it sounded really good. Loud enough to support the rockers, but never too loud to enjoy.
    Well at one point in the show Brandi talked about how much they liked the venue, the acoustics, and did something in my 45+ years of concerts, I’ve never seen/heard done. Brandi and the twins, her guitar player and bass player, came to the front of the stage, and with just the guitarist playing a ukulele, did a song with no microphones or amplification of any sort. In the back row, the sound was clean, clear, and loud enough to totally enjoy. I have never seen that done before. I have been to hundreds of concerts, from small clubs, arenas, amphitheaters, stadiums, indoors, and out. Just about every conceivable type of venue out there.
    Well, I would rank Brandi in the top 10 shows I have seen. For sound, content, and enthusiasm. It was a great show.
    I always wondered if the guy doing sound for the first act, could hear the difference, and if he asked for pointers after the show.

  10. I always insert foam plugs when I leave the house, and take them out when I know I am safely ensconced in a controlled environment. The occasional mishap accidentally ending up at an amplified gig is then covered by replacing my trusty low pass attenuators. Imagine my surprise when I went to hear John Williams (the guitarist, not the filmscore hack) play a program of his excellent “Magic Box” album at Carnegie Hall, and found it so loud I could not stay in the room with earplugs in.

    I related this to my friend Derek Gripper after he played some concerts of West African music with Williams, and we are conspiring to use one of my speakers for his date in Carnegie/Zankel on Saturday 12 November. Derek plays transcribed Kora music, doing for Malian Griot composers what Segovia did for Bach – and on a guitar made by the same Luthier, Hermann Hauser.

    I can’t guarantee the second set, which is out of my control.

    1. I must have been sleepy yesterday when I scheduled today’s post. I wrote it and scheduled it in the Newsletter section. Took me a while this morning to figure that out.

      Will post in 32 minutes. Thanks for noticing.

  11. I doubt whether many will read this post since it is a day late, but, if you have not heard of the Comply Foam folks you should wander on over to and check out their ear plugs for deadening the noise of concerts. Cheap, well made, and I think quite effective.

    I read that in Europe there is a new trend in audio bars, establishments where the emphasis is on quality of sound, not the volume of it. So far none in my part of the world, instead most of the people I know are still more than happy to go to bars or concert venues where you cannot even hear the person talk when they are inches from your face. These ear plugs certainly come in handy there!

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