New York (May 6, 2010)—Paul McCartney has a string of tour dates put together for this summer, having already rock n’ rolled at the Hollywood Bowl a few weeks ago. Along for the ride is his longtime FOH engineer, Paul ‘Pab’ Boothroyd.
“These are songs that every person in the audience has an attachment to,” Boothroyd says. “Whether it’s a particular guitar hook or a certain vocal harmony, they expect to hear these songs in a certain familiar way. My job is to reproduce that as faithfully as possible.”
Of course, when you’re talking about a repertoire that covers the entire Beatles catalog, plus four decades of McCartney’s solo career, the challenges of quickly segueing between wildly divergent mixes would make most engineers cringe. But holding court from behind his Venue Profile console, Boothroyd is as confident as he is unassuming.
“The Profile allows me to save snapshots for the entire set,” he says. “Typically I get the set list just before the show begins, so I’m able to pull up each mix as we go and just fine-tune it.”
One of the first things one notices is how remarkably uncluttered Boothroyd’s FOH setup is – just the Profile and FOH rack. (He sets up a duplicate Profile system at every show, but has yet to use it.) “I’m using the plug-ins in the desk pretty much exclusively, so there’s no need for a lot of racks.” he reports. Before moving to the Profile, Boothroyd’s setup employed two 48-channel analog consoles and no shortage of outboard gear.
The Profile console’s small footprint has come in handy on a number of occasions, he reports. “I’ve literally mixed shows in a closet for Paul. When we played the Cavern Club, for example, we took the doors of a closet and I set up there.”
Not surprisingly, Boothroyd records every show to an accompanying Pro Tools | HD rig. “Not necessarily for release, but it’s no problem to do it, and Paul likes to have it for reference,” he explains. And although the artist is generous with sound checks, Boothroyd makes use of the recorded tracks for Virtual Soundcheck, a timesaving Venue feature.
“Particularly on a night like tonight, where we’re just kicking off a new tour, it’s very useful,” he explains. “I was able to pull up (recordings from) a show we did in Dublin last year, (recorded) in a hall similar to this one, and get a rough mix somewhat dialed in.”
For any FOH engineer, the mix is only as good as the performance, and McCartney’s band makes that part look easy. Guitarists Rusty Anderson and Brian Ray, keyboardist Paul “Wix” Wickens and drummer Abe Laboriel, Jr. are consummate musicians who truly do the music justice.
“It’s only a five-piece band, but there’s a lot going on,” Boothroyd says, in something of an understatement. From the horns and strings of Wiickens’ keyboards to the textures of multiple guitars and basses, the range of tonal colorings is staggering. “I try not to color it too much. I add a little, but most of their sound is coming from the stage.”
And the sound coming off the stage is pure rock and roll, in the most classic sense. “Paul’s always been the epitome of the old school rocker,” says Boothroyd. “He likes it live and loud in the monitors – no in-ears – everything’s very open on stage, and that’s how I mix it.”
Indeed, the show is powerful and fast-paced, moving effortlessly across raw, no-frills rockers and intricately textured ballads, each familiar song a new surprise. McCartney performs with a youthful energy and spontaneity that belies his years, and no doubt keeps his younger charges on their toes.
“That’s one of the best parts of working with Paul,” Boothroyd concludes. “He’s always pushing the limits, always trying new things. Whether it’s just launching, unannounced, into a song they’ve never performed before, or doing a show atop the marquee at Late Night with David Letterman. It’s never boring. For me, the Profile system gives me a certain dependability. No matter what else is going on, I’ve got what I need.”