Between May 12 and June 2, legendary songwriter and chanteuse Joni Mitchell wooed a fortunate few thousands among her legion of fans during a "limited engagement" eleven-city tour in support of her "Both Sides Now" album. Backed by a band of jazz/pop luminaries and a 72-piece symphony orchestra, Mitchell's performances showcased her latest artistic incarnation as an interpreter of romantic pop standards. Though fans and critics debated the relative merits of the "old Joni" versus the "new(est) Joni" after each concert, all were suitably impressed by the tour's dazzling musical virtuosity and sumptuous sound quality.
The audio system that followed Joni from California to Florida to Detroit (and points in between) was supplied by Westsun/Jason Sound of Toronto, and consisted largely of Meyer Sound self-powered loudspeakers. For the outdoor shows, flown arrays on each side consisted of three MSL-6 and six MSL-4 full range loudspeaker systems, six DS-4P mid-bass, and four 650-P subwoofers stacked underneath. The only conventionally powered units were the MSL-2A down fills and custom Jason P80 front fills.
The system was specified by tour audio designer Dave Lawler, who co-mixed the concerts behind an Amek Recall '56, and a Midas XL3 in collaboration with longtime associate Grant McAree. Lawler also brought along his personal pair of HD-1 monitors and a SIM System II to make sure the sound came out right every night.
"Mixing this tour has been the thrill of a lifetime," says Lawler, a veteran of many k.d.lang tours on his first outing with Mitchell. "This is absolutely wonderful music, though making it happen isn't easy. Some of the venues have been tough. We have scores of open microphones to deal with, plus you need a lot beefier sound than at an outdoor symphony concert. You need to get the band and orchestra to sound natural at a high level, with the artist's voice on top of it all. That takes a lot of gain before feedback."
According to Lawler, the clarity and precise directivity of the Meyer Sound loudspeakers made a substantial contribution to the uniformly positive reviews accorded to sound quality on the tour. "The Meyer boxes are very predictable. You know what they will do in any situation, and you can configure arrays to take care of the nasty acoustic environments that can confront us on any given day. The bottom line is that they just sound great."
Mitchell's backing band for the tour was fronted by renowned bassist (and ex-hubby) Larry Klein and drummer Peter Erskine, with contributions on many dates from Herbie Hancock on keyboards and Mark Isham on trumpet. The symphony orchestras were contracted locally for each show, with orchestra rehearsals scheduled for noon on the day of the show.
"For many of the shows we used the orchestra rehearsal as our source for our SIM alignment," says Lawler, "since sometimes we didn't have time to finish setup before they started. We'd still have part of the system on the ground when they started, and they wouldn't finish until six o'clock. So we would do component and system check with orchestra source, being discreet about it so it wouldn't throw them off. I've never had to do that before, but it proves how adaptable SIM is when you're doing room and system measurements in situations like this."
Shortly after finishing mixing the last Mitchell date, Lawler will take the same Meyer rig on a more extensive tour with k.d. lang. This summer's Mitchell/lang system is only slightly modified from the Westsun/Jason system that Lawler designed for last summer's tour by the Barenaked Ladies, although Lawler did not personally mix that tour.
Lawler has expressed a strong preference for Meyer Sound systems, and uses them whenever possible, since he first encountered them at the World's Fair in Vancouver in 1986. "I like the fact that the company is driven by excellence in engineering, not marketing. Also, their attention to detail is unsurpassed. They really work with you to solve problems."