When John Legend and his 11-piece band performed at this year’s BluesFest for his only UK show of 2019, it was through a Martin Audio MLA loudspeaker array provided by Capital Sound at the O2 Arena.
Introduced to the event by production manager Neil McDonald in 2017, Capital’s crew won plaudits both from Legend’s own production manager, Chris Stinebrink, and FOH engineer, Paul Klimson (Theory One Productions)—who was also hugely impressed with the PA.
“The MLA system caught my attention from the instant [system tech] Ben Turnbull started the tuning,” he said. “Both he and [FOH tech] Dave Preston made me feel right at home, and even before Ben dug into the tuning, I noticed that the MLArig was forward sounding. It didn’t sound like we were in the O2 but at an outdoor festival and I could only surmise that all the energy was coming out of the front of the array with very little spill off the back.
“When Ben was done with the tuning, there was nothing left for me to comment on. I actually peeled off a bunch of processing and EQing I had done on my file from past shows. It felt like a clean slate. The low-end down front was not oppressive but still translated well in the back and upper bowl. There was great transition from mains to side hangs and up to the top seats.”
Consequently, he said, mixing that night had been “a dream”. Of MLA he said, “It was a very forgiving box that I could lean into without any surprises. Our monitor engineer Jon Ostrin said it was a great show from the stage as well. He mentioned the energy coming back was perfect to connect the band and artist with the rest of the arena. All in all it was a great day at the O2 with the Capital Sound crew and MLA.”
The event, promoted by Leo Green for Live Nation, and now in its sixth year, may have strayed from its original blues roots but it remains a hugely popular event, with Rickie Lee Jones performing next door at Indigo2.
Capital’s sound design was tested by the fact that the seating format of the O2 Arena excluded the Level 4 seats on the horseshoe, but not the two side wings, closest to the stage. Capital compensated for this by boosting their complement of outfills to 16 MLA Compact elements per side, thus ensuring that these seats were treated to the same sweet jazz tinged experience as those in the stalls.
Explaining the approach, Capital Sound account manager Martin Connolly said, “With these changes to the upper tier seating plan we focused the main hangs on the lower bowl and increased the size of the side hangs accordingly.”
Capital’s solution was to fly 11 x MLA and two MLD Downfill enclosures on each side as the main hang with 16 x MLX subs in a cardioid broadside array. Six of the popular DD12 Differential Dispersion boxes on each side of the stage provided infills/outfills while four further MLA Compacts acted as lip-fills, servicing the front rows. The stage was equipped with 10 x LE1500 stage wedges, which were used by support act, Laville and his band.
When Chris Stinebrink had praised the Capital crew as “a great bunch of chaps” he was referring not only to Turnbull and Preston, but also Tim Patterson (crew chief), Tom Gardner (monitor tech), Oliver Fallon and Chris Pearson (techs).
As for Neil McDonald, he only had two words for the quality of the production, and that was “top notch”.
Photography by Ben Turnbull