Hey Folks… pulling into the final gig of this little run, and it’s been really swell. The first two nights of the tour were acoustic at the Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix and the rest of the run was the electric trio and that mostly with the David Bromberg Quintet. I love those guys! It’s been a helluva run. Anyway, the last two nights with David and his pals was at the Boulder Theater, in Boulder. I’ve always loved the Boulder Theater for what I considered to be its generally lovely acoustic properties. I’ve played it solo, I’ve played it with Barry Mitterhoff, I’ve been there as a guest of Nick and Helen Forster’s eTown… I’ve played it with Jack Casady acoustic and electric…well, suffice it to say I’ve been there a lot. It has always treated me well and I’ve always given it my best.
So last night we pulled into St. Louis for our last show today at the River City Casino. I was just heading to the restaurant for dinner when I got a text from Vanessa with this note. Now I’m not including the name of the gentleman who sent this to Ness. This is one man’s opinion and he is welcome to it. I don’t want to set him up to be piled on… I did not sit in his seat… I did not have his experience, this is his and his alone. Here is what this disgruntled soul had to say.
First, let me say I’m a long-time Jorma fan. I’ve been eager to hear Hot Tuna live and I’ve wanted to come to the ranch for a workshop for years. But another day for that.
I finally had the chance to hear Hot Tuna last Friday at the Boulder Theater. Well, I started the show anyway. We left during the third song because the sound was detestable. Way too loud, distorted and poorly balanced. I was clocking 105db (peaks were higher) in the balcony. God only knows how much louder it was closer to the stage. But not just loud. The sound was all thumping bass guitar and bass drum. Jorma’s voice was largely inaudible and sometimes even his guitar was covered. Really unpleasant, distorted and all one dynamic. Bad and unacceptably so.
I love my Hot Tuna albums. I appreciate that Jorma is a craftsman, laboring to select the right guitar, right amp, right mikes for each song. And he sweats the details, frequency balance, dynamics, spatial balance. I just can’t believe that he doesn’t care about the quality of his live sound. If his albums were so poor sounding, I wouldn’t buy another one. I doubt he would be proud of any album that sounded so bad, either.
No, I didn’t complain to management at the Boulder Theater. I have in the past (a Dixie Dregs show that was even louder) and they shrugged, saying “Nobody else has complained”. I can’t explain that. Maybe audiences are just so accustomed to bad sound they don’t know any better. But the lack of complaints is not evidence of good sound. Nor is the lack of complaints evidence that a good sounding concert would not be appreciated by the audience. Boulder Theater is not unique, there’s plenty of bad sound out there. Despite excellent sound systems in this day and age, concert sound has never been worse. The state of the art is awful. I just thought Jorma would insist on better sound. I just thought he would want his artistry to be better conveyed.
A final note on safety. 105db is flat out unsafe for human ears except for very short peaks. A constant level of sound that loud is dangerous to our long-term hearing health. I would think Jorma would have some sense of responsibility about that, too.
$135 down the drain for me. Worse, I can’t imagine risking a repeat of the experience. Too bad, I really like Hot Tuna.’
Jorma here again.
OK… another county heard from.
This individual implied that I don’t care about our live sound. He may have thought our sound sucked, and I guess that is for him to say, but he is way off base when he says that I/we don’t care about our live show. Anyone who has been stuck in the house when we set up to do a show knows how meticulous our sound check is. Our head Tech Guru, Myron spends as much time as it takes to tune the room before a single note gets played. My 1967 50w Marshall Plexi is surrounded by glass as is the Louis Electric TwinMaster. The Firebird or the Les Paul use the Marshall, the Gibson Chet Atkins SST gets the call for the softer finger picking numbers through the Louis. No one in the audience is in the line of fire from those amps. We spend a lot of time making sure the sound is right. We’re an old school band so we don’t depend on subs. Do we use some sub-woofer action? Sure we do, but we don’t depend on it.
Said individual said he left during the third song. Now I will allow that on the third and fourth song that night, I brought out my Fender Jazzmaster which hasn’t seen the light of day for number of years. The songs I used it on were Ode To Billy Dean and Talkin’ Bout You. I had some issues with that guitar that night and I will be the first to admit that I thought it sounded nasty and it did not return to the stage again. Mea culpa. Long life the Firebird! The first two songs were Been So Long and Candy Man. These are by their nature not very loud songs and one of the things I enjoyed about these Boulder shows was that I did not have to rely on the monitors… I could work with the sound I heard back from the house. For me this is an almost perfect on-stage scenario.
To get back to our offended patron. From our vantage point on stage I remember that we had a lot of dynamic range to play with. I had no trouble hearing my own voice coming back from the house, and I’m not a loud singer. Now this offended soul left after three songs and I’m not taking issue with what he heard. When I showed the note to Jack, his immediate response was ‘He has hearing issues.’ I can’t comment on that but I thought it was an interesting observation.
Lastly… again from the dissatisfied customer:
‘A final note on safety. 105db is flat out unsafe for human ears except for very short peaks. A constant level of sound that loud is dangerous to our long-term hearing health. I would think Jorma would have some sense of responsibility about that, too.’
OK, I have some hearing loss due to age and occupational hazards but I’m lucky… it could be much worse. That being said, I’m not out there with a db meter. That’s not my job. My job is to put on a good show, perform to the best of my ability and give the folks not only their money’s worth, but an honest artistic experience! I believe we do that every night. We bring it every night we play! We never phone it in! In my opinion one of the major components of Rock ‘n’ Roll, is volume (on the songs that require volume). I believe that many people today have damaged their hearing more by blasting music with ear pods than by experiencing high volumes at shows. (This is an opinion, and opinions are like assholes, everybody has one) That being said, if I were going to be in the audience for any kind of show and I were concerned about the ambient volume, I would bring ear protection with me. When I ride my motorcycle, I wear a full-face helmet and if I’m going for a long ride, I add under helmet ear protection as well. Just sayin’
OK. I’m truly sorry that the writer of this letter did not get the experience he had hoped for. I really am. Again, I wasn’t sitting in his seat and so my experience was obviously not his. I am saying that our collective experience at the Boulder Theater was, ‘Wow, what great sound tonight!’ I even did Genesis as an encore because I liked the detail of the sound so much.