ZZ Top's 2016 touring season began in March, taking the American rock band to arenas and large theatres across North America.
Dubbed the Hell Raisers tour, the group decided to travel light, renting a sound system at each venue, exposing Joe Keiser – the group's FOH engineer for the past five years – to a wide variety of products.
One that stood out for both its sound quality and ease of use was the Electro-Voice X2 line array loudspeaker system supplied by NLFX Professional for the gig at Sanford Center in Bemidji, Minnesota. The X2 is the high-performance member of the new Electro-Voice X-Line Advance family.
“That is one show that stands out for me as trouble-free,” recalled Keiser. “I remember walking in and thinking the system looked small for a sold-out arena show, but once I powered up and did our line check, I knew it was going to be a good day.”
The Electro-Voice X2 system provided by NLFX Pro consisted of twin 12-box line arrays of Electro-Voice X2/212-90 mains, augmented by a dozen Electro-Voice concert sound subwoofers. Six Electro-Voice EVU-2082 ultra-compact loudspeakers were spread across the stage lip as front fills.
“NLFX did a great job setting up the system,” Keiser continued. “I walked the room, and everything sounded smooth, both on the floor and up in the stands. The X2 system from Electro-Voice is really efficient and balanced, which makes it easy to get that thick, dirty sound that ZZ Top fans expect to hear.”
For veterans like ZZ Top, there is no sound check. “When people ask how the sound check went, I tell them they’ll get to hear it during the first song,” Keiser noted. “We do a line check, listen to the room, and tune the system. Then Jake Mann, the monitor engineer, stands at Billy Gibbons’ mic and talks softly into it. Billy is a very soft singer, and I can tell right away whether I’m going to have a comfortable night. With the X2 system, I didn’t struggle to get Billy’s voice out front. It laid in the mix quite well, which made it very easy to keep it on top without a ton of processing and equalisation.”
One notable feature of the ZZ Top stage is that Gibbons does not wear in-ear monitors and prefers hearing the main house mix. “I send my house mix back down the snake to Jake, who feeds it to the stage monitor wedges if Billy needs it," Keiser explained. "But he prefers to actually hear the room, so it’s important to have a natural sound. In Bemidji, I remember going on stage to listen, speaking into Billy’s mic and saying, ‘Hey, this sounds pretty sweet! It’s going to be a good night.’ So even though I’m the front of house engineer, I’m actually mixing for Billy as well.”
This was not the first time Keiser and ZZ Top have encountered the X-Line Advance from Electro-Voice in their travels. “Last summer, we played the Bluetone Festival in Straubing, Germany,” recalls Keiser. “It was at the bottom of a hill near the Danube River, and the result was the same: a big, thick mix with very little equalisation or processing," Keiser stated. "That gig was just like the one we did in Bemidji – an easy day for me, and a good day for the band and their fans. As it should be.”