Not all of the sound? You’re ripping us off! (Another strange but true tale from “back in the day”)

In 1980 I was working for a band, doing sound…and lights…and some backline…from front of house.

During the 11 months I was with them, the band completed a successful showcase, landed a record deal, released its first album, and did a national tour of bars and universities. Truck and van deal…did I mention that I also drove the truck?

On this particular night, pre record deal, we were part of the way through a week-long gig at a Toronto bar called The Ports. At the time it was a busy, popular entertainment complex with a contemporary rock room, a lounge act room, and a dinner theatre, but of course it’s long since been levelled and made into condos where my retired in-laws now live. But I digress…

We were in the rock bar, which was actually quite nice, with high ceilings, pretty good sight lines, and this really cool ceiling fan system that was driven by a system of belts that ran all around the ceiling. (The full name of the place was The Ports of Call and it was presenting a “Rick’s Cafe Americain” from the movie Casablanca kind of vibe.)

The mix position was house-left, bordered on the rear and the right side by a stand-up bar. This was actually a great feature because it meant barriers behind and beside you to keep the punters out.

The bar behind the mix area was usually a low traffic area because it offered an obstructed view of the stage, the obstruction in this case being me and my front of house set-up. It consisted of a rack to my left, a Yamaha PM700 console in front of me, and the lighting console to my right. Now in this rack, at the top, was a Yamaha PM180 that I used to sub-mix drums. The PM180 was a great little 6 x 2 mixer with two VU meters prominently displayed in the master section.

However, as was usual at the time, the PA system was mono, so I was only using the left output of the PM180 to feed the drum sub (drums subbed on 1 fader…in 1980!). The right output was not unused – I employed it as a send to my one effects box, a Roland RE-201 (a.k.a., Space Echo). I used this box all through the show, including to try to replicate the backwards snare drum bit in the Supertramp song “Dreamer,” which I did by panning the snare to the right, pre-hit, and then panning out of the effect and into the direct signal for each hit. It sort of worked. I mention this bit of detail because…

On the night in question, I’m mixing and lighting away when I feel a tap on my left shoulder. The gent standing at the bar behind me says, “Hey, buddy” and points to the right VU meter on the drum mixer, which is sitting at rest, as it should be, while the left one is dancing away with the occasional red peak LED flashing in time with the beat.

So I say, “Oh, thanks, it’s alright” and get back to it, almost missing a lighting cue in the process. A minute goes by, and I feel another, more insistent tap on my shoulder. “Hey buddy!” he says again, and points frantically at the stationary meter. This happens a few more times, and each time I assure him that’s it’s OK.

Finally, as I’m turning back to the console, again, he blurts out, “You’re ripping us off!” “What?!” I ask, in disbelief. “You’re ripping us off!” he says again. “How?” I ask, to which he replies, “You’re not giving us all of the sound!”

Well, it’s like 106 dB in the shade in the bar, with the drums thumping, the bass throbbing, the guitar and keys howling, and the vocals wailing…it’s all there. I don’t really have time for this conversation with the guy, who by this time is completely losing it. I manage to get the attention of one of the bouncers, jerk my head at the guy, and the last I see of him, he’s being hustled out the door…right to a place where he got none of the sound.

Go here for Ike’s “Road Stories #1.”

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