Independence sounds good

(Above: Ariana Grande takes the stage at the Independence Events Center, in Independence, Mo. in 2015.)

By Joel Francis
The Daily Record

The Missouri Mavericks hockey team has only been playing for two seasons, so there aren’t a lot of championship banners hanging above their home rink at the Independence Events Center. But doesn’t mean the rafters are empty.

Scores of black sound baffles drape from the ceiling and dozens more hang perpendicularly around the seating perimeter. They’re all part of the design to make the arena’s music sound better.

“Before this place was even built, engineers mapped the space,” said Paul Fray, chief engineer for the Events Center. “They mapped every frequency using a 3D computer program so they’d know how each frequency would react in the room.”

The catwalk high above the arena floor provides a unique look at the sound baffles strategically hung from the ceiling.

Based on those findings, strategically placed ceiling baffles were hung and wood-fiber panels were placed along the walls at the back of the seating level. When Fray pops Sting’s greatest hits into the arena’s sound system the playback is crisp and clear, as if it is being played in a giant living room.

“This is the best-sounding arena I’ve been in,” said Fray, a four-decade veteran of the Kansas City concert scene. “The overhead speakers are aimed at specific seating areas, then we have clusters of subs (subwoofers) at each end.”

When the Events Center hosts concerts, the act brings their own sound engineer and equipment. Their sound system is run through a separate power transformer devoted solely to audio equipment. This, Fray said, eliminates the hum that often arises when the transformer is shared with the lighting rigs.

“A guy from the Zac Brown Band crew told me we had more power available for them here than when he worked on the crew for the Bon Jovi show at Giants Stadium,” Fray said.

Fray said when he mixes he tries to visualize the sound as a 3D image, with the vocals in front and the guitars, bass and drums filling out the space behind.  When an instrument solo occurs he moves that to the front of the mix.

Audio engineers used 3D sound captures like the one above to gage how different frequencies would react in the room.

“A lot of the time, when there’s a problem with the sound it’s how the front-of-house engineer is mixing,” Fray said. “In the late ‘70s and early ‘80s I saw a lot of shows at Memorial Hall and they sounded good when you didn’t try to overpower the room. When I saw Velvet Revolver there a few years ago it was the worst sound I’d ever heard. You couldn’t pick out any of the instruments.”

A well-engineered room offers more forgiveness to the sound crew.

“All of the front-of-house guys have been very pleased with the arena,” Fray said. “Alice Cooper and Rob Zombie were here a while back and they were very happy with the venue. They thought it was a nice place to play.”

That’s good news for music fans on a couple levels. Not only will they be able to better enjoy the show while it happens, but it means there’s a good chance the performers will come back and fans will be able to live the moment all over again.

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Review: Goo Goo Dolls

(Above: It was impossible to go anywhere in 1997 without hearing “Iris,” the Goo Goo Dolls’ biggest hit.)

By Joel Francis
The Kansas City Star

During the mid- to late ‘90s, the Goo Goo Dolls racked up multiplatinum albums, Top 10 hits and Grammy nominations. That was a long time ago, but you wouldn’t know that walking into the Independence Events Center on Thursday night.

“We are small, but we are mighty,” lead singer John Rzeznik told the house, which was better than three-quarters full. As expected, the crowded demonstrated its approval by singing along to “Dizzy” the second of seven cuts from 1998’s “Dizzy Up the Girl” played that night.

By including 11 songs from their 2007 greatest hits album, the Dolls had a surefire set list. Most songs drew a cheer from the opening chords and were long-form exercises in audience participation. Even “Home,” one of five new songs the band bravely tested from their upcoming album, found several fans singing along.

The best numbers were the most obvious ones. “Black Balloon” found the area in front of the stage filled with, what else, black balloons. At times the reactions during “Name” and “Slide” threatened to overwhelm the very vocal-friendly mix.

Touring guitarist Brad Fernquist added some nice slide guitar to Rzeznik’s otherwise solo “Acoustic #3.” “All Eyes on Me” featured a great instrumental coda that provided one of the few times the band stretched out.

The biggest moment, of course, was “Iris.” Rzeznik prefaced it by telling the crowd “we gotta play this one” and everyone reacted to the introduction like they had just walked out of “City of Angels.” After a full performance of the song, the back kicked into it one more time to let the crowd have a solo run through the chorus. They probably could have done it once more and achieved the same result.

Hopping around barefoot on the massive stage, bass player Robby Takac took the mic for four numbers. His rawer songs showed off the influence the Replacements had on the Dolls’ sound. This was especially true on “Another Time Around,” the lone nod to their pre-fame days. Even though it was written more than 15 years later, “Now I Hear,” Takac’s contribution to the forthcoming “Something For the Rest of Us” album, sounded like it could have been cut at the same session.

After blowing their big bullets – “Name” and “Iris” – during the main set, the band returned with another new track and “Broadway,” another “Dizzy” single. The 90-minute set may have not offered many surprises, but everyone got exactly what they were looking for: a fun romp down memory lane.

Setlist: The Sweetest Lie (new song); Big Machine; Slide; Dizzy; Here Is Gone; Another Second Time Around; Smash; Can’t Let Go; Black Balloon; Home (new song); Better Days; Stay With You; Now I Hear (new song); Tucked Away; Name; Let Love In; As I Am (new song); All Eyes On Me; Acoustic #3; Iris. Encore: Not Broken (new song); Broadway.

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