Picture an intimate performance venue like the Aragon Ballroom in Chicago. Lights down low and in the summer; a bit warm because the air conditioner and fans can’t keep up. The opening act has been off the stage for a while and people are restless. This isn’t a beer crowd — it’s a cocktail night.
The stage goes dark. People get quiet with anticipation. The 1920’s era painted artificial sky twinkles above. A smoky haze settles in for an evening of soul in the ballroom. Keyboard stabs with drop chords pierce the void with beams of synchronized purple light penetrating the hazy blackness underneath the starry “sky.”
The crowd begins to roar. Strings float in from across the room, a guitar riff rolls off the front of the PA and then a bass groove fills the space. The lights come up to reveal a backlit Cee Lo Green stepping forward to a wireless mic. The spotlight snaps on.
“I’m livin’ for the weekend…”
Now flip the scene and imagine it from the stage. Audience waiting, hands in the air with a roar of delight followed by a thousand people grooving to a bass line that grabs and doesn’t let go.
“Bright Lights Bigger City” is one of those rare songs where I as Dream Engineer would rather be off to the side of the stage running the monitor mix rather than being up front. Now don’t get me wrong, monitor mixing for the stage is a whole different animal and a far cry from doing the front-of-house (FOH) mix. You don’t get a great sense of the performance because you’re working for the artists with a stage mix that is nothing like what’s out front. That said, monitor engineering is one way to experience the intangibles of a stage performance. For this song, I really want to see the crowd from the artists’ perspective.
“And it’s all right. It’s alright. It’s alright, it’s alright. It’s alright, it’s alright. Bright lights and the big city.”
I’ve got to do my job of feeding the right audio to the members of the band and am focused on that. Once tweaked, I catch a glimpse of the artists’ view from stage left. I can see the crowd grooving in time to the bass line and when the chorus comes, drinks being lifted into air. At the verse, drinks drop and a physical undulation of bodies starts in the middle of the crowd that just keeps growing and rolling. The chorus returns and the drinks go into the air once again. The crowd is singing now — there’s a palpable sense of stress being lifted from every being in the room.
And that’s just the first song of the set.
There’s nothing quite like it.