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May 3, 2012 | 12:00 a.m. CST
More than eight hours of preparation went into a three-hour Interstellar Overdrive concert at The Blue Note on April 20th. Photographs by Parker Miles Blohm
During the day, The Blue Note is a construction zone. Not one with hard hats and jackhammers, but one with a group of people working toward an ultimate goal: a successful rock show. Vox takes a behind-the-scenes look at what it takes to make one night’s show come to life. After 15-plus hours and a dash of insanity, The Blue Note is open for business.
feet of cable used to put on this production
approximate number of buttons on soundboard
number of tickets sold
hours it took to create the video for the show
number of speakers used on stage
number of fog machines
The sound of silence
It’s 1:30 p.m. on April 20th, and the floor of The Blue Note is still wet. The staff mopped for the night’s engagement, but the scuffed appearance of the black wood floor still remains under the blotchy spots of drying water. Each imperfection engraved into the venue’s floor tells a story from one of the many performances that occurred throughout the past 32 years.
Tonight’s performance features Interstellar Overdrive, a Pink Floyd tribute band. Two individuals work at their own pace in the plum-colored auditorium. “All Mixed Up” by 311 plays faintly through the sound system. The fairly quiet room is a strange comparison to the hundreds of screaming fans who will file in later that evening.
On stage, lighting director Jeff Cobb is rigging lights to a long black bar while two standing lights rest on either side of the stage. Wearing a camouflage bucket hat and sipping on a raspberry lager, Cobb could pass for a vacationer. If only The Blue Note were a tropical paradise.
Once the lights are ready, Dylan McCord, The Blue Note’s production manager, raises the bar approximately 20 feet in the air. The lights, only about one-third complete, are a major facet to Pink Floyd shows, an experience that Interstellar Overdrive strives to recreate.
Two band members carry in a trampoline frame, not for recreation but as a video screen. Lead man Byron Neighbors has the construction down to an art — connect all the poles, duct tape them together, drape a white sheet over the frame and bungee cord it until it’s tight. “It’s a glamorous setup,” Neighbors says jokingly.
Pinks, purples, yellows and blues fill the venue as Cobb starts testing out more lights. A Blue Note employee scrubs down 15 trash cans of various shapes and sizes while the smell of incense fills the empty venue. Cobb describes the current smell of The Blue Note as a mixture of pine incense and sweat.
The band’s video engineer, Paul Lazar, sets up two DVD players in a square booth that sits in the middle of the audience. The booth is small, but it’s mission control: a mechanical brain that directs lights, video and the sound the audience will hear.
Jared Odom, who is in charge of the front soundboard for Interstellar Overdrive, gets acclimated to the endless columns of knobs and switches while Lazar unloads his gear, and the men on stage slowly raise the trampoline screen like a crane at a construction site.
It’s 3 p.m. when the burnt orange drums are assembled and a low bass sound reverberates as everyone diligently sets up his own instrument. Someone yells, “Shut up!” And the drummer laughs, saying, “I’m having too much fun.”
Setup is only about two hours in, and the atmosphere is relaxed yet focused. The crew is a team of perfectionists hanging onto every last detail but having fun in the process. Cobb jokes about getting coleslaw cannons for the concert.
Video finally plays on the homemade screen. An image of a huge blinking blue eye is projected onto it and is staring right back at its creator.
Odom is working on the front soundboard and places small pieces of masking tape below each column of switches. The labels are marked with an incomprehensible jumble of letters, but to Odom they make sense.
“I come bringing Chinese rays of death,” says the keyboardist carrying two lasers, both made in China. Cobb sets them up below the video screen while microphones are attached to stands and instruments.
Quinten Rice, a guitar technician for the band, shows up with only a small backpack of necessities — a tuner, mini amp, soldering iron and extra guitar strings among other little tidbits. He sets up on a small table on the side of the stage, which will be his workstation for the next couple hours. The table sits in front of the breaker box that is covered with band stickers from previous performances. When asked if Interstellar Overload has its sticker among the others, Cobb jokes, “Not everyone can afford a sticker.”
At 5 p.m., the pace starts picking up as the men run cables from all of the amps to speakers and then to the backstage soundboard. This process connects both the front and back soundboards. The backstage board controls what the band hears during the concert while the other controls what the audience hears.
The stage looks concert-ready, and the bandmates put on final touches by duct taping cables that run across the stage to prevent tripping during the show.
One member arrives late and walks in the back stage door, sets his instrument on a stand that sits front and center. After briefly warming up, he says, “Do I look cool?” And with nods of approval, he is also ready.
At 7 p.m., The Blue Note crew starts taking the chairs from atop the tables and begins throwing short rugs on the floor in the lobby and on the ramp leading to the pit.
Water is being poured into two fog machines resting on either side of the stage as the band finishes up sound checking. A short break before the concert provides just enough time to grab a sandwich from Jimmy John’s and change into black button up shirts.
The artificial fog blankets the stage as fans trickle into the auditorium. Rice quickly runs on and off stage to put tuned guitars on their stands. All of their hard work brought them to this moment. One minute later Lazar starts up the DVD player, and the band strums its first chord. The sound swells through the venue, and the crowd goes crazy.
Throughout the performance, Lazar switches out DVDs, Cobb coordinates lights, and Rice runs on and off stage with different instruments. Odom and McCord push and slide buttons, constantly adjusting for the best quality sound possible.
Hours of work pays off as screaming crowds answer the screaming guitars and the band is only worried about playing great music for a great crowd.
At 1 a.m., the band is done. The Blue Note is no longer a construction site but a demolition zone.
Odom starts turning all of the soundboard knobs to their original positions, and Lazar packs up video equipment into his small black backpack. “It’s easier to tear down because things don’t have to be perfect,” he says.
The bartenders start picking up lonely, empty beer bottles that are scattered about — the sound of clanking makes a musical show of its own. A couple individuals linger in the crowd while The Blue Note crew works around them.
By 1:20 a.m. the venue is back to its quiet state. Bandmates roll up cords and snap the multiple guitar cases close. The band carries all of its gear to the black trailer that waits outside. The Blue Note stage only holds a lone guitar pick, a water bottle cap and a few new scuff marks on the floor.