Review: Great Lake Swimmers at 27 Club

I’ve been following Great Lake Swimmers for years now but have never been able to catch them live.  Until now!  Going to a concert while leaving Vero home alone with a newborn is a tricky feat but she had a great day leading up to that evening so I was able to escape for a few hours.  Thanks Vero!

I’m going to chat about two things here…the concert itself and the opportunity I had to record the concert.

The concert itself

Opening for Great Lake Swimmers was the touring keyboardist; Colleen Brown.  She played a couple of tunes on the guitar and followed up with more on the keys.  I really enjoyed her songs and while nervous at first, I think she found her footing after a few songs.  Who isn’t nervous when performing?

I am super freaked out by this picture as it’s like she is staring directly at me.  It’s like those horror movies where you see someone in a photo staring into your soul!

Next up we had a special treat in the form of Tanya Davis who recited a few poems of hers.  The lighting went down accidentally during one of her poems but she kept on going like a pro.  I ended up being a substitute lighting rig for a few minutes as the sound guy asked me to point a flashlight at the stage so people could see her!  It’s not often I hear poetry and I enjoyed her style and delivery.

Great Lake Swimmers finally took the stage to a decent sized crowd.  After the first song it was apparent that we were in for a treat and the band has a relaxed nature to them and crack a joke here and there.  It makes the moment more intimate.  They had a good selection of new tunes mixed with old tunes.  They are a top notch live act and I will definitely see them if they pass by in the future.

Colleen Brown setlist

You’re Only A River Away
Moncton, Flight 179
Love You Baby
I Remember
Will You Still Love Me? [Carole King]
Lead Me On

Great Lake Swimmers setlist

The Real Work
In a Certain Light
Side Effects
The Great Exhale
Put There by the Land
Everything Is Moving So Fast
Alone But Not Alone
Your Rocky Spine
Something Like a Storm
Visions of a Different World
The Talking Wind
Come A Long Way [Kate McGarrigle]
Changing Colours
Pulling on a Line

The recording of the concert

Considering I was heading out to the concert alone I thought this might be a great time to try out my Tascam recording unit and try my hand a recording a live concert!  I love live music and I love bootlegs of concerts.  I scour the internet in hopes to find a recording of concerts I’ve been to in the past.  But I’ve never been the person who has attempted to record a concert myself.

Until now!

The band!

At first I was just going to bring my Tascam unit in and hit record and see what happens.  I had no idea if the venue would allow it or not.  But then I thought “Why don’t I email the band to see if they would mind if I recorded the show?”  It’s not like I’m going to be selling the show to anyone.

Sure enough, Tony of Great Lake Swimmers got back to me the next day and said it would not be a problem as long as I stayed out of the way with my equipment and it would be great if they could get a copy of it!  Fantastic!  What an opportunity to fulfill a dream!

I spent the next few weeks learning everything I could about the Tascam unit.  I even managed to velcro a portable battery pack to the unit so I wouldn’t be just running on double A batteries which may not last 2-3 hours.

My rig

I arrived at the 27 Club with fifteen minutes to spare before the opening act.  There wasn’t a lot of people in there and I could easily go chat with the sound guy.  I don’t know why, but I was super nervous going to the sound guy to ask if I could get a direct feed from his board.  Leading up this event I knew that there would be two eventualities…he says no and I just set up the Tascam unit somewhere and hit record and use the external microphones.  Or he says yes and I get the best quality recording ever.  He had no issues with it whatsoever and we chatted about what I was hoping to accomplish and we decided to run two XLR cables straight from the board into the Tascam unit.  Fantastic!

I had a couple of minutes to spare before the opening act started and I set up the recording unit on the edge of the sound board area so I could monitor the input levels to ensure they wouldn’t peak.

Not going to lie, this was my view for 50% of the night as I was constantly keeping an eye on the recording levels.  Recording a concert is work!

Colleen Brown came on and I could see inputs 1 and 2 bopping along and I adjusted the levels accordingly.  I think it was working!  Half way through her set I realized that I must have been still recording using the external mics and not the soundboard feed and sure enough, once I listened to my playback I found out that my hunch was correct.  What was I doing wrong?

I figured out that for whatever reason, the soundboard feed was coming on input 3 but not 4.  So I’m not entirely sure why this wouldn’t let me record two XLR cables but I had to figure out what I wanted to do.  In the end, I figured that one mono track of the soundboard feed was still going to be better than whatever the external mics were going to get me.  In hindsight, I have to admit that after comparing the two recordings the Colleen Brown concert still turned out quite decent in terms of an audience recording.  It picked up a lot more noise like the venue’s air conditioning unit and the chatter from the crowd but it wasn’t that bad.

I still don’t know what was wrong with Input 4 and I’ll have to do some more testing to figure that out.

What’s interesting about recording straight off the soundboard is that I must have been recording post-mixer so I didn’t even have to monitor for peaks because the sound guy was already handling that for me.  I did have to crank the input gain to the max and I’m not sure why that is.  Perhaps it was just a really low output coming from the board?  Either way, it all worked out!

It was really interesting standing near the ‘behind the scenes’ area of a concert.  There’s a lot to think about.  The sound guy is constantly keeping an eye on levels and how the sound is.  He’s also handling the lighting which was a disaster when the computer decided to crash along with the software handling all the lights.  But it’s neat to hear the band chat with him before the show asking for certain types of lights to create an intimate setting.

At the end of the night I packed up my gear, thanked Joel the sound guy for his help and went to the merch booth to introduce myself to Tony.  I picked up a few CDs and said I would send him a copy when it’s ready.  He seemed excited to hear that I got to plug into the soundboard.

I got back to the car and started listening to what I captured and I was overjoyed to hear that everything came out great!  My first outing with the live recording rig was a near complete success and I’ll troubleshoot input 4 before the next time I head out.

Special thanks to Joel for helping me out along the way and to Tony of Great Lake Swimmers for allowing me to capture a moment in time.

Until the next time!


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