Elton John-Billy Joel concert marred, for some, by poor quality sound

Among those disappointed by muddled music at a concert in Portland’s largest entertainment venue? Find out why the folks who run the Rose Garden aren’t to blame – and who is responsible …

The view of the show by Billy Joel (left) and Elton John (right) was spectacular from backstage.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
By all measures, the Billy Joel/Elton John “Face-2-Face” concert on February 10 should have been the musical entertainment event of the year – especially for those who grew up listening their hit music on the radio.

Sadly, for some concert-goers in the 20,000-seat Rose Garden arena, the sound quality ranged from fair to unintelligible.

One problem spot, what some consider “premium seating” – directly behind the open, raised stage.  The seats provided a stunning view of the show – albeit from behind.

Striking lighting effects add to the excitement of the show.

As the show began, two grand pianos magically appeared – rising up from below the lower stage. The musical stars were accompanied by their own bands – and sometimes a combined band – whose members were on platforms that also arose on pods from below the stage.

Poor audio quality mars show
Sadly, when Elton John and Billy Joel sang their songs, or spoke to the audience with no music playing, the sound was highly amplified – but unintelligible in sections of the Rose Garden, including that “premium seating” right behind the stage, where the audio engineering and loudspeaker placement turned music into audio mush.

There were multiple spots in the arena at this concert, where top tickets cost as much as $500 apiece, where the sound was reported as fair-to-poor audio quality. There, the music wasn’t clear and the lyrics were difficult to understand.

Elton John plays before an enthusiastic audience.

Rose Garden management clarifies situation
It’s easy to blame the Rose Garden for a evening’s spoiled entertainment.

We called Rose Garden general manager, Chris Oxley, about this problem. Oxley listened responsively and was sympathetic. However, the sound equipment was arranged for by the producer for the concert – it was not Rose Garden gear. The producer, Live Nation Entertainment, claims to be the “largest producer of live concerts in the world”, with several events each year at the Rose Garden, including the upcoming James Taylor & Carole King concert on May 7.

And, Oxley confirmed what we’d read in a trade magazine – that Live Nation contracted with the international audio provider, Clair Global, for this touring show’s sound system. Because Clair brings in every microphone, cable, amplifier and loudspeaker – then sets them up and operates them – one can’t blame the Rose Garden for less-than-satisfying sound at such an event.

Billy Joel plays one of his hits during the Rose Garden concert.

“We work hard to provide people in Portland a clean, well-run venue for people to come and enjoy all kinds of entertainment,” Oxley told us. “And, it reflects poorly on the Rose Garden when people don’t have a good experience here, for whatever reason.”

Even though most seats in the arena will be bathed in good, clear sound, narrow bands of seating may fall in “dead zones” in which the loudspeakers cancel out one another. In this case, the concert was sold out, so there was no opportunity to reseat those in “dead zones” to better spots in the hall.

If you attend an event with muddled, hard-to-understand sound, moving twenty feet or so to the right or left can solve the problem. “Talk to one of our staff members,” Oxley advised. “We’ll do our best to help you find seats with better sound – if unsold seats are available.”

© 2010 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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