Steely Dan’s Jamalot Ever After tour saw Walter Becker and Donald Fagen on the road in the US and Canada this summer, with OSA International in support with a Martin Audio MLA sound system.

Steely DanRoad manager Robert ‘Nitebob’ Czaykowski and introduced Becker to MLA at a demonstration at New York’s Manhattan Center, where they were able to assess the evenness of its response and coverage. Steely Dan often plays theatres, where the mix position is at the back, beneath a balcony. ‘I go out there every day and listen to it; that’s part of my gig,’ Czaykowski says. ‘What really knocks me out about MLA is that you can really control it so it’s not splattering off a back wall or cluttering up in the lower balcony.’

The NYC demo was followed by extensive research from Mark Dowdle to confirm that the system would deliver the desired performance, and as a result Steely Dan added MLA to their tour.

Steely Dan has a reputation for attention to sound production – many FOH engineers and system techs use a Steely Dan track to tune a system. For live performance, their expectations are no less demanding.

Returning to work with Steely Dan, Mark Dowdle – whose credits include Elton John, Fleetwood Mac, Tina Turner and Jackson Browne  – mixed on two seven-box MLA arrays at the Ravinia Festival in Chicago, the first year of a new OSA installation and the first new PA in a decade at North America’s oldest music festival. Across the demanding 56-stop tour, MLA showed its versatility, control and overall sound performance credentials. Dowdle points out that the MLA provides extremely even front-to-back SPL as well as evenness of frequency response throughout the listening area: ‘The coverage is very smooth, especially its shading,’ he said. ‘You can walk up on the PA in the front and it sounds just like it does in the back of the room.’


Dowdle also mentions an improvement to the stereo field: ‘Everything is more defined, so that automatically translates into the stereo field being more discernable,’ he says. ‘MLA gives me dynamic range, clarity and definition so that I’m able to position and layer sounds in the stereo field which you can really hear where they all are.’ He adds that the MLA’s sound is extremely coherent and is very responsive from a mixing standpoint. ‘You make a small fader move and it’s immediately noticeable.’

Dowdle also reports comments from the audience: ‘I’ve been mixing for a long time and usually nobody ever says anything. This particular tour I’ve had more response from the audience than any tour I’ve ever done in my entire career, and it’s always been very positive and it’s always been very poignant. That’s in large part because of MLA allowing me to get it exactly how I want everywhere in the room.’

OSA crew chief and MLA system engineer Martyn ‘Ferrit’ Rowe is known from his tenure at Martin Audio as an MLA product specialist before leaving to work for OSA as Director of Engineering: The Steely Dan tour travels in two trucks, carrying consoles and backline (including a Steinway grand) in one, and lights and PA in the second. ‘We’re carrying 26 MLA and two MLD down fills, as well as 18 MLA Compacts, plus eight MLX subs and six W8LMD used as front fill,’ he explains.

The tour played Oklahoma City’s Chesapeake Energy Arena and New Orleans’ UNO Lakefront Arena using the 14-box MLA main arrays and nine-box MLA Compact side arrays that they carry. ‘The LA Forum was the only venue on our 56-show itinerary where we had to add PA,’ says Steely Dan Production Manager, Mitchell Keller. ‘It’s quite impressive that on a two truck tour we can carry enough PA to do arenas.’

Steely DanThe rest of the itinerary ranged from sheds and theatres to casinos. ‘The smallest venue was Humphrey’s in San Diego, putting in two subwoofers and ground stacking six MLA per side,’ Rowe explains. ‘We recently did four shows in a row with single point hangs using ten MLA enclosures.’

As well as MLA’s flexibility and scalability, Rowe is keen to point out the simplicity of its operation: ‘It’s like fly by wire; you tell it what you want and the software produces a custom preset for your system and the room,’ he explains.

‘This isn’t auto EQ, you still have control over all the decisions that are being made, but the computer is doing the heavy lifting for you,’ he adds.

According to Dowdle, ‘Both [Fagan and Becker] have come out into the audience on a number of occasions and have always been positive with their feedback and what was going on.

‘More often than not, Donald will come out and listen and frequently comments, ‘It sounds great,’ which is probably the highest compliment that I could ever receive in my career.’


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