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The Who rock Super Bowl XLIV halftime

This year’s Super Bowl XLIV in Miami featured The Who in its halftime show, an event that has become a major event in its own right. “It’s really an incredible production,” says Simon Higgs, monitor engineer for The Who. “I mean, what’s really amazing is the stage setup, which has to be put in place and assembled in minutes. And everything working first go — sound, lights, pyro. That’s quite a show in itself!”

The Who are, quite simply, rock legends. Among the iconic images in rock history are lead singer Roger Daltrey swinging his Shure SM58 like a lariat and guitarist Pete Townshend’s dramatic windmill guitar riffs. “The Who have worked with Shure microphones for over 40 years,” says Bob Pridden, The Who’s longtime audio consultant/producer, now in his 44th year with the group. “Getting ready for the Super Bowl, one thing I knew I could count on was that Shure wouldn’t let me down on Sunday night.”

In addition to a full stage of Shure microphones, The Who used four channels of the new PSM 900 personal monitor system in their performance. Longtime Super Bowl audio vendor ATK Audiotek was again present to support the audio mission, with wireless guru James Stoffo as entertainment RF engineer and Thomas Pesa handling monitor system design. “Normally, I would be quite hesitant to use any new product at an event like the Super Bowl,” Pesa says, “but the band really wanted to use them, so we gave it a try in rehearsals and found it to be rock solid. And since we had on-site technical support from Shure and James Stoffo, we went with the band’s request. I’m happy to say everything went off without a hitch.”

Out of more than 1000 total wireless frequencies being coordinated by the NFL, James Stoffo was responsible for approximately 100 intercom, microphone and in-ear channels being used by the musical acts and their support. “This was my first time using the PSM 900 at a major event, and it performed flawlessly,” Stoffo says. “I’d be happy to see this system on any of my shows as the go-to in-ear system.”

Lead singer Roger Daltrey, guitarist Simon Townshend and drummer Zak Starkey, along with monitor engineer Simon Higgs, used the PSM 900 in the halftime show. “We had the chance to try PSM 900 prototypes on the (autumn 2009) Daltrey tour,” Higgs says. “Roger and I both think they sound incredible, and they have been absolutely flawless for us. So we were keen to use them for the Super Bowl.”

During rehearsals, the entire group of six musicians used PSM 900s, part of a new commitment to get the entire band on in-ear monitors that, according to Simon Higgs, has become a priority for the group. “Stage volume has become a real issue for The Who,” he says. “They’ve finally realized they have to move onto in-ears. It’s something Pete has never taken to, but he’s had his custom molds made. Roger’s always had in-ears, but only really used one as an emergency that he’d pop in when needed. But throughout his solo tour, we were getting him used to using both ears and acclimatizing to using in-ear monitors. It’s a tough adjustment for some artists to make, especially after such a long time with wedges.”

Monitor engineer Higgs praised CueMode, a new feature accessed via the PSM 900’s compact P9R bodypack receiver. “Basically, CueMode lets me hear any monitor mix with a button push. It saves me so much time and trouble, and really shows this system was designed for monitor engineers,” Higgs says. Using CueMode, up to 20 mixes can be directly accessed via the up/down buttons on the receiver. The PSM 900 system also features Shure IEM technologies such as variable RF output, digital stereo decoding, scan and sync, automatic RF gain control, dedicated RF mute, mix-mode capability and audio reference companding.

All microphones on The Who’s stage were hardwired Shures, ranging from the Daltrey’s classic SM58, wrapped in trademark white gaffer tape for strain relief, to new models like the KSM313 ribbon microphone and KSM44 studio condenser on Pete and Simon Townshend’s guitars and Pino Palladino’s bass. Zak Starkey’s drum kit used the SM91A boundary mic in kick drum, Beta 98s on toms, Beta 56A on snare, KSM137 on hi-hat and a combination of KSM32s and KSM44s overhead. Backing vocals were by Pete Townshend, Simon Townshend and keyboardist John “Rabbit” Bundrick, all sung through Beta 58A microphones.

One burning question often asked after events like the Super Bowl is, how live was that performance? The Who’s audio consultant, Bob Pridden, says, “There is an amazing amount of planning that goes into this. In fact, we were asked to record the medley live in the studio by Jan. 1, so they could plan the timing on the pyro and other production elements. I can assure you that every instrument and microphone on stage was live. But the producers have backing tracks in place from our rehearsals last week, because you can’t risk losing a vocal. So the answer is, The Who played their Super Bowl show 100 percent live.”

Reflecting on the experience the day after Super Bowl XLIV, monitor engineer Simon Higgs says, “Basically, it was a rock-solid performance with great sound — just what you would expect from The Who and what The Who always expect from Shure.”