Rick Allen and Thoughts on Electronic Drum Kits
On Saturday, my wife and I went up to The Forum in Los Angeles to see the final night of the Journey / Def Leppard tour. As a drummer, I was very interested in the difference between Rick Allen’s (Def Leppard) kit and Steve Smith’s (Journey). As most everyone knows, in 1985, Rick Allen lost his left arm in a very tragic car accident. As a result, he plays a highly modified kit that allows him to use both of his feet and his right arm to compensate. (he does this very well, in fact. His playing today is just as good as it ever was.). He also plays an electronic kit which is very unusual for a hard rock drummer. Only a few in the hard rock/metal drumming world have even considered this. Danny Carey of Tool is one of the only others whom I know uses any type of electronic drum at all. Even in Carey’s case, he only uses it for auxiliary effects.
I’m assuming the reason for Allen’s choice to use electronic drums is because they are much more versatile than acoustic drums. For example, one of his “toms” is actually set as a bass drum so that if one of his feet is occupied doing something else, he can still play a bass note.
After listening to both bands play in the “concrete tomb” that is The Forum, the one thing I noticed was how much better the overall sound quality was for Def Leppard than for Journey. Allen’s kit was perfectly audible and balanced appropriately with the rest of the instruments, while Journey sounded more like what I’m accustom to hearing at The Forum: a hot mess of bass and distortion (the bad kind of distortion). This was very disappointing because Journey is an epic band and the subtleties of their music deserve to be heard.
This made me wonder if the fact that most, if not all of Allen’s kit is electronic and therefore does not have to be miced helps improve the overall sound quality of a live band in a gigantic venue such as a sports arena. Electronic kits, in my opinion still lack the responsiveness and depth of tone compared to a good acoustic kit, but these qualities are totally lost in an arena anyway. Perhaps this is where e-kits can be best used?