Welcome to the 7th installment of my reviews for the discography of The Tragically Hip! These are tandem reviews with my amazing wife, Sarah who is posting her own over at Caught Me Gaming. So be sure to check out her write up for Live Between Us right here!
As for me, this week was my first time spinning Live Between Us and I dig it. It is a little disappointing that the set list is a little heavy with tunes from Trouble At the Henhouse, their album I have so far enjoyed least. But it is understandable. It was the album they were supporting at the time.
Besides, it is by far more important to me that a band be in a groove for a live album. Especially when it is a recording of just one night. Sure it is nice to hear a band pull out an old favourite when the moment strikes them, but to hear them play a song just for the sake of it… meh.
Don’t Wake Daddy, for instance, isn’t my favourite Hip tune but it works here because the band is into it. I even go as far to say that I like the version of Springtime In Vienna performed here over the studio recording. The guitar tone here sounds less “grungy” and more “hip”. Scared comes close too. Really nice version on here. The Hip were really into their setlist that night and it shows.
I also like how unaware the band is that their performance would be made into their first live album. After ‘The Trouble at the Henhouse Tour’, The Hip attempted to get back into writing for their follow up, but recognized how they were not ready yet. Releasing a live album would give them the breathing room they needed.
The show they recorded in Detroit on November 23rd, 1996 was not chosen because they felt it was their best, but an average one that delivered what you could expect from the band on most nights. This suits me just fine. I think we got a more honest performance as a result.
I don’t know if Gord would be riffing on other commercial music by the Beach Boys or John Lennon if he knew any of these tracks could be a royalty dividing nightmare. And all of the cussing had to kill any chance for these tracks to be played on American radio. It has me wondering if we would have gotten a completely different show if the band were thinking about this becoming the show that would represent their live performances. So I’m glad it came about the way it had.
There are few things I can knock about the album. For one, the band doesn’t seem to have any real connection with the crowd. The most cheers are heard at the start when they come onto the stage. Gord announces that “This one is for the Rheostatics”, the act that opened for them that night. “We’re all richer for seeing them tonight.” Then the band starts digging into Grace, Too and it is almost as if we never hear from them again. Even though this was recorded in an American town, we all know the crowd that night in Detroit was loaded with Canadians making the trek over the border from Windsor and Sarnia. It might have been just how the show was recorded though. I’m certainly glad the crowd was not “sweetened” later in post.
I’m also not sure how many people are into Gords spoken word riffing during songs. He would ramble on about what is on his mind during interludes and guitar solos. It is all underneath the music so most of the time you cannot make out what he is saying. It is weird but it was all part of what made him unique. And I would have liked the show to have ended stronger. The Wherewithal isn’t really the strongest tune to go out on, IMHO.
But, you get a lot of hits here. Ahead By A Century, Blow at High Dough, New Orleans is Sinking, Twist My Arm, etc. All played well. You’d think after playing some of these songs for 8 years or so they would sound phoned in, but I didn’t get that vibe. It isn’t an over long show, just over 70 mins on one disc which I think is perfect. No big long drum or guitar solos, no encores, no long soliloquies. Just a straight up rock ‘n roll event captured on tape and copied to many little discs so you will have something to listen to while they wrote Phantom Power.
Be sure to check out Sarah’s write up! The Hip series returns next Sunday with Phantom Power.