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Live Between Us

Released: May 20, 1997

Part I

There's an alley near the corner of King and Princess Streets in Kingston Ont. where someone has written "The Hip Live Between Us". The graffiti appeared in the Spring of 1986, and at the time it was the biggest thing that had happened to us. 'Too cool', we thought, to be immortalized on a wall. Someone actually cared enough to deface private property with our name. The thought didn't enter our minds until a few years later that it was our sax player at the time who had painted this as a message to his ex-girlfriend. A less than sober testament that nothing comes between a man and his music. Davis didn't last long in the outfit, replaced by Paul that summer. But his legacy, like that piece of graffiti, lives on. Since the days of our young blood-brotherhood, we had always thought that The Hip Live Between Us would make a great album title someday, a clever homonymic play on words that would beguile our fans. Is it 'live' or 'live'? What does Tragically Hip mean anyway? As in the case of the latter, I'm sure we'll grow tired of the question.

Ten years later, in November of 1996, we began our most ambitious concert tour to date. Twenty four arenas across Canada and the United States in support of our sixth record, Trouble at the Henhouse. For a month and a half, along with the tons of staging and sound equipment, we dragged a portable 24 track recording studio along with us. The ever-present Mark Vreeken, along with Andy Bishop, would diligently set it up side-stage day after day to capture the evening's festivities. We'd taken a cue from the late great Frank Zappa that if you can isolate instruments live, there is always the chance that you can capture that certain elusive 'vibe' from a gig and build a track later in the studio. That was the original idea...

Part II

..We wound up in Toronto mid-December with two sold-out dates at Maple Leaf Gardens. The whole tour had been a vibe but it was over. All that remained were the memories and a pile of tape. We set about over the next couple of weeks to determine exactly how good a recorder of memories our set- up had been. Any gig is only partly to do with music. For us, performing live has never been an exact science, something where you can just turn on a switch. As Gord has often said, "we reflect the mood of the day" when we perform. That means that everything, the weather, the crowd, what you ate, whatever, can and will come into play. Even if we could simply 'flip the switch' on stage, it's not like you can capture the whole experience on tape. All that's there are the notes that were played and sang. Right?

For years we had recorded every performance. First on cassette, then on DAT, improving the quality as the technology became available. We played often and were continually working on new material. Live recording became, and still is, a necessary part of the song writing process; capturing works in progress as they evolve or little pieces of improvisation which we'd later develop into songs. Not to sound too narcissistic, but when we weren't playing we'd spend the long hours on the road listening to ourselves. Where this has really paid off is in the new material we've written. Along with keying in on new ideas, all the listening confirmed something we already knew, that every show is different. Each night has a life of its own. There's an intangible element to any live musical performance, a mix of magic and electricity that can make the difference between a good night out and the greatest night of your life. We have never played the same set twice, mostly for our own sake. Boredom is death for music and the more routine a live performance gets, the more boring it can become for the band and the audience. We have always guarded against this. You have to believe that every night is special, so you make it so. Throw in a new idea here, jam a little there and wham, something magical can happen. We've been doing things that way for ten years now. We have a mountain of live material to prove it...

Part III

...Long before the Internet we realised that a lot of people were starting to follow us around, seeing show after show and enjoying cross continent road trips with their friends, with the band suppling the itinerary and the sound track. Very flattering. We also began to realise that bootlegged tapes were changing hands amongst the few and faithful. Again very flattering, yet a little disconcerting given the marginal sound quality of some of them. For years people had been asking about the possibility of a live record. "Maybe ... someday" was all we ever thought. We were in no hurry to release anything live. There were always new songs that demanded more immediate attention, so we never seriously considered the idea. The thought of doing a 'best of ... live' compilation culled from years worth of tapes never appealed to us. The task of going through all that material is more than a little daunting. Besides, live records done that way often fall short of re-creating the live experience. After all, a live show is just that ...an experience, with every set having an ebb and flow all its own. That's hard to create if you're stitching together excerpts from over the years. Sounds and moods can change from night to night let alone from year to year.

I've been at every gig in body, mind and spirit in varying degrees, since the days of Monkees covers. On the nights when everything is clicking and the music flows out of you, mixing with what the other guys are doing easily and naturally, there is no better feeling in the world. As I sat down and began to listen to the shows from the last tour, I started with the ones that had been noted as being especially vibey. Among these was the Detroit Cobo Arena show. It was as great as I remembered it. We had hit the ground running that night. From the instant the intro drum loop to "Grace Too" went up there was a tingle of electricity.

I felt it. When the band kicked in, it was still there. There was something there on tape beyond just the notes.We'd somehow managed to record the electricity of the moment. I have toadmit that it gave me goose bumps and as I listened on, the show got better and better...

Part IV

...Every one in the band was immediately drawn to the quality of Mark's recording. Even as a rough board mix, things sounded great. The real acid test came when we put up the multis and listened more closely, looking for problems. The show just seemed to get better and better each time. It never lost the excitement of that first listen, which has always been our test for picking versions of songs in the studio; it's not how it sounds the first time, it's the 100th time that counts. We knew we had something special on our hands. It was then that we began to talk about releasing this as a live record. It's not like we're claiming this to be the best live Hip performance ever. Maybe it is, maybe it isn't. It has always been our fear that by releasing something live we'd be sanctioning it as a definitive performance. That night the band was 'on', tight, with Gord at his captivating best. But every gig is different and special, just like snowflakes.

That Saturday, November 23, was, however, a very special night. We had managed to capture a moment in time, which is all that a live recording can be. The point is that for the first time we couldn't find any reason not to do this, and sometimes for us that's reason enough. We lived with the show for a month and by mid-February had decided to go ahead with a final mix. We were in the middle of writing and recording in our studio and mixing was not something we were set up to do. We decided to send the tapes to our old friend Don Smith who, along with producing our first two records, happens to be one the world's greatest live recording and mixing engineers. He had a hole in his schedule and started to work. Mark, who has mixed the band every night for seven years now, sat in with Don to ensure that it was as close to the real thing as we could get...

Part V

..The biggest hurdle was a question of time. We wanted to boil the show down to 70 minutes of music to fit onto a single CD. Doing a double live record was out of the question for us. Too expensive and too much music for one sitting. We wanted to do something with its own pace like a real live set, with a beginning, middle and end that you could hear and feel. The encores, 700ft Ceiling, Daredevil, and Flamenco were all sacrificed to that end. Stephen Marcussen put on the finishing touches at Precision Mastering. From there it was just a question of artwork and design. Our good friend Clemens Rikken, the famous Dutch photographer, had been with us during the tour and supplied us with more than enough brilliant photos. With the help of Andrew McLachlan, as usual, we pieced the package together while sitting around the dinner table at the studio. The whole process, which in so many ways had been ten years in the making, took us less than two weeks once we got rolling.

As it turns out, The Tragically Hip Live Between Us will not be the first live record made at the venerable Cobo Arena. Simply put, it's a great room to play as far as hockey rinks go. Unlike most arenas, there is nothing behind the stage area, just a wall which projects everything outwards to the crowd. As a result the room sounds great, and that sound quality adds to the quality of the performance and so on and so on. Maybe that's it. The end result is there on tape, an evening when all the intangibles of liveperformance come together to create magic. It's the room, the band, the crew, the crowd, the set, the evening and about a thousand other elements all falling into place. Who knows, maybe it's the water. Detroit Rock City!

Enjoy at Top Speed, Gord S

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