Album review: The Tragically Hip, Live Between Us (1997)

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE GEORGIA STRAIGHT, JUNE 5, 1997

By Steve Newton

It beats the hell outta me why the most Canadian rock band of all time had to go and record its historic live album in the all-powerful U.S. of A. Even if Detroit is Rock City, it doesn’t make sense for these proud Canucks to follow the road already travelled by flag-waving Yanks like Bob Seger and Ted Nugent. Maybe their manager thought that if it wasn’t recorded south of the border, the Hip-snubbing Americans would have yet another reason to ignore the band. (My guess is that the band members reviewed tapes of a number of live shows and—patriotism be damned—just decided their Detroit gig was the best.)

For those who couldn’t care less whether Live Between Us was recorded in Winnipeg or the White House, the good news is that this CD captures a fiercely talented guitar-rock band in peak form. Taped last November at the Motor City’s sold-out Cobo Arena—with no alterations or overdubs added—it is a totally genuine document of the Kingston quartet in all its ragged live glory.

Vocalist Downie is his typically impromptu self, slipping in bits of songs by the Beatles, the Beach Boys, and Bowie, and altering his original lyrics to get a rise out of the crowd whenever he pleases. (As if to make amends for the album’s traitorous Stateside setting, he gives Toronto-based opening act the Rheostatics a wonderful compliment at the start of the CD.)

Live Between Us was impeccably recorded by the band’s mainstay coproducer, Mark Vreeken, and its clearly defined sound draws well-deserved attention to the overlooked role of rhythm guitarist Paul Langlois, who keeps everything on course during Downie’s stream-of-consciousness rants and lead guitarist Rob Baker’s tasty solo flights. As usual, bassist Gord Sinclair and drummer Johnny Fay—who won the draw to have his naked ass shown in the CD booklet—are a relentlessly buoyant rhythm section.

Also impressive is the choice—and running order—of tunes; the album’s 14 selections smartly intertwine the Hip’s kick-ass songs with its subtler ones. I couldn’t have come up with a more representative song list myself—although I sure would have lobbied for a longer one. Anything less than a double album doesn’t do justice to the Hip’s abundance of superb material.

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