Sunday, 12 October, 2008 4:30 PM
The Art of the Real: Martina
McBride's Live in Concert CD/DVD (CMA)
by Joseph Sinnott
McBride at the iWireless Center in Moline, IL.
2008 CMA Close Up News Service
Recording a studio album
is an exercise in artistry. Each detail can be shaped as closely
as possible to the performer's vision, exactly as a painter transforms
a blank canvas into a reflection of life.
Live albums differ almost
to the point of being opposite in nature. They are essentially journalistic
endeavors, chronicling -or glossing over - each detail, from inspired
moments to microphone malfunctions, wrong notes and sudden feedback.
Martina McBride knew
this when the opportunity came to cut Live in Concert,
her first live album and DVD. And her decision was . do it anyway.
"I loved how it
would document how our songs have evolved," she explained.
"From performing songs like 'Where Would You Be' and 'A Broken
Wing' for so many years, they've become richer and more soulful.
But I also felt it was important because a lot of times people who
haven't been to one of my shows might have a bit of a misperception
about what they're like. They see me on television, standing in
one spot and singing a song. I've always wanted to get it out there
that we have a really high-energy show. We have a great production
value. It's a bigger show than people might think."
The roots of Live
in Concert, released April 2008 on RCA Records Nashville as
an eight-song CD with a 20-track bonus DVD, go back to PBS, who
had tapped McBride as the first Country artist profiled on the network's
"Great Performances" series. (Mikhail Baryshnikov, Leonard
Bernstein, Luciano Pavarotti and James Taylor are among the many
performers featured throughout the program's 36-year history. McBride's
episode aired in March. Many local PBS stations offered the concert
DVD and her Waking Up Laughing album as pledge gifts.)
The first step was to
determine where and when to record. They settled on the i wireless
Center in Moline, Ill., where McBride was scheduled to perform Sept.
29, 2007 during her "Waking Up Laughing Tour."
"There were two
things we cared about," explained John McBride, Martina's husband
and longtime engineer and mixer. "One was the acoustics of
the room and the other was how loud the crowds generally would be.
We play in some places that I think are designed to reverberate
the way they do because that's great for basketball - you want to
have the home court advantage. But for music, it's murder. As you're
closing the truck doors, you're still hearing the last note of the
song hanging around in the room. But the acoustics in this particular
venue work well with us, and the audiences there have always been
To prepare to track,
a dress rehearsal took place the night before. Around 300 fans were
welcomed into the room, mostly to let the crew work on audience
close-ups with their HD cameras and to experiment with microphone
placement in the much larger, sold-out crowd at the actual show.
"To me, that's absolutely
what live concerts are about," the four-time CMA Female Vocalist
of the Year insisted. "Sometimes I don't think audiences realize
how important they are to the show - not that they have a responsibility
to entertain me, but it really makes a difference. If I come out
there and the audience is into it and they're excited, it just takes
the show right up to another level. It is about them as much as
it's about me."
McBride bases this conviction
not just on her time in the spotlight but also on her years growing
up and going to shows in Kansas. "I remember going to see Night
Ranger when I was a kid," she said, laughing. "I was so
excited. It was an hour-and-a-half drive to Wichita because I lived
way out in the country. I was listening to their music all the way.
I had my Night Ranger jersey on. And at the end of the show, they
said, 'We love you, Wichita! You guys rock!' And I thought, 'They
love us! Wow! We rock!' Looking back, I can see that was the first
time I realized that what you say and do onstage is important."
Setting up that communication
poses many challenges, beginning with the set list. Typically, McBride
opens with a strong, up-tempo tune. But for this tour, as documented
on the DVD, she decided to start with "Anyway," which
had the advantage of a powerful chorus that complemented the "kabuki
drop," or the sudden removal of a backdrop curtain to dramatically
reveal the band.
"I've never started
with a ballad before," she mused. "The hardest thing about
doing a set list is the ballads. You can put three or four ballads
together on an album, but you have to be really careful with a show
because unless they're a certain kind of ballad, they can bring
the show down. 'Anyway' has that huge chorus, though, and it's inspirational
and powerful, so it seemed like it worked."
From the mix standpoint,
John placed a high priority on the crowd's interactions with what
transpired onstage. He positioned four stereo pairs of mics throughout
the room, including one 20 feet from the stage into the crowd and
another 20 feet beyond that, each time-delayed so that the music
they heard wouldn't be out of phase with what the onstage mics picked
Though studio mics are
better at capturing sonic nuances, the stage mics used for Live
in Concert performed brilliantly. Some entertainers might say too
brilliantly, as when McBride's voice rasps slightly on the line
"tonight I need a friend," from her rendition of "Help
Me Make It Through the Night." In the studio, one might punch
in a smoother timbre on that note - but at this moment, during a
high point of the song, it feels real and right.
"The most important
thing is to keep the emotion, always," she insisted. "It's
not supposed to be perfect. I want to keep the authenticity of the
live experience. I'm not saying I didn't fix anything on this record;
I did take some moments from the dress rehearsal and put it on the
live show, maybe because I couldn't hear as well at that point of
the concert. But I didn't re-sing anything because that defeats
the purpose of having a live album."
McBride is focusing now
on her next undertaking, a studio album yet to be titled, which
she is co-producing with Dann Huff. She has also kicked off her
summer tour, which began July 11 in Detroit, and runs through the
fall. "This is the first time I have headlined an amphitheater
tour, and we are really excited to be working with Brian O'Connell
and Live Nation."
Live in Concert
has left a special mark on McBride, in terms of offering something
unique to fans. "Even though we filmed only one concert, when
I watch it I feel like I am watching the culmination of 16 years
of hard work, excitement and experience onstage," she said.
"It's great to have a souvenir, if you will, of what we have
worked so hard for and to be able to share it with my fans. It's
equally exciting to look forward to sharing new music on tour and
working to see just how far we can go with the tour, musically and
from a production standpoint. My goal is to make people want to
keep coming back again and again to share this experience with us."
McBride clearly shares
that same excitement; it's evident on Live in Concert from her entrance
to the opening strains of "Anyway" and the crowd's welcoming
ovation. "I always get this feeling of excitement, of wondering
how the audience is going to react," she said. "There's
nothing like that feeling, when I come out of that lift from underneath
the stage: The people see you, and there's that sound, and you think,
'Wow, I'm so lucky.'"
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