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Entertainment News

Sunday, 12 October, 2008 4:30 PM

The Art of the Real: Martina McBride's Live in Concert CD/DVD (CMA)

Photo by Joseph Sinnott

Martina McBride at the iWireless Center in Moline, IL.

By Bob Doerschuk
© 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 great."

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 up.

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.'"

On the Web: www.martinamccbride.com

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