Double Live

Garth Brooks

Capitol Records, 1998

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


How much doctoring can you do to an album before you can't call it a live album?

I have heard numerous stories about some of my favorite "live" albums that have had significant re-work in the studios -- so many stories that I'd prefer not to listen them, lest they ruin the images I have, good or bad, of the albums. And I have read a few other reviewers (even ones whose credibility -- or at least research -- isn't the greatest... you know who you are) calling into question how much work has been done on Double Live, the first live outing from country superstar Garth Brooks.

Even before I read those reviews, I wondered myself. While there are many entertaining moments on this two-disc set (which, in one hell of a marketing move, features different covers for each million discs produced... my disc is the "Reunion Arena" packaging), there are times when the whole experience sounds unnatural.

Normally, on a live album, you hear the crowd fade in just before the music kicks off. But on this one, the crowd doesn't come into play until the first set of chords on "Calling Baton Rouge" are strummed - warning sign number one. Were this the only occasion, I wouldn't say much -- after all, it's the first fifteen seconds of the album, how big of a deal could that be? Ah, but it's my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 not the only instance. "We Shall Be Free" opens with what sounds like a studio rehearsal, and doesn't bring the crowd into the picture for some time -- warning sign number two. Likewise, on "Two Pina Coladas," the sounds of the beach are what kick off the song, and the crowd is left behind until the song gets cooking -- warning sign number three.

I will, however, stop short of accusing Brooks and crew of overdubbing crowd noise onto the songs; judging from some of the TV specials I've caught glimpses of, I'd dare to say that's pretty legitimate. (I also won't accuse anyone of overdubbing musical parts - though if they did, it's seamless.)

And while I can appreciate the fact that the material on these two discs was recorded over a long span of time, the cardinal sin of live albums is committed: fade-outs between some tracks. (To producer Allen Reynolds's credit, this isn't the case for the whole album.) When I listen to a live album, I want it to feel like I am front-row center of the action - and I have never been to a concert where all the sound was faded out in between songs.

As for the performances themselves, Brooks shows often that he is a showman at heart, eager to give his audience their money's worth in the music and the excitement levels. Tracks like "The Beaches Of Cheyenne," "Papa Loved Mama" and "That Summer" stand out among the material contained in these 25 songs. (Just asking: Does Brooks suffer from triskaidekaphobia? Where the hell is track 13 -- what's this six seconds of audience cheering nonsense?) And I do take some devious pleasure in hearing an obscenity in the "hidden" third verse of "Friends In Low Places" -- even though I still prefer the studio version.

But no matter how charged the crowd is or how much Brooks tries to pump us up, some of the material falls flat on Double Live. Tracks like "Standing Outside The Fire" and "If Tomorrow Never Comes" might be crowd-pleasers live, but it just does not translate that well to the live album. The problem is that the album does not stand up to repeated listenings -- I know, I tried listening to this disc several times. By the third time through this album, don't be surprised if you find your attention span to be short.

Oh, it's not that Brooks put out a bad album with Double Live, but it's an incomplete picture of what the man is capable of (this coming from someone who's never seen Brooks perform live). But had less attention been paid to studio trickery and more attention paid to making a cohesive, interest-grabbing souvenir of a Brooks live show, then Double Live could have been the best concert album ever recorded. Instead, it falls in the same traps that most live albums I've heard do -- and that's a damned shame.

Rating: C

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© 1998 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Capitol Records, and is used for informational purposes only.