Poetry in motion: The Tragically Hip rattle in the desert
By NICK TAVARES
STATIC and FEEDBACK editor
A few weeks ago, amid moving and all the trouble that goes along with it, plans were made to catch the Who, on tour in support of Endless Wire, in Phoenix. Tickets were purchased, and soon the giddiness that sonic wallop of Pete Townshend, Roger Daltrey and company was near came on.
But, as always, there was a pleasant twist here. Long after, the pride of Canada was announced as the Who's support act through this stretch of the tour: the Tragically Hip. Given the rarity of having two great bands on such a bill, the excitement was ratcheted up a few notches.
Years ago, Clean Vibes champion and Static and Feedback cohort Bruce Hutchings gave me a copy of their debut LP, Up To Here, along with a couple of CDs from other bands. I listened to all three, decided I liked them all, and sort of moved on.
But in the time leading up to the show, I re-digested my copy of Up To Here along with a few other bits I'd picked up along the way. They sounded, to my ears, like the fantasy pairing of Michael Stipe and the Black Crowes. Literate, to be sure, but with a solid, nasty rock backing. There was a definite crunch and groove that they obviously enjoyed settling in to, and I was more than all right with that.
Live, in front of a surprisingly full crowd at U.S. Airways Arena (most openers aren't shown nearly as much attention), they definitely delivered. Their tough riffs shook the room, while frontman Gordon Downie improvised lyrics and steps like a seasoned leader. As a frontman, Downie is an interesting fellow, for sure. Sporting an all-black look on this evening, Downie goes through a series of what appear to be interpretive dances during each song, dicing in bits of poetry for good measure.
The Hip tore through their set, climaxing with the twin blast of “Blow at High Dough” and “Fire In the Hole.” With guitars still buzzing, the band walked off to a rousing reception, which Downie was quick to acknowledge: "Thank you, music fans! Thank you, Phoenix! Thank you!"
So, lately, it's been more of the same. More Hip albums in rotation, taking in YouTube clips and reading archive stories dating back to the late 80s (in fact, I'm listening to 1994's Day For Night as I write this). It's part of the cycle that good bands fall into around here: a great show, followed by the gradual, complete digestion of their entire back catalog.
It's part of what makes music so much fun. Despite the fact that they've been turning all of Canada on their heads for nearly 20 years, they sound new and fresh. To the uninitiated, tackling their past work is a joy and a welcome task. The next step? That's waiting for the band in question to swing back around, hopefully as a headliner. The Hip did their part, and now they can count on one more music fan parking themselves in their audience.