Hip handles Halifax flawlessly
By STEPHEN COOKE Entertainment Reporter | CONCERT REVIEW | 6:56 AM
Few Canadian bands thrive in the bloodstreams of their listeners like the Tragically Hip.
There are countless kids entering college this year who were probably conceived to Up to Here, and judging by the age range in the crowd at the Halifax Metro Centre on Thursday night, a healthy proportion of them were there.
About 8,000 fans turned out to catch the Hip at the tail-end of its Canadian tour — the band plays a smaller-scale show tonight at CBU in Sydney — before it sets out on a European jaunt, and they were rewarded with a show crackling with electricity and brimming with vitality.
While the guitar duo of Paul Langlois and Rob Baker with bassist Gord Sinclair and drummer Johnny Fay laid down the fierce rock groove, frontman Gordon Downie was a one-man, three-ring circus, a vessel of fervour and emotion.
"Smoke what you gotta smoke . . . drink what you gotta drink . . . just meet me at the lonely end of the rink!" exhorted Downie as he took the stage, singing the saga of a goalie’s life from the latest album, World Container.
One could draw parallels between playing nets and singing lead vocals — after all, Downie does both — and so much of a game or a show’s success rests on his shoulders.
For emphasis, he held his mike against his chest so the arena could hear his heart beat. A grand gesture, but also a touching one.
The Hip turned to the classics, with New Orleans Is Sinking getting the crowd on its feet, with Downie screaming the last chorus over Baker’s snarling guitar line, followed by a mix of James Brown and flamenco moves to Grace, Too.
"You wanna hear what war sounds like?" asked the singer, before obliging with a bevy of mouth noise on the mike.
Obviously the Hip are at a stage in their career when crowds are split between those who merely want to hear the hits and the diehard fans who feel they can do no wrong, and Thursday night’s set did a good job of maintaining the balance, with passionate renditions of favourites like Ahead By a Century and Courage (for Hugh MacLennan), which saw Downie lean over the front row, holding out the mike to capture the sound of the Halifax Metro Centre Memorial Choir singing along.
But the night held its fair share of new tunes with World Container tracks like Yer Not the Ocean and In View energizing the crowd with driving melodies and prominent hooks, clearly a byproduct of working with producer Bob Rock.
Downie was at his most possessed during At the Hundredth Meridian, calling out names like Clarence and Ernestine, stating, "I remember everybody, I remember all you guys . . . How do you think I dance?" earning a hearty roar of approval.
Then he proceeded to make his mike stand dance before turning it into a recliner, putting a handkerchief over his face and miming a solo passion play while the band brought the music down, before rising from the dead for an explosive final chorus.
The main set ended with a one-two punch of Family Band and Little Bones, with Downie staying on stage to thank the cheering "music lovers of Nova Scotia" before returning for an encore that included a surprise cover of David Bowie’s Queen Bitch.
Now I just wonder how many future Hip fans were conceived in the wee hours following this show?
Props also go to the Hip for having great taste in opening acts, with Toronto’s the Sadies playing dark country rock with impressive skill and a supreme veneer of cool.
Look for a new album from them next week.