Preview article:http://www.lasvegassun.com/news/2009/oc ... seen-here/Band’s huge in Canada, but better seen here
The Tragically Hip live in two worlds on one continent.
In their native Canada and in some northern U.S. cities, the band’s members are full-fledged rock stars. But when they venture deeper into the States, they are relatively unknown despite 12 stellar studio releases.
The upshot is that music fans in places like Southern Nevada get to see one of the best live acts in the business at a bargain price and up close in a relatively small venue.
Rob Baker, the group’s lead guitarist and player of anything else with strings, told the Sun in a recent interview that the band has come to accept the Hip aren’t for everyone. Lead singer Gordon Downie’s voice is something of an acquired taste, and he’s by no means the conventional frontman. Lanky and bald, he spins free-form poetry in mid-song, throws in manic and often hilarious or slightly disturbing monologues and mutters seemingly to himself — all while working up a sweat with spastic dance moves that have him soaked through by the end of every show.
But Downie also is a key reason the Hip have, as Baker puts it, “something in the States that 99 percent of all bands would envy” — fans willing to beg, borrow or steal to be at every Hip concert that comes through their town.
The shows are filled with hockey jerseys and seem to bring out every Canadian within a 50-mile radius. (Canadians are the U.S.’s real immigration problem, Baker jokes.)
But no matter the country of origin, Hip fans know the repertoire the band has built over the past 26 years, with Downie’s brilliant lyrics matched perfectly with sounds from roaring rock to rolling acoustic, is a universe beyond “New Orleans Is Sinking.” That’s the one Hip song that has stuck with radio listeners since its release in 1989. And yet, the breadth of the band’s material, Hip fans’ devotion and the band’s chutzpah are such that the group is using its one U.S. semi-hit as an opener rather than a closer these days. Nobody does that.
“When we (first) tried it in Winnipeg, after the set I told the rest of the guys that I thought it was the best we had ever played that song,” Baker said. “It felt fresh. I played different things in it than I had ever played before ... To have that be the first number of the set, it was ‘tonight’s going to be a great night.’ And it was.”
It’s a world away from the months that followed Hurricane Katrina, when “no radio station would go near that song,” he recalls.
But the lyrics weren’t some dark prophecy of Downie’s, “just a fact, and still a fact,” Baker says with a shrug. “And really he just used the physical reality as a metaphor. It’s more about a state of mind and a celebration of the things that New Orleans is than it is anything else.”
The Big Easy has figured in at least two more Hip songs since then, and while plenty of other cities — from Mistaken Point, Newfoundland to El Paso, Texas — have been name-checked in his lyrics, Downie has yet to give Las Vegas a mention.
“We’ve played there four or five times over the years, so not that much, really,” Baker says. “I remember playing in an R&B club on Tremont Street ... or Fremont Street rather.”
But seeing as this tour has the band playing a Friday night just before Halloween, this might be the year Vegas finds a way to work itself into one of Downie’s books of lyrics and poetry. For one thing, the date of the show should add “a little extra madness,” Baker allows.
As Downie warbles on the band’s most recent CD, “Bring on the requisite strangeness” — the band will stay in town to see how Sin City celebrates All Hallow’s Eve.
When the tour itinerary was being finalized, Baker recalls with a laugh, “we were told that after the (Las Vegas) show we would be flying the next morning to Denver, and we said, ‘Oh no we won’t.’ ”