Friday, September 14, 2007

The Tragically Hip

I saw the Tragically Hip playing in Halifax last night at the Metro Centre. It was packed, not surprisingly. And since my blog is read by a lot of music fans who live outside of Canada, I need to do a bit of promotion here. If you’re Canadian, you can pretty much stop reading now, because you’ll already know a lot about this band. But if you want to learn more, carry on.

First, you need to know that “The Hip” are Canada’s greatest rock band. The drummer, Johnny Fay, was once interviewed by Billboard, and when the subject of being in Canada’s best band came up, he said it was, “kind of like being the world’s tallest midget.” In 1989, the band apparently did a show where they opened for Nirvana, and less than a hundred people showed up.

The group has ten studio albums to their credit at the moment (disregarding their first self-titled album, which was only an EP). If I had to pick my favorites, I would recommend their first five albums, starting with “Up To Here,” and with “Fully Completely” probably being my top choice. Unfortunately, I haven’t spent a lot of time listening to any of the albums that came after “Trouble At The Henhouse.” I need to go out and buy the others though, because I know a few of the songs on them, and I know that I'm missing out on other gems.

I’ve seen the Hip perform dozens of times. The first times were in Banff in 1990. I had a few weeks off from my summer job planting trees, so I decided to hitchhike to Banff to wash dishes in a restaurant (The Magie & Stump) to pass the time for a week. During that week, I went with a couple friends to the Silver City nightclub every single evening. There was a band playing, and I thought that they were pretty good. Nobody else seemed to agree, because except for Friday and Saturday night, there were only about ten people in the bar each night. Anyway, after seeing them the first night, I was hooked. I kept coming back, and I watched them from about ten feet away, five or six nights that week. It wasn’t until about four or five years later, when they were starting to get famous and I saw them play at Mount Allison University, that I recognized them and realized that it was the same band. Since then, I’ve seen them in quite a few full concerts, and I also saw them in a small venue in Edmonton when they did their album release for “In Between Evolution,” with just a couple hundred people invited. I have photos from that night online here:

An interesting thing about the Hip is that if I had to pick my favorite five songs, I couldn’t. Not a chance. I might be able to get away with my favorite thirty, but even that would be hard to narrow down. Their music and sound are solid, and even though I’m not usually one to pay a lot of attention to lyrics, Gord Downie is brilliant. The funny thing is that I don’t even know if he writes all the lyrics. I’ve always assumed so, because he is their lead singer, but that’s not necessarily true. His improvisational abilities in live shows though, are legendary.

“New Orleans Is Sinking” was one of their earliest songs, written a decade and a half ago, and it’s one of their best-known songs. However, after Katrina, many radio stations stopped playing it in deference to the residents of New Orleans. The Hip are actually playing a show in New Orleans on October 20th of this year.

Anyway, so if you like rock music, and haven’t listened to this band before, take a Canadian’s advice and check them out. If this is the first you’ve heard about them, you’re missing out on one of Canada’s best-kept secrets.