Sunday, November 04, 2007

The Tragically Hip - Concert review by Shane Christensen

Burlington Vermont October 30, 2007

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As someone who has been a serious music fan for 35 years, the number of concerts I’ve attended is surprisingly small, numbering about 30 or so. There are many reasons for this, but primarily it’s because I don’t enjoy large arena shows; watching the concert on the jumbo screen and listening to bad acoustics.

But getting into small venues can be very difficult, especially in Toronto where thousands of other people are also vying for the opportunity. Mind you, I have been lucky a few times and caught acts such as Tom Cochrane, the Tragically Hip, the Tea Party, and Cheap Trick playing small shows where I found the experience so much more enjoyable that I pass on a lot of concerts simply because of where they’re playing.

I have been a big Tragically Hip fan since hearing Road Apples in ’91, and they are one band that I’ll actually travel a fair distance to go and see, especially if it’s at a small venue. I was at the Syracuse, New York show at the Landmark Theatre in ’98 and I count that as the best concert I’ve ever attended in my entire life. So a month ago when I noticed on the Hip’s website that they were playing a small show in Burlington, Vermont on October 30, the wife and I decided we’d make a mini-holiday of it and easily purchased the tickets online.

I’m still surprised how easy it is to get tickets to their American shows, especially the ones that are a few hours from the border. I guess most Canadian fans are not as adventurous or perhaps they have cost concerns, but with the strong Canadian dollar, travelling in the U.S. is a real bargain right now. I also find ticket prices drastically cheaper down there as I paid half the price of the last show (Fort York) I attended in Toronto last summer.

And for some reason, I find I like the Hip shows better in the States than I do at home because they seem to play a bit differently; specifically Gord Downie and his vocal delivery and mannerisms. He’s still the same silly guy who bends and breaks mic stands in two to the delight of the slightly tipsy audience (newsflash - Hip fans like beer) and breaks into rants about stuff that you really have no idea what he’s talking about. But it’s the way he actually sings - truer to the original recordings - that I like, and he does this more down south than for the home crowd, maybe in part because of the intimate settings they play there.

The Tragically Hip are definitely a band effort, but Downie mesmerizes his audience with his frantic and sometimes comical behaviour, so that many times the rest of the band seems like they are back in the distance watching and enjoying the spectacle as much as the rest of us, while they meticulously and methodically play through an energetic and varied 20 song set. 

They proved that they can still rock with the best of them on songs like Fully Completely and Fire in the Hole that feature Rob Baker at his hard rocking best, but then they can turn the energy level down considerably for the acoustic gems like Wheat Kings, Scared, and Bobcaygeon, and still keep the audience entranced. Even the four tunes off the new album World Container received an enthusiastic reception from a very diverse crowd that included a lot of college students, but also a lot of moms and dads. 

But there’s no doubt that the songs they played from the albums Fully Completely, Trouble at the Henhouse, and Phantom Power were the crowd favourites, and they made up the bulk of the performance. For me personally, I was disappointed that there weren’t more tunes from Road Apples and In Violet Light since they’ve both been two of my favourites. Judging from other set lists, they really do mix it up from show to show and you can’t fit the entire catalogue into two hours.

And what a two hours it was. The Hip are by far my favourite live band because they put on a fantastic show that is very musically diverse, but never lacking in any way. Their set list weaves in and out between all out rockers like Fully Completely and Fire in the Hole, with campfire classics such as Bobcaygeon or Wheat Kings. And the beauty is that the intensity remains just as high for the acoustic numbers because they are THE ‘classics’ for a lot of Hip fans, just as Fifty Mission Cap or Little Bones are for others. In nearly twenty years, the band has amassed a catalogue that would be the envy of any band in history, and to me personally, only Led Zeppelin compares to them live for the ability to mix the hard and soft, and make it work perfectly.

At the beginning of Bobcaygeon, Gord Downie invited the audience to unveil the flag. To the overwhelming American crowd, I think the comment went over their heads. But as a Canadian who loves the band and is truly proud of everything they’ve done and accomplished through the years, I felt like I was standing a bit taller and my chest was sticking out a bit farther as I watched Gord perform his magic on a crowd that would be a fraction of any concert back home.

But for the Tragically Hip, size doesn’t matter. There can be 50 or 20,000 fans in front of them, and you are going to get the same show regardless because the Hip are a truly great band of professionals who love what they do, and they prove it every time I have the pleasure and privilege to enjoy one of their shows. 

I can’t wait to see them again in a small venue in small town America, and hopefully our dollar will still be kicking it so the fringe benefits are there as well, although my back is still stiff from a full day of shopping with the wife in Burlington, the most beautiful and friendly city I’ve been to in the U.S.A. Vermont Rocks!

Set List for The Tragically Hip - Tuesday, October 30 - Burlington, Vermont

Yer Not The Ocean       Fireworks

New Orleans              Hundredth Meridian

Fully Completely               Scared

Escape Is At Hand              The Drop Off

Family Band                         Poets

Ahead By A Century            Locked In The Trunk

Gift Shop                              Fire In The Hole

In View                                 *The Lonely End Of The Rink

Courage                               *Bobcaygeon

Wheat Kings                         *Grace, Too   


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