The Tragically Hip

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Concert Review by Jamie Homer

Shepherd’s Bush Empire, London – 7 July 2006

Last Friday night at the Shepherd’s Bush Empire, the most famous Canadian export made its sole UK appearance on their 2006 summer European tour. The Tragically Hip, virtually unknown outside of Canada, but as famous as beans and football here, take their name from a Michael Nesmith (The Monkeys) video entitled Elephant Parts. Formed in 1983 in Kingston, Ontario (2 hours east of Toronto), the band consists of front man Gordon Downie, Robby Baker on guitar, Johnny Fay on drums, Paul Langlois on guitar/vocals and Gord Sinclair on bass/vocals.

It is tricky for me, a Canadian, to properly illustrate the allure and charm of the Hip. It is akin to the sort of popularity attained by Oasis in the mid 90’s in the UK, but with fiercely patriotic undertones running through their music. They sing about our culture, our politics, our history and our love of hockey and in the process have permanently embedded themselves into all things Canadian; into the very essence of being a Canadian. The Hip are the one thing that tie all of us Canadians together, whether through a small gig in London, a massive gig in Toronto or listening with your buddies sitting around the cottage drinking a beer. With 9 studio albums to date under their belt, this really is a live band through and through, and I have not seen many other bands that truly capture the spirit and charisma of their sound the way that the Hip can during a live performance.

The venue was packed with flag wearing, red and white fans, and for one night only a small piece of Canada could be found in the Shepherd’s Bush area of London. The Hip took the stage promptly at 9:00pm, and opened with DON’T WAKE DADDY, a peculiar opening tune dating back to the TROUBLE AT THE HEN HOUSE days of the mid 1990’s. Gord Downie was dressed to kill in a white suit with matching hat, and his energetic dance moves, more closely resembling a chicken on speed, were only outdone by how tight this band sounds live. Perhaps its because they have played together since 1983 or perhaps they simply love playing live and truly gel when brought together on stage. Other tunes throughout the night included the historically important NAUTICAL DISASTER, the story of a pre-D-day raid of a German held port on the coast of France, near Dieppe, where nearly 4000 Canadian men were killed out of a force of about 4800. Another personal favourite of mine was THE HUNDRIETH MERIRDAN, a tune about the line that runs pretty much straight up through the middle of Texas, forms a north-south boundary between Texas and Oklahoma, goes across the Oklahoma panhandle, through Kansas, Nebraska, South and North Dakota before crossing into Canada in Manitoba. According to Gord Downie, it’s “where the Great Plains begin”, and it is the place where “a cold breeze blows over your private parts.” We were also treated to stellar versions of POETS, GIFT SHOP, BOBCAYGEON (a lovely town in Northern Ontario), IT’S A GOOD LIFE IF YOU DON’T WEAKEN (a fantastic melodic piece from their latest studio release IN VIOLET LIGHT), with a final encore of LITTLE BONES, one of the Hip’s most popular and famous tunes, a tune about happy hour and cheap beer and whiskey.

For me, an old school fan of the Hip, the night was not so much about seeing the Hip play live again (this was my 8th time) but more about what the night represented. It was a chance to feel like I was in Canada, if only for a few hours. It was the chance to be reminded about all that is good with being Canadian. I haven’t really been following the Hip for a while now, and don’t even own their last two studio albums. But their ability to transform me back to my cottage in Northern Ontario, to bring together a random group of strangers for one night is unparallel in the world of music, and for that I am truly grateful to call myself a fan of the Tragically Hip.