From Tuesday’s Globe and Mail
The arena band from Kingston, Ont., hasn’t been cool in a while, its wild popularity in Canada working against it in the hearts and minds of those who show no love for music’s Goliaths. But then, the band’s last albums have been relatively unsuccessful. The overdog is now the underdog, with a new record that is thought to be its best in years. Can the Hip — members of the Canadian Music Hall of Fame — now gain the favour of the oh-so musically savvy?
Singer Gordon Downie, the band’s crucial and tall performer, feels “feverish and fluid.” He is jittery and on the verge, with a reedy tenor that is intense and a manner that is gesturing. Not known as fashionable, he wears clothes that could be seen as either workmanlike or mod, black from cap to shoes. A red handkerchief, employed as a bullfighter’s cape or more often as a sweat rag, is the sole decoration. Four bandmates play fiercely, but don’t distinguish themselves visually.
Sunday’s appearance at the Phoenix Concert Theatre is the first of four sold-out Toronto shows, the smaller venue part of a promotional tour that heralds World Container, the band’s 11th studio album. The disc is a departure — the melodies are less muscled, the sound more layered. The album’s Queen-like title track comes off as brawny cabaret, and Pretend is downright Burt Bacharach. Other new ones include power-pop single In View and the urgent show-opening The Lonely End of the Rink. After hockey-themed oldie Fifty-Mission Cap, hosers yell, “Go Leafs Go,” to which Downie responds, “They held a rock ‘n’ roll show and a hockey game broke out.”
After the uber-blues of Blow at High Dough, the droning rocker Family Band closes the set. The song speaks to the band’s camaraderie, as well as its relationship with its fans. At times, the stage lights extend into the crowd, showing wide grins and gladness from ball-capped and jersey-clad supporters who wouldn’t wish to be anywhere else. Downie sings about music that plays big in the towns but fails to grip the cities, referring perhaps to metropolitan audiences who prefer buzz-music trends to homegrown stalwarts and maple-leaf nationalism. Band and audience — exhilarated all evening — exit beaming and grateful. Is this hip? No, just enduring and genuine. The Tragically Hip continue at the Phoenix tonight and tomorrow, with dates in Calgary, Vancouver and Montreal to follow.