REVIEW: 2006-10-28 – Calgary, AB

Inspired Hip brings new music to life at sold-out Mac Hall run

Colourful crowd laps up Downie’s rock machine

Heath McCoy, Calgary Herald

Published: Sunday, October 29, 2006

The Tragically Hip performed Saturday at the University of Calgary’sMacEwan Hall. The band also performs at Mac Hall tonight,Oct. 30 and Nov. 1. The shows are sold out.

So has the revival of the Tragically Hip carried from their latest record to their live show? That was the big question going into the band’s Saturday night gig at the University of Calgary, the first of four sold out concerts at Mac Hall. The Hip answered it instantly from the evening’s opening notes with Bobbie Baker coaxing siren sounds from his six string as the Kingston, Ont., band burst into the bombastic rock of The Lonely End of The Rink, one of the many standout tracks on the Hip’s new album, World Container, released a couple of weeks back.

As for the band’s resident poet, singer Gordon Downie, who’s shamanistic stage presence has made the Hip one of Canada’s most distinct and beloved bands?

Dressed all in black, looking lean, healthy, and happy — which has by no means been the singer’s natural demeanour over the years — he seemed to be somehow reinspired by the songs on World Container.

Those manic, interpretive dance moves of his were as intense and quirky as ever Saturday, but he also seemed to be having fun with them.

The refreshingly simple, love letter of a pop song In View was another one of the new songs and it had fans singing and dancing along enthusiastically. Sure, it’s the album’s kickoff single and people have heard that one, but The Drop-Off went over well too with anyone in the audience who gave it a chance.

And there’s no reason they shouldn’t have, with the tune’s insistent, catchy pulse and Downie’s urgent vocals — which were raving and wild yet tightly focused, the singer dramatically swimming up from the bottom of some dark whirlpool in his mind as he belted out the lyric.

Notably, these songs held up beautifully against the Hip’s classics like the rock radio staple New Orleans Is Sinking, the feverish, acoustic-fired dream of Ahead By A Century, and Fifty-Mission Cap, which brought one of the night’s most heated performances.

Quite simply, the Hip is on a high, better than they’ve been since that initial golden run they had in the ’90s that made the country fall in love with them.

For this we can thank Vancouver producer Bob Rock who manned the boards on the Hip’s latest release.

Rock made his name as the studio wizard who brought heavy metal brutes like Metallica and Motley Crue their greatest commercial success and a lot of Hip fans took to grumbling when they found out he was going to be working with their favourite band.

It would be a sellout, they said. Rock’s perfectionist touch was going to polish away the Hip’s literary soul.

Clearly that wasn’t the case. This band had been spinning its tires for too long now and somebody needed to pull them out of their rut. Rock has done so.

The Hip is wielding rock hooks again, ones that actually pack a sting, and this is something they’ve shied away from for a long time while trying to be profound.

There was a worry though, that in tampering with the Hip’s engine Rock might screw things up in one department where they’ve really never lost their fire, and that was their live show. Thankfully, as the Hip proved Saturday, that was not the case.

This colourful crowd of 2,000 — which included a Stormtrooper, a farmer with a pig attached to his nether regions, and a couple of Britney Spears and Kevin Federline lookalikes — hey it was the weekend before Halloween — left Mac Hall well satisfied.

Those in line for the next three gigs have much to look forward to.