From the “Burlington Free Press”

Tragically Hip returns for two sold-out shows

Published: Monday, April 16, 2007
By Brent Hallenbeck
Free Press Staff Writer

Why is it, Gord Sinclair, that The Tragically Hip is so popular around these parts?

“It’s a credit to the good taste of the people of Burlington,” according to the band’s bass player. That was his half-joking response. His serious answer attributes the Canadian rock band’s tendency to play sold-out shows in Vermont — as it’s doing tonight and Tuesday at Higher Ground — to a mix of geography and adventurousness.

The geography relates to the band’s roots in Kingston, Ontario, which, Sinclair pointed out, is about 20 kilometers (that’s a little more than a dozen miles to us metrically challenged Americans) from Watertown, N.Y., placing The Tragically Hip’s home base closer to a host of U.S. burgs than to Canadian cities such as Vancouver. When the band’s vocalist, Gordon Downie, sings about intrigue on the ice on “The Lonely End of the Rink” from the new Hip album “World Container,” fans in hockey-absorbed communities like Burlington just nod at their neighbors to the north and say, “I hear ya.”

Sinclair, speaking recently by phone during a tour stop in Seattle, also suspects the Vermont way of thinking has something to do with his band being a consistently big draw here. “Generally speaking, people in your neck of the woods are more open-minded to things that are not from America,” he said, nothing that local fans also seem more accepting of music that’s not spoon-fed to them by radio. “We’ve never had the benefit of a stateside single. With a group like ours, all you have to do is get us in front of people.”

That live show Sinclair referred to is The Tragically Hip’s trademark. Downie’s dervish-like persona and the band’s musical intensity in a live setting are legendary, even if they haven’t always transferred that power into the studio.

They come close with “World Container,” the 12th Tragically Hip album. The band leaned on producer Bob Rock, known for his work with hard rockers Metallica and Motley Crue and not so much with anthemic pop-rockers like The Tragically Hip.

“What he brought to us was a real focus on each individual song,” according to Sinclair. Rock helped refine the arrangement of “The Lonely End of the Rink,” Sinclair said, turning the track into a Who/U2/Midnight Oil-styled rampage that’s one of the disc’s highlights. His contributions weren’t all about frenzied moments, though; Sinclair said Rock also steered the band toward an elegant piano texture on the track “Pretend.”

“He just has a really focused ear,” Sinclair said. “He became the ersatz sixth member of the group.”

Speaking of The Who, an obvious influence on the band, The Tragically Hip recently played several opening dates for the legendary British rockers. The Tragically Hip has been around more than 20 years and the band members are in their 40s, but they still feel a rush of teenage hero worship around Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend.

“It’s impossible to divorce yourself from when you’re 15 years old,” Sinclair said. “We grew up with that group.

“Opportunities like that make you a better band. You have to get up and you have to entertain these rabid Who fans,” according to Sinclair. “In terms of a dream come true, that’s right up there.”

The Tragically Hip might be aiming toward a little of their own Who-like longevity. It’s already rare for a band to have the same five members it started out with more than two decades earlier. Sinclair said there are moments when they get together after time away and find themselves saying, “How can we do this again?” Yet they always manage.

“We’ve grown up together, put the band together as young men doing this. It’s based around our friendship and the bond we have as a group. It’s a collective experience, a shared experience,” Sinclair said.

“It is a lifelong bond.”

Contact Brent Hallenbeck at 660-1844 or