I was recently sent this show from another Hip fan. I’ve posted the MP3s to thehundredthmeridian.com for download, or you can save these linked files:
Downie rocks the web
By PAUL CANTIN — Senior Reporter, JAM! Showbiz
TORONTO — So there was The Tragically Hip’s Gordon Downie, perched on a stool, surrounded by more than a dozen musicians, who were improvising free-form musical support, under the direction of a man dressed in a fuzzy blue bear suit.
“I’m reading from my diary because I’m among friends,” Downie intoned, as he flipped through a pocket-sized notebook and tossed off snatches of poetry.
Another Roadside Attraction, this ain’t.
The locale was the dimly-lit confines of Toronto’s Manta Sound recording studio, which had been redecorated for the evening with a swarm of hanging origami birds, hanging swatches of colored material and a video monitor showing distorted home movies, random road images and pictures of a monkey reaching through the bars of his cage.
The occasion was a webcast held Thursday night to celebrate the recent release of Downie’s first volume of poetry and solo record – both called “Coke Machine Glow.”
As 40 invited guests in the tiny studio watched (along with countless others in cyberspace), Downie declared his independence from the expectations brought on by his association with The Hip, in a performance that tiptoed along the gap between childish and child-like, insipid and inspired, performance art and “The Gong Show.”
Not everything attempt by Downie and company during the two hour show worked (including the webcast audio for the first portion of the shindig), but the spirit of reckless abandon, of daring to surrender to the moment – the very thing that foiled the weak spots – was what made the best bits soar skyward to greatness.
If Downie was the main attraction, though, the scene-stealer was The Dinner Is Ruined drummer Dave Clark, who, dressed in the blue bear suit, served as compere. Aside from anchoring Downie’s solo combo (formerly The Goddamned Band, now renamed Hot Carl), Clark served as band-leader for The Woodchoppers Association, a Toronto-based all-improv ensemble that crowded onstage to provide on-the-fly, moody instrumental backdrops for the spoken-word portions of the event.
It’s doubtful a webcast can quite capture the silly, awe-inspiring sight of Clark in a plush animal costume, gesticulating to his players like a demented Stokowski and coaxing improv audio support like a witch doctor conjuring a rainstorm. But the improvised music – one moment cool jazz, the next abrasive post-punk noise — moved in and out of synch with Downie’s verse, creating a weirdly compelling synthesis, particularly during his recitation of “Kieteldood” (performed with dancer Andrea Nann), “I’m Not Sure What Kind Of Squalor You’re Living In,” the unexpectedly droll “Black Leotards” and the sad-funny paternal memoir “Christmas Day.”
The Woodchoppers provided similar support for readings by poets Chris Chambers (a cool, funny dream monologue about hanging out with Bruce Springsteen), Ken Babstock (a clever and moving piece written from the perspective of a family pharmacy converted into a 7-Eleven) and Scott Cameron (who angrily and hilariously recited a litany of abusive names he was slapped with in high-school).
Aside from a smattering of readings drawn from Downie’s poetry book, the singer also led Hot Carl through the more structured songs contained on his solo record.
The sublime melody of “Chancellor” began tentatively, but as the players found their footing, the song’s delicate beauty bloomed. Dale Morningstar (also of The Dinner Is Ruined) fired off masterful staccato fills during “Vancouver Divorce,” counterpointing ethereal organ fills from By Divine Right’s Jose Contreras.
Julie Doiron (ex-Eric’s Trip) played Sylvia Tyson to Downie’s Ian for a pretty take on “Trick Rider.” Skydiggers guitarist Josh Finlayson (dressed in a mu-mu apparently picked up at King Sunny Ade’s garage sale) and banjoist Lewis Melville fired up a winningly off-kilter bluegrass-meets-rockabilly rendering of “Yer Possessed.”
Downie and Hot Carl, making only their second public performance together, used the occasion to unveil two new songs worked up since the completion of “Coke Machine Glow” – “We’re Hardcore,” an ode to parenthood done up with Ramones-calibre brio, and the equally energized “My Name Is Figment.”
By the end of the evening, Downie was prone on the stage, with the formidable Nann using his body as a balance beam. The Woodchoppers and Hot Carl freestyled a dark lullaby as Downie recited “Insomniacs Of The World, Good Night.” Just describing it here, it might sound hopelessly pretentious, but what redeemed it was the spirit of community lighting up the room.
To further boot down the barricade between spectator and spectacle, Clark led the audience and the performers in a grand finale, an improvised choir performance. Seeing both the artists and the punters playing together, I was reminded of a line Downie wrote years ago for The Tragically Hip’s song “Daredevil,” which uses Niagara Falls barrel-riders as a metaphor for artists.
“The real wonder of the world,” Downie sang, “is that we don’t jump too.”
So consider Thursday night’s show Downie’s invitation, to both his accompanists and his audience, to take a trip over the falls.
If you can stand the bumps, it’s a hell of a ride.
02: We’re Hardcore
03: Vancouver Divorce
04: Nothing But Heartache In Your Social Life
05: Trick Rider
06: My Name Is Figment
07: Yer Possessed
08: Canada Geese
09: Insomniacs Of The World, Good Night