Tragically Hip ringmaster Gordon Downie defined his bandâ€™s two-set marathon at Metropolis Friday night when he introduced their latest disc, We Are the Same, as an album â€œfull of conversations.â€ Not paranoid rants, not existential conundrums â€“ two of the Hipâ€™s stocks in trade â€“ but something more reasoned and rational.
Reasoned and rational are risky selling points when a band is known for manic propulsion. But whereas the relentless pace of the Hipâ€™s two most recent tours left audiences gasping, Friday nightâ€™s considered pace left lots of breathing room. As a result, the Hip we saw was more multi-dimensional, more full and complete, if not more fearsome.
Selecting the nine-minute-plus Depression Suite as an opening number sent a clear message that this wouldnâ€™t be a race to the finish. Afterward â€“ and not for the last time â€“ Downie acknowledged the challenge being posed: â€œYou passed the initiation.â€
There were early rewards for fans who embraced that rite of passage: a darker, swampier New Orleans Is Sinking, with Downie casting himself as a hell-bound bluesman; the failsafe Bobcaygeon, with its nuances lost but its latent desperation revealed. There were also more challenges: a creaky Throwing Off Glass, and Now the Struggle Has a Name â€“ a subdued choice for a set-ender, with a particularly committed vocal driving its mid-tempo crunch.
Some party-starved grumblers overheard during intermission probably werenâ€™t assuaged when the band re-emerged and sat down for a few acoustic numbers, but the arrangements spotlighted the weathered beauty of Are We Family and Lake Fever. After Downie thanked the enthralled â€œfor your kind indulgence,â€ the distracted got what they came for: Nautical Disasterâ€™s night terrors; Springtime in Vienna, featuring an extended intro and combustible chorus; and an unstoppable Grace, Too, highlighted by Downieâ€™s triple-jointed writhing.
The latter was the moment awaited by those who came purely to see steam shoot from the frontmanâ€™s facial orifices. Other ticket holders came away with something less fleeting: a thoughtful portrait of a mature band that is, in its way, more confrontational than ever â€“ challenging its fans by not always giving them what they want. Every group should be so brave after 20-plus years of existence.
The Tragically Hip perform again Saturday at Metropolis.
— Jordan Zivitz