Tag Archives: Tragically Hip

The Tragically Hip: Wide Awake Beside America

Tragically Hip's Gord Downie from the "It Can't Be Nashville Every Night" video

Tragically Hip’s Gord Downie from the “It Can’t Be Nashville Every Night” video


It’s been the muse for musicians the world over. Bono worried for the women and children running into its arms, Bowie was afraid of it and Morrissey loves it even though its citizens eat too many hamburgers.

But when America’s your actual neighbor, its shadowy force looms over everything with greater intensity. Its spectre haunts your every day — everything you read, eat, see or hear is tinged by it.

For The Tragically Hip, that great churning mass to the south has always infused what they’ve done. Go back to their debut EP in ’87 and The Hip were penning homesick odes like “Last American Exit.” A little further on, “Yawning Or Snarling” from ’94’s Day For Night revolves around a hot, dusty El Paso adventure. Indeed, cherry-picking Yank references in Hip songs comes just about as easily as jabs about freedom fries.

The Tragically Hip have been thinking about more than just freedom fries though. For the release of In Between Evolution, the Kingston, Ontario band’s tenth full-length album, the potent energy of America courses through their veins. But is it an anti-American energy?

“No. No. No,” says an emphatic Gord Downie. “There’s enough of that going on. I mean, I love Americans. And how else would I gauge that, y’know? The present administration’s policies? Those I don’t love. And I think that ultimately it has a ripple effect, y’know? And the ripple effect has hit Canada and its hit the rest of the world ’cause we’re affected.”

It’s clearly something the lead singer has been thinking about. In The Hip world, it’s more us and them as opposed to us against them.

“Is it important to make that distinction,” he says. “It’s not America that you dislike. It’s certain people and certain policies. I don’t dislike anything.”

Still, Downie and his bandmates — Bobby Baker (guitar), Paul Langlois (guitar), Gord Sinclair (bass) and Johnny Fay (drums) — have woven together a record full of fiery, potent moments. “It Can’t Be Nashville Every Night” is a leery-eyed glare at country star Toby Keith’s star-spangled patriotism, while “If New Orleans Is Beat” follows the Mississippi as it cuts through the heart of America, carrying with it all its dirt and grime along the way. They’re just two examples, but the whole record — including things like odes to depressed bruins (“Gus: The Polar Bear From Central Park”) — unfurl waves of discomfort.

“It takes the form of a weird menace I think,” says Downie, carefully selecting his words. “In most of these songs — there seems, in my mind anyway — a TV flickering away off in the corner of the frame. It’s always there. And on that TV is FOX News.”

The America that Downie loves is still the same America that’s both a warring nation and the nation who’s fortunes are most inextricably linked to our own. And when you’re defined as the upholders of Maple Leaf pride, “the quintessentially Canadian” rock band, having to both retain the loyalty of the I Am Canadian hordes and respectfully pursuing the muse that is Uncle Sam becomes a complex process.

“Sometimes I think as an artist you bristle at artificial boundaries and nationalistic tendencies because you don’t want to be dismissed by someone who hasn’t heard your music or seen what you do,” says Downie. “You worry about that.

“It’s interesting. I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately. Because you can, you have to kind of watch what kind of nationalism you espouse.”

For Downie, clarity apparently came in the form of a Merle Haggard concert.

“I saw Merle Haggard the other night. He has a song called ‘Fightin’ Side Of Me.’ I don’t know if you know it. ‘Okie From Muskogee’ is also — it was pretty politically charged at the time [1969]. It’s what [critic] Greg Quill called ‘corrosively conservative.’ He wasn’t making any bones about it about where he came from and who was welcome and who was not. And this fighting side is basically ‘if you say anything bad about my country, you’re on the fighting side of me’ and ‘if you don’t love it, leave it’ kind of mentality.

Haggard is still fiercely proud, but he sings the song in a far wiser way nowadays. There’s a more important message, though.

Says Downie: “I still love it so I’m not leavin’ it.”

This story originally appeared in Chart Magazine issue #158, July 2004.

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Tragically Hip’s Canada Day Show Proves Gord Downie Is The Nation’s Weird Uncle

Tragically Hip's Gord Downie

Tragically Hip’s Gord Downie

Somewhere between the burgeoning arena rock of 1991’s Road Apples and 1992’s Fully Completely and the emerging eccentricities of 1998’s Phantom Power, Gord Downie — and, by extension, the rest of his band The Tragically Hip — cemented their status as Canada’s most beloved weird uncles.

Like the uncle who slips you mixtapes of his favourite bands, The Hip have introduced the greater populace to all sorts of unplucked musical gems and artistic outliers through festivals like the band’s signature Another Roadside Attraction series and opening slots on cross country tours.

They’ve suggested that we check out semi-obscure works by Canadian literary giants, like Hugh MacLennan’s The Watch That Ends The Night, from which the song “Courage” has the final verse ripped wholesale. And, in return, we’ve fondly listened to their wacky stories about killer whales and catharsis, and sung along to their ballads about tragic painters and hockey players.

As such, seeing The Tragically Hip play on Canada Day at Burl’s Creek in Oro, Ontario was like spending the holiday with extended pop culture family. Although the band’s current outdoor concert forays lack the sweeping scope of Another Roadside Attraction’s ’90s heyday, both in size and artistic out-there-ness, they’re still an impressive mix of good old Canadian rock, American tokenism and hey-check-this-shit-out discoveries, and this edition was no exception.

This year’s up-and-comers were the Rural Alberta Advantage, whose giddy cover of “Canada Geese,” a song from Downie’s solo album Coke Machine Glow — complete with an appearance from Downie himself — provided one of the highlights of the day. And if the shirtless, tribal-tattooed youngster proudly clinging to his autographed RAA LP was any indication, the Hip have once again succeeded in bringing a promising, semi-underground indigenous act to the masses.

A young man with a Tragically Hip logo covering his bare back

A young man with a Tragically Hip logo covering his bare back

This year’s potential successors to the Can-Rock throne, The New Pornographers, were entertaining, but somewhat upstaged by what seemed like singer (and honorary Canadian) Neko Case’s slow decent into heatstroke-induced stage banter, which included dry jokes about the band’s punk rockness, and their war against the sun (“Fuck you, sun! We’re playing right in your face!”). 2012’s token Americans Death Cab for Cutie sounded like an unfortunate mix of Treble Charger’s less dynamic moments and Jimmy Fallon parodying indie rock, but some of the kids liked it, and the band provided a nice dinner and/or campsite break for the rest of the audience who had been on-site all weekend.

Satisfactorily sated, rested and smoked up, the crowd returned en masse for The Hip. Downie took to the stage with a message about music’s ability to unite people, and his fans’ behavior during the band’s two hour, career-spanning set certainly did a lot of to support his hypothesis.

The biggest temporary beer tattoo-sporting (and permanently beer-gutted) drunken hoser united with the most bookish and bespectacled hipster as they negotiated the polysyllabic and thematic gymnastics involved in singing along to “Poets” and “At the Hundredth Meridian.” Rockers and activists alike hoisted their lighters (one of the charms of small town concerts is that people still generally eschew the cell phone for the more traditional source of ballad-accompanying light) for the David Milgaard-inspired “Wheat Kings.” And everyone chuckled when Uncle Gord embarked on twisted monologues about his complicated relationship with his microphone stand (he seems to hate the stand, but sometimes feels like the mic itself is the only one listening to him) and warned “Wheat Kings ” guest singer Sarah Harmer about wearing an old hat of his (“I can’t let you do that! I got conjunctivitis from that hat at Ontario Place in 1983. It’s an eye thing.”).

The Tragically Hip's Gord Downie performs on Canada Day 2012.

The Tragically Hip’s Gord Downie performs on Canada Day 2012.

Objectively, it wasn’t the Tragically Hip’s greatest or most accomplished set ever. While drummer Johnny Fay, bassist Gord Sinclair and guitarists Rob Baker and Paul Langlois remain as solid as ever, Downie’s increasingly shouty vocals and erratic stage presence and the band’s musical divergences sometimes cross the line from interesting into ill-advised. But, at this point in their storied and varied career, The Hip have certainly earned the occasional divergence and they’ve moved far beyond the need for objectivity. The band have become part of the country’s creative mythology and seeing them perform has become an experience that transcends the occasional blown note or hint of boredom (we suspect that Downie is taking the piss when he sings “Blow at High Dough” these days).

Like any good family reunion, a big Tragically Hip festival is a reminder of all that our people are and can accomplish, from the embarrassing to the bizarre to the truly great and heartwarming. And as long as we have our favorite weird uncles in the Hip around to remind us, Canadians can stop and take a little pride in the strange balance of hoserism and intellectualism inherent in our national consciousness that could make a band like T   he Tragically Hip big enough to stage this kind of festival to begin with.

This story originally ran July 2, 2012 on Spinner.com.

The New Pornographers' Neko Case battles the sun

The New Pornographers’ Neko Case battles the sun

Death Cab For Cutie

Death Cab For Cutie

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Reliving Woodstock ’99 From The Couch

Woodstock '99 poster and bill

Woodstock ’99 poster and bill

Inspired by writer friend Josh Ostroff’s very good I-was-there piece reliving the horrors of what it was like being at Woodstock ’99 exactly 15 years ago I went and unearthed the review I wrote about it at the time for Chart.

It’s not the best piece of writing ever (why did I swear so much?), and because I wrote it from the comfort of my couch, watching it on TV while flipping between the pay-per-view feed and MuchMusic, it has a decided backseat driver vibe, but whatever. At the time I was really irritated by the whole event and embarrassed for both my generation and humanity in general.

Here it is:

I wasn’t there — and thank fuckin’ god for that.

Sure, the idea sounded pretty good, celebrate the 30th anniversary of Woodstock, relive peace, happiness and such, and enjoy a bunch of great bands. Problem is, most of the bands sucked and the kids ain’t about “the groovy trip” and shit these days, they’re about trying to grope that chick’s tits over yonder and “fuckin’ shit up, know what I mean?”

Well and comfy on my sofa and switching from Much to pay-per-view obsessively, one thing became clear — you get a bunch of young middle-class white kids together and boy do they ever get stupid.

Case in point, the now infamous Limp Bizkit set. I don’t have a problem with the way they incited the crowd to riot — it was all very Jim Morrison-esque and breathed a bit of truly historic air into what had been an otherwise mundane affair. It was truly rock ‘n’ roll, and a spectacle to behold, even from the couch. But the fact it took Limp Bizkit — a band who, when it comes down to it, are a horribly shitty one-and-a-half hit wonder — to cause a riot, reflects badly on this generation.

When the Much and PPV cameras would pan across the violent circle pits, looters ripping apart light tower rigging and moshing up a storm, it was actually kinda cool visually. But think about it. The kids tearing were tearing apart the light tower! I mean, it’s O.K. not to understand the mechanics of rock concert equipment, but it takes real glueheads not to be able to figure out that if you trash a tower, the show won’t continue. And it’s funny that just when I came to this realization, the PPV cameras zoomed in on some guys tipping over the portapotties reserved for the light tower crew, then started jumping on top of them. When one of the toilets collapsed under the weight of one of these jumpers I started howling. This kid’s pissed-off-at-his-Burger King-job-rage left him lying in a literal pool of piss and shit from the toilet he just destroyed. Fucking idiot.

The music of anger seemed contrived too. Korn just sucked, despite the crowd’s gleeful declaration that “Korn rocked, maan!” As far as muddy wonders go, I guess they were alright, but I can’t help but pencil in mid-October as the date for the Korn records to start flooding into the delete bins of used record stores worldwide. Rage Against The Machine sounded good playing their one song over and over again. But their burn-the-American-flag bit was the anti-climax to Fred Durst singing “Faith” from atop a scavenged piece of plywood. Godsmack, Sevendust, Buckcherry, Lit. Why the fuck did you even get invited? You’re at 14:58, baby.

The best barometer for the whole show was likely watching the MuchMusic throws from Ed The Sock and Sook Yin Lee. With each progressive throw, their nervous vitriol became more and more apparent, what with Sook calling the crowd “loogans” and Ed insulting all comers. They did after all have to abandon their camera tower during Limp Bizkit because of the semi-rioters.  Sure insulting the audience was something of a music-snob elitist reaction, but it was entirely justified by just flipping channels to the PPV footage that would zoom in on a topless woman riding a guy’s shoulders and seeing numerous anonymous hands grabbing at her tits to cop a cheap feel. Classy.

In fact, the nudity was so rampant that Much’s Bill and Rick took to calling the show “Boobfest” and “Boobstock” in honour of the spring break-style moral deterioration going on around them. A moral deterioration best exemplified by confessionals from concertgoers pointing out to Rick or Bill where they had fucked the night before, or the best, jerked off behind some portapotties while watching some girls wrestling.

As for the music, there were a few actual highlights (none of which included Alanis, Jewel, Bruce Hornsby, Megadeth, Guster or Rusted Roots). The Tragically Hip opening up the proceedings on the main stage on Saturday was absolutely astounding. There was a sea of Canadian flags churning in such vast numbers that not even Canada Day shows can compare.

It was a truly surreal moment and one of those rare festival show instances that I’ve not seen since U2’s performance at Live Aid, where it felt like a band instantaneously arrives. Metallica were surprisingly great. After Rage and Limp Bizkit they had to do something, and what that was was literally a greatest hits marathon that seemed to never stop. It almost, almost redeemed the night.

But for every highlight there were numerous musical lows. Kid Rock playing for an hour was right up there, so was Everlast. And in what will likely be hailed as the most fractured performance ever in front of 250,000 people, Wyclef Jean let his sister Melky Sedeck hack apart “Raw” for 15 minutes before finally hitting the stage himself to hack apart his own songs. Although we will give him credit for shutting up and letting his DJ play House Of Pain and Naughty By Nature for 10 minutes.

So yeah, there you go, historic moment and all that crap, blah, blah. I’m glad I stayed home.



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12 Puck Rock Songs For The NHL Playoffs

Lars Eller

Lars Eller

Normally it’s me who’s all about the jock jams, but Sarah also did her part when she created a list of hockey rock songs for Huffington Post Music Canada to celebrate the start of the NHL playoffs.

In said list you’ll find iconic songs from the likes of The Tragically Hip and Stompin’ Tom Connors.

Read the list here.

Sarah did, however, forget to include this gem from our close personal friend Darrin Pfeiffer.

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Tragically Hip’s Kensington Market Takeover: Complete With A ‘Weird’ Interview

The Tragically Hip at Kensington Market

The Tragically Hip at Kensington Market

UPDATE: Because Spinner is RIP, Sarah’s full interview with The Hip can be found here.

To celebrate the release of The Tragically Hip‘s newest album Now For Plan A the band recently took over Toronto’s boho Kensington Market neighbourhood for multiple days worth of free mini concerts, interviews and autograph sessions.

Sarah went down to experience the unique event and also interview the band. The resulting interview was, well, “weird,” devolving into a lengthy discussion on how the mess on old Russian hockey nets makes for more exciting goal scoring than with the antiseptic nets used these days. Yeah. Blame Gord Downie.

To read the story head over to Spinner by clicking here.

Also, for added Hip-ness, I did a dangle piece for Gord Downie‘s appearance on George Stroumboulopoulos Tonight over at Huffington Post Music Canada. That’s worth tracking down too because Gord says some heavy stuff.

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Tragically Hip On Canada Day: Gord Downie’s The Nation’s Weird Uncle

Tragically Hip's Gord Downie

Tragically Hip’s Gord Downie

UPDATE: Because Spinner is RIP we’ve unearthed this story at this link.

The Tragically Hip‘s big Canada Day show this year took place at Burl’s Creek in Oro, Ontario.

The giant campsite played host to the Hip, Death Cab For Cutie, The New Pornographers and the Rural Alberta Advantage.

The one thing Sarah and I couldn’t get over when we were watching Gord Downie and the rest of the Hip perform was how effortlessly Downie has helped be sort of like a guiding hand for the less art intuitive.

What he represents is a gateway drug pusher for Canadian art, like that uncle who gives you a joint for graduating high school.

As such, Sarah wrote about it, and I took pictures of it, for Spinner.

You can read the whole related article by clicking here.

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