Metaphysical High in the Butane Afterglow

The Colourful World of the Hip The Tragically Hip
with The Rheostatics
Pacific Coliseum
Vancouver, B.C.
November 8-10, 1996

Review (Sunday) by Suzanne Goodwin
Hip photography (Friday) by Rodney Gitzel

It's a sad fact that, despite the depth and complexity of the Tragically Hip's tunes, the average Hip fan's interest in music still extended only to the headliners of this show. The place wasn't even half full when the Rheos started on time at 7:30 p.m. Too bad, because the absentees missed an elegantly performed set by one of Canada's more uniquely eloquent and talented bands.

'Preach on, brother Beavis!' The Rheos' superb sound mix and excellent harmonies seemed lost on the crowd. One person muttered something about the band not having any stage presence. Perhaps sometimes it really is just about the music. It's in the listening where the quality of the experience becomes purified.

It's not that the Rheostatics were lax in trying to establish audience rapport; there just wasn't much "audience" present. What those present did get was a taste of the Rheos' superb musicianship. Their sincere performance mirrored their recorded work, staying true to their often quirky and poetic style. The band's harmonious vocals were often supported by some pretty decent guitar work too. They were the perfect warm-up band for the Hip. Too bad the only people who seemed to notice were the reviewers. Sigh...

guitarist Bobby Baker Now as you can well imagine, it was no melatonin-town in the Pacific Coliseum when the house lights went down for the Hip. Yeee-ikes! Pulling us out of our bodies and straight into an eerie, almost bone-chilling performance of the haunting "Grace Too," the Tragically Hip were absolutely mesmerizing.

Enveloping the Coliseum with a (surprisingly clear) cloak of sound, the Hip took us on a two-hour musical odyssey that ran the gamut of most of their recorded work. They emphasized their recent material, and played nothing at all from either Road Apples or their debut EP, but that was okay, because the energy just didn't let up. I don't believe Gord Downie ever stopped singing or bantering. It was just amazing that, on this, the third of three back-to-back shows, his voice still had so much stamina and retained its quality and range.

'How much does a banana weigh on the moon?' Between verses, Downie just kept on singing and talking -- about whatever -- often breaking into the lyrics of songs other than those being played, or else he'd blabber on in that storytelling non-sensical manner that has become almost his trademark. This was in stark contrast to the dark and introspective mood of the Day for Night tour a couple years back, where the whole show was an almost removed and impersonal experience.

bassist Gord Sinclair This show just didn't have that. Downie so profusely and constantly thanked those present for just being there it was like he was almost apologizing for the hugeness of the whole affair, trying to keep the distance short between audience and band. And, I have to say, the Hip could have done without their technically superb light show. They had it all: lasers, strobes, bright whites lighting up the crowd and wild colours beaming up from the floor. Sure, it was visually cool, but it just detracted from the whole show, because it didn't mesh with the passion and emotion of the music. It was just too perfect, too rock show-ish and orchestrated and that, for me, was a disappointment.

Those lights really brought home that fact that the Hip are becoming so much less accessible in Canada and that you'd better head to Texas if you ever want to see them live in a club-like venue. But, to their credit, the band's live energy and fluidity really helped me to appreciate their last release, Trouble at the Henhouse, that much more: it's a CD that admittedly I didn't quite "get," at first. The Hip's subtle and emotional performance of "Flamenco" (dedicated to one of the original band members) was the clincher, though. I listened to that CD again post-concert and went "oh yeahhhhhh... "

Gord Downie Witnessing the incandescent glow from the flames of lighters in the thousands throughout the show was not unlike some kind of transcendental journey out of the physical. Each diminutive blaze was completely enveloped in a mass of sound born of the lungs of the faithful, hungering for more Hip, crying out for that first encore. So loud was the din, it waged war with my eardrums and sent my senses careening. I'm not kidding: I thought I had been transported to another plane and that's sans aid from contraband, folks. I have never, I mean never, been to a stadium concert where the crowd was ever so loud or so involved. Absolutely magical.

So, despite my disdain of big concert trappings, I still went home with that sort of smug feeling you get from knowing that you were there. Being a part of that impassioned, roaring crowd that enticed the band out for four more songs for their second encore was, well, a nearly metaphysical high. Save for those distracting lights, it just doesn't get any better.

First published in Drop-D Magazine on November 23, 1996

Index | Search | E-mail | Info | Copyright

Considering copying some of the images from this story?
Please read this first. Thanks.