Hip revival on track

A pile of cut trees lies near a logged “no-cut” buffer at a new Ferncliff Avenue housing development. The tree removal violated city rules. - TRISTAN BAURICK/STAFF PHOTO
A pile of cut trees lies near a logged “no-cut” buffer at a new Ferncliff Avenue housing development. The tree removal violated city rules.

New songs sprinkled among band’s greatest hits

The Tragically Hip opened a national tour in Victoria Sunday, Jan. 7, playing the first of two sold-out shows at Save-On Foods Memorial Centre.

At one time, a swing out west offered the Hip Nation a chance to see the band in a variety of venues. But if Sunday night’s show is any indication, the Hip has settled nicely into the mid-sized arenas that form the cultural backbone of this country.

Gord Downie, darkly dressed and wearing a black cap, hit the stage with a band that looked like guys you might watch hockey with down at the pub.

OK, guitarist Rob Baker’s purple shirt looked like something a rock star might wear, but fellow guitarist Paul Langlois, bass player Gord Sinclair and drummer Johnny Fay might as well have just finished a game of pickup hockey.

That casual attire and a warm acceptance of eccentricity, personified by Downie and his emotive spasms, is part of the allure of the Hip. Another is the band’s affinity for our national sport, which provided the focus of the first song on the tour.

“Lonely End of the Rink”, off the Hip’s latest album World Container, eased the crowd into the show. The second song – a rocking version of “New Orleans is Sinking” -- hit the throttle and started the concert off at a pace that carried on for much of the night.

A number of past hits were included in the set, as well as a sprinkling of potential singles off the new album.

Standards varied from anthems that lifted people to their feet, such as “Fully Completely” and “At the Hundredth Meridian”, to moody melodies that brought out the Bic lighters like “Bobcaygeon” and “Fiddler’s Green.”

New songs that already sound like greatest hits such as the radio-friendly “In View” and “Yer Not the Ocean”, kept the crowd limbered up along with the kinetic Downie.

The lead singer’s stage presence has always been a concert highlight.

Sometimes seeming lost in himself like a young Joe Cocker, sometimes strutting around like a cigarette-smoking gorilla aping Mick Jagger, Downie didn’t disappoint.

Fans in the back rows were also able to appreciate the stage show, thanks to a camera that projected massive images of the musicians onto the white walls behind the band.

With no shows planned for Lower Mainland stadia or Seattle’s club scene, Victoria offered the only chance for fans on the coast to see the band before the tour shifts to Kamloops.

From there, the band will follow a route similar to a WHL team on a road trip before playing the Air Canada Centre in Toronto in February.

In the mid-1990s Another Roadside Attraction, it was common for the Hip to headline concerts in Canada attended by tens of thousands.

More than a few of those fans would follow the band as it dipped south of the border to play for hundreds in clubs or converted movie theatres.

It seemed like just a matter of time before The Hip’s infectious integrity would reveal the band to the world.

If the Hip’s past standards haven’t caught the planet’s attention yet, it’s unlikely World Container will be the band’s break out album.

While that’s a shame for those who aren’t hip to the Hip, the group’s legion of followers can sleep well knowing their band is still performing and recording at the level that made many of their devotees fans in the first place.

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