The Tragically Hip are the Coolest Band Ever

I’ve come to the conclusion that the Hip is the coolest band on the face of the earth. For those of you who don’t know who the Tragically Hip are, well, I feel bad for you. And unfortunately for most Americans, you don’t know who they are because they are a Canadian band with distinct roots in Canada. But here’s their web site for your pleasure.

So today’s rant is dedicated to the best little band in the world.

A few Hip facts. They have been on the web since 1995, long before it was Hip for bands to have a corporate presence. They have their own email addresses, and they actually answer some mail. Their domain was regged in mid-1996, but prior to that, they used a subdomain address. Unlike most PR stunts by bands, movies and the like, the Hip’s website gets updated frequently. Right now you can find out information about Another Roadside Attraction, their version of Lollapallooza.

More Hip facts. They started out as a garage band in Kingston, Ontario, home of Queens University, psychotic ‘geers, and Don Cherry. I saw them two times at the Green Frog (or something like that), a small barhall. Gord Downie, the lead for the band, played pool with us after a set once. Their breakthrough album, Up to Here, contained their first anthem song – New Orleans is Burning. Live, the Hip are like no other band since the Doors. Gordo definitely has the ghost of Jim Morrison inside of him, but the band is so… so… in tune with each other that they time their music perfectly Gordo’s tangents. Seeing the Hip live is an event, plain and simple. They don’t need to rely on glitzy pop, stage effects, props and the like – they are the show.

And still more facts. I count myself lucky to have seen the Hip perform live 10 times now. Four times in bar settings, two times in concert halls, and three times in small/medium stadium settings. The best Hip show I ever saw was their Canada day performance almost exactly 4 years ago.

But until yesterday, I didn’t think they were the greatest band on the planet. I though they were damned close, but not the greatest. Now I do. I spent most of the morning listening to a CD I had burned with all my favorite Hip songs. 74 minutes is not enough time. Two CDs wouldn’t put all their best stuff together for me. But that’s besides the point. I’ve been listening to all my CDs today, in a sort of melancholy mood, because I thought I missed this year’s concert. Turns out I didn’t – I thought this year’s ARA tour was on July 1 in Vancouver – but it isn’t until the 17th of this month. Cool.

After listening to their music for about 5 hours today while working, I keep feeling amazed. I didn’t quite know why, but then while listening to their latest CD, Live Between Us (Live LP), it hit me – I never get tired of their stuff. Never. I think I’ve listened to Fiddler’s Green about 300 or more times in my life, but every time I hear it, it has the same effect on me – it tugs at my heart. New Orleans is Sinking still makes me shake my head a la Gord Downie style. Blow at High Dough makes me feel all funky. 38 Years Old still makes me think about the tragedy the song deals with.

And Wheat Kings still makes me think about a callous government that will imprison a guy for 20 years when they know he didn’t do the crime he was sentenced with.

I’ve been listening to all these songs and more, and then it hit me. I’ve been listening to some of this stuff for over 10 years now, and everytime I hear them, it’s like the first time – that cool feeling I get from hearing Robby Baker’s distinctive guitar work, Gord Sinclair’s in sync bass riffs, Johnny Fay’s perfect cadence on the drums, and Paul Langlois’s excellent rhythm guitar work. And then there’s Gord Downie….

Gordo’s voice is simply awesome in recordings. In all their studio work, he weaves his voice perfectly, and instantly you think – “gawd, he nailed it perfectly”. Then you hear him on stage, live.

Live, Gordon looks like he’s on heroin while performing. For a long time, I thought this was the case – periods of lull with momentary explosions. But that’s the way he sings. The best part is, it just…. works. His stage presence is absolutely electric, and he makes the show an event in your life… not just some other concert you’ve been to. He often changes the lyrics to their songs live, and he sings it differently, and for me, I feel almost blessed – he creates a new version I wish I had on CD.

And now I do – Live Between Us gives me the Hip experience live. You hear Gord’s changes to his songs, and they seem so natural. I feel like I was given a gift by this band. But right at this point, I still didn’t make the statement, “The Hip are the greatest band on the planet”. It was a few minutes after…

It hit me like a brick wall. Ireland had U2 in the early 80s. The US had it’s share of “representative” bands and musicians – two that come to mind are Bruce Springsteen and John Mellancamp (for a while). If you don’t know what I’m talking about, I’m talking about Bands that are the conscience and representatives of life in a country. Going over all of the Hip’s stuff, more than half of their songs deal with distinctive Canadian culture, lives, and events. Other big name Canadians, like Bryan Adams, Alanis Morrisette, the Band, etc., never do anything like this – the American market is their main goal, so they homogonize everything they write. The only other current Canadian artist I can think of that comes close to what the Hip do is Tom Cochrane.

To say the Hip don’t want US exposure would be very foolish – of course they do – but they have never sold out their music and their writing to do it. That’s what I realized today. After all their internal success (to give you an idea – they play to crowds of 30,000+ in Canada, but still play 2,000 seat concert halls in the US), after all the money they’ve made, after everything – the band still does it for the love of their music. No corporate sellouts here. Everytime you buy a Hip CD, you know you’re getting music crafted by people for the love of it, not crafted for “target markets”. One thing you’ll never see is the Hip writing songs for Disney movies, like other sell out Canadian artists have done – Celine Dion and Bryan Adams come to mind.

For the love of their music. Is there any doubt in your mind that they are the world’s greatest band, for me at least? How about you? Tell me about it, if you’re a Hip fan. Or tell me about the band or musician you place on a pedestal.

(note, links in this archive no longer exist).

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