Playing to a packed audience at Roger’s Arena, the Tragically Hip provided nothing other than a steady rocking’ good time. Perhaps the most universally appreciated functioning rock band in Canada and have earned nine national number one titles in the country as well as a reputation of being on of the country’s the hardest working bands. Decades after their formation, the Hip continue to sell out massive venues across the continent, renowned for their casual charms and the peculiar flairs of frontman poet Gord Downie. The Tragically Hip can easily afford a national Canadian tour once or twice a year; the band’s immensely dedicated fan base are happy to see them play from their deep and consistent catalogue without a new album for a tour pretext. On this particular outing, the Tragically Hip performed their landmark 1992 album Fully Completely.
Showing up in high spirits, the band set off to get the blood flowing with some radio hits like “Music At Work.” The opening “Grace, Too” from 1995’s Day for Night was particularly incendiary on slow burning verses transferring into distorted, meandering solos. The Hip rock hard but never burn their candle at both ends; while their signature sonic style is bold, determined and uncompromising, it is similarly anchored with an impeccable hard hitting back beat. Space and balance are integral to the Hip’s flavour; each band member plays a complimenting yet distinct role in it’s sound. Johnny Fay’s hard hitting drums synced with bold guitar and chugging bass, signalling the beginning of “Courage (For Hugh MacLennan)” from Fully Completely, which was to be played in its complete entirety and original order.
Fully Completely is a record where about half of the albums ended up heavily syndicated on radio, as Canadian musical broadcast content laws necessitate a large emphasis on domestic material. Performing the totality of their breakout and perhaps most revered album, the songs of Fully Completely showed no hints of old age, sounding older, wiser and improved like an aged wine. Back in 1992, the Tragically Hip were not a household name across Canada. Songs like “The Hundredth Meridian,” “Courage,’ ”Fully Completely,” and “Wheat Kings” changed all that, and sounded exceptional in live form. Crisp, clean guitars of Paul Langlois and Rob Banker range anywhere from quiet to formidable; the emphasis on classic analogue textures in their guitar-work is all the more refreshing in today’s increasingly digital sonic climate. Vintage guitars, classic amplifiers and several of decades of touring allow the Hip to play their early material with the highest possible standard; their hard work ethic and homegrown, down to earth character of Gord Downie & company have contributed to the graceful continuance and respected legacy of the band. Performed in a live setting, Fully Completely doesn’t sound like a relic out of 1992; on the contrary, the collection sounds timeless. Waving his white cowboy hat and sporting a genuinely elated grin, Downie waved to a cheering audience at the conclusion of the album’s performance. The crowd spent no time in their seats, relentlessly standinging in their appreciation until the group returned to the stage for an encore.
Continuing through more early classic material, the Hip cracked back into another batch of singles and fan favourites after their short breather. “Twist My Arm” from 1991’s Road Apples exemplified the Tragically Hip’s quirks of free spiritedness and menace. The Tragically Hip’s steady booming drums, compelling song structures and expressive guitar solos never leave space for dead time. As the band gets cooking, Mr. Downie sways franticly, occasionally sputtering poetry and plays footsie with his microphone stand. Each city on the Tragically Hip’s current tour have included a unique intro and encore. On this evening, Vancouver was served some of the band’s most high profile and enduring tunes: “Spring starts when the heart beat’s pounding,” sang Downie on “Poets,” to ecstatic cheers from the audience. Rounding out the evening with a final crowd pleaser, the Tragically Hip capped the night with a stomping rendition of “Blow at High Dough.” As immortal as these songs are in the Tragically Hip catalogue, the band’s encore has shown extreme variation on the tour, often omitting these top notch hits; only the best groups have enough hit songs to rotate in the setlist night to night.
Healthy is the band’s straight rock & roll punch, inspired alternative poetry and casual aesthetic. The Hip’s many strong records, wealth of catchy singles, incredible fan relationship and enigmatic frontman make the group something of a Canadian Pearl Jam. One must see a Tragically Hip concert in order to comprehend the love and reverence of their fans. It’s good to know they will be back.