Wednesday, January 27, 2010

#6 Canada's House Band, The Tragically Hip

In Canada we pride ourselves on our distinctiveness and our unique identity in regards to the rest of this world. Canada has Maple Syrup, Tuques, Kraft Dinner, Canadian Beer, and the Tragically Hip.

Growing up in Canada over the last twenty years, you tend to develop a soft spot for these five small town boys from Kingston, Ontario. If Canada was like its joking stereotype with one small city and the rest of the country just open land and scattered farms and igloo's, then when all of us Canadians gathered each Friday night in downtown Canada to have some fun at the bar drinking our Canuck beer, The Tragically Hip would be the house band that would take the stage in between periods of the Hockey game.

Getting their name from the 1981 movie 'Elephant Parts' starring Michael Nesmith (of the Monkies), 'The Hip' as they are more affectionatley referred to, all attended the same high school together but didn't officially form the band until 1983. The band got their start touring the demanding southern Ontario club circuit and became a favourite on this scene very quickly playing mostly cover tunes with a few originals thrown in that sounded like covers. They consist of: Gordon Downie (lead vocals and guitar), Paul Langlois (guitar and vocals), Rob Baker (guitar), Gord Sinclair (bass guitar and vocals), and Johnny Fay (drums). Gordon Downie supplies the fantastic lyrics that have made The Hip legendary across Canada.

The songs they have created speak of what it is to be Canadian, with influences from Canadian folk legends, historical moments, hockey, and almost every other aspect of our culture. Downie's writing of such myths and stories about life in small town Canada have helped build that image that is known from Vancouver to St. Johns. We all feel like the Hip are 'Our Band' in a way. The music of the Hip is very distinctively Canadian, which may be a reason why they have never really seemed to catch on south of the border, but is also the reason that Canadians have stood by them for so long. We can all see ourselves in it. They are singing about Our culture and they are doing it with intelligence and eloquence with an introspective feel that we can all appreciate.

The Hip soon became known for their energetic and often very improvisational live performances. Downie often strays from the song lyrics to rant to the audience or wander off into fictitious monologues and lunatic conversations about the microphone stand or the crowd itself as if the whole audience were a friend or lover or child. His maddening fits that sometimes include hacking and bashing the microphone stand to pieces are perfectly contrasted by the fact that the band keeps up with him and anticipates his apparent lunacy without missing the beat for a second and then merging back into the song perfectly with him down the line. A live Hip show is really something to see. You can see the visible stress making him sweat buckets and turn his face a fiery red as if he were about to explode from the power of the music. Rob Baker shreds that guitar with fiery intensity, seldom smiling, and completely focussed on his instrument. The man is a real pro, it's really impressive how his guitar licks are so integral to the songs but not up front taking away from the other instrumentation. The fact that they have known each other since childhood is easily visible on stage, and the audience can clearly see that these 5 guys love playing music together, which is really cool after almost 30 years together and counting. Their latest album released in April of '09 entitled 'We Are The Same' debuted at #1 on the Canadian Music charts. I hope we continue to see and hear the Hip for a long time to come because when it gets right down to it, when your having a few beers at the bar watching the hockey game, you gotta have some hip thrown in to top off the night.

The Facts:

-They also hold the record for most number one albums on the Canadian Albums Chart with a total of eight reaching the pole position.
-Over 14 Juno Awards between 1990 and 2009
-Twelve Studio Albums and a Live Album since 1987
-Fantastic party music, goes great with beer.

My Fave Album:

While I have to admit I really dig most of their discography, one album definitely stands out for me. 'Phantom Power' released in 1998, is a totally dynamite album. From start to finish it blends that fantastic canadian party rock sound with softer folk songs rich with imagery. The whole thing feels like a really complete piece of music, not just a bunch of tracks thrown together for marketing purposes or contractual obligations. It won the Juno for best rock album and it's single 'Bobcaygeon' won single of the year. It is in my opinion one of their greatest works to date. Songs like 'Something On' and 'Poets' are catchy and have a great beat as well as fantastic pieces of writing from Downie. The band recorded the song 'Something On' while stuck in the studio during the infamous ice storm of 1998 that brought havoc to much of North-Eastern Ontario, Western Quebec and the North-Eastern United States. This had an effect on the lyrical creation within the song, such as:
:"Outside there's hectic action
The ice is covering the trees
And one of em's interconnecting,
With my Chevrolet Caprice."

'Bocaygeon', the single that won them the Juno that year, is a terrific song about love in small town Canada and the choices that we have to sometimes make in our lives. It is beautiful lyrically, and has simple yet wonderfully rich melodies that make it one of the most famous and best-loved songs the band has recorded.

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