Ladies and Gentlemen, the Tragically Hip

November 12th, 2012

The Tragically Hip – Terminal 5 – November 10, 2012

(Photo: Andie Diemer)

I’ve never fully understood how great Canadian bands (see: Sloan, the Weakerthans) can become household names in their homeland without reaching similar recognition in the United States. Do we really live in a world where Canada’s Bare Naked Ladies are bigger in the U.S. than the Tragically Hip? And don’t even get me started on Nickelback. Perhaps some things are best left to the people in the know, and the Tragically Hip, more affectionately known as “the Hip,” are outright adored here by those who know of them. Look no further than their live performances and their audiences that feed off their onstage energy like ravenous wolves.

For the Hip, it’s always been about the live performance. It’s what got them signed in the mid-’80s when MCA Records president Bruce Dickinson caught them performing in Toronto. They’ve had almost 30 years of fine-tuning their craft, building up a rock show that’s hit its saturation point when it comes to onstage energy. And it all starts with lead singer Gordon Downie. Jumping about the Terminal 5 stage, writhing around his microphone stand, pointing into the audience and sometimes miming his own lyrics, it’s almost as if the band’s music is exorcising the singing right out of him. At times he’d even fill in the few moments where he wasn’t supposed to sing with indecipherable high-speed talk-singing narration (think David Byrne’s verses from “Once in a Lifetime”).

With a deep catalog of material to choose from, it felt like every song the Tragically Hip performed on Saturday night satisfied a different chunk of the audience—happy that the Hip had chosen to perform their favorite tune. And whatever songs they may have missed were likely covered in the six-song encore, finishing off the show with an all-out assault of some of their best work (“Bobcaygeon,” “Nautical Disaster,” “Courage (for Hugh MacLennan)”). Perhaps disgruntled voters this past week were right: Maybe it really is time to move to Canada. —Dan Rickershauser