(Copyright 2000. The Tattoo. All rights reserved.)

The Tattoo

--- Making a Permanent Impression Since 1994 ---

August 14, 2000

The Tragically Hip burst at the seams

-- Review --


By Joe Wilbur

The Tattoo


The Tragically Hip's recent visit to Hartford's Webster
Theatre was nothing short of a minor religious event for the
city's rock underground and true fans of a music that was "alternative" before rock critics could find Seattle on a map..

The Canadian rockers' tour of the East Coast in support of
their new album, Music@Work, has everyone abuzz outside
the theater as I arrive. Listening to the anxious chatter, even
those who've never heard the Hip have to wonder: what's so
special about these guys?

They've been called quirky, strange, even disturbing --- but at
heart the Tragically Hip are a bluesy, frenetic, slightly
theatrical rock act -- one of a handful of its generation's
alternative/pop groups that actually rocked, kicking in the
teeth of early albums by groups like REM (to which the Hip
are endlessly compared) with their string of late 80s and
early 90s albums.

Though they've appeared on Saturday Night Live and at
Woodstock 99 and been praised by rock critics beginning
with some of their earliest releases, U.S. chart success
continues to elude them.

Gord Downie, the Hip's front man, lets the band's decade
long struggle to break big in our neck of the woods roll off
his back as he takes the stage.

The room is packed with men, women, girls and boys of all
ages who HAVE to see this band and it seems there’s no
place he’d rather be.

Downie is a great rock star because he's the antithesis of the
aesthetic --- not old yet but not so very young, balding has
driven him to shave his head completely. Underweight with a
grinning, twitching rubber mask of a face framed with the
wires of the ear monitors he adjusts after every number. He
wears red pants that at times seem black against the elaborate
stage lighting and a gray polyester shirt whose bottom buttons are
either lost or forgotten, revealing not the rippling abs of a
powerful rock god but the tender, furry underbelly of a man
who just happens to front a hell of a band.

"Thank you very much," he says in a deep, slightly froggy
voice that seems incapable of the roar it becomes on record.

Studio trickery? Bad acoustics? Not a chance -- the band
brings out the big guns almost immediately, crashing into fan
favorites "Grace, Too" and "Fully Completely" as quickly 
as possible.

The crowd -- a strange mix of middle aged fans who've been
with the Hip for years and new followers young enough to be
their children -- explodes, celebrating with almost religious
devotion the arrival of the choir of angels who will save
them from their mundane daily drudgery, if only for an hour
and a half.

Next to me a cluster of drunken Canadians howls and hoots,
raising their miniature Canadian flags.

Downie and the band continue to rock, drawing heavily and
effectively from the new album with "My Music at Work,"
"Freak Turbulence" and "Lake Fever."

The crowd gives back all the energy it can -— breathlessly
singing along, jumping about, dancing, screaming as beer
spills on the ground all around and the thick, slightly sweet
scent of pot erupts up from the crowd as it exhales
collectively, making for one long, collective, pulsating, jerking,
squealing, screaming rock orgasm.

Halfway through the set a staggering, drunken man with a
slurred French accent steps out of the fray, putting his arm
around my shoulder and asks: "Are you an American?"

I say: "Yes -- from right here, Connecticut."

"Really?" he screams over the roar of the crowd and the
band. "I'm from Alberta! How did you know about these
guys?"

That's the thing about the Hip -- while they play stadiums in
their native Canada, they find themselves in venues like the
Webster when venturing stateside.

The Webster is not a bad little hall, not as cramped and dirty
as New London's El-N-Gee or as antiseptic and faux hip as
Toad's Place. It's what fliers, trade magazines and reviewers
call a more intimate setting.

But the Hip's defining characteristic is a sort of seething
power that's just too much for a room this size, threatening to
explode from them at any moment, reducing the roof to
splinters and spraying the audience in their maple leaf
T-shirts with the small intestines and thick gray matter of the
buffalo sized security team.

Downie is one of the most genuinely fascinating front men
in  modern rock; not as contrived in his funkiness as Steven Tyler or
as libidinously macho as Anthony Kiedis in his performance,
but genuinely soulful, strange and interesting to watch. You
never know what might happen.

At various points in the show he shakes bananas and red
grapes at the audience as though they 
were deadly weapons, dancing about wildly, the mic his only
anchor, polyester shirt sticking with profuse sweat to his
heaving chest, mumbling poetry and gibberish over the fuzzy
guitar riffs of Bobby Baker and Paul Langlois and pounding
bass and drum work of Gordon Sinclair and Johnny Fay
respectively.

Backup vocals and keyboard are provided by Chris Brown
and Kate Fenner, formerly of the Bourbon Tabernacle Choir,
who’re opening for the Hip in support of their second solo
effort, Geronimo.

Fenner has an angel's voice and is breathtaking and joyful on
stage -- she breaks down and laughs at Downed when he gets
too strange, balancing astride the mic stand, spouting 
gibberish, soaked in his own sweat and bottled water, holding
on for dear life to a cluster of red grapes.

As the show closes all of the first timers -— those who've
never heard the band, having come with a friend or on a
whim -— have given in, dancing, falling, embracing. In front
of me half a dozen men in their early twenties pose for a
group picture in the middle of the crowd, raising their plastic
cups.

With two encores before the lights come up, it seems the
band doesn't want to leave anymore than the crowd wants to go home. 
Fans hang around after the concert, exchanging set
lists and show recordings, buying hats and T-shirts.

"Tonight was great," a large, bearded guy named Rich says to
me from nowhere.

I agree.

"Did you record?" he asks hopefully.

"No, don't have a recorder," I say.

"Oh," he says. "Y'know -- I'm always looking for shows. I
meet people from Canada who have like 30, 40 shows, and
I've got like four. It's not easy being a US fan, man."


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