Monday, March 19, 2007

Hip, Hip, hooray

I had my hands in the river, my feet back up on the banks
I looked up to the Lord above and said, "Hey, man, thanks."
Sometimes I feel so good I gotta scream
She said, "Gordie, baby, I know exactly what you mean."

The girl is about twenty-five, I'd say, maybe a little older -- it's hard to tell in the dark. I think her hair is curly, but, again, with the only illumination coming from a purple stage light twenty feet away, it's not easy to spot. I can see she's got a beer in her hand because of the way the amber glows in the gloom, but that's all.

She's looking at me, and I don't delude myself into thinking it's because she's at all interested in me. It's probably because we've been standing next to one another for about thirty minutes now, and she's seen (and heard) my reaction to the set so far. She's seen that I know all the words, both to the old stuff ("Boots or Hearts") and the new stuff ("In View"). I even spotted "Ahead by a Century," one of my favorites, solely from Gordie's somewhat oblique intro ("We'd like to do a song now for the girls..."). That was a dead giveaway.

She turns to me and speaks, but it takes three tries for me to understand her over the din.

"You know the band!" she shrieks.

"Yeah!" I answer. "I love them, one of my favorites!"

"Where are you from?" she says, straining to be heard as the band prepares for another song.

"Here!" I say, and wait for...there it is. Her mouth opens into a nice, round oval of shock. Her free hand -- the one not holding the beer -- draws up to her face in awe.

"I'm from Toronto!" she yells, and it's not really all that surprising.

I turn back to Rene. "What was that all about?!" he asks, and I start to answer, but they've started "Gift Shop" now. "I'll tell you later!" is all I have time for.

The Tragically Hip -- touring to support their unspeakably great new album, World Container -- played at Scout Bar Thursday night, for about 100 people. I'd say 98 of them were Canadian. The other two were Rene and me. I was afraid that the band's ecelctic and violently passionate lead singer, Gordon Downie, would be a little restrained in front of the small crowd, and I was very, very happy to see that wasn't the case. He leapt across the tiny stage like a loon, took apart his mic stand and twirled it like a baton, put it back together and used it as a lounge chair, and basically kicked 100 asses. The sound was so thick and massive in that small space that I couldn't hear for a day and a half. The swampy "New Orleans Is Sinking" became a stomp through fire and apocalypse, and "Springtime in Vienna" put invisible pogo sticks underneath everyone in the crowd. I've never -- never -- seen a crowd as enthusiastic for a band as I saw that night. (In fact, I'll bet most of my hearing problems weren't caused by the band at all, but by the screaming girls and whooping guys.)

I've read that the Hip had a live energy that was impossible to capture on record; now I know what they meant. This is a group that pulls absolutely no punches, and would've made a fan out of any newbie in the bar that night.

Here's the setlist, which is going to be incomprehensible to you, but I include because I like writing these things down, and also because it might help Rene dig through the stack of Hip CDs I'm burning for him:

01. The Lonely End of the Rink (World Container, track 2)
02. New Orleans Is Sinking (Up to Here, track 3)
03. Yer Not the Ocean (World Container, track 1)
04. Boots or Hearts (Up to Here, track 6)
05. The Drop-Off (World Container, track 9)
06. Ahead by a Century (Trouble in the Henhouse, track 3)
07. In View (World Container, track 3)
08. Gift Shop (Trouble in the Henhouse, track 1)
09. The Last of the Unplucked Gems (Road Apples, track 12)
10. World Container (World Container, track 11)
11. Putting Down (Music@Work, track 4)
12. At the Hundredth Meridian (Fully Completely, track 3)
13. Bobcaygeon (Phantom Power, track 4)
14. The Kids Don't Get It (World Container, track 6)
15. Springtime in Vienna (Trouble in the Henhouse, track 2)
16. Wheat Kings (Fully Completely, track 10)
17. Luv(sic) (World Container, track 5)
18. Blow at High Dough (Up to Here, track 1)

19. Grace, Too (Day for Night, track 1)
20. Substitute (an awesome cover of an old, old song by the Who)
21. Family Band (World Container, track 10)

They didn't play "Fireworks," my favorite song. They didn't play "Courage" or "Nautical Disaster," two classics I was looking forward to hearing. And the only song they played from my favorite album, Road Apples, was the weakest one, "The Last of the Unplucked Gems." But it still might be the best concert I've seen.

And the image I will take it away from it most, the one that stays with me, is that woman next to me, the Toronto native, who was in such profound disbelief that an American had even heard of her favorite band, let alone loved them just as much.

But World Container has now been released in the US, and is apparently selling well. There is hope.

Maybe next time there'll be 5 Americans in the audience.

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