Published Jul 02, 2011Outside of Mounties eating poutine in a canoe, you can't get much more Canadian than a Canada Day show from the Tragically Hip. Thus, the band's July 1 Downsview Park extravaganza made plenty of sense.
With $5 bottles of water, mammoth beer lines and carnival-style food stalls, the gig had the typical festival feel. Ostensibly, though, it was about music, which included slots from a range of mostly Canadian supporting acts.
Early, Newfoundland's Hey Rosetta! ran through a set of perky indie rock in the Bombay Bicycle Club mould. Initially cavernous, the sound settled by a punchy rendition of "Yer Spring," which offered the best background tune of the day.
Toronto cabal rockers Broken Social Scene got extra credit in the CanCon department thanks to a Doug and the Slugs nod. Typically affable, Kevin Drew, Brendan Canning and co. played friendly guitar-drenched takes on "Fire Eye'd Boy," "7/4 (Shoreline)" and "Lover's Spit," with a horn section giving sunny assists.
Weezer, in the goodwill American spot, continued their recent descent into bubbly, placatory performances. Coming off of their "Memories Tour" -- a two-show/city Blue Album/Pinkerton combo package -- the band kowtowed to the past, unfortunately checkering it with sugary missteps from their later canon. While Blue was well represented -- especially with pithy renditions of "My Name Is Jonas" and "Say It Ain't So" -- Pinkerton was unfortunately ignored.
Instead, singles from later records filled in the blanks with forgettable four-chord bouncing. Still, a fitting "Island in the Sun," a decent cover of "Paranoid Android" and a big "Buddy Holly" mostly salvaged the appearance.
With foreplay concluded, the headliners arrived. Fronted by a wildly popular poet and fleshed out by crack musicians with blues-worthy chops, the Tragically Hip seem an incongruent choice for the "Canada's Band" tag, yet that's partly why it works so well.
Emblematic of the country -- thank countless esoteric allusions -- without pandering, they're popular enough to fill a field at home but only bars abroad. All of that rhetoric aside: they're also evidently damned good live.
Kicking off with "Grace, Too" and "Blow at High Dough," the Hip mined their back catalogue early with Gord Downie yelping and writhing frenetically, at turns castigating and caressing his mic stand. Throughout, older burners drew screams, while new cuts fared well, particularly the freshly minted "Drip Drip."
Lighters came out for ballads like "Ahead by a Century" and "Fiddler's Green," but the outfit were at their best in high gear and "Courage" and "Fully Completely" played huge. As the set progressed, Downie's voice matured from preacher-worthy yelps to a polished sheen and the singer's charisma was palpable. Appropriately Canadian -- albeit without the Canadiana -- it was a diverse, sophisticated, and ultimately thrilling show. Incidentally, the band didn't play "Fireworks," naturally.