Published Jul 03, 2012The Tragically Hip's annual Canada Day fete -- the biggest booking no-brainer of the year -- featured a solid lineup, a pretty venue, camping and a laundry list of condescending restrictions. As with almost any outdoor event in Ontario, it was more nanny state than festival, and as usual, the bands suffered.
Presumably, even teetotalers go to a concert to share music with hordes of sweaty strangers. Cordoning off imbibers in a pen far from the stage -- yet not giving them washroom access, incidentally -- is never great for creating an inclusive atmosphere. Sure, punters crowded the stage for the headliners -- who appeared after last call -- though opening acts played to only smatterings of people.
So, the Rural Alberta Advantage burned through a scorcher to only a handful of curious early-day attendees, kicking off with a balls-out take on "Don't Haunt This Place" and climaxing with a quickened "Stamp."
Similarly, the New Pornographers -- with Neko Case, no less -- tried to lure the crowd by going big. However, a muddy mix plagued the combo throughout. Still, by layup highlights "Mass Romantic" and "Bleeding Heart Show," the ship was mostly righted (sticky hooks provide a great ballast). And then Death Cab for Cutie -- presumably a NAFTA-dictated inclusion -- stole the show. At least, they would have if the beer line wasn't such a huge draw.
The Washington State act may be known for their introspective tendencies, but they know how to fill a big stage. Thus, they scored by delivering huge guitars and general bravado on jacked-up versions of "Why You'd Want to Live Here" and "Photobooth."
Singer Ben Gibbard needs to give his sound crew a bonus. His voice was crystalline whether cozying up to chilling keys on "I Will Possess Your Heart," going thoughtful on a mid-tempo "Grapevine," or reaching skyward for "The New Year." It was the slot of the day, tumbleweeds be damned.
Conversely, the Tragically Hip playing a July 1st gig to thousands of drunk Canadians in an outdoor venue is music's equivalent of a three-inch putt: it's almost impossible to miss. Even a lacklustre take on "Wheat Kings" -- featuring a superfluous, hardly audible Sarah Harmer cameo -- and some late-set contempo fare couldn't derail the proceedings.
You know the shtick: Kingston's favourite sons ticked off eras, deftly playing familiar takes on hits "Grace, Too," "Ahead by a Century," "Music at Work," "Drip Drip," and so on. Sure, "Poets" enjoyed added distortion, "New Orleans Is Sinking" amped up the blues riffs, and "Courage" benefited from the gigantic sing-along, but it was a largely predictable affair enlivened by patriotism, Gord Downie's stream-of-conscious rants and plenty of shirtless hugging.