http://thechronicleherald.ca/artslife/6 ... fax-pumped
Even before the Metro Centre lights went down for opening act Arkells, you could tell Halifax was hungry for the Tragically Hip.
It’s been nearly six years since the Canrock icons’ last appearance here on 2007’s World Container Tour, a gap exacerbated by the cancellation of a 2009 Virginfest slot due to a family emergency. Since this is a town that always greets the Hip with a particularly rabid furor, there was a sense that lost time would definitely be made up for tonight.
A few notes into the opening riff of New Orleans Is Sinking and the crowd was gorging on the sound, standing as one and pumping fists, as front man Gord Downie growled and gesticulated atop one of the most reliable rock grooves known to man.
Looking like a beatnik Buster Keaton in his black vest, white shirt and porkpie hat, Downie displayed some quirky hip-shaking and juggled a handkerchief while performing some mime primping and posing for the folks in the front rows.
Clearly he was in the zone, launching into a mid-song rap in Escape Is at Hand for the Travelling Man, talking about idle conversations in made-up languages, connecting us all to his alien wavelength.
“Oh, I supply the content,” he grinned after a bit more mime work with his mike stand. “How’re you all doing on a Halifax-Dartmouth Saturday night?”
Like he had to ask — although I do wish his band mates, guitarists Paul Langlois and Rob Baker, bassist Gord Sinclair and drummer Johnny Fay, would pipe up every now and then. But there’s no doubt that Downie takes his ringmaster duties seriously, keeping the crowd captivated for late-career material like Man Machine Poem from the latest, Now for Plan A, and World Container’s In View and Kids Don’t Get It.
The songs are still solid, even as the band now marks 30 years since first forming in a Queens University residence in 1983. Now for Plan A’s Streets Ahead is punk rock in its simplicity; four-on-the-floor drive and Downie letting out a scream supposedly inspired by dogsledders.
The fans have their favourites, of course, and they show it vocally during a slow, menacing Gift Shop and the summery epiphany of Ahead By a Century.
“Thanks for staying away from the f$&@ing hockey game,” says Downie, who once expressed similar sentiments in the tune Fireworks.
“Bruins versus the Leafs,” he adds with a sigh. I’m guessing Halifax DVRs were working overtime, I didn’t notice too many people checking the score on their mobiles. Now that’s dedication.
“This next one’s my favourite Hip song; don’t judge me,” pleaded Downie, before an impassioned Springtime in Vienna. On the contrary, it’s a pleasure to know that this band is still capable of reinvigorating its older material. Songs like this and a particularly fierce At the Hundredth Meridian show that whatever sixth sense holds the Tragically Hip together still has that powerful, elastic quality that can unite 8,000 listeners in a communal state of pure rock and roll bliss.
The Hip couldn’t have picked a better group of hype men to heat up the rink than Hamilton’s Arkells. Aside from the fact that singer Max Kerman gives props to their mentors in Kiss Cam, an ode to the folks in the cheap seats, the quintet’s punchy set proved they’d earned their arena chops since their first major tour opening for Dartmouth’s Matt Mays in 2008.
Rarely standing still, Arkells got the people who weren’t choking the mezzanine and two-fisting draft up on their feet to Oh the Boss Is Coming. “Nobody wants to work on a Saturday!” bellowed Kerman, and going by the smiles of his band mates, this was the furthest thing from labour imaginable.