We got drinks, the place was pretty full, we looked around at all the other people in LA who would come out to a Hip show. At one point someone barely grazed my elbow from behind and immediately said, “Sorry” (Soh-ree, not saw-ree). A few minutes later, I stepped back to put my empty glass on the bar and someone leaning against the bar took it out of my hands and put it there for me. In that moment I knew: I was amongst more Canadians in one place than I had probably ever been outside of Canada.
The Troubadour is known for promptness and sure enough, they did not dilly-dally when it came to getting the show on stage. I and my day job appreciated that a lot. No one opened: no one needed to.
Now, I haven’t been following these guys lately. The last album I bought was Music At Work, which I didn’t really listen to much. I hadn’t listened to Phantom Power for ages; I didn’t even have it on my computer. Trouble At the Henhouse (apart from being one of my favorite album titles (Dongs of Sevotion being a close contender)) I’d listen to occasionally. In high school we all listened to Day For Night exhaustively, and Fully Completely got the most radio play. Once, on a road trip from Vancouver to Prince George in which everyone forgot to bring music, I purchased the cassette tape of Up To Here in 100 Mile House, which we then listened to from there to PG and all the way back to Vancouver on a loop until we couldn’t take it anymore.
All this to say that I haven’t heard their new stuff. And it’s a tour; they have to play a lot of the new stuff to keep the people happy/buying albums, I get that. The new stuff was a little too happy and mellow and dreamy for me. But they are dads now and stuff, so they, like Joni Mitchell, have looked at clouds from both sides now.
Mr. Gord Downie is still the most creative person on stage that I’ve ever seen. Bob Dylan takes the prize for most outrageous reinvention of his own songs on stage, but he can’t hold a candle to Gord’s physical imaginationings. It’s like when he’s making music something else takes over and it’s kind of dance and kind of performance art and it’s a little silly at times, but it always actually makes sense. His head is shaved bald and he had a white towel for wiping it. He’d go through a towel ever couple of minutes – the used ones would get tossed into the crowd (hm) and then a roadie offstage would toss him a fresh one. Are there eight million ways to catch a towel that’s being tossed to you? I now think that there are. Are there four hundred million ways to wipe your sweaty head? Indefinitely. Including singing whole songs with the towel covering your face.
Yes, they played: Grace, Too (with the “Well I’m tragically hip” lyric swapped in), Locked In The Trunk of a Car, Gift Shop, Ahead By A Century, Springtime In Vienna, Poets, Thompson Girl (so pretty). They played Bobcaygeon, which I never liked as much before, partly cause on the album there’s a bit of a easy-listening feel to it, flutes or something. They played it as straight up rock, a little harsh, and it was more beautiful than I’d ever noticed before. It was the musical equivalent of the plain girl in the movie who takes off her glasses and reveals herself as gorgeous. “Coulda been the Willie Nelson, coulda been the wine.”
And they played Nautical Disaster, which even if everything else was crap, would have made the night worthwhile. There is something about the years I was 17, 18, 19 contained in that song, some kind of worldview that it has. The fingernails on the hull. The kind of logic that will get you hated.
Yes, the Canadianness is a big part of it for me, especially now. And there’s a nostalgia element involved. But the Hip have this acuteness in their lyrics that you hardly ever find in music, especially popular music. I wonder how much of the magic of the line: “Maybe a prostitute/Could teach you/How to take a compliment” lands for their more meathead fanbase. Or “Sleepwalk/So fast asleep/In the motel/That has the lay of home”. Setting the scene with “Sled dogs after dinner/Close their eyes on the howling waste/Kurt Cobain reincarnated/Sighs and licks his face”. It’s possible Gord is right about “A generation so much dumber than its parents/Came crashing through the window”.
Have fallen in love with Fireworks:
If there’s a goal that everyone remembers
It was back in ol’ 72
We all squeezed the stick and we all pulled the trigger
And all I remember is sitting beside you.
You said you didn’t give a fuck about hockey
Well I never saw someone say that before
You held my hand and we walked home the long way
You were loosening my grip on Bobby Orr.
Never read his book of poems, and it’s possible it may not be as good when it’s not sung out with guitars and drums and the ziiiing feeling of a solid pop hook, but when you add that stuff it’s pretty intoxicating.
And then they signed off and we filed out into the night, sweaty and with a tinnitus ring: souvenirs of a good night.