The Tragically Hip @ The Bell Centre – 20th February 2015

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I have always found tremendous comfort in the music of The Tragically Hip. Between my father’s work playlists, my sisters’ stereos, and the CanCon quotas of MuchMusic and CHOM, I more or less grew up to a soundtrack of Gord Downie’s stories of desperate loners, hockey players, and Central Park polar bears. Even if I didn’t always understand the songs, I always knew what I was getting with The Hip – and at the Bell Centre, celebrating the 25th anniversary of Fully Completely, Downie and company delivered once again.

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I sat down at the announced show-time, and was surprised to find out that The Hip aren’t touring with an opening act this time around. Instead, I was happy to find Broken Social Scene’s Brendan Canning, DJ’ing from a big box of vinyl and spinning tracks from The Meters, Rush, and Stevie Ray Vaughan in front of cameras linked to the arena screens. A low-key introduction, to be sure – but it was nice to have a human element instead of the standard classic rock playlist on the arena P.A.

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The Tragically Hip took to the stage at 9, with Downie softshoeing out onto the scene in a trilby and tight leather pants as the band eased into the heavy twang of Grace, Too. Even with the closer coverage of the arena cameras, Downie played to the cheap seats, mugging to the crowd and pantomiming both sides of the cryptic encounter in the song’s lyrics. With the added black and white filter of the video lens, Downie looks like a vaudevillian evangelist, gesticulating wildly through 2012’s “At Transformation” and old favourites “Ahead By a Century” and “New Orleans is Sinking”. In clumsier hands, this might be obnoxious – but as confident guitarists Langlois and Baker lead the rest of the band through a disciplined setlist, Gord comes off more like everybody else’s adorable hammy uncle.

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With already few surprises, Gord switched to a white cowboy hat as projection screens descended to announce the major portion of the setlist: a flawless track-by-track rendition of 1992’s Fully Completely. While I still shrug at the growing frequency of in-concert playthroughs of classic albums and how their safe predictability takes away from the “what’ll they play next?” spontaneity of live shows – it helps that Fully is an extremely solid and consistent outing. Packed with hits like “Courage (For Hugh MacLennan)” and “At The Hundredth Meridian”, the album is, pound for pound, expertly paced and an achievement worth celebrating. Even if they knew what was coming up, when to sit down (the moody “Pigeon Camera” ), and when to boo playfully (Toronto Maple Leafs conspiracy theory “Fifty Mission Cap”), the crowd eagerly wrapped itself up in the warm familiarity of songs like “Wheat Kings” and the band itself.

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After album closer “Eldorado”, The Hip kicked into a meaty encore of other cuts from their back catalogue. Although each of those songs appears on their extensive best-of compilation Yer Favourites, and singles like “My Music At Work” and “Poets” were more or less guaranteed, the strange comfort of spooky ghost story “Scared” sums it up best: that’s kind of what they do.

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1 – Grace, Too
2 – At Transformation
3 – So Hard Done By
4 – Ahead By A Century
5 – New Orleans Is Sinking
6 – Courage (For Hugh MacLennan)
7 – Looking For A Place To Happen
8 – At The Hundredth Meridian
9 – Pigeon Camera
10 – Lionized
11 – Locked in the Trunk of a Car
12 – We’ll Go, Too
13 – Fully Completely
14 – Fifty Mission Cap
15 – Wheat Kings
16 – The Wherewithal
17 – Eldorado

Encore

18 – My Music At Work
19 – Twist My Arm
20 – Scared
21 – Poets
22 – Little Bones

Review – Dan Corber
Photos – Jason Hughes

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