NEW YORK Mounties, beer, hockey and the Tragically Hip?
Though the Tragically Hip have been a staple of Canadian rock for nearly 20 years, their name seldom comes to mind when Americans think of all things Canada. If the recent Canadian invasion, spearheaded by Sum41, Nickelback and Avril Lavigne, is any indication, however, the time may be ripe for the Tragically Hip to launch another assault on the U.S. music scene.
The first line of this recent attack began Thursday at Irving Plaza. The Hip played to a sold-out audience for the third show of their tour that began June 22 in Quebec.
The Canadian pride was thick as fans showed up in Leafs and Canadiennes jerseys and Molson T-shirts, anxious to see the quintessential Canadian rock band live. As the Hip hung out in their tour bus parked in front of the venue, opening act Mark Copely set the stage for his short set, and the audience prepared itself for the main attraction. Moments after he left the stage to minor applause, the anxious crowd broke into a fist-thrusting chant of "Hip, Hip, Hip," and could be heard throughout the show, in typical Canadian fashion, breaking into spontaneous "go Leafs go" cheers.
When the Hip took the stage, they were met with an overwhelmingly genuine welcome from an audience full of eager fans with an intense admiration for a band that represents the Canadian identity. Kicking the show off with "Are You Ready," from their new release, In Violet Light, the Hip played a 17-song set full of old classics and new gems, intertwining material from In Violet Light flawlessly with tracks from their most famous crossover albums, Fully Completely (1993) and Day for Night (1995).
The Hip spent the evening exhibiting the unique blues-infused rock sound that has allowed them to join the ranks of Canadian greats the Hawks (who later became the Band), the Guess Who and Neil Young. The Hip flaunt this talent with a stage presence that befits the classic Canadian rock band; a no-frills-just-rock performance that proved their intense staying power.
Beers in hand, the crowd danced and sang throughout the set with an unself-conscious demeanor foreign to the New York City concert circuit. The Hip echoed this lack of pretension, taking the stage in T-shirts-and-jeans combinations that clearly indicated the band's inner circle has no room for stylists. Even the stage lighting befitted the group's attitude, as the spotlight swept the crowd more often than it did the stage. And though the room was packed to capacity, there was little sense of annoyance at the lack of breathing room.
For Canadians in the audience, a show like this one was an anomaly among previous Hip shows. Known for selling out major Canadian venues, this tour is a conscious effort to go back to a grassroots feel, playing to smaller audiences. It is also an attempt to break down the barricades of the U.S. market.
After a set full of fan favorites including "Grace, Too," "Courage" and "Inevitability of Death," the Hip left the stage with a humble "thank you," returning to launch into a three-song encore that began with "New Orleans Is Sinking," off their 1989 release, Up to Here. Walking off the stage for the end of the show, the Hip left fans with gaping smiles, and the gates open for an easy entry into the American music scene. That is, assuming we're ready for them.