It’s a very rare weekend in England when a top Canadian band comes to your town
, of course, but that’s what happened on Friday night – The Tragically Hip played a barnstorming little gig at the Shepherds Bush Empire, to several thousand over-emotional, flag waving Canucks (I don’t know if I was the only English person in the audience, but given that a Tragically Hip album hasn’t been released in the UK for years, it wouldn’t surprise me).
I suppose I should come clean and say that I don’t really get The Tragically Hip (or “The Hip” as their fans seem to want to call them, for some ridiculous reason which surely can’t just be laziness). I am aware that they are the biggest band in Canada. I am also aware that their lead singer is one of Canada’s most successful published poets. I’ve been told often enough that they combine art-rock tendencies with anthemic songs, use improvisation in their live shows, and are adored by their countryfolk as being something more than Just Another Rock Band. Of this I am sure. Call me a misery-guts, then, but I just can’t hear
what everyone else seems to be hearing. All I can pick up are some quite good eighties REM impressions. This is fine in itself and a perfectly acceptable way of passing an hour and a half, but hardly the stuff legend is made of.
The lead singer Gordon Downie is even a canny ringer for Michael Stipe onstage in a jerky fling-your-body-around and make quirky gestures kind of way. He’s a reasonably engaging performer, and it’s hard not to warm to him a bit, but there are no songs in the set which stand out amidst the pile. For all their extensions, diversions, audience participation excerpts and movements slightly off the beaten verse/chorus/middle eight track, there’s ultimately nothing very surprising going on – it all seems strangely rehearsed and safe for something that’s supposed to be angular. An art-rock freak-out this isn’t. The most unexpected thing that occurs is the microphone being dropped onstage, and even that happens twice.
When confronted with things which are merely quite good, I always find it peculiar when people respond to them with disproportionate levels of emotion, and so it went on Friday night. Flags were waved, tears were shed, feet were stomped, and it was rather like attending a political rally for a cause so local and personal it existed beyond my levels of awareness – like being the only Londoner at a “Don’t Close The Ice Hockey Venue!” protest in Vancouver. One can only scratch one’s head. And given that I’ve been married to a Tragically Hip fan for the last year and a half, I think I may as well give up trying to “get it” – if it hasn’t happened by now, it probably never will. Amanda now owes me a trip to see Misty’s Big Adventure play live, a band who she seemingly struggles to fully comprehend.
On another subject altogether, it will surprise nobody to learn that I didn’t get the job I was interviewed for before I went away on holiday. Fortunately I’ve had a week of doing relatively nothing (except walking) which means I’m a bit more refreshed and able to deal with the tedium of phoning agencies, filling in over-long application forms, sending CVs, etc, all over again, though I really would appreciate it if somebody would bite soon. It really shouldn’t
be this difficult. I really wish I was one of those people who could charm their way into every conceivable role, even ones they’re utterly under-qualified for, because at present I can’t even seem to talk myself into roles that are more or less on or slightly beneath my level. I’m also continually shocked by the fierceness of the competition these days – didn’t all my equally educated and experienced rivals go off into management long ago? It would seem not… Get out of my way and go and work in advertising sales with your vim, verve and voxishness, I’m just trying to pay the rent here… Your giant personalities are blocking out the sunlight on my otherwise humble horizons. As Tony Hancock probably once howled.