Photo by The Tragically Hip.
The Tragically Hip really have nothing left to prove. They’ve peaked commercially; arguably, they’ve peaked artistically (it’s hard to see Day for Night ever being surpassed). But they’re not standing still: their latest album, We Are The Same, is a gem, and they’ve recently embarked on a five-month-long North American trek that’s already got fans salivating.
We Are The Same isn’t an instant classic; it’s not even as immediately accessible as their previous album, World Container, the band’s first collaboration with notorious überproducer Bob Rock. But it isn’t evidence of a band resting on its laurels, either. We Are The Same doesn’t reinvent the Tragically Hip sound so much as refine it, while Rock’s trademark flourishes actually enhance rather than detract. It’s also a quieter album—we’d imagine it’ll sound great next to a lake—which lends itself to smaller, more intimate venues. The current tour, which begins a six-night stand at Massey Hall tonight, focuses primarily on theatres. If you’ve never seen the Hip in a small venue, now’s your chance.
For the tour, the Hip brought back the “evening with” format they employed back in 2000. There’s no opening act; instead, it’s two full sets of the Tragically Hip (which includes a three-song acoustic interlude kicking off the second half). For diehard Hip fans, of which there are many, it’s a somewhat rare opportunity to see the band up close (or at least in a smaller venue) and to hear songs that normally wouldn’t make an arena setlist. So far, aside from healthy nightly doses of We Are The Same, the Hip are delving deep into their back catalogue. How deep? At a warm-up gig last month, the Hip dusted off a song from Music at Work called “The Bear.” It was the song’s live debut, almost a full decade after its commercial release. Meanwhile, the band’s large collection of radio hits is being cycled in and out; it’s the sort of setlist rotation fans have been longing for but which the band’s usual arena concerts or festival appearances are seldom able to address.
It’s a great time to be a Tragically Hip fan. Last month the band launched We Are The Same with a live, interactive broadcast from their recording studio in Bath, Ontario (half an hour from the band’s hometown of Kingston) that was aired at Cineplex Odeon theatres across the country. It was an innovative, exciting way of launching a new album; combined with the band’s most comprehensive tour in years, it should be obvious that the Tragically Hip—who haven’t had much to prove in more than a decade—are still a long way from complacency.