Tragically Hip box set artfully melds sound and vision



By Steve Newton

My wife Dawn and I are big Tragically Hip fans. Heck, back in ’97 we went to see them at Thunderbird Stadium when she was eight-months pregnant, giving our first-born an in-utero sampling of Canada’s top guitar rockers. No wonder the opening riffs of “Little Bones” now strike a primal chord with little Tessie, causing her to leap recklessly about the living room, endangering both herself and our glass-covered coffee table.

Between the two of us, Dawn and I already own eight of the Hip’s 10 studio albums, so do we really need this new four-disc boxed set? Darn tootin’. As well as concentrating 37 of the prolific quintet’s best-loved tunes on two CDs–bookended by a couple of new tracks, the impressive hard rocker “No Threat” and so-so ballad “The New Maybe”–Hipeponymous includes two DVDs. One is a live concert recorded at Toronto’s Air Canada Centre last year, and the other features all 23 of the band’s music videos, a 50-minute documentary directed by Christopher Mills, and 11 visual vignettes.

“This is pretty cool lookin’,” remarked graphic designer Dawn as she scanned the accompanying 48-page booklet. “It looks like parts of an artist’s notebook or journal.” The concert film by Pierre and Francois Lamoureaux turned out to be brilliantly shot, incorporating split-screen footage to capture Gordon Downie’s out-there on-stage persona and stream-of-consciousness rants.

Mills’s Macroscopic takes an edgy, behind-the-scenes look at the various Hip members’ touring experiences, their fans, and their personal ruminations on what they do. The vignettes portion, titled “The Right Whale”, sees the Hip at its artsy-fartsiest, with Mills’s experimental short films set to an original score that is mainly Robbie Baker’s electric-guitar soundscapes, with Downie’s cosmic poetry-narration popping up here and there.

It’s as if the group were desperately trying to distance itself from the straightforward barroom boogie of its infancy.

That’s a noble aim, I guess, but I’ll take “Blow at High Dough” any day.

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