ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE GEORGIA STRAIGHT, JULY 20, 1995
The Another Roadside Attraction show at Seabird Island two years ago was one of Gordon Downie’s all-time favourite gigs. The Tragically Hip vocalist told the Georgia Straight recently that it was the natural beauty of the Agassiz location—surrounded by nearby mountains and dense woods—that made the concert so special, and he admitted that the change in Roadside venues to UBC’s football stadium would undoubtedly take away from the potential for magical moments.
But whatever the 1995 version lacked in scenery last Thursday (July 13), it made up for with an impressive lineup of bands, fine sound, and a near-capacity crowd of 29,000 (9,000 more than the previous week’s Lollapalooza count). Not even the absence of 1993 coheadliners Midnight Oil could put a damper on things.
The show kicked off right on time at 1 p.m. with the Inbreds, a Kingston, Ontario, duo comprised of singer-bassist Mike O’Neill and drummer Dave Ullrich. The guitarless band looked tiny up there on the massive six-storey stage, but its stripped-down approach actually resulted in some bouncy, surprisingly rounded pop tunes in the old Grapes of Wrath tradition. The Inbreds’ half-hour set was followed by another 30 minutes with Moncton’s Eric’s Trip, the first Canadian signing to Seattle’s influential Sub-Pop label. The quartet’s strident, psychedelic noise-pop made it the weakest link in the eight-act roster, though; its grating approach would have been more suited to the previous week’s grunge-fest.
Ontario’s Rheostatics helped ease my ravaged eardrums somewhat with a nurturing, percussive vibe and polished vocals courtesy of Dave Bidini and Tim Vesely. The group’s fluid material showed a keen grasp of dynamics, subtly building intensity before homing in on underlying melody. The crowd showed particular appreciation for the gently rocking ballad “Claire”, from the acclaimed Canadian film Whale Music.
The afternoon’s first droplets of rain splattered my notepad as the Rheostatics finished, and though the drizzle offered a welcome respite from the muggy heat, it was all the incentive this scribbler needed to head backstage in search of liquid sustenance. From the media beer tent, a sound of jangly guitars and gorgeous harmonies could soon be heard, but it wasn’t an early start by Matthew Sweet, just the house DJ teasing all with a tape of the Odds’ similar-sounding “Horses”.
When Sweet did appear 10 minutes later, the first of the crowd’s overactive types got to moshing—bodysurfing to the provocative strains of his current hit, “Sick of Myself”—but it wasn’t till the next-up Blues Traveler plugged in that things really started to burn. The most technically adept group on the bill, Blues Traveler is also one of the most adventurous rock bands around, and whether churning out a ferocious improvisational blues romp or revitalizing a crusty crowd-pleaser like “Low Rider”, it couldn’t lose. Tragically Hip manager Jake Gold certainly pulled off a coup when he got this seasoned outfit on the tour.
By the time Vancouver’s own Spirit of the West went on at about 5:15, the stadium’s bleachers were jam-packed and latecomers searched the grounds for the odd patch of open grass. The only western Canadian entry on the Roadside tour had its loyal local following bouncing madly to the catchy politico-pop strains of “Shake the Tree” and the new “Two Headed”. It was totally fitting that during the environment-conscious “Save This House”, the sun peeked through the persistent cloud cover for the first time all day—and what better way to set the mood for Jamaica’s Ziggy Marley and the Melody Makers? That band’s slinky, buoyant mix of reggae, R&B, and hip-hop relayed an uplifting message of peace and love and got the masses joyously geared up for the arrival of Roadside’s main attraction.
“It’s good to be on traditional Musqueam territory again,” announced Downie as the Hip rambled onstage, its arrival resulting in a swift surge toward the stage and the instant perching of multitudes of young women on male shoulders. The band launched right into its popular concert rave-up, “Blow at High Dough”, and continued bashing out its rough-hewn hits—plus new tunes such as “Springtime in Vienna” and “Gift Shop”—for the next 90 minutes.
As usual, concertmaster Downie held the Tragically Hip’s reins in a loose grip, mostly allowing the riff-driven beast to run wild, but reeling it in when the time came to lecture some goof on the hazards of tossing shoes at the stage. At one point, the charismatic crooner gestured at an airplane that was circling intrusively above, trailing a banner advertising a fast-food franchise. “Hey, look everybody,” he proclaimed, “Bruce Allen!”