This is a document of a time in their career that I’ll always cherish, recorded a few short months after I saw them on stage for the first time myself, 1996-11-23 at Cobo Arena in Detroit. It’s like they released this record just for me, as a keepsake of my experience! Sure they did!
Seeing the Hip live is an experience utterly different from listening to the records. Many of you have seen them play somewhere at some time, and so you’ll nod in agreement when I say that it’s easy to appreciate even more the brilliant collective that this group of musicians actually is. In a live setting, the music comes alive and becomes even more evocative. The steady, driving beats and slinky bass lines rumble through your body, the guitars slip and play in your ears, and Gordie is off in his own world, singing and babbling and dancing… What you get when you go to a Hip show is a totally tight, professional musical unit, moving as one and rocking like hell. There’s no doubt that they are all completely connected to the music, in that moment there is and can be nothing else but that moment… it’s a beautiful thing to behold.
So here we have the first official Hip live record. It was probably a contractual obligation, but we’re all the better for it.
Right from the start, over the opening strains of a gorgeous version of Grace, Too, when Gordie offers up his genuine thanks to the Rheostatics, he’s also giving the crowd shit for being so ignorant to such a great band. In Dave Bidini’s On A Cold Road, he mentions how the crowd that night had been brutal to them, so this was Gordie setting it right, subtly giving the crowd his disgust in their behaviour.
There’s something of a Canadian Jim Morrison in Gordie when he starts rambling on-stage, that train-of-thought narrative between lyrics. It’s become such a part of their live show that without it, now, it just wouldn’t seem like the full experience. So, we love him for it.
From Grace, Too, they blast into a tightly controlled version of Fully Completely, and then a note-perfect run-through of Springtime In Vienna. Twist My Arm sounds great live, here, bouncing along with energy and glee, packed full of delicious extra guitar runs. The mood shifts again into a soaring version of Gift Shop, and the ‘catharsis’ introduction to Ahead By A Century is one of my favourite Hip moments on recorded disc. The song itself builds into a much faster version, which suits it well.
I’m so glad that The Luxury is here, I just love love love this song. Great rendition here, too. Funny, he’s talking at the start about a man, “down on his luck, shaking a banana at people, trying to convince them it’s making a sound…” and then, a few years later we saw them in concert in Montreal, and there was Gordie with a noisemaker-shaker thing – shaped like a banana! So cool. Anyway, from there they blast into the song everyone wanted to hear, the epic single Courage. It’s an OK version, what you’d expect, with Gordie’s extra lyrics at the end being the highlight, blathering on as though the song itself has already morphed into something else entirely, for him. But right from there into a deliciously chugging rip through New Orleans Is Sinking? So hot.
Once again they shift gears, into a soothing version of Don’t Wake Daddy, and follow that with the sinister yet beautiful Scared, before sending everyone into paroxysms again with Blow At High Dough and Nautical Disaster. They cap the whole thing off with The Wherewithal, which may seem like an odd choice until, after sitting through this whole album from start to finish, you realize that it makes perfect sense to play a couple of crowd favourites and then end with a lesser known (yet still great) track. It’s a promise for next time, a reminder that they can pull any song from their catalogue and rock it completely.
Looking back as I am now, I realize just how amazing this record is. The sound is perfect, the song selection fantastic, the band in fine flying form… Documents like these are essential to our lives.