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August 22nd, 2001 WW MUSIC STAFF | Music Stories
 

MUSIC AND NIGHTLIFE

     
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OPINION
Why I Hate the Tragically Hip
One Canadian objects to Canada's favorite band.

Tragically Hip"If there's a goal that everyone remembers, it was back in ol' '72/ We all squeezed a stick and we all pulled the trigger/ And all I remember is sitting beside you."--The Tragically Hip,"Fireworks"

Is Tragically Hip frontman Gordon Downie singing with tongue in cheek? Or is the song really just a cheesy, hockey-scented mash note?

Ask such questions in the wrong Canadian bar and you'll be nursing a broken nose. If Canada truly has a royal family, the five members of Kingston, Ontario's Tragically Hip are King Gretzky's little brothers. Not only do the Hip fill hockey arenas in Canada, but road-tripping to see them at small American venues has become a rite of passage among Eastern Canadian kids. If you're wondering how a band with no big hits outside of Canada can pack two straight nights at Portland's 600-seat Aladdin Theater, now you know.

The Hip's kitchen-sink charm, which recalls the Raymond Carver-inspired fiction John Barth once branded "K-Mart realism, hick chic...blue-collar neo-early Hemingwayism," plays a big part in the band's appeal. Couplets like "Drove back to town this morning with working on my mind/ I thought of maybe quitting, thought of leaving it behind" loom large in Canadian tavern singalongs. Moreover, the Hip exemplifies many Canadians' self-image. Subtle. Understated. Small-town. Intelligent. And, for all these reasons, superior to their loud-mouth cousins south of the border. To diss the Hip is to be un-Canadian--or, worse yet, a U.S. sympathizer.

I may have voted for the French separatist party in Canada's last election (long story--I had my reasons), but don't call me un-Canadian. It's not that I care about yet another mediocre band's unwarranted fame. It's that the Hip's fanbase mirrors the Canadian media's mass-marketed portrayal of The Canadian: a white, middle-class, flannel-clad, hockey-crazed man from Ontario. To a Vancouverite neither white, flannel-clad nor hockey-crazed, this monoculture obscures Canada's greatest asset: diversity.

Of course, you could argue that none of this is the band's fault. "If some of our fans can only identify with us on a nationalistic level," said bassist Gord Sinclair in '96, "I think that reflects more on them than it does on us."

However, whether the band satirizes its appeal in the "Baby, I love you more than hockey" ballad "Fireworks" is a moot point. Its homogeneous mass of mullet-under-toque fans couldn't care less. Hate the fans, not the band? No. It may not be fair, but I loathe the Tragically Hip.

Godfre Leung

The Tragically Hip play Thursday (sold out) and Friday, Aug. 22 and 23, at the Aladdin Theater, 3017 SE Milwaukie Ave., 233-1994. 8 pm. U.S. $27.50 advance, U.S. $30 door. All ages.

PREVIEW/INTERVIEW
Severe Exposure
The stark, naked emotional incisions of M. Gira.

Michael Gira speaks softly. He wields his emotions, however, like a large, gnarled cudgel.

Over the past 20 years, Gira has evolved from the masochistic minimalism of Swans--his legendarily loud, epic and densely oppressive former band--to the more melodic (yet still cataclysmic) folk exorcisms of Angels of Light. His even newer solo work reveals Gira at his most skeletal and vulnerable.

But change as the music might, one element remains constant: Gira's ability to dredge raw, sometimes caustic passion from the pit of his stomach. His sonorous voice can be simultaneously brooding, brutal, beauteous, melancholy and laconic, while his acoustic guitar cuts jagged lines with a mere two chords.

To be sure, these solo performances are looser, lighter and more intimate than the orchestrated crescendos and crashes of his band work. But as Gira explains it, the acoustic shows, stripped of volume's thick armor, only leave electric nerves more open to exposure.

"Performing solo can be terrifying, but I like it--it's a 'good' drug. In a way that's a sensation I've always craved--just to be in an impossible situation, and have to fight my way out of it," he says. "I guess it's like a public execution, which everyone naturally likes. People enjoy watching a hapless victim writhe and choke!"

Obviously, Gira's strengths (barefaced honesty, simmering volcano intensity) and weaknesses (simplistic song structures, occasionally wavering voice) are on unvarnished display in this environment. Even for a man whose music has always treaded emotionally unstable fault lines, the discomfort level can run high.

"[The worst thing about playing solo is] the fact that I feel like I'm playing my guitar wearing boxing gloves and my voice sounds like I'm being strangled," says Gira. "I've always wanted to be as smooth and effortless as Willie Nelson, but I accept my fate. I've often thought I should perform in a clown suit, or naked. Out of charity, I'll forgo the latter, not wanting to be a source of revulsion and nausea. As for the former, no costume necessary." John Graham

M. Gira plays Friday at the The Blackbird, 3728 NE Sandy Blvd., 282-9949. 9:30 pm. $10. 21+. Laurel Canyon also performs.

NEWS + PROPAGANDA
HISS & VINEGAR

ESTABLISHED: DAVE CARTER MEMORIAL FUND
Last Friday at Cathedral Park, under the shadow of the St. Johns Bridge, friends, family and fans gathered to remember Dave Carter. The brilliant and acclaimed Portland folk songwriter died in Hadley, Mass., a month ago, succumbing to a heart attack while on tour with partner Tracy Grammer. While that public memorial has come and gone, those interested in paying tribute have a more permanent opportunity: The Dave Carter Memorial Fund, benefiting such causes as animal welfare, the environment and the arts, is open for charitable business. For more info, call the Oregon Community Foundation, the umbrella philanthropic group managing the Carter fund, at 227-6846.

IDIOTIC: THE MUSIC DESK
Boy, do the jackanapes who write this column got some 'splainin' to do! Last week's news round-up contained some totally confusing errors regarding the September benefit for Dixon Manor, a "rock and roll hostel" looking to open to touring bands in October. To set the record straight: The only Manor bennie scheduled so far will be at Berbati's on Sept. 28, with a raffle, bingo, special guest DJs and three bands TBD. You will know more when we do. The Decemberists, the Places and Operacycle, whom we reported as scheduled for the DM benefit, are playing at Blackbird on Saturday, Sept. 7.

BLOWING UP RETAIL: PDX
In case you hadn't noticed, Tuesday, Aug. 20, was a banner day for CD releases by Portland bands. Of course, there was the much-anticipated One Beat by Sleater-Kinney, totally not the greatest Portland band ever according to numerous WW readers with Hotmail accounts. Also on shelves of a record-selling enterprise near you: The Standard's August (see feature, page 28), Kind of Like Spitting's Bridges Worth Burning and Wolf Colonel's Something/Everything!.

ENDED AT LAST: OUR LONG NATIONAL NIGHTMARE
Hiss & Vinegar danced a joyous victory jig this week on receipt of the news that Phish is ending its long hiatus. The Vermont jam-kings will play a three-set show at Madison Square Garden on New Year's Eve, followed by a series of shows in Virginia. And they're promising more tour dates in '03. HELL YES!

COMING SOON: MUSICFEST 2002
Why, it wouldn't be late summer if we weren't trying to sucker you into some sort of music-festival arrangement. Musicfest Northwest 2002, featuring nigh unto 180 bands, takes place at Portland clubs Sept. 12-14. As if you haven't heard this a million times, here's the pitch: Musicfest is cheap ($20 for a wristband guaranteeing access to all the shows, all three nights), and we give the money to tone-deaf little kids, sick musicians and the participating bands. Oh, we may save just a smidge for meth and shotguns, but what's a few grand among friends? In addition to scores of bands who survived our arduous application process, we gots showcases scheduled featuring such eminent labels as Barsuk, Hush, Jealous Butcher, OMCO, IMIX, BSI (what's up with electronic music and acronyms in this town?), Kill Rock Stars, Burnside and In Music We Trust. Buy! Buy! Buy! Wristbands are available at both Music Millennium locations, at BridgePort's historic Northwest PDX brewpub and from Fastixx. Or, just stop by WW's palatial headquarters, in the heart of downtown Portland's scenic Dissociative Disorders District, 822 SW 10th Ave.

What did we screw up this week? Email hiss@wweek.com.

 
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