TORONTO -- The Tragically Hip has everything you'd want in a rock band: smart, distinctive songs; a sound to call its own; a live show that jolts the audience from its seats; and, in Gordon Downie, a front man who's been compared to Mick Jagger and Michael Stipe. The Hip's only problem: The band is Canadian.
Which isn't much of a problem in Canada, where the quintet is widely acknowledged as the country's best rock band. The Canadian Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences honored two of their 12 discs with Juno Awards for best rock album of the year; another, 1996's "Trouble at the Henhouse," was voted album of the year, regardless of category. Eight Hip albums reached the No. 1 slot on the Canadian charts the week they launched. The band has a star on the Canadian Walk of Fame and was inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame.
But "we can't draw flies in the States," the 45-year-old Mr. Downie said when we spoke earlier this month in a dressing room at Massey Hall, before and after one of the Tragically Hip's six shows here tied to their fine new album, "We Are the Same" (Rounder). Not that the band needs the approval of American fans. But it would like, and deserves, a bigger audience.
It's a mystery to me why the Hip haven't succeeded in the U.S. Many Canadian musicians have: the Arcade Fire, Leonard Cohen, Joni Mitchell, Rush and Neil Young, to name a few. The Band, which created the prototype for what's known today as Americana music, was 80% Canadian; only drummer Levon Helm was born in the U.S. Further, were live rock a competition, the Hip would bulldoze just about any contemporary group that trod a terrain that accommodates the Smiths and Bruce Springsteen. I'd compare them to the Hold Steady -- but the Hold Steady don't quite measure up. Stand in the audience among the Hip's fans and you sense that they're right: This is a band to believe in, which is about the highest praise a rock group can inspire.
Click here for the rest of the article.
On a semi-related note, after a lengthy, Stanley Cup-style layoff, the Hip Project will return shortly with the playoffs.