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Arena launch a Hip affair: Band christens K-Rock with mix of old and new

February 27, 2008

Lynn Saxberg, The Ottawa Citizen For a Tragically Hip fan, Saturday night in Kingston was nirvana. The beloved Canadian rock band played its first hometown arena show since the last millennium, opening the city’s mini-stadium with an epic greatest-hits concert that went on for nearly two and a half hours and featured a celebrity appearance by their old friend, Dan Aykroyd. The actor, vintner and tequila mogul was on hand to welcome the folks on this historic occasion, and introduce his favourite Canadian rock band. Happily for music fans, the Elwood Blues side of him couldn’t resist the opportunity to sit in with the band for an encore. More about that later. First, some background. On paper, Kingston’s sparkling new sports complex, newly dubbed the K-Rock Centre, was built as a home for the Frontenacs hockey team, but it was no secret the city also had a dire need for a decent venue for touring bands. At the crumbling old Memorial Centre, the reverb was said to be so fierce that a rock concert might have brought the place down. Shoehorned onto a prime piece of downtown real estate, the new arena is like a miniaturized version of Scotiabank Place or Toronto’s Air Canada Centre, the upper levels lopped off. It’s cosy, but because the ice surface is a standard size, the back end of the rink, opposite the stage, could be a far off, lonely place. Not on Saturday, of course, when every one of the 6,877 seats was filled with a screaming fan, or the offspring of a screaming fan. Lonely End of the Rink, a musical snapshot of a common sight in arenas across the country, made the perfect opening song. The same parents who take their kids to hockey practice were now dragging them along to a Hip concert. Lonely is a relatively new song from the most recent disc, World Container, and if it didn’t grab some of the greyer heads in the crowd, the next stretch of tunes was irresistible. Hitting stride early, the band dove headlong into their anthemic breakthrough hit, New Orleans is Sinking, floored it through another early ’90s rocker, Fully Completely, before completing the vintage-Hip trilogy with the magnificent, sprawling Grace, Too. Eccentric singer Gord Downie appeared thoroughly absorbed with his job of delivering the songs to the people, but at times the music inspired him in ever more bizarre ways. He used the microphone stand as a metal detector (to detect gold in them thar hits?), climbed the monitors along the edge of the stage, writhed around on the stage floor singing, waved a white hanky and eventually broke the defenseless mike stand. Although some of his antics seemed pretty far out, that’s typical on-stage behaviour for Downie. Just when you’re starting to wonder if he’s missing a few marbles, the performing trance snaps with a totally lucid comment. Here’s one for Bob Lovelace,” Downie declared early in the concert, showing serious support for the Algonquin chief in jail for protesting a uranium mining company’s claim on land near Clarendon Station (worrisomely close to the site of the Blue Skies Music Festival). The song was It’s a Good Life (if You Don’t Weaken). Through the upbeat Ahead by a Century, the perky In View, the unexpected Pigeon Camera and a glorious singalong on Courage, the pace built again, the barrage of rock created by five guys who have known each other for years. The rhythm section of drummer Johnny Fay and bassist Gord Sinclair played hard, while electric guitarists Rob Baker and Paul Langlois dug into their instruments. Exactly at the point in the show when the opening-night challenges of missing tickets and long lineups and no parking had been forgotten, Downie brought us back to earth. “What a dump,” he said, to a roar of laughter. “I’m kidding — welcome to your new home.” The last hour or so was an emotional roller-coaster, the pendulum swinging from a teary Fiddler’s Green to the sizzling Fireworks, from the contemplative Bobcaygeon to the delirious 100th Meridian. Also included in the home stretch were important early songs such as 38 Years Old, Blow at High Dough, Wheat Kings and the show-closer Little Bones. Kingston’s most famous son, Aykroyd, joined the boys during the encore, honking out some of his greasiest licks on harp, adding an even scarier dimension to Locked in the Trunk of a Car. The sound was loud and fairly clear, not overpowering for the size of the room, and there were two big screens flanking the stage, an expense that hardly seemed necessary given that every seat is fairly close to the stage. Every seat is also fairly close to every other seat, by the way, so leg room might be an issue at a sit-down performance. The best thing about the new venue had nothing to do with sightlines or acoustics. It was the location, a short walk from hotels, restaurants, pubs and the waterfront. Instead of spending an hour jockeying to get out of the parking lot at Scotiabank Place after the concert, in Kingston you can migrate a block or so west and nip into a pub. Because of the size limitations, the U2s and Rolling Stones of the rock world probably aren’t going to be playing in Kingston. But acts from Anne Murray to George Thorogood are already booked, and more are expected for the summer. Bring them on — it’s never too early to start planning a road trip. http://www.canada.com/ottawacitizen/news/arts/story.html?id=c202b378-f6fa-4a4f-8560-a79f3042d93b “

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