The Tragically Hip was in a rocking mood Thursday night at Upstate Concert Hall.
That’s nothing unusual — the Canadian quintet has been turning in high energy performances tempered with snarky humor since 1983. That they’re still at it, with the same five members no less, nearly 30 years later is quite a feat, to say the least. And this show, which stretched for two hours and covered every era of the group’s long career, saw the band at the very top of its game.
The packed audience could barely contain its energy in the minutes before the band hit the stage, with chants of “hip, hip, hip” breaking out long before the house lights dimmed. Once the band hit the stage, the crowd erupted, while live wire frontman Gordon Downie took a moment to bask in the glory before leading the group through a particularly searing version of “Grace, Too,” from 1994’s breakthrough “Day For Night.”
Downie was his usual quirky self throughout the evening, riffing on anecdotes mid-song and shrieking with all his might into the microphone at times. During the first number he began cracking up over the football game playing on the TV at the back bar; later, before “Streets Ahead,” he asked if there were any sled-doggers in the crowd and actually got a few drunken cheers.
The rest of the band was in fine form, giving Downie a solid soundscape on which to frame his humorous rants. Lead guitarist Rob Baker brought psychedelic flair to his soloing on such standouts as “An Inch an Hour” and the gentler “Gift Shop,” while bassist Gord Sinclair and drummer Johnny Fay held down a solid groove. Rhythm guitarist Paul Langlois provided an anchor with his atmospheric chording, adding color with his vocal harmonies on new rager “At Transformation,” from this year’s back-to-basics “Now For Plan A.”
But although the band kept things loose and fun, they were able to rev up the intensity when needed. Downie’s delivery on “Man Machine Poem” was particularly dramatic, as he savored each word in the chorus hook before roaring them out at the crowd — who were roaring right along with him. The slow-building “Bobcaygeon” and the anthemic arena rock of “The Modern Spirit” were further highlights, showcasing the band’s more heartfelt side.
The set continued to ebb and flow between the band’s two sides, reaching a furious crescendo on the epic mash-up jam of “New Orleans is Sinking” and “Nautical Disaster,” complete with false ending and more screaming from Downie.
“Fire in the Hole” provided a fitting conclusion to the main set, but the six-song encore didn’t feel superfluous at all. In fact, new song “We Want to Be It” was one of the strongest low-key numbers the group played all night. The high-energy “My Music at Work,” which opened the encore, seemed to sum up the evening better than any other song the group played, capturing the drama of the band’s entire show in one song-sized package.