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John Lamb, Published November 28 2012

Getting hip: Canadian band feels right at home wherever it goes

FARGO – Paul Langlois is excited for his band, the Tragically Hip, to make its local debut Saturday night at the Fargo Theatre.

“It’s always nice to play some place you’ve never been,” the guitarist explains.

And with nearly 30 years together, many of which spent on the road in their native Canada and in the United States, there’s not a lot of places the Hip, as their fans call them, haven’t played.

Even with their inaugural appearance, the Kingston, Ontario, quintet will be playing to a bit of a home contingent.

The show’s Fargo-based promoter Jade Presents says about 40 percent of the tickets were ordered from Canadian addresses.

“Wherever we go, Europe, Southern states, there are usually Canadians in the crowd,” Langlois said last week from his home in Kingston. “They certainly don’t outnumber the Americans, but there are some gigs where they are very vocal and quite un-Canadian-like actually and patriotic and waving the flag. Which is fine, because they’re homesick … Canadians far away from home tend to make it a big party and can certainly stand out here and there.”

“(Hearing the Hip) brings back memories of great times with friends back home,” says Colleen McDonald Lewis, a Canadian who’s lived in the U.S. for 17 years and now in Fargo. “They are the first and still the best bar band I’ve ever seen. … (I) love that they still have a cult status in Canada, and I selfishly love that they haven’t made the ‘big time’ here in the U.S. because it means they are uniquely Canadian.”

It’s not for lack of trying. The group has routinely toured and released albums, but only charted as high as 16 with the 1992 single “Courage.”

Langlois says part of the struggle is that American bands always have a leg up south of the border. He quotes Ronnie Hawkins, the rock singer who brought The Band (then known as The Hawks) together: “Canadian bands need to work 10 times as hard to get a tenth as far.”

With 12 studio albums and two live collections, the Hip have outgrown many bars, but they still find a home in some clubs, like Tipitina’s in New Orleans, a home away from home for the group. They recorded three albums in the Crescent City, and wrote “If New Orleans is Beat” for their 2010 release, “In Between Evolution.”

While about a boat and not the city, “New Orleans is Sinking” has become a crowd favorite live, largely because of singer Gordon Downie’s impromptu storytelling in in the middle of the song.

“Certainly he gets into some wild stories. When he’s onstage he just gets heavily into it, he becomes a great fun guy to watch and listen to,” Langlois says. “We seem to manage to pull it off without anyone perceiving any going off the rails at all.”

While the band may keep it together, fans, many of which are flat-out Hip fanatics, nearly lose their minds at the shows. Fargo fan Mike Swanston calls the group’s live shows “a near religious experience.”

“We certainly do attempt to commune with the crowds and have everyone in the crowd excited,” Langlois says.

Sometimes fans get a little too excited. McDonald Lewis recalls the first time she saw the band in the late ’80s. It was a Calgary show where a fan fell from scaffolding during the set.

Told of McDonald Lewis’ recollection, Langlois recalls the night.

“The shows were pretty heavily male back then, so it’s good that there was a girl there,” he says with a laugh. “It was pretty aggressive down in front then, and I would say it’s less so now, which is good because there were certainly a lot of shows where we were thinking, ‘This is getting rough and dangerous.’ ”

He says those days of rowdy fans have mostly passed and shows are now well-behaved and friendly.

“And a few girls, which doesn’t hurt,” he adds.

If You Go

WHAT: Tragically Hip

WHEN: 8 p.m. Saturday

where: Fargo Theatre, 314 Broadway

tickets: Tickets are $36.50, though fees may apply. (866) 300-8300

Readers can reach Forum reporter John Lamb at (701) 241-5533