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The Tragically Hip – Live at the Roxy Los Angeles, May 3, 1991 (Universal Music Canada)

25 September 2022

Live at the Roxy captures Canadian rockers The Tragically Hip in the act of supporting their second full-length studio album, 1991’s Canadian #1 album Road Apples. This set offers the chance to gain appreciation for a truly great rock band deserving of acclaim among other Great White North titans including Rush, Max Webster, Saga, and the Rheostatics. Live at the Roxy provides evidence to support the Hip’s reputation as a truly formidable live act. Even without the aid of visual accompaniment, it’s clear from this set’s cheeky banter and commanding vocal presence that late singer Gord Downie was one of rock’s truly irresistible but underrated frontmen.

Energy crackles from every corner of Live at the Roxy, which captures eight of Road Apples’ 12 songs. The hard-driving “Twist My Arm” benefits from the bedrock-solid foundation laid by bassist Gord Sinclair, while Downie’s tremulous voice leaps and howls against the bluesy guitars of Rob Baker and Paul Langlois. Downie sings about shedding resistance to temptation, and one verse features two martyrs wrestling for the honor to step into harm’s way first. “Cordelia” references Shakespearean myths and someone who pushes luck to dangerous extremes while Downie declares that he may not be around to catch the daredevil’s fall. “The Luxury” glides with a moody, Doors-y vibe. Drummer Johnny Fay’s whip-crack snare propels roots-rocker “Three Pistols.” The song name-checks early 20th century Ontario artist Tom Thomson, an influential talent who died too young and too mysteriously. The mellow sound of “Long Time Running” underscores resignation but belies the frustration in the wake of a dismantled relationship.

Also present are well-traveled singles like Stonesy riffer “Highway Girl” from the band’s self-titled debut release. Downie sings and ad-libs about a star-crossed couple flaunting the law and making a suicide pact. Other early favorites include including the fast living “Blow at High Dough” with its cautionary tale to not get ahead of oneself. Pre-Hurricane Katrina grinder “New Orleans Is Sinking” stretches while the band follows Downie through surreal stories, including one about working a job at a public aquarium and coming between a killer whale’s relationship with its mate. Downie describes the pitfalls of road life while the band hangs a perfect 10 during the energetic and improvisational excursions of “All Canadian Surf Club.”

Live at the Roxy documents the adventurous band’s early period when it leaned most heavily upon its blues-rock roots. The Hip’s then-fresh material is both heady and visceral, played with skill and fierce commitment.