Tragically Hip farewell doc and concert film

By Tom Von Malder | Jan 13, 2018
Photo by: Eagle Vision The Tragically Hip line up after their Kingston concert. Singer-lyricist Gord Downie, who died in October, is in the center.

Owls Head — The Tragically Hip: Long Time Running (Eagle Vision, Blu-ray or standard DVD, NR, 95 min.). The Canadian band, which during its 33-year career won16 Juno Awards, including 2017 Group of the Year and Rock Album of the Year, set out on a 15-date cross-Canada tour in the summer of 2016, knowing well that it might be the groups' last, as lead singer Gord Downie had been diagnosed with terminal brain cancer. In fact, as this documentary points out, Downie had undergone brain surgery to remove much of the cancerous growth, resulting in some memory loss, particularly when it came to his lyrics, prior to the tour. Downie died on Oct. 17, 2017.

I recommend watching this documentary before watching the separately released hometown concert, the band's last performance with Downie. Created in collaboration between the band, Banger Films and SHED Creative Agency, a division of UMC (Universal Music Canada), the documentary chronicles the rehearsals and progress of the five-man group's 2016 Man Machine Poem tour. It includes candid reflections from Downie, guitarist Rob Baker, drummer Johnny Fay, guitarist Paul Langlois and bassist Gord Sinclair, as well as two of Downie's doctors. When the tour started, the band was unsure whether Downie would be able to hold up. To help him with the lyrics, six teleprompters were used. The film, directed by Jennifer Baichwal and Nicholas de Pencier, displays the fragility and courage of what turned out to be the band's final journey, as most had anticipated. Even Downie's hat maker is interviewed.

During an interview, Downie recalls his musical beginnings in high school and the formation of the band just after graduation. (Langlois joined two years later, in 1986.) The band is extremely popular in Canada, as Downie's lyrics often touch on uniquely Canadian subjects. "Fireworks," for example mentions hockey and Bobby Orr, the former great scoring defenseman of the Boston Bruins. Downie beams in the interview as he talks about a recent phone call he received from Orr. The documentary includes musical snippets and complete performances of "Blow," "Grace Too," "Courage" and "Ahead By a Century," all among the band's best work. While the band has sold more than eight million albums worldwide, it never made any great inroads in the United States, except for around Buffalo, New York.

A bonus featurette (9:30) of interview bits that did not make the final film centers on musicianship.

The Tragically Hip: A National Celebration (Universal, Blu-ray or standard DVD, NR, 162 min.). This massive, 30-song concert took place in the band's hometown of Kingston on Aug. 20, 2016. It was the final show of the Man Machine Poem tour. Normally the band would prepare about 45 songs for a tour, but this time they did 90, as lead singer Gord Downie wanted all 14 of their studio albums represented, as it most likely would be his last tour due to his terminal brain cancer diagnosis. (Downie died 14 months later.)

The opening minute centers on the band's Canadian song subjects, then the mega-concert begins. The Blu-ray image is very sharp, defined. By song two, "Courage," the crowd is singing along. Among the many highlights are "Courage," "Machine" (which has a thunderstorm video afterwards, as the band takes a brief break as Downie changes his costume), "Puttin' Down," "Blow," "Nautical," "Grace Too" with its second vocalist, "Fireworks" and the acoustic-based "Bobcaygeon," "Boots" and "Ahead By a Century." Seven of the 30 songs are acoustic-based. In many ways, the group is a bar band that went national. This final concert also went national, being broadcast on TV and other platforms by the Canadian Broadcast Company. Certainly, the band went out on top.

Culture Club: Live at Wembley (Rock Fuel Media/Cleopatra, Blu-ray or standard DVD, NR, 87 min., also CD). If this truly was the final show by all four of the original band members, the 1980s icons left us smiling and dancing with a 15-song show that never disappoints and is topped off by a great cover of T Rex's "Bang A Gong (Get It On)," which also serves as the band introductions. The original quartet -- singer Boy George, drummer Jon Moss, Bassist Mikey Craig and guitarist/pianist Roy Hay -- are augmented by a trio of soulful backup singers, a four-piece horn section, keyboardist Carl Hudson and a percussionist. The band reunited in 2015 after 13 years apart.

With Boy George, and on occasion the backup singers, working the catwalk, the concert offers one delight after another, including "Church of the Poison Mind," "I'll Tumble 4 Ya" with its hot instrumental close, "Time (Clock of the Heart)," "Different Man" with its video tribute to Sly Stone, "Miss Me Blind" with Hay's guitar solo, "Do You Really Want To Hurt Me," the dramatically arranged "Victims" that opens with just Boy George and Hay on piano, "Karma Chameleon" with its fiery harmonica and the T Rex closing homage.

During the show, Boy George refers to most of his songs as "happy-sad" songs. Bonus material  includes backstage interviews (5:28) and an in-depth Boy George interview (23:54). Both are very worthwhile. In the latter, the singer points out how the band came from different musical likes: Moss from punk and rock; Craig from reggae and soul; Hay from soul; and himself from David Bowie and Marc Bolan (T Rex). Boy George also discusses his early at-home musical influences, his brief stint in Bow Wow Wow (as Lt. Lush) and the "big, glorious accident" that was Culture Club's success, helped by filling in for Elton John on the BBC's "Top of the Pops" TV show in 1982, weeks before the release of their debut album, "Kissing To Be Clever."

Slipknot: Day of the Gusano (Eagle Vision, Blu-ray + CD, standard DVD + CD, 2 DVDs + CD, Nr, 90 min.). This is another DVD package that will be welcomed by fans of the band. The film is centered around the heavy rock band's first appearance in Mexico City in December 2015. In many ways, the release is dedicated to the fans, with five segments throughout the concert that show fans and their comments, the band touring Mexico and the band meeting a small number of fans. There also are scenes from Knotfest, held outside Mexico City. As for the music itself, it is all aggression and adrenaline. The non-fan might view the show as a glimpse of hell or some cult-like rally, particularly because the band members wear masks while performing. The percussion is often industrial based.

The nine-member band was founded in 1995 in Des Moines, Iowa by percussionist Shawn Crahan, drummer Joey Jordison and bassist Paul Gray. (Gray died in 2010; Crahan is the only continuing member.) The band's eponymous debut album (1999) is considered a classic. The band has been nominated for 10 Grammy Awards, winning once, and has had 13 Platinum and 44 Gold record certifications. The concert film was shot in high definition and directed by Crahan.

Pentangle: The Albums (Cherry Red, 7 CDs, 8:21:41). This wonderful box set contains all seven albums created by the wonderful folk-jazz fusion band that loved to rework traditional music of the British Isles and America. The band was formed in 1967 by guitarists John Renbourn and Bert Jansch, who had previous success with their solo recordings and the duo album, "Bert and John." They played complex, inter-dependent guitar parts, which became known as folk baroque and a key to Pentangle's sound. Another key to the sound was vocalist Jacqui McShee. Completing the lineup was the rhythm section of  well-known jazz musicians Danny Thompson on double bass and Terry Cox on drums.

The first version of the group, which this box covers, lasted until 1973. Its peak popularity came with the song "Light Flight," used as the theme song for the British TV series, "Take Three Girls," and the leadoff track of the "Basket of Light" album. The box set also includes the albums "The Pentangle," "Sweet Child" (with one disc of live performance and one of studio recordings), "Cruel Sister," "Reflection" and "Solomon's Seal." Each album comes with bonus tracks, a total of 54, 22 of which were previously unreleased. Most are studio outtakes, alternate versions of live tracks.

Many of the bonus tracks on "The Pentangle" are instrumentals, while there are two different takes of the traditional "Bruton Town," one with an alternate vocal. Nice are "Way Behind the Sun" (also included in an instrumental version) and the non-LP single, "Travellin' Song," with its strings. Three tracks are from an early August 1967 recording session. After their all-acoustic debut album, the band's next release was "Sweet Child," with a live disc of 12 recordings and a studio disc with 10 recordings. The live recordings were from a June 1968 show at London's Royal Festival Hall, and there are seven bonus tracks. the studio disc includes the title track, with a duet vocal, the instrumental "Three art Thing" and eight traditional numbers. Bonus tracks include three unreleased mixes from Jansch's 1968 solo album, "Birthday Blues."

The wonderful "Basket of Light" was my first experience with Pentangle. "Light Flight" features layered female vocals. The traditional "Once I Had a Sweetheart" includes a sitar, while "Lyke-Wake Dirge," a traditional number, sounds more religious. The urgency of "Train Song" also is appealing. The bonus tracks are two single B-sides and three live tracks. The album "Cruel Sister" threw a curve at the marketers as it was all traditional songs, including a 20-minute version of "Jack Orion." Of the six bonus tracks, all previously unreleased, "Rain and Snow" also features a sitar.

The album "Reflection" is half traditional, with "Wedding Dress" a highlight. Especially nice is the fluid guitar on "When I Was in My prime." The title track is about 11 minutes long. Four of the bonus tracks are trio recordings from Renbourn's "Faro Annie" solo album. The final album, "Solomon's Seal," features acid folk on "Sally Free and Easy," a mellow track. The three live bonus tracks are of lesser sonic quality, but hail from November 1972, four months before the group disbanded.

The albums come in replica vinyl mini-sleeves, and there is an insightful booklet with rare vintage photos, critiques of each album by different writers and a section of the band's own words about their music. It is an excellent piece of work.

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