Emotional, historic Tragically Hip show
Lead singer Gord Downie is seen performing on a screen as a man watches during a viewing party for the final stop in Kingston, Ont., of a 10-city national concert tour by The Tragically Hip, in Vancouver, B.C., on Saturday August 20, 2016. Downie announced earlier this year that he was diagnosed with an incurable form of brain cancer. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
The Tragically Hip
Rogers K-Rock Centre, Kingston, Saturday night
KINGSTON, Ont. - “No dress rehearsal, this is our life.”
The Tragically Hip’s long goodbye to Canada has finally come to an emotional, historic end.
Or has it?
The Hip, who’ve been touring across Canada since late July when their 15-date Man Machine Poem tour launched in Victoria, B.C., have never said it’s their last tour ever but given lead singer Gord Downie’s terminal brain tumour diagnosis in December (with surgery, radiation and chemo that followed) we’ve all just assumed it was.
However, guitarist Rob Baker offered up a ray of hope last week when he responded to this Twitter post: “Nothing would make me happier than @thehipdotcom/@tthbaker dropping a “we never said anything about this being the end” bomb in Kingston.”
Baker replied on his Twitter account: “We’ve never said anything about it.”
And TSN’s Bob McKenzie tweeted Saturday that Downie has “an intriguing solo project that will happen in the next couple of months.”
Whatever the future, The Hip finally came home on Saturday night to play to an intimate crowd, relatively speaking, of about 6,700 (including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who previously tweeted “Gord Downie is a true original who has been writing Canada’s soundtrack for more than 30 years. #Courage”) at Kingston’s Rogers K-Rock Centre while outside thousands gathered in Springer Market Square where a large LED screen had been set up.
The group kicked off their performance - that was preceded by a spontaneous rendition of O Canada, waving of large Canadian flags, and “Hip! Hip! Hip!” or “Gord! Gord! Gord!” chants - with fan favourites Fifty-Mission Cap, Courage, the latter during which cardboard maple leafs were handed out for the audience to hold up with the #Courage4Gord hashtag, Wheat Kings and At The Hundredth Meridian, the latter which saw Downie fully engaged.
Decked out in a silver metallic leather suit, taupe hat with feathers and his now famous JAWS T-shirt (some people in the crowd had their own version of Downie’s ensemble), the singer seemed to forget a few words to Courage but no one seemed to care.
“The Prime Minister’s got me,” were Downie’s first spoken words of the night a bit later in the set. “His work with First Nations. He’s going to take us everywhere.”
The same could have been said by Downie and The Hip.
By song five, the band delved into new material from their latest album, Man Machine Poem, with In A World Possessed By The Human Mind, that was followed by What Blue, Tired as F--k, and Machine.
But it was The Hip’s return to the stage after a brief thunder and lightning video display on the video screens above then that set the crowd off again as Downie reappeared in a hot pink metallic leather ensemble and black hat with feathers for My Music At Work, Lake Fever, Toronto #4, Putting Down, Twist My Arm, Three Pistols and the super emotional Fiddler’s Green.
At one point, Downie joked about his scarf being “two tube socks tied together,” and that it only took him “28 years to figure out” he needed to keep his voice warm.
“Thanks for pushing me!” he said.
But it was the barnburner Little Bones that everyone went nuts for and - after a third outfit change into a colour-flecked silver suit - Poets.
The first encore, which began after Downie hugged and kissed his bandmates and told the crowd they were glad to be back in Kingston, - “We started here!” - with another crowd favourite New Orleans is Sinking that was followed by a similar crowdpleaser, Blow At High Dough.
The much anticipated performance was broadcasted commerical-free nationally across the country on CBC’s various TV, radio and Internet platforms with 420 community viewing events confirmed throughout Canada as of this past Friday.
Just think about it.
A big portion of the the country watching a homegrown group - Downie, Baker, guitarist Paul Langlois, bassist Gord Sinclair and drummer Johnny Fay - together on a small stage, quite possibly playing their last show together.
It just seemed right: The Hip - with Downie, in his current dandy phase - at home while we all watched.
“Canada’s band,” as the group who formed in Kingston in 1984, were coined after 30 plus years and 14 studio albums of writing about small towns and hockey heroes while delivering blistering bluesy rock shows led by the always unpredictable Downie who seemed to enter another zone on stage, deserved no less.
The unifying moment for the country was unmatched and moving, not only because Downie’s illness seemingly brought us all together for the first time in a long time (maybe ever in my lifetime) but made us realize just what an artistic treasure was always there right in front of us.
According to his doctor in recent interviews, Downie - a 52-year-old father of four - was having the time of his life on tour and, in the end, isn’t that really what this is all about?
“Thanks for listening period. Have a nice life,” said the singer before the second encore of Nautical Disaster, Scared and Grace, Too (primal screams by Downie included) followed by third encore Locked in the Trunk of A Car, Gift Shop and finally Ahead by a Century.
At the Hundredth Meridian
In A World Possessed By The Human Mind
Tired As Fuck
My Music At Work
Twist My Arm
The Last of the Unplucked Gems
New Orleans is Sinking
Boots or Hearts
Blow At High Dough
Locked in the Trunk of a Car
Ahead by a Century