Photo by Lee-Ann Richer, Molson Canadian Amphitheatre 2015
The reasons as to why The Tragically Hip’s August 20th concert in Kingston will be momentous have been well documented. You’d have to be living in the most hinterland part of the Great White North to not be aware of what’s going on with Gord Downie. What won’t be known until late that night however is what the quintessentially Canadian rock band’s final song played together will be? Like the decision to do a 2016 tour in the first place, it is not a decision that should be taken lightly, considering how much it means to so many people. When I say a lot, I think it’s safe to assume this will go down as the most watched entertainment event in our country’s history. The CBC certainly hopes so, as morbid as that may sound.
As the fateful date looms nearer, I thought it would be therapeutic as well as my patriotic responsibility to revisit the Hip’s three decade discography and try to predict which tune will ultimately bring down the curtain on their illustrious career…maybe. I still maintain no one in or associated with The Tragically Hip has definitely said this is it for them. Comments are welcome in terms of something you feel I may have glaringly omitted, but it’s not as if I’m profiting off of any proposed wagering. I am supremely confident there is a special place in hell reserved for the vulturous, human vermin who posted links to extortionately priced tickets on StubHub. Wherever you wind up watching the purported final show, let’s choose to celebrate life, not to mention a ton of great music.
“It’s a Good Life If You Don’t Weaken”
Sorry to start off on such a downer, but we are dealing with awfully depressing subject matter. 2002’s In Violet Light is arguably the Hip’s heaviest emotional LP, so if they’re looking for everyone tuning in on TV, online, gathered in a public square or at a movie theatre to be reaching for Kleenex®, a choice such as this would more than do the trick. Knowing Downie from countless live performances, never expect anything less than unbridled “ROCKthusiasm”, screw sadness!
“Heaven Is a Better Place Today”
If I had to do the desert island thing with only one Hip album, it would be In Between Evolution based on grungy production values alone (it was recorded at Seattle’s Studio X by renowned producer Adam Kasper). The opening track is just angry enough to keep me from reminding myself of Downie’s doomed glioblastoma condition, at least for three minutes. Cancer truly does suck; I know I’d probably be furiously asking over and over, “Why me, God?” Stay strong, Gord!
“Inevitability of Death”
It’s tough to explain to non-Canadians how the Hip’s folklore is that of near mythic proportions here. Regardless of what they conclude their proverbial novel with, I have a feeling Downie and company will attack it with gusto. Can you imagine the reaction though if the lifelong bandmates were to play their one and only cut with the word “death” in the label? That would slice pretty deep, which is precisely why I believe they’ll go out on a proverbial high note…
SEND ’EM HOME HAPPY
The bluesy roots-nodding single that established The Tragically Hip as Canadian rock radio mainstays amidst a murky sea of disheveled-looking early-’90s alternative artists. Statistically speaking, it is the song out of their 156 studio works over thirteen albums, one EP and “Hipeponymous” compilation that has brought more concerts to a close. In addition, some of Downie’s most uplifting lyrics are featured. C’mon, “nothing is dead down here” is right in the freaking chorus – Talk about potentially finishing with a flourish!
“Blow at High Dough”
If August 20th will inexplicably be your first time experiencing the Hip live, just know that Downie tends to, um, improvise on the spot, no more so than during this Up to Here oldie. I’ve always got a perverse kick out of how drunken bros attempt to keep pace with the sharp-witted frontman 2+ hours into a gig; I honestly think he does it to mess with them. And if this is indeed their last hurrah, I can “get behind it” as a closer.
“My Music at Work”
If I were a betting man and Canada had shops on every street corner like our cousins in the UK (to say nothing of this proposition even existing), I’d be tempted to lay a few loonies on this selection. In my evaluated opinion, it is the perfect, commercially-appealing, short and sweet rocker for the Hip to walk off the stage for good. No extraneous blubbery fanfare needed, although the full weight of their supposed swan song might not totally hit the group until it really is over.
“Fifty Mission Cap”
The outstanding Fully Completely has a wealth of options for this slot (“Courage” and “Wheat Kings” immediately come to mind). Tell me it wouldn’t be the very definition of irony if the forever-lackluster Toronto Maple Leafs were to somehow win Lord Stanley’s mug following the definitive rendition of “Bashin’” Bill Barilko’s ballad. I’m sure the Hip are saving this T.O. fave for their Air Canada Centre run, where it wouldn’t surprise me if Downie was made an honourary Leafs captain.
I used to work with a lovely young lass who was sooo excited at the prospect of pilgrimaging to Big Music Fest in 2011 and seeing the Hip for the first time ever in the actual, cottagey Ontario community they immortalized on Phantom Power. “Can you believe they’re playing in the same place they wrote that song about?” A classic campfire singalong if there ever was one. They even shot a movie about it! (Wait, haven’t I heard a lyric like that before?)
“Tired as Fuck”
Of all their newbies on Man Machine Poem, this one has been embraced from the get-go. OK, the rare vulgarness in a Hip song name no undoubtedly has a little to do with its popularity. It’s as solid an acoustic track as any in their catalogue, with a hint of a flamenco groove! A good deal of fans would leave the Rogers K-Rock Centre smiling if Downie et al. admitted as August 20th draws to its conclusion that they were all, uh, “exhausted”.
“Last American Exit”
The last time this countryish twanger from the Hip’s low-profile debut EP was performed live, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau wasn’t even of legal age. It would not only symbolize how far they’ve come from those dingy bar band days, but also provide Downie an opportunity to ramble ’n’ rant about how the good ol’ U.S. of A. is doing its best to lead us down a moral sewer, thumbing their noses at the nation that never really embraced them the way they deserved.