When rock stars die, often it’s unexpected. People reel from the shock and there’s only one room full of people who can say, “I saw him at his last show.” This is different. In the face of terrible circumstances, The Tragically Hip is giving its fans an incredible gift with a tour.
I am still processing my Man Machine Poem concert experience. I saw the second of the three nights in Toronto. It was my 12th Hip show and it was an amazing night, accompanied by my sister and our friends Patrick and Jared. Patrick reminded me that he attended his first ever concert when he was just 11; it was the Tragically Hip and my sister and I took him. How fitting to be seeing this last tour together 20 years later.
I have never seen the Air Canada Centre so packed with people. They’d installed seats in every available space – including all around the sound board and 360° around the arena. The band played 25 songs, starting with Courage and ending with Ahead by a Century. Iconic songs filled the time and space in between. As full as the set was, on the walk to a bar after the show, my companions and I kept thinking of songs they didn’t play. (No Fifty Mission Cap? No Wheat Kings? No Poets? No Long Time Running? Cordelia? The list went on.) In truth, the show I wanted them to play would have been five hours long. I was very happy with what I got.
In spite of his health issues, Gord put on an energetic, eccentric, passionate performance. He also took time to take in the adulation. There were several moments where the raw emotion on his face, magnified from high up above in jumbo screen proportions, made my heart still for a beat or two. The heavy-hearted moments were genuine and the love in the room indescribable.
I watched the band as they cocooned Gord through the entire first set. It was impossible not to hear the lyrics through an “In Gord We Trust” filter. I was in awe of the courage it took for the band to risk potential harm to Gord’s health; their time is a precious commodity and a beautiful gift. I noted that there are many lyrics that take on a heavier, sadder meaning when sung by a man who knows he is dying. Take Ahead by a Century’s “No dress rehearsal, this is our lives.” Or It’s a Good Life If You Don’t Weaken’s “Let’s get friendship right” with his bandmates at his side. Or Scared’s “I got to go, it’s been a pleasure doing business with you” to a room of the devoted.
It’s not nearly enough, but a big thank you to the Tragically Hip from a nation of fans who spend every day looking for a place to happen, making stops along the way. Without a doubt, it has been a pleasure doing business with you, too.