Photographs courtesy of Tom Pandi / Air Canada Centre.
When this purported farewell Tragically Hip tour was first announced, it would have been easy – expected, almost – for the beloved Canadian band to stack their setlists with nothing but favourites amassed from thirty years of entertaining audiences at home and abroad.
Who would dare blame them? Absolutely no self-respecting fan, especially considering what front (and perpetually centre) man Gord Downie has had to endure just to get through these fifteen summer dates. Feel free to award yourself a shiny gold medal if you were the only person to call that the Hip would take the opportunity on their first of three nights in Toronto to innovate, genuinely surprise and delight after all this time as a group. Mind the green Brazilian pool-tainting water though.
Rio Olympics jab aside, August 10th at the usually soul-draining Air Canada Centre was a magical and emotional night, even for a cynic such as myself who needs more than two hands to count the number of times I’ve seen the Hip live. That’s not me bragging, rather stating the fact I am smack-dab in the middle of a generation where it was literally a rite of passage to see the band whenever they passed through town. Or anywhere within the vicinity of the GTA.
Downie, in particular, was always akin to that slightly older uncle you may have had. Y’know, the one who occasionally took care of you when your parents were out, lovingly turning a blind eye when you thought you were being cool by stealing a sip of beer. Gordie will forever be cooler than any of us, not as if he somehow owes anything to Canadians or has to prove himself while courageously facing a scary-as-hell future. But goshdarnit, he did anyway. Maybe it was because Mayor John Tory conveniently proclaimed August 10th as “Tragically Hip Day” in the city. Or perhaps Downie is simply getting used to his glistening neon suits and fabulously designed chapeaus by local millinery Lilliput Hats.
Whatever the reason, the Hip flat out put on the best and most creatively structured show I’ve ever had the pleasure of seeing them do. When they began huddled tightly together with “The Luxury”, “Little Bones”, “Fiddler’s Green” and “Three Pistols” all off of Road Apples, I thought I was back at the since-redeveloped Barrie Molson Park in some sort of early-’90s time warp. By the time I recognized Music @ Work’s “Lake Fever” (following a 4-pack of #ManMachinePoem tunes, plus “My Music at Work”), I realized I was experiencing something pretty special. As did everyone else at the sold out ACC when they weren’t cheering deafeningly for every single movement Downie made. In all, we heard consecutive cuts from Trouble at the Henhouse, Fully Completely, Day for Night and finally Phantom Power. The latter albums “only” featured three and two encore songs each, respectively. Those Hip heathens, I tell you…
I was proud of how long I stayed composed up until Gord stood alone onstage. He didn’t say a word, but the way in which Downie soaked up the love Torontonians had been waiting to uncork like a celebratory magnum of champagne spoke volumes. That’s when the tears started flowing for me, and I had plenty of company. The epitome of “not a dry eye in the house”.
I still stand by my list, as the absence of Up to Here or self-titled EP material leads me to believe they’re going to end it all, tragic as it may be, by coming full circle and tapping into their Kingston limestone roots. This said, I never thought I’d be surprised the way I was; it goes without saying that it’ll be interesting to see what else they may possibly have in store for the remaining T.O. gigs and of course, August 20th at Rogers K-Rock Centre.