Armed with will and determination…and grace, too.
Gord Downie, lead of The Tragically Hip, embodies that line from the song Grace, Too. Those words have never been felt deeper than they were these last few weeks as the band takes the stage in multiple cities across Canada for what has been deemed their farewell tour.
In May, the band released a statement letting their adoring fans know that frontman Gord Downie – a Canadian treasure on the same level (or above) as icons like Don Cherry and Wayne Gretzky – was suffering from terminal brain cancer. The news hit Canadians hard. But the love for The Hip was never more evident as tickets to their Man Machine Poem tour (named after their most recent album which dropped in June) sold out in no time. Fans of the band wanted nothing more than to be alongside Gord and his band during these difficult times and to experience an incredible performance by them just one more time.
If you’re unfamiliar with The Tragically Hip (then I’ll assume you’re probably not Canadian), they are without question one of the most influential rock bands to come from our country. Since forming in 1984, they’ve released 14 studio albums, all with undeniably poetic lyrics, catchy melodies and just overall intoxicating sounds. Canadian bands such as Barenaked Ladies, The Arkells, Blue Rodeo and Our Lady Peace have all listed The Hip as a huge source of influence and have applauded them for helping to pave the way for Canadian musicians.
Many people remember the first time they heard the band – for me it was forced upon me by my big brother. I remember him playing Poets, a song I often heard on the radio, and Little Bones for me when I was a kid still listening to whatever MuchMusic told me to listen to at the time. I only had to hear those songs once to know I was going to be a fan.
You see, The Tragically Hip writes the kind of songs that are filled with heart and story. From 50 Mission Cap, a song dedicated to former hockey player Bill Barilko, to Wheat Kings which references the CBC (Canadian Broadcast Corporation) and is ultimately written about wrongly-convicted David Milgaard – every song has a little bit of Canada in it. This, along with other characteristics, is what makes The Tragically Hip Canada’s Band.
That’s why my boyfriend and I were one of the hundreds of thousands of people clicking away at our computers trying to get tickets for one of the band’s Man Machine Poem tour dates. For my boyfriend, who’s all-time favourite band has been The Hip since, I think, the day he was born, no price was too high to have the chance to see these guys rock out one more time.
So like the 20,000 other fans, we put on our brand new band t-shirts and headed to the show at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto for a night we’d never forget. They kicked off the evening with Blow at High Dough with Gord in a shiny, turquoise suit and fancy, custom made top hat. Suits like these were expected from the eccentric front-man, as were his awkward, pure and uninhibited dance moves. Moving into hits such as New Orleans is Sinking and their newest single, In a World Possessed by The Human Mind, Gord showed very few signs of having had surgeries and treatments for his illness – gallivanting around the stage and singing his heart out before taking break number one.
Following a quick break and a wardrobe change, The Hip broke into more fan favourites. From We Want To Be It to Gift Shop and Ahead By A Century, each song had more meaning and passion than the last from the crew on stage. It’s impossible not to see that Gord loves what he does and that the band loves doing it with him. The boys acknowledged each other multiple times exchanging high fives and shoulder hugs here and there.
The atmosphere and mood in the ACC was so energetic and excited…and then the band lowered their lengthy lights and played one of my favourites, Long Time Running. One of the few slow songs the band has, it’s filled with emotion and bluesy sounds. The audience sang along (as they did with every single song) while some people simultaneously wiped away tears from their cheeks.
After playing iconic hit, Little Bones, the band left the stage to come back for the encore to play Bobcaygeon, a song particularly special to Toronto. The crowd left Gord speechless during the line, “that night in Toronto,” by singing so loudly and proudly that it nearly drowned out the band’s instruments. However, Gord returned the favor after absolutely killing the song Grace, Too for the final tune of the evening. He was overcome with emotion as he let out cries and screams and tears, signifying how important this tour is to him. He thanked the crowd and took the time to stand at each end of the stage, as if trying to acknowledge and accept the love from every single fan there.
For those at one of these shows, leaving was accompanied by a pretty weird feeling. The high of seeing one of your favourite bands was still there, but it was bittersweet, as you know this is possibly the last time you’ll experience something like that.
Just when I thought my time with this band had ended, August 20th rolled around. On this night, the night of the final Man Machine Poem tour date, the entire country gathered in both small and big venues, to watch what is thought to be the last Hip performance ever. The CBC took a break from covering Rio 2016 to air the Kingston concert entirely commercial free. That night will go down in history as one of the most amazing things I’ve ever experienced. As I stood amongst the thousands of people in Halifax gathered to watch the show, I realized that this was happening everywhere. Not many bands could do that.
The Hip played an incredible 30 songs. The Prime Minister was there. It was insane. If this is the end, The Tragically Hip went out with a bang bigger than any other. They’ve left their mark not only in the music industry but also in the hearts of so many fans and Canadians.