About A Week Ago My Best Pal T-Bone Scored The Ticket OF A Lifetime To This Show! When He Emailed The News My Return Message Was “Awesome And Review Please!” By Golly T-Bone Delivered Folk’s! Read On & Thanks T…… For Sharing…..
The famous quote from baseball’s Yogi Berra may never be more eloquently or bravely portrayed than the performance being given by one Mr. Gord Downie of The Tragically Hip who is demonstrating to all of Canada that “It ain’t over till it’s Fuckin’ over!” (Under the circumstances I felt the F-Bomb was a justified ad lib here.) A little piece of Canada appears to be dying right before our eyes and I don’t even understand how it can be so painful and yet on some level, so beautiful. But don’t let Mr. Downie see your tears of sadness because he’s on a mission to bring one last tour of celebration and joy to an entire nation. And he is delivering like a defiant mother-fucker!
I know one word cannot sum up the powerful performance I am so grateful to have witnessed on Friday Aug 5, 2016 at the MTS Centre in Winnipeg, but the one word I have that comes close is, “Wow!” I was awestruck at the magnitude of the moment and only hope my almost 50-year-old mind allows me to store this memory away forever in safe keeping. Although I cannot profess to be the biggest Hip fan in the country because there are just so many down-right serious fanatics, make no mistake I am a Fan. A proud Canadian fan. This was the fifth time I have seen them perform live (not sure I have seen any other band more) and I also have owned many of their original albums while in more recent years having downloaded most of their entire back catalogue on i-tunes. The Hip are one of those bands that transcend their music to be more than a band, more than a mere ensemble of musicians but rather rise to a level of becoming an iconic representation of the country they are obviously so proud to call home. And in return we are only too proud to call them ours. Fuck you to the rest of the world. You have no idea what you’re missing out on. (In true Canadian fashion, I apologize if my last statement offends anyone. But I hope you get my point).
Gord’s lyrics along with the bands grass roots, blue collar blend of rock, blues & country styles took on deeper meaning than usual on this night. “Get Ry Cooder to sing my eulogy”? I mean “Come on!” it’s only the first song and I’m already choking back some waves of emotion. But I am pounding my fist in the air, standing in my seat like I owe him at least that much. Two songs later he’s singing about Courage and schooling us on the meaning of it. This is so awesome yet emotionally difficult to watch at the same time. Around this point the first of many chants of “Gordie, Gordie, Gordie…” erupts from the crowd. Next it’s Wheat Kings and where in the country does this song carry any greater meaning than Winnipeg? And from the roars the band knows that the Wheat Kings came to rock tonight. A couple songs later and Gordie tells us he’s ‘Tired as Fuck’ and I don’t even want to pretend to know what he’s going through right now but, Wow! This is Heavy. The first set closes with a couple of new songs from ‘Man Machine Poem’, “What Blue” and “In a World Possessed by the Human Mind” which sound fantastic live. This night is just so damn powerful to this point that I am already running out of words and phrases to express how amazing I feel this performance is. By the first brief intermission I am somewhat relieved for the opportunity to take a break from the emotional roller coaster. It is at this point I want to make one thing perfectly clear, because reading back over what I’ve written thus far one might think I’m describing a weak, frail, dying man that can barely perform. This could not be further from the truth. I know Gord Downie is very sick and as a result likely weakened from treatments and he is somewhat visibly frail but this man is leaving it all on the ice here. His voice is fantastic, his usual quirky signature stage moves are at times dramatic and humourous at others as we’ve grown to expect. During his time on stage he never stops moving. And his will to deliver the best show possible under the circumstances is just down right inspirational.
Another thing I should point out. Although I am obviously very hung up on Gord’s performance due to his present situation. Let it be known that the importance and gravity of the moment are not lost on the other members of the band who are equally important and impressive in delivering on this night. Let’s face it, this has to be difficult for them as well and they all play with hearts firmly on sleeves while pouring everything they’ve got into their playing which is perfect in tempo, synchronicity and groove this is a group of well-seasoned individual musicians who collectively are a powerful force especially in a live setting. Johnny Fay and Gord Sinclair are the foundation and engine that drives each song, while lead guitarist Rob Baker tastefully colours between the lines of the grooving rhythm laid down by Paul Langlois. These guys don’t play like it’s a job, they play like they love it and they mean it. They know what’s at stake and they will not disappoint.
I cannot go throught the entire set list song by song or I will end up repeating myself at nauseam, so instead highlights for me during what I will refer to as the second set are “Man-Machine-Poem”, “Poets”, “Bobcaygeon” and then following Phantom Power’s “Membership” there is another pseudo-intermission where Gord leaves the stage briefly (Wardrobe change) and the rest of the band remains to jam in his absence.
Following this break Gord re-joins the band for what is a mini ‘Road Apples’ set which begins with “Last of the Unplucked Gems”, “Little Bones” and “The Luxury”. Then during “Long Time Running” (One of my all-time favourites) I scared half the audience around me as I belted this one out as loud as I could as if I wanted Gordie himself to hear me. This set then closes with yet another ‘Road Apples’ classic “Twist My Arm”.
At this point all of the band with the exception of Gord (Downie) exit the rear of the stage and he remains alone under a spotlight, does not say a word but slowly and deliberately walks about all four sides of the stage, saluting the crowd and doing his very best it seems to try and make eye-contact and give a personal good-bye to all 16,000+ in attendance. The roar of the crowd during this whole time which felt like it lasted at least 10 minutes just progressively got louder and the weight of emotion in the building became almost unbearable. At this point I only stopped my aggressive clapping momentarily from time to time to wipe my eyes because at this point I couldn’t take it anymore. I don’t care who can see… I am moved to tears.
When Gord finally did exit the stage there was no doubt this crowd wasn’t letting these guys go anywhere. Another chant of “Gordie, Gordie, Gordie…” (probably the fifth so far on the night to this point) roars through the rafters. And yes, I am yelling my fool-ass-off as well.
The crowd continues to roar but even if you weren’t looking you knew the band was climbing back on-stage as the roar finds yet another gear. This place is cooking! “Boots or Hearts”, “Opiated” and a little ditty no-one has probably ever heard of (something about New Orleans sinking) are played and the energy level remains at full fever pitch. Just before exiting the stage from this encore set Gord embraces each member of the band individually making meaningful eye contact with each of his long-time mates and has some words for them which from my vantage point looks like a “This is our last time in Winnipeg” moment. The band waves, the crowd roars and the boys exit the stage yet again.
More chants “Gordie, Gordie, Gordie …” The Peg knows this is it and they aren’t ready to say goodbye just yet and even if the fat lady was singing, you wouldn’t have been able to hear her. “What do ya say boys. Let’s give the ol’ Wheat Kings a couple more for ol’ time sake?” And so they do….
“Springtime in Vienna” and an emotional finale of “Ahead by a Century” where the line “The disappointing you’s getting me down” is powerfully repeated many times by Gordie as if to say “I’m sorry, I didn’t plan it this way”. Cymbal crash, Deafening Roar, Waves, Salutes, Emotion … and then ‘goodbye’ … Over!
“Wow!” As I said before it’s the only word I have.
At the Hundredth Meridian
Courage (for Hugh MacLennan)
Tired as Fuck
In a World Possessed by the Human Mind
Man Machine Poem
Escape Is at Hand for the Travellin’ Man
The Last of the Unplucked Gems
Long Time Running
Twist My Arm
Boots or Hearts
New Orleans Is Sinking
Springtime in Vienna
Ahead by a Century