This is a long one…
It was Thursday night- a night leading into a long summer weekend and I was in line to get in to Rexall Place for the big show. I recall arguing on what time we should arrive . It was slated to start at 8:30 sharp. And the Hip stayed true to their word.
Right smack at 8:30, as I was about 15 people back from getting into the arena I heard the chords of a song so familiar to me. I thought to myself “wait a second, this is the Hip’s song TOO”. Of course it was. Those chords that lead into a song took me all the way back to my childhood. Those first few notes were all it took as my face became flushed and my arms started to buzz as I walked in to Gord singing the first chorus:
“Happy hour, Happy hour, Happy hour is here.”
After rocking us out of our seats with Little Bones, they switched into The Luxury before slowing us down a bit with the beautifully penned Long Time Running, where Gord serenaded all 16,000+ fans in attendance:
“Drive in’s rained out
Weatherman wet fingers the sky
He pokes it out, he pulls it in
He don’t know why
It’s the same mistake
It’s been a long time running
It’s been a long time coming
It’s well worth the wait”
As the Hip played through Long Time Running, I couldn’t help but think about all the great shows I had missed throughout my life. I’ve never really given the Hip the same chance as I have given others. And at the same time I was starting to realize that all these hits I heard growing up- whether it be on the radio or on that discounted CD I snagged at HMV- the Hip truly have a ton of underrated music.
After Long Time Running the boys picked us back up and thrust us into the perfect “Hip” song. A song that truly highlights how quirky the band is: Twist My Arm. It wasn’t until this song that I realized all the teleprompters on stage. At the same time, I noticed how limited Gord’s movement was. Was he always this way? Doubtful. I am sure the diagnosis had an effect but this truly made me appreciate what he was doing- singing his heart out for thousands of fans, even if he didn’t have all the words 100% down anymore. What a god damn beauty.
In A World Possessed By The Human Mind and What Blue followed next. In my mind these were the best songs from their latest album. In fact, What Blue will go down as one of my all time favourite Hip songs. Considering the circumstances, I felt like both choices were fitting. Still, even though the songs slowed down the fans remained standing the entire time, getting louder as each song drew to a close.
A few songs after they took their first break (of 4). Surely the impact of being on stage and belting out songs took its toll on the lead, but each time Gord came back he brought his signature voice with him. And at the draw of the end of the second set fans were treated again as the Hip broke into Grace, Too– a fan favourite (for good reason).
After another short break the first set began with the lyrically powerful Escape Is At Hand For The Travellin’ Man. It’s getting even louder in the stadium and you don’t have to look far to see an emotional fan at this point. By now we know we are nearing closer and closer to song #25, which seems to be the average of every show they have done on tour so far. The Hip closed out the last of the third set with Poets- yet another song I forgot was theirs. An instant classic, endlessly played on the radio and in a few movies; set the crowd grooving yet again as they played themselves off the stage.
I knew they would have at least five more songs at this point and my stomach churned as I awaited two of my favourites- Bobcaygeon and Fiddlers Green. Both of which would not see the stage this night (which I eventually got over). However- they pleased all with 3/5 last songs: At The Hundreth Meridian, Courage, and Ahead By A Century.
As the last few notes of ABAC played the band exited the stage. This wasn’t just about them- it was about the voice that made them the hip. The voice that cannot be replaced, the voice that made them the quirky rockers they are, the voice that speaks to generations of Canadians. Gord remained on stage to thunderous cheers from a full stadium. Nobody left as he went to each side of the stage several times. He did not have a big speech, he did not speak of his terminal cancer, he did not get overly inspirational. Rather, he just said thank you. Repeatedly. “I’m going to get it. I’m going to get it down. Thanks for coming to the show. I’m going to get it down.”
Get it down he will. On August 20, 2016. This will be The Tragically Hip’s last show. It will be broadcast nationally on CBC for all to see. If you are outside of the country I highly suggest looking for a stream and watching it. I don’t think I ever fully appreciated the Hip until I bought tickets to their show on a whim.
Over the last ten years I seemed to have lost touch with the music that filled much of my childhood. I forgot about arguably the greatest Canadian band of all time. A band that never blew up across the world for some reason. And that’s okay. Because this summer is our last chance to soak up as much of the Hip as we can before they exit backstage in Kingston on August 20th. I know I will be at home, probably surrounded by a few friends while we watch the commercial free show; cranked on surround sound while we pound back a few in honour of a voice that’s transcended generations of Canadians, and will continue to do so when he is gone.
Thank you, Gord. Thank you for the music and thank you for doing one last tour so asshats like me could experience the same rockers that our parents played for us on our many road trips growing up. Thank you for the music that rocks us out of our seats and sends us back to our childhood.
“First thing we’d climb a tree and maybe then we’d talk
Or sit silently and listen to our thoughts
With illusions of someday casting a golden light
No dress rehearsal, this is our life”