The Tragically Hip plays one for all of us

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      The Tragically Hip played to a jam-packed Rogers Arena for the second of 15 dates on its Man Machine Poem Tour last Sunday (July 24). Ranging from small children to baby-boomers, the crowd included everyone from first-timers to the long-standing fans who likely saw the band perform at the Railway Club before the group became a household name.

      The Hip's shows have always been quintessentially Canadian—and this was no exception. There was the audience swilling beer in flannel shirts, the sea of maple leaf flags, and the deep feeling of togetherness that touched everyone in attendance. Plus, as expected in Vancouver, the mass of pot smoke in the air—which Downie described as “almost unsettling”.

      With no opening act, the Hip took the stage at 8:30, playing for two hours to an adoring crowd. Showcasing a completely different set from their Victoria show on Friday night, the band performed three or four songs from a particular album before moving onto the next—and not necessarily in chronological order. Starting with “Twist My Arm”, “Three Pistols”, “The Luxury”, and “Little Bones” from 1991’s Road Apples, the group whipped the audience into a frenzy, proving that they weren’t quite ready to hang up their hats.

      Gord Downie was, as always, a fantastic frontman, and showed the passion and improvisation that fans have come to expect over the band’s long and boisterous career. Serving imaginary baseball and tennis shots to the audience, and using the microphone as a prop flashlight to pretend to investigate the crowd, the singer made tacit reference to the unseen opponent—Downie’s brain cancer—that has cut the Hip’s career short. But the show was far from sombre. Characterized by more playful moves, the frontman’s performance included showing off his hackey-sack skills by kicking the mic to his hands, and stamping on the mic-stand to try and boomerang it back to himself. His failed attempts were met with customary good humour. “We’ve had a lot of good times in this town,” Downie proclaimed.

      Mirroring the singer’s unexpected suit changes from a metallic blue to silver and then gold, the evening was filled with surprising tracks as the band shifted from album to album. Jumping into their newest material early on, the Hip wowed fans with songs from the recent release Man Machine Poem,  with standout “Tired as Fuck” holding sway over the crowd.  As Downie voiced the lyrics, the audience could clearly see the meaning that the song held for the singer.

      The party kicked up a notch as the Hip reached for material from 1998’s Phantom Power. Belting out classic tracks “Fireworks”, “Bobcaygeon”, and “Poets”, the crowd fed off the band’s newfound energy. Maintaining that dynamism while moving onto 1994’s dark and artful album Day For Night, the group surprised fans by performing  lesser-known songs such as “Daredevil”, “Thugs”, and “So Hard Done By”, a track that seemed to take on a new significance with Downie pointing at himself as he sang the title. By the end of “Grace, Too” the arena was rocked by the crowd’s reaction.  With cheers and tears flowing in equal measure, everybody knew how special it was to be there. As the audience screamed as loud as they could to show their admiration for a band leader that has captured so many hearts over the years, the singer stood still on the stage, connecting with their affection.

      The first encore came with three tracks from 1992’s Fully Completely, including the classic number “Wheat Kings”, which had some drying their eyes at the song's close. Closing the show with the group’s mega-hit “New Orleans is Sinking”, the audience was still in full attendance. Upon leaving the stage, each band member hugged and kissed Downie, displaying their appreciation for him not only as long-time friends and bandmates, but as fans. As the musicians entered the wings, Vancouver showed the Tragically Hip so much love for a band that has been, and always will be, in our Canadian hearts.