Last night saw a country united; 30 million people, from all walks of life, and all areas of Canada attended, streamed and watched as Gord Downie and The Tragically Hip put on what very well may be the final show they ever perform. It was at once a joyful celebration and a somber reminder that life can be cruelly and unexpectedly cut short.
As someone who is at best a casual fan, I don’t know what I expected out of this show, but I can admit that any pretenses I had were quickly out the window as soon as the Hip started to play. Watching Gord and the band was nothing short of magic. The setlist was clearly a labour of love in and of itself, crafted not only to combine songs that were obvious crowd favourites, but also songs that appeared to have sentiment to the band as well. The entire affair was played with more energy than I could have expected; if Gord is going out, he’s clearly going to do it on his terms. Only on limited occasions did he succumb to his emotions, and it was in those brief moments that you were forced to remember why this show in particular was being broadcast across the country and streamed all over the world.
Playing for nearly three hours, Gord used this platform as a means of addressing socio-political issues in Canada, taking time to praise Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (who was in attendance), stating “”He’s going to take us where we need to go. And we’ve gotta be a country that’s going to take us 100 years to figure out what the hell went on up there. But it isn’t cool and everybody knows that. It’s really, really bad. We’re gonna figure it out.” He quickly corrected himself: “You’re going to figure it out”, which brought a melancholy reminder again that he is aware that he may not be with us to see these issues get resolved. The moment was fleeting as they quickly launched into another song, but it was the first time for me that the reality of what we were viewing last night really sunk in.
This show was not only a celebration of a career that spanned decades, but also a thank you to fans who have followed the Hip during that time. Multiple times, Gord thanked the audience for “keeping me pushing”, and gave a particular mention to the female fans, stating that at one point it seemed like a ‘boy’s club’ and he was grateful that the women made their way back to the fan base, though he couldn’t say why or how that came to be. This was met with loud applause and cheering through the arena in Kingston.
Ending their third and final encore was “Ahead by a Century”, one of their biggest singles from 1996’s “Trouble at the Henhouse”, and it felt like the best way to say goodbye to a band that has remained one of the most influential bands in our country. They never got the international acclaim that I think people wanted or expected, but last night, it felt like that was ok. This was Canada’s band, and it felt even more special to be able to embrace that as a nation.