As The Tragically Hip invaded Toronto, for their first of three shows on the Man Machine Poem Tour, it was more than fitting that Toronto Mayor, John Tory, would declare August 10th as Tragically Hip Day in Toronto.
The anticipation was high, and the Air Canada Centre was buzzing, as the sold-out crowd began to take their seats. The night was full of candidly-Canadian moments: from fans hugging their neighbours like old drinking buddies, to the legions of Maple Leafs and Wheat Kings hockey jerseys, to the PA Announcer saying that he would be “very disappointed” in us if we didn’t get to our seats in-time, this was a night to celebrate our national treasure. As the lights went down, and the band took the stage, there was a roar from the crowd that shook through your entire body, causing goosebumps to crawl up your spine. And then, the man of many hats, Gord Downie, took the stage to thunderous applause. This is the moment we had all been waiting for.
The night began, just as the Hip began, in a very intimate stage setup. The band were setup close together, with mere feet separating them as they played. They opened with “The Luxury”, before ripping into the Road Apples classic, “Little Bones”. They were really drawing from their roots during this phase of the show, as the lights and atmosphere were reminiscent of the small bars and clubs where the band got their start. After playing a few tracks from Man Machine Poem, the band left the stage for a brief video intermission, which showed a storm pulling in over the waters of an unknown, yet familiar looking spot in northern Ontario.
That’s when the real thunder came, as The Tragically Hip emerged from the brief intermission with “Music At Work”, the band was now taking full advantage of the size of the stage. From “Ahead by a Century”, to “Full Completely”, to “Wheat Kings”, to “At the Hundredth Meridian”, the Tragically Hip have not lost a step in their over 30 year career. When they kicked into “Fifty-Mission Cap”, to wrap up their set (before coming out for 2 encores), the hometown crowd was brought to cheers and glee for their Toronto Maple Leafs. It was truly a time to celebrate as Canadians, and as Tragically Hip fans.
As the band left the stage, after their first encore, there was only one man remaining: Gord Downie. For what seemed like an eternity, every person from the front row, all the way to the back, were on their feet, and offering their praise for a man who full embodies the Canadian spirit. For the past 30 years, he has been our poet, our spirit animal, our “fun uncle”, and tonight we had to say good-bye to that legend. When the band rejoined Gord, and broke into “Bobcaygeon”, it was hard to find a dry eye in the entire arena. This was truly a special moment for all in attendance.
For a country such as Canada, it is hard to nail down examples of our national identity, without throwing a beaver or maple syrup in the conversation. However, when Gord Downie takes the stage, our national identity stands before you, in all of his glory.
Thank you, Gord! And thank you, The Tragically Hip! We fully, completely enjoyed the night!
Let’s just see what tomorrow brings…