Published Jul 23, 2016It's not often in life that we get to say proper goodbyes, of any kind. It's a truly special thing to know when something is going to come to an end. In front of a jam-packed arena in Victoria, the Tragically Hip kicked off their final tour — their victory lap — and it was everything any of us could have wanted. It was a celebration of their leader, Gord Downie, one of the most charismatic, enigmatic and captivating frontmen in music.
A blistering standing ovation greeted Downie as he took the stage in his brilliant, shiny pink suit. He stepped to the mic, froze, eyes glancing around, taking it all in just for a moment, and then BAM! The band was ripping into "Boots or Hearts," the crowd was loosing their minds, and the man was in full Gord Downie-mode, seeping with the mercurial, sinister beauty that has made him so beloved for more than three decades.
The two-plus hour, 26-song set took an appropriately career-spanning, dedicating sections to three to five songs from a given album. Old songs, new songs, lesser-known cuts, it was all there, next to other songs from the same period – a guided, personalized tour of the band's untouchable discography.
After Up To Here was repped with the aformentioned "Boots or Hearts," an especially heavy "New Orleans in Sinking," a surprising "Opiated" and necessary "Blow at High Dough," they hit the new stuff, from the recently released Man Machine Poem. The songs may not have started with the cheers the oldies did but by the end of each, the crowd was back to losing their minds. Album stand-out "Tired as Fuck" got a pleasantly large response right off the opening notes. The album's first single, "In a World Possessed by the Human Mind," had the same pop as the recording, but hit with a hammer's force.
Phantom Power was up next with four very well-known tracks including "Something On," "Poets," "Fireworks" and "Bobcaygeon," the latter bringing a tear to more than one set of eyes around me. With everyone in the crowd singing along, it didn't even matter when Downie forgot a few words near the end of a verse, because everyone was there to keep it going. He held the mic out for the crowd, smiled and jumped right back into it. A perfect moment between performer and audience, full of such overwhelming love from both sides of the stage.
There were no whispers of sickness or cancer this night. The closest anyone came to acknowledging the overhanging cloud was Downie declaring "shit happens" before "The Lonely End of the Rink." With "Yer Not the Ocean" and "In View" the World Container portion of the evening proved to be one of the most joyous. In a career filled with huge records, World Container might be the most overlooked.
Road Apples came next and gave three genuine show-stoppers in the one-two surprise punch of "Last of the Unplucked Gems" and "The Luxury," and the night's highlight, "Long Time Running." There must have been something in the air at that moment, because everyone seemed to have red, puffy eyes and sniffles. They couldn't walk off the stage with that hanging in the air, so they blasted everyone's face off with a viciously fun "Twist My Arm" before briefly retreating to regroup for the encore.
Fully Completely got the highlight in encore #1 with "Eldorado," the always-emotional "Wheat Kings" (complete with archival footage of song subject David Milgaard) and a raucous "Hundredth Meridian." The crowd was bustling the whole night but there wasn't a sound as the band stopped and Gord rapped and wailed "Lower me slowly, sadly and properly / And get Ry Cooder to sing my eulogy!"
Everyone was jumping and smashing as the band laid into the final chorus. Encore #2, Trouble at the Henhouse, showed off the powerful "Gift Shop" and that classic campfire singalong, the one that your grandparents, nieces and nephews, aunts and uncles all know, "Ahead By A Century." As that final classic ended, the band left the stage, leaving only Gord and the audience. The most powerful moment of the evening didn't even have music. It was Gord Downie, face on the hi-def screen for all to see, receiving the love and admiration he's more than earned over 30 years of being the face of Canadian rock, blowing a kiss to the crowd and saying "Goodbye." We love you. Thank you.