August 11 2016 – Much has been written about The Tragically Hip current Man Machine Poem tour. From the devastating reveal that frontman Gord Downie has glioblastoma, a terminal brain cancer, to the “shocking” mass media stories on the corruption of the concert ticket sales industry. Tonight marked the first of three stops for the band at Toronto’s Air Canada Centre on their all too brief 15-stop tour across Canada. Their final tour.
Tickets initially seemed impossible to come by. However, as is always the case, Ticketmaster released more seats the day of the show. With occasional browser refreshes throughout the day, I was able to see a ticket appear in my shopping cart at exactly 5:31 pm. A standing room 300 level spot where our heads would end up being about 5 feet away from the roof of the cavernous venue was available for $80.25. Sold!
Large rock concerts always have a buzz about them with a communal energy flowing throughout the venue. Tonight more than any other night the crowd was glowing with anticipation. We were about to be part of a moment in time that was destined to become Canadian rock history. Lineups were massive (more so than any other concert I have ever been to) – the Will Call line snaked throughout the ACC atrium and it took me 45 minutes to get my paws on the coveted ticket. The lineup for concessions was as long as you would expect. Beer was the clear beverage of choice tonight and the nonsensical 2 beer per person limit motivated almost everyone to double-fist it. The longest lines were the merchandise booths. T-Shirts, tour books and posters were in very high demand and people were lining up in droves throughout the night (even during the actual concert).
The Tragically Hip got on stage at 8:37 pm and walked off at 10:47 – a full 130 minute concert with no intermission and only a few minutes break between encores. The band touched upon 7 of their 13 full length albums (and 1 EP) during the 25 song celebration.
The Hip have been changing their setlists frequently during this final tour and tonight almost all the big songs were there including At the Hundredth Meridian, Grace, Too, Ahead by a Century, Poets, Fully Completely, Bobcaygeon, Gift Shop, Nautical Disaster, My Music at Work, Springtime in Vienna, Little Bones and Wheat Kings. The most notable omissions were New Orleans Is Sinking, Courage and Blow at High Dough. Lots of local content as well with Toronto #4 and Fifty Mission Cap in which the line “The last goal he ever scored, won the Leafs the cup” drew so much cheering one would have thought the Leafs just won the Cup. Now back to reality.
Here is Grace, Too – watch Downie put on a show:
The venue was jammed with every possible seat and spot was taken. The seats behind the stage were used (a section usually curtained off) as well as the standing room area above the last row of seats on the 300 sections (which is where I was).
Paul Langlois, Rob Baker, Gord Sinclair and Johnny Fay kept a very tight circle around Downie for the first part of the show, who showed absolutely no sign of being ill let alone hosting a life-ending tumor. The main exception to that rule was when the band left the stage close to the end of the show and Downie prowled the stage just looking at fans right in the eye. The love was not lost on Downie who at times could not help but let a smile escape as he let the energy of 20,000 people smother him.
Downie went through a few wardrobe changes throughout the night but essentially kept with Jim Carrey’s The Mask look as a style guide. The flow of the music was very modular where songs from a given album were typically played together. First was 4 songs from Road Apples followed by 4 songs from the new Man Machine Poem album, then 4 songs from Music@Work – etc etc you get the idea.
The Tragically Hip have earned the love of Canada simply because they write songs that tells us about ourselves. The pride we feel as Canadians has been the band’s secret sauce since 1984 and many breathtaking scenes of Canada were featured on the giant screens above the stage. When Downie belted out “That Night in Toronto” during Bobcaygeon, you could feel the tears and goosebumps from everyone around you. You see the beauty of this show was that at times you would feel isolated in your own thougths but then you realized that what you were feeling was shared by every single person in the building. The power of music was displayed at this show more than any other I have seen.
Verdict: 5 out of 5 – It was an emotional rollercoaster, centered around rock and roll, full of killer tunes and massive singalongs. It was also a tribute to a dying man and a reminder of our mortality. More than anything though it was a celebration of life.
Thank you for everything Gordie. You have made a profound impact to Canadians and will forever remain in our hearts.
While we fear this will be our last ever Tragically Hip review, we can always look back at our memories where we reviewed The Hip in Oshawa in 2015 (read here) and in New York City in 2012 (read here) as well as their movie The Tragically Hip in Bobcaygeon (read here).
We leave you with a few final images from the night: