6, the number of times I have seen the Tragically Hip perform. 0, the number of times I have been disappointed by a Tragically Hip performance. Freezing temperatures and blowing snow on a Wednesday night couldn’t keep Edmontonians from Rexall Place. The brave souls that packed the arena from floor to ceiling to watch The Tragically Hip rock their latest album, Plan A were not let down. The Hip really have no need for a Plan B when they are such a crucial part of the cultural fabric of Canada. They are the epitome of Canadiana. This country and this city love the Tragically Hip. The show openers, Hamilton based Arkells, did a superb job of warming the crowd up. They are sure to become mainstays in the Canadian music scene. At one point lead singer Max Kerman pointed to the nosebleeds to dedicate their song “Kiss Cam” to us (only the Oiler’s Stanley Cup Championship flag from ’89-’90 sat higher than us and I wouldn’t have had it any other way) he quipped that if they had attended the show they would be sitting next to us because those would be they only seats they could afford.
The latest Tragically Hip album diverges from the anthem rock that we so often associate with the Hip, but still maintains the intriguing, often abstract poetic verse, for which they are famed. Blizzard outside, with my coat and mitts stuffed into the back of my chairs, standing on my feet shouting the lyrics to “Hundredth Meridian” I couldn’t help but feel a little more Canadian than usual. By the third song the inevitable smell of that familiar weed floated through the rafters and the audience was ready for the show. The set incorporated classics and newer material with “Goodnight Attawapiskat” standing out among the Plan A songs performed. The audience were given a treat as guitarist Paul Langlois sang the final verses of Wheat Kings, and several of Rob Baker’s solos had the arena screaming. Gord Downie’s mic became a paddle to row across the stage and his handkerchief was a sail as he contorted his body to the music. His antics would be viewed as obnoxious and off-putting if performed by any other up and comer, but Gord Downie is not an up and comer. Gord Downie and The Hip are an institution in Canadian rock music, and for every pirouette and every boxing match lost to the mic stand the crowd roared with approval. His voice far from angelic, at times manic during renditions of familiar songs, Downie’s behaviour simply spurned on the audience, and turned the show into what can only be described as performance bliss. The letters “H I P” shone through a blue background in the darkness above the stage as we waited for the band to return for the five song encore, which finished with Bobcaygeon, Courage, and Little Bones, songs whose choruses are as familiar to music fans as the Canadian anthem itself. As usual, the band was in good form and gave the patriotic Hip Nation present in Rexall Place the show they were looking for.
I have witnessed the phenomena five times previous and yet it still amazes me that this band has the ability to turn any performance space; a fenced off parking lot, the Jubilee Auditorium, or Rexall Place into what feels like a private pub venue where all audience members are intimately familiar with one another. Perhaps it’s so easy to feel connected to this band because they have never distanced themselves from their Canadian homeland, but instead root themselves in the culture, the stories, and the people that unite this country. It’s as though we could all easily imagine ourselves getting a beer with the band after a long day of work and it wouldn’t be the least bit weird. I think the main reason Canadians love to love the Tragically Hip is because of the rough edges, the far from angelic voice of Downie, the guitar we crave, that unforgettable bass, and those anthem driving drums that leave many of us thinking this is Canada. Lingering, for a moment, as the audience stood in unison and applauded their thanks Downie left us with some final words; “Thank you music lovers! Take care of eachother.” I left Rexall Place with my heart brimming with Canadian pride and thought, Gord Downie you are so weird and so goddamn Canadian.
Image CC The Tragically Hip on Flickr