I have never been a part of something like this in all of the years that I've been going to shows.
Think about how many stadium shows you have been to where the cheering of the audience drowns out the band. There's probably been a few. Possibly many. But how many times has this taken place NOT in the encore, or the first or last song, but part way into a set, and before a song is even complete?
Halfway into The Tragically Hip's set on August 1, the band was pounding out "Grace, Too." Toward the end of the song, the audience noise actually drown out the music--and not in a quiet moment in the song, but during the Hip's patented driving outro section.
It was as if the entire Saddledome audience was propping up Gord Downie (and the band), supporting him as for a family member who has given so much of himself to better the lives of his loved ones. I don't want my still fresh, still glowing memories to lead to bias, but this was the most powerful moment I've ever experienced at a concert. (Check the swell of energy starting around 5 mins: https://twitter.com/thehipdotcom/status/760551952912617472)
Gord gave his all for this show, this moment. And let's be clear. I didn't go into this show watching for weakness; I was searching for strength. As I said to the concert goers in the neighbouring seats, "If Gord is standing, so are we." After 2.5 hours, I didn't want to sit down, because outside of whatever happened backstage during some scheduled breaks to change outfits, Gord was giving his all and soaking in every moment. Gord was being Gord (This is a serious compliment, btw). His self-animation was prime at several points. His mic was used as a flashlight, motorcycle handlebar grip, fishing rod reel. His hands became a peacock tail as he strutted around the stage. He poured his voice into every song, often letting out long growls, wails, and almost James Brown-like squeals.
This show, this tour I suppose, was and is Gord's moment--a moment to share with his brothers and his fans. I've never been more proud to share this with someone.
The show opened with Gord in a metallic golden suit, surrounded in a tight formation by his band mates. The arrangement of the band in this semi-acoustic setting bona fide their brotherhood.
Road Apples was the focus of the first few songs. I was not expecting to hear "Fiddler's Green", but three songs into the set, the song choice activated the waterworks. Yup. I was bawling. (I must have played that song 300 times when I was younger: around campfires, in my basement, at school, whenever I had an acoustic guitar in hand). In retrospect, getting that emotion out of the way early in the night was exactly what I needed to soak in the rest of this show.
From there, songs were grouped by album. Road Apples led to their latest--Man, Machine, Poem. After a quick break and reconfiguration of the stage, songs from World Container preceded Day for Night, followed by Phantom Power. The first encore? Trouble at the Henhouse. Up to Here closed out the night.
Check out the set list here: https://twitter.com/thehipdotcom/status/760465017460428800
It wasn't until my wife and I were in the middle of the impossible task of getting a cab after the show that we realized there wasn't a song performed from Fully Completely. No "New Orleans is Sinking" either. And you know what? It didn't matter.
I could go on, song by song, but the praise would not stop. The love in the room was overwhelming.
And isn't this what music is all about? Performers and audience driven by emotion. A band performing as if in a never ending, ever evolving prime?
Amazing. Beautiful. Inspiring.
Afterthought 1: The morning after the show, I was at a gas station where I saw a guy in a Hip T-shirt. We pointed at each other, pointed at our shirts, gave each other the nod, and moved on. We both knew.
Afterthought 2: I don't want to diminish the roll that the rest of the band played. I'll write about them more in the future (especially my appreciation for Johnny Fay's drumming).