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The Tragically Hip “A National Celebration” Farewell Concert Shuts Down Canada

The Tragically Hip have played presumably their final concert, on August 20, 2016 to an emotional crowd in Kingston, Ontario. The event was dubbed “A National Celebration” and was broadcast live on CBC, uninterrupted by ANY commercials, uncensored and raw which is an unprecedented move by a National broadcaster.

All of Canada it seems stopped what they were doing to watch The Tragically Hip perform their final show. Lead singer Gord Downie announced earlier this year that he was battling terminal brain cancer, which left fans in a state of shock and distress. The band was gearing up to release their 14th studio album ‘Man, Machine, Poem’ and they had a string of Canadian tour dates ready to go. Downie’s news didn’t stop ANY of that from happening. Instead we got a cross-country farewell in every major Canadian city for the singer and the band that has been the heart and soul of Canadian music for decades.

Photo credit TheStar.com
Photo credit TheStar.com

Before their final live performance, we got to see a couple minutes of Downie and his bandmates Paul Langlois (guitar), Rob Baker (guitar), Gord Sinclair (bass/vocals) and Johnny Fay (Drums) waiting backstage. Downie did this thing with each and every single person where he kisses them on the lips, whispers something in their ear and then hugs — every single person back there. I don’t know if Downie does that all the time, or if this was just factoring in the high emotional stakes of the upcoming show. It was fascinating though to see that much love before three hours of music started to flow across every TV set in Canada.

The Hip kicked off the evening with my favorite song of theirs: ‘Fifty Mission Cap” and from the getgo, Gord was pumped up. You could just tell from every chorus, every line, he was putting a little extra level of force into those vocals. You could mistake some of his delivery as yelling, but I like to think he was just hammering those damn lyrics out because it was the last time he’ll ever sing them in front of an audience – maybe ever. They didn’t label this as the band’s final concert – but when you have a guy battling a terminal illness, and you have this as their final scheduled tourdate, and the prime minister shows up (along with the entire country), and they play damn near every single hit in their history live for everyone to see — you start to put the pieces together for yourself.

I loved hearing ‘Tired as Fuck’ live off the new album, especially during primetime on National Canadian Television – uncut 100% F-bombs galore. I wonder if families watching this had to cover their kids’ ears? Canadian television has been known to be a tad strict, but even CBC (I get it they are a public broadcast channel, but still) had to let The Hip do whatever the hell they wanted one last time.

The show went long, with THREE encores, which was perfect. They could have ended with ‘And Grace Too’ because it was the strongest and most emotionally charged live song of the night for me personally. Watching Gord get teary-eyed while he belts out those otherwordly screams near the end of the song was one of the most gut-wrenching and beautiful things I’ve ever seen during a concert. They would cut to the crowd and you could feel the impact of that song hitting every person in that venue right in their souls. It was almost too much and if there ever was a time for grown men wearing hockey jersey’s and drinking beer to let some tears out of their eyeballs — this was most certainly their free pass to do so in public.

Downie took a little bit of time to tell fans that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is taking this country in the necessary direction and I really loved that moment. Downie addressed the wrong-doings that have been happening in the Northwestern Territories to Canada’s Indigenous people and urged Trudeau to help initiate the change. “His (Trudeau’s) work with First Nations. He’s going to take us everywhere,” said Downie.

Their final song was ‘Ahead by a Century’ which was nice, but in a show packed with so many memorable moments you can pick and choose which song was your personal send-off. The one I’ll remember was ‘And Grace Too’ — it was the first Hip song I ever heard in my life and for the longest time it was my favorite before I really became a fan in the late 90’s. Downie’s outfits were ridiculous, but both his and his bandmates’ final performance was a fitting farewell to the fans that have proudly proclaimed The Tragically Hip Canada’s band for so long and after this show, I have no doubt that they can carry the crown as the greatest Canadian rock band in history.

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Read Kevin Smiley’s review of Man, Machine, Poem right HERE.
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