If you read this blog, you know me. You know that in my core, in my bones, I am passionately, proudly Canadian. I’m a hoser, man. Through and through. I fucking love the shit out of Canada and I am especially proud of our incredible music. I could get lost in Rush for days. The first concert I ever went to was Bryan Adams. I worship The Barenaked Ladies and hum Crash Test Dummies in my sleep. And honestly, I know the words to a lot more Shania Twain songs than people even realize. If I listed here every single Canadian artist on my iPod right now, you’d get dizzy. CanRock is everything. It’s just simply a fundamental of who I am.
And yet, none of these gods or goddesses in the great CanRock pantheon come even remotely close to inspiring the devotion in me that the The Tragically Hip does. This band is Canada itself, personified. Their music reaches me on a cellular level and connects to parts of me that nothing else can. And I’m not being intentionally hyperbolic, this is serious shit. If there’s music in your life that you fucking love like I love The Hip then you get it. If you’re some kind of weirdo that doesn’t even like music then I feel sorry for you. I feel sorry that you’ll never know what it’s like to be affected on every level of your being by artistry so divine. Artistry that nurtures and nourishes your soul. It’s crazy, but that’s what it is. It’s the life-sustaining thing that my soul needs. I need The Hip’s music like I need air to breathe.
That’s what I thought when I heard the news about Gord; the air that I need to breathe, to live, is being taken away.
Yeah, I’ll always have their music right at my fingertips anytime I want it. But knowing that there will eventually be an end to it, no more new stuff to get lost in, its unbearable. I’m not a “just the hits” kind of gal, I live for it all.
Deciding to tour after going public with Gord’s news about the incurable brain cancer was absolutely the right thing for the band to do, the only thing. And after the concert on Wednesday night, I’m convinced that he’s immortal anyways. Cancer won’t kill Gord. When he’s good and ready he’ll just decide to start his next chapter, that’s all it is. Cancer doesn’t get to have a say, Gord’s in charge and he does things his own unique way, he always has and he always will. It’s why I love him so much. That casual cavalier who-gives-a-fuck-what-anyone-thinks approach to just being himself, it’s inspiring.
I’ve seen The Hip live a number of times, and you never get the same show twice. You can’t ever tell what Gord will do next and it’s thrilling. You follow where he leads and you love every goddamn minute of it, that’s how you experience The Hip.
I was lucky enough to get tickets for the first in a series of three Toronto shows on their final tour. I got hosed on the pre-sale and the general public sale, but a couple of weeks later when more tickets were released I’m convinced that my kind and generous CanRock Gods let favour swing my way. Like I said, I’m bonkers for this band. While I saw plenty of other people give up saying “I’ve seen them before, guess that’ll do”, I wasn’t willing to give up hope so easily. I thought about it every single day. I even considered shelling out thousands for platinum seats in more feverish moments. If it came down to it, sure, I’d bend the knee for the StubHub lords, whatever it took. I just felt it, that I would go to this show. I needed to be there and the universe gladly obliged. I got an email through the fan club about more tickets being released, I marked it in my calendar and I wished with all my might. The day of the sale, it all worked out and I’m eternally grateful.
When the tour started I devoured every single piece of news about it. I loved seeing the band’s set lists on their Instagram account. I read so many fan reviews and stories about the shows. All of it just stoking the fire of my anticipation. Waiting was excruciating, but so worth it. It was impossible not to get emotional any time someone asked me about the show. I feel my feelings quite freely, no shame in that, and plenty of times I cried just telling people what this concert means to me personally. And most of the people I talked to were kind enough to not call me insane directly to my face, instead they probably thought it politely in their heads while nodding along, which I appreciated.
And then all of a sudden it was time.
This night will live in my heart forever.
We had rear view seats, which I was a little worried about, but turned out amazingly well. There were massive screens on all four sides of the stage, so we didn’t miss a single thing. I saw every beautiful nuance of Gordie’s face while he sang to us. It was also really cool getting to see the bulk of the audience facing us, seeing what the band sees when they play to these sold-out maniacal crowds. What an amazing view!
And the setup with the screens was perfect. Gord knew where the cameras were and he didn’t shy away from them at all. He loved using the cameras as a way to connect with everyone. There was this really wonderful moment where he just stared straight into the lens, a myriad of expressions passing across his face, and it felt like he was looking right at you, looking into you. Such a special thing, it allowed 20,000 people to feel like they got to have one personal moment with Gord.
They played so many great songs. The Hip have the most incredibly robust catalogue. So many crowd pleasers, too many for one performance. Some fantastic deep cuts too, stuff that is just always so surprising, but awesome to hear live. The new material fit right in. What Blue and Tired As Fuck felt like they were old gems I’ve always loved. Grace Too, 50 Mission Cap, Lake Fever, Little Bones, Three Pistols, Music at Work, Fully Completely, Wheat Kings… they just gave and gave.
I expected to cry the whole time, to just be overcome. But I wasn’t. We rocked the fuck out, the band made sure of it. They played for over two and half hours and while there were lots of emotional moments peppered throughout the evening, the overall tone was much more triumphant than sad. It was a passionate and heady performance. I cried as soon as I heard the first few notes of Fiddler’s Green mostly because that’s just such a weighty song anyways. And again I cried hearing one of my personal favourites, Ahead By a Century… that lyric “disappointing you is getting me down” just felt too real.
But the most emotional moment of the whole concert was after the encore, Bobcaygeon, when Gordie bowed to the crowd and said “Thank you, Toronto. Thank you forever.” Instant waterfall of tears. Bawling, all of us, a whole stadium of people.
It couldn’t last forever though, no matter how much I wished it would. All things end.
When it was time to say goodbye we cheered our hearts out for Gordie for a full three minutes while he stood there soaking it in, waving and bowing so appreciatively back at us. A thunderous amount of love for the man who means and has meant so much to so many of us, to this nation, for over 30 years. That was our moment to say what we needed to say to this great man. We fucking love you. So much.
You can watch it, our applause for Gord. And if you couldn’t get the tickets that you desperately wanted for one of the shows, I’m sorry. That fucking sucks. But you can take comfort in this little sliver of the magic that I bottled up and saved for you:
Best concert ever. Period.
I’ll never forget that night in Toronto.