020599 The Tragically Hip/By Divine Right, Montreal, QC

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Todd bless The Tragically Hip.

Not just because they were simply a great rock band that wrote and performed anthems.  Not just because they literally defined Canrock for a generation.  Not just because their lyrics referenced a Canada that we all knew and loved that had never been celebrated before, but also because they taught us a lot about what we thought we knew about our much-ignored history.  Not just because every show was different and every song within those shows was different, mostly due to Gord Downie imbedding his stream-of-consciousness live poetry recitations into two-chord vamps that for any other band would’ve contained yet another guitar solo.  Not just because they did all of this with an anti-celebrity humility that cemented each band member as one of Canada’s favourite sons.  And not just because the band’s very existence is one of the hallmarks that defines Canada’s cultural identity.  No, not even that.

For all their greatness, for all of their class, one of the greatest things about The Tragically Hip was that they leveraged their success as a vehicle to champion countless struggling Canadian groups.  Think of all the bands that gained nationwide exposure on one of the three Another Roadside Attraction festival tours.  Bands like The Inbreds, Eric’s Trip, Crash Vegas, Ron Sexsmith, Change of Heart, Van Allen Belt, Ashley MacIsaac…I’m sure ARA looms large in the memories of everyone that played these shows.  Not to mention we the fans who – in addition to hearing all those great indie bands – were also treated to piles of solid well-known acts like Midnight Oil, Daniel Lanois, Los Lobos, Sheryl Crow, and Blues Traveller too, even though The Hip could have easily sold out all of those shows without them.  

You want an endorsement?  The Hip’s only live album begins with Downie dedicating the first song to their opening band (“This is for The Rheostatics…”), telling both the live audience and we listening at home that, “…we’re all richer for having seen them tonight…”.

The Tragically Hip were just so benevolent (for both the lucky band and we in the lucky audience) when it came to granting the country’s most coveted opening slot to such great and deserving Canadian bands, including their show that I saw at the Molson Centre in Montreal on February 5th, 1999.  For this one the warmup band was By Divine Right, a group that at the time included a couple of members of what would become Broken Social Scene (Brendan Canning and Leslie Feist, who herself would of course later become Feist).

That said, when The Hip hit the stage to deafening applause all of this faded to the background and the sheer power of their nation-defining music stood at the fore.  We all sweated and screamed together – every single word, of course – to such great tunes as The Luxury, Courage (for Hugh MacLennan), and Nautical Disaster, high-fiving strangers and communing with our countrymen with every shared lyric.

This concert ended with a double-encore, adding about a half-dozen more songs to the shared experience including New Orleans is Sinking (so amazing were The Tragically Hip that they made a Canadian hymn out of a canticle about a city in the American South) and Blow at High Dough, which is basically Kingston, Ontario’s theme song.  My gosh, it all felt so good.

Bless The Tragically Hip.

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