On December 6th, 2000 I saw The Tragically Hip just down the road from home at the Corel Centre (née The Palladium, future-née Scotiabank Place and future-future-née the Canadian Tire Centre). It was a one-nighter, in the middle of the band’s extensive cross-Canada tour in support of their latest album Music @ Work.
And when I say “extensive”, I mean “extensive”. What arena-sized band makes a point of stopping in towns like Brandon, Manitoba; Saint John, New Brunswick; Red Deer, Alberta or Corner Brook, Newfoundland? The Tragically Hip do, that’s who. And that’s one of the reasons they were Canada’s band.
As I say, they were touring Music @ Work – an album that held very few memorable songs aside from the overplayed (at the time) title track and the very nice acoustic-y Lake Fever – and they were pushing it pretty hard. They must have played half of the new album at this concert, but with two big sets the band still had plenty of time for fan favourites like New Orleans Is Sinking, Poets, Boots Or Hearts, Blow At High Dough, and, well, pretty much anything off of their previous albums counted as fan favourites by that time.
Sometimes I really have to stop and think about it to realize how unique it was that the entire audience would sing along to every word of every song at a Hip concert. If you were there, you know it’s true. Go to a Stones show and everyone will be singing along with Mick when he gets to “I can’t get no satisfaction,” and “Time is on my side,” or go to see Aerosmith and listen as everyone pipes in for “Walk this way,” and “Love in an elevator…” but those are just the choruses! When it comes to the verses usually the audience bows out and lets the vocalist do his thing, but not with The Tragically Hip. Unless the song is brand-spanking new the whole crowd would be doing their best to scream over Gord Downie for every single line of every single song.
Which is pretty cool in a way, but in another way it was something of a blessing to hear so much new material at this concert.
What am I saying? While it was fun to watch (and actually hear) Gord sing the new songs, I was right there screaming along with everyone else to Little Bones, Nautical Disaster, Twist My Arm, and so many others, and I loved it. At their best (and in their home country) The Hip hosted the true communal rock and roll experience, the likes of which is pretty hard to come by nowadays no matter how hard you look.
And it was all based on the fully-immersed love and commitment to the music (and especially lyrics) that The Tragically Hip fans inevitably share, the type of fandom where you could turn to any stranger at any time during a Hip concert and sing virtually any lyric at each other and the high-fives would rain down.
Though I suppose if a dude turned to me at a show raging and singing, “My music at work, my music at work, my music at work,” I might give him a wave and a weak smile, but I think I’d hold on to my high fives for another song and maybe take the opportunity to go find the nearest beer vendor.