Monday, August 22, 2016

Full Circle

I didn't want to go, originally. I had seen them perform a couple of times and hadn't been impressed with the shows. While I liked their music, the actual stage performances were somewhat lackluster.

But those shows were a long time ago.

I barely remember the first time I saw The Tragically Hip. It was in 1987 or 88, in Kingston, at Queen's University. It was either during Frosh Week or at Homecoming, the university's big weekend of football and alumni. I arrived in the evening and found my friend, Al, who was in poli-sci. He handed me a beer and we made our way to the fields behind Ontario Hall, where a local band was making lots of noise.

I didn't pay much attention because I was there to see my friend and spend a weekend of drunken mayhem at a university that I, myself, had almost attended. By the time the weekend was over and I was making my way back to Ottawa, the name of the band was long-forgotten.

I saw The Hip, a few years later, at Barrymore's, on Bank Street. A few of my friends and girlfriend (now, my wife) wanted to see how this Kingston band had progressed, now that their album, Up To Here, had made it big. The show was deafening, with it's hard-driving guitars, but we liked it loud. Our main concern, though, was with the lead singer, who seemed drunk or stoned, or both, and seemed like he was going to fall off the stage.

Gord didn't fall, but we all left the show thinking that the performance was disappointing, compared to the album.

I continued to buy and listen to their music, but I wasn't keen on seeing them perform live again.

I did see them, however, about 10 years ago, maybe less, at Bluesfest. I was volunteering at the Ottawa Blues Society tent, selling t-shirts and pins, and I had a clear, though distant view of the stage, and the sound was loud and clear. But it didn't move me, and I swore that I would never go to another Hip show again (though, technically, I didn't go to this one: I just happened to be there when they were playing).

For almost 30 years, I've been a fan of The Tragically Hip. Though, to read this blog post, you wouldn't know it. But I love the band, have followed their music, sang their songs around the house, at Karaoke outings, and even at a couple of open-mic events.

More on that, tomorrow.

When I learned of Gord Downie's condition, I was crushed. With the release of the news, the band announced that it was going to head out on tour for what, in all likelihood, will be the last time. Tickets were snapped up by scalpers and there was outcry at how the prices had skyrocketed, but I didn't care. I wasn't going to go, anyway.

When the CBC announced that they would be broadcasting the final show, I thought, okay, I'll watch it. Or, at least, catch parts of it.

My wife, however, had different plans.

For her, she had some unfinished business with The Hip. She was disappointed by the two shows that we had seen together. In the early 90s, she also went to a concert where they headlined, with Midnight Oil opening for them. After that show, she told me that the Australian band electrified the crowd, whereas The Hip was a downer.

She wanted to see the band one last time, in Kingston, and she expected it to be unlike any we had seen before. She reserved a room at Queen's University and tried to get tickets to the K Rock Centre. I protested, saying that I didn't want to see The Hip live, that I would be, as always, disappointed.

Even though she couldn't get tickets, she kept the room reservation, saying that we would watch the CBC broadcast from a pub in Kingston, that the energy in the city would be worth the trip. It was only a couple of days before the show that we learned that a huge screen would be set up in the Kingston Market Square. We knew it would be a big party: we didn't realize how large it would be.

We were in that marked area.
I won't tell you how the show went: if you didn't watch it on television or if you weren't in Kingston that night, you probably haven't been interested in this post anyway.

My wife had some unfinished business with The Hip. After the show, she said that all accounts were settled. 

I saw The Tragically Hip for the first time, in Kingston, out in the open air. It was only fitting that I did the same for what is probably the last time.

And like DW, I have no regrets.

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