I could throw out a million little adjectives to describe what the atmosphere was like inside the Artpark Mainstage Theatre on Tuesday night, but I don’t think all that fancy schmancy regress would begin to do justice to the experience. What occurred was transcendent. What occurred was sublime. What occurred goes beyond the thinking man’s tendency to rationalize all the world’s idiosyncrasies. What occurred was a concert from Kingston, Ont.’s own The Tragically Hip.
Sporting a jet-black suit reminiscent of Ringo Starr’s “Abbey Road” attire, Gordon Downie graced the stage determined to make everyone in attendance feel just a little bit better than when they came in.
Whether it was the melancholic yearning of “The Depression Suite” or the vivacity behind “Family Band,” the group as a unit seemed to be having a blast on stage and sounded tighter than their last few tours combined. At this point in their career, they’re just five guys whose abundant respect for each other fuels a creative fire to the point that nothing is too far out of reach.
Led by Downie’s refreshing, borderline-epileptic persona, the band proceeded to tear into gem after endlessly emotive gem and had the appreciative crowd in the palm of their hand for the remainder of the evening.
Bobby Baker and Paul Langlois are consummate professionals when in command of their axes, but even they managed to shed a smile here and there to acknowledge the awesomeness of the event. To say that their playing on this night was nothing short of flawless would imply that we expected any different, so I’ll just say that the more they played, the less I started to worry about what abominable condition the parking lot would be in after the show. I simply didn’t care.
Other first set highlights included a stirring rendition of “Gift Shop” and a rare appearance of “Throwing Off Glass,” but it wasn’t until the second set began that the immensity of the show was solidified.
To keep things new, the band decided to kick off every second set of this tour with a three-song acoustic breakdown to enhance the intimacy. For this particular show, they chose “Thompson Girl,” “Fiddler’s Green,” and “Ahead by a Century” as the tunes receiving the unplugged treatment, and, judging from the crowd’s elation, you would’ve thought that they had just won the lottery.
In a sense, they did, because “Fiddler’s Green” still strikes an emotional chord with Downie and seldom finds its way into a set. The fact that they broke it out speaks volumes about the integrity and unpredictability they’ve come to espouse through the years and the audience let them know it every step of the way.
If you’re wondering why I haven’t mentioned the thunderous rhythm section of Gord Sinclair and Johnny Fay, don’t worry. Since it’s so easy to get lost in Downie’s priceless theatrical stylings, I wanted to give them their due in a way that often goes underappreciated. The ability of Fay to pulverize the skins into submission gets taken for granted as something that will always be there and the fact that he’s a virtuous drummer often gets lost in the mix.
As for Sinclair, he’s always struck me as a reserved guy who lets the fluidity of his playing speak for itself and I’d say he’s found the perfect niche to conquer.
If you had told me on Monday that “Gift Shop,” “Bobcaygeon,” “Fiddler’s Green,” Nautical Disaster” and “Grace, Too” would all make appearances, I probably would’ve laughed in your face. Walking out of the theatre Tuesday night, I felt like I had just seen something that I’ll carry with me for the rest of my life.
That’s how it is with a Hip show. It feels less like a concert and more like an exclusive gathering for 2,400 of their closest friends that everyone else missed the boat for.
With three shows to go, one can only imagine the room for expansion, because, if the opener was any indication, this four-night stand will indeed become the stuff legends are made of.