Liz McAdams Randomness from Twisted Sister Twisted Sister Nonfiction

CONCERT REVIEW — The Hip — Last Call

In the spirit of all things rock and roll, here at Twisted Sister we’re gonna take a moment to remember an iconic Canadian band, The Tragically Hip; their last show was just this past Saturday after a nearly 30 year career. Canadian writer Liz McAdam’s essay follows, take a moment and grab some tissues.

image -- leftofurban / CBC broadcasting
image — leftofurban / CBC broadcasting

Even typing the title, ‘The Hip – Last Call’ stirs up overwhelming emotions for me – I’ve been a fan of The Tragically Hip for about 25 years; they have been the soundtrack of the best parts of my life. So, as I’m writing this, I’m trying not to cry.

The Tragically Hip have been called Canada’s house band. The songs are quintessentially Canadian; about things like the prairies, court cases, and cottage country – but never folksy, instead evoking a sense of the people and the country as seen through the eyes of rock and roll.

Most people between the ages of 18-55 have a personal connection to The Tragically Hip; they are the music of backyard barbecues and campfires, complexity beyond simple national songs, their music is the soundtrack of many lives.

So when the band announced their final tour Man Machine Poem in light of singer and songwriter Gord Downie’s diagnosis of a fatal form of brain cancer, glioblastoma multiforme, or GBM, ticket sales went through the roof and the country went into mourning.

In this form of cancer, life expectancy after diagnosis is about 15 months, and the sufferer endures seizures, and cognitive effects such as language difficulties, and memory and gait problems.

In the initial announcement the last tour and Gord Downie’s battle with GBM, radio DJs broke down on the air. It’s not simply about the end of a brilliant mind, but the end of an era of music and song writing.

So excuse me if some tears fall on my keyboard.

And most media outlets are the same. A recent attempt to interview sports radio personality Joey Vendetta on a major radio station about his long time relationship with the band and the final show led to the host DJ asking yes/no questions while Joey Vendetta sobbed on live radio.

Many other artists and musicians (Eddie Vedder from Pearl Jam) sent well wishes and support for this final show.

The Hip (as they are known) spent the past few weeks on a farewell tour, Man Machine Poem, with the final concert in Kingston, Ontario – the place where they started as a tiny, nobody club band playing to drunken college kids.

The Hip evolved in this manner – not a slickly produced musical product geared for marketing gurus, theirs is the stuff of people. This band came out of lousy clubs, warm beer and legion halls, not an executive’s office. And their songs touch nearly everyone.

For those who aren’t Canadian, you might have seen those memes on various social media sites, apologizing (as is the Canadian way) for shutting the entire country down as everyone would be watching the final concert broadcast on a national television station (and superseding Olympic coverage – but it didn’t matter, because the Canadian athletes were watching the show too).

According final reports, nearly a third of all Canadians were watching the show on TV, listening on radio, or at the concert themselves. My town hosted a public screening at a local park, broadcasting the televised concert on a big screen. For the record, the Prime Minister was at the show. So the country really did shut down, at least for the night.

Informal reviews were mixed; some criticized Gord Downie’s erratic vocals or unconventional stage presence. The show did get off to a rough start, with some very forced vocals and the band lagging behind, but at three songs in, magic happened as they caught up with each other.

And that’s when music began to transcend time and space.

Gord Downie’s sense of performance, and the poetry in the lyrics reached through, grabbing you and keeping you there. The Hip is definitely not a folksy band; songs were often about screaming pain out of existence, taking sound and stretching it into something else entirely; approaching the sublime. The listener was pulled along by complex lyrics and driving rhythms, and taken to a place outside of themselves.

Emotions ran high throughout the audience as Canadians celebrated a band, and mourned the loss of an iconic singer. Gord Downie’s stage banter was minimal, only between final songs did he give the ironic parting phrase, ‘have a nice life.’

In one memorable moment, Gord Downie called on Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, telling his audience that under Trudeau, we’d be in good hands, and that Trudeau was a man who really ‘gets it’ (with regards to the situation in Northern Canada) and would change things. In that exchange, the Prime Minister himself said little, merely mouthing the words ‘thank you’, because he was crying so hard.

Calling on Trudeau was a final blessing by a performer known for showmanship; and this was the sense of the show – through song sequences and selection – of a final blessing, parting words of wisdom and gift to his listeners. At various points, Downie himself seemed overwhelmed by emotion, and as show progressed and fatigue crept in, he had to be helped off stage.

And the crowd was with him every step of the way.

That was the power of the final show – not the music itself, but the reactions among the people. The crowd sang along, danced, and shed tears as the songs played on. Musically, aside from the few false starts and missteps common with live acts, songs were tight, and energy high. But is was the emotional response that kept you going – the listener was pulled along by a force they couldn’t understand and taken to a place they could only imagine – we were transported by music and lyrics to Gord Downie’s Canada.

In the final moments, as Downie was belting Grace, Too the camera panned to the audience, most stood with tears streaming down their faces. Vocal power rang through the arena, pushing song and sound into something else, wrapped in raw emotion.

It was a true swan song; in the final concert, Gord Downie gave us himself.

Image - leftofurban / CBC broadcasting
Image – leftofurban / CBC broadcasting

Be sure to check out the The Tragically Hip website and their official YouTube Channel. I’ve included some other song lyrics over here.

Ahead by a Century was written by Rob Baker, Gord Downie, Johnny Fay, Paul Langlois, and Gord Sinclair and was the final song performed on August 20, 2016 in the last concert of The Tragically Hip’s Man Machine Poem tour. Grab a tissue, and give it a listen.


Ahead By A Century (Album “Trouble at the Henhouse’ – 1996)

First thing we’d climb a tree

And maybe then we’d talk

Or sit silently

And listen to our thoughts

With illusions of someday

Cast in a golden light

No dress rehearsal,

This is our life


And that’s where the hornet stung me

And I had a feverish dream

With revenge and doubt

Tonight, we smoke them out


You are ahead by a century

You are ahead by a century

You are ahead by a century


Stare in the morning shroud

And then the day began

I tilted your cloud

You tilted my hand

Rain falls in real time

And rain fell through the night

No dress rehearsal, this is our life


But that’s when the hornet stung me

And I had a serious dream

With revenge and doubt

Tonight, we smoked them out


You are ahead by a century

You are ahead by a century

You are ahead by a century


You are ahead by a century

You are ahead by a century

You are ahead by a century

And disappointing you is gettin’ me down

Image – leftofurban / CBC broadcasting

Once you dry your tears, keep it coming – head on back to our New Releases and Greatest Hits – crank ‘em up and let ‘em roll. And don’t forget about our posts on writing over here.

image - leftofurban
image – leftofurban

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