Tragically Hip knock it out of Winnipeg ballpark
Love affair with veteran rockers still going strong
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 08/07/2011 (4060 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
For 27 long years, Winnipeg and the Tragically Hip have loved each other, hard, with the kind of love that naturally blooms between Prairie people, and a band that rocks out about hockey.
And Thursday night, it was time to take that long relationship to the next level: For the very first time, Gord Downie and his crew made it to second base.
Hey, why not? They’ve played almost every other venue in Winnipeg, and the baseball park is a beautiful venue for a summer show — other than the much-ballyhooed beer line bottlenecks. (“You can’t even sell your kidney for a beer in this place,” moaned a concert-goer, stalking out of the park between opening sets.)
Who needs a beer when the sight is this intoxicating: At about 9:20 p.m., the trees of the Red River banks loomed green behind the stage, the spire of the Esplanade Riel poked up in the distance, and the Tragically Hip marched onto a simple stage with little fanfare.
A band this veteran doesn’t need bells and whistles.
No, they just dive right in. Downie, looking dapper in a button-down vest and crisp, checkered shirt, walked to the edge of the stage and pounced on the microphone.
A slash of chords cut through the gathering night and a one-two punch of old and new kicked off the show: 2006’s Lonely End of the Rink, followed by classic Hip hit Grace, Too.
While beach balls flew across the jam-packed field, Downie gave a nod to the city that has always made the Hip at home.
“They don’t name anything after musicians, except the Burton Cummings Theatre,” he said. “That’s why you’re ahead of your time, Winnipeg.”
As the sun set behind the stands, the Hip offered up some of their comparatively mellow songs to sink it on its way: It’s A Good Life (If You Don’t Weaken), for instance, and Gift Shop. And there was much more Winnipeg love: With a grin, Downie picked up a guitar and dedicated Ahead By A Century to Lloyd Axworthy and the Canadian Museum for Human Rights.
Unfortunately, press time came only halfway through the show — just as the growing energy of a well-lubricated crowd (congrats to whoever got the kidney) started to fuse with a set driving toward bone-rattling rockers.
But first, a little surprise. “Well, it’s not just a special night. Tonight is Johnny (Fay’s) birthday,” Downie trilled, before leading the crowd into an unexpectedly lovely Birthday Song singalong to the drummer.
Then the band slammed into the unforgettable riff to the 100th Meridian — and one can guess what happened next.
Sadly, the show was not quite such a smash for Broken Social Scene.
Despite frontman Brendan Canning’s best attempt to woo the crowd — a Winnipeg Jets jersey — the acclaimed Toronto indie-rock collective received a tepid response from party-hearty Hip fans, who all but drowned out the set with beer-line buzz.
“Are you with us? Some of you?” Canning asked, wryly. “Some of you are with us. I think.”
The Tragically Hip
July 7, 2011
Four stars out of five
Melissa Martin reports and opines for the Winnipeg Free Press.