The Hip's farewell gig

The Tragically Hip lead singer Gord Downie performing on July 22. He was diagnosed with brain cancer last December.
The Tragically Hip lead singer Gord Downie performing on July 22. He was diagnosed with brain cancer last December.PHOTO: REUTERS

OTTAWA • The Tragically Hip, the Canadian rock band beloved for songs about local culture, small towns and hockey, wrapped up an emotional tour with a hometown concert last Saturday, giving fans a chance to bid farewell to lead singer Gord Downie, who was diagnosed in December with terminal brain cancer.

Known in Canada simply as The Hip, the band are on what is expected to be their final tour with Downie, 52, who announced his illness in May. He is considered one of Canada's greatest songwriters. In Canada, his band were R.E.M., Pearl Jam and the Rolling Stones wrapped into one.

Their 15-date tour was the most poignant of goodbye tours - Canada's chance to say goodbye.

News of Downie's dying prompted an outpouring of shock and support. Towns across the country declared Tragically Hip days.

Canadians have been paying homage. Staff at the cancer centre where Downie is receiving treatment sang a cover of the band's song Courage. In British Columbia, a community choir sang a Hip song outside of the provincial legislature building.

"Farewell to Canada's greatest rock band," The Toronto Star newspaper said in a headline last Friday.

The band's last hometown show last Saturday in Kingston, Ontario, was billed as a national celebration. It was broadcast live, with bars and outdoor venues across the country hosting public viewings.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who has said Downie had "been writing Canada's soundtrack for more than 30 years", attended.

He told the Canadian Broadcasting Corp at the event that he became a fan of the band in university and called it "an inevitable and essential part of what we are and who we are as a country".

Downie, known for his frenetic stage presence and telling long stories in the middle of songs, has maintained his pace during the tour, clad in custom-made bright metallic suits.

The Man Machine Poem tour, named after the band's new album, sold out stadiums across the country in minutes, prompting controversy about ticket resellers.

Tickets for Saturday's show went for upwards of US$1,000 (S$1,300) on ticket reseller StubHub last Friday.

Mr Trudeau was offered tickets by the band and would pay for them, his spokesman said.

Formed in the 1980s with roots in blues and rock, The Tragically Hip found radio popularity on both classic and alternative rock stations.

A slew of singles became radio fixtures, while their 14 albums nabbed numerous awards. Their well- known lyrics often make intrinsically Canadian references, such as to the 1972 hockey series between Canada and the Soviet Union.

"There is a Canadianness that runs through them to the point where new citizens should be given a Tragically Hip CD after they take the oath," said Alan Cross, a radio show host and music historian who called Downie "the rock 'n' roll poet laureate of Canada".


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 22, 2016, with the headline 'The Hip's farewell gig'. Print Edition | Subscribe