That Night in Hamilton



Well, that came and went in the blink of an eye.  There’s so much to say about The Tragically Hip show in Hamilton last night and I hope that I can do it justice.  I’m not sure it’s possible for me to cover it all so if you’re really interested, maybe check back on this blog post from time to time because I may continue to add things as I remember them.

The boys and I all blew out of work at noon and we made it to the hotel in downtown Hamilton by 2pm. The hotel was only a five minute walk from the arena.  There were already people gathering in the streets by that point.  The band opened up official merchandise booths in the street at 3pm.  I’ve never seen that before but it proved to be a great decision because the merch lines inside were so long, I wouldn’t be surprised if there were still people waiting in line to buy a memento today.

This was way more than just a rock concert.  You could feel it in the air.  It was a life event.  It was a celebration.  It was a bittersweet goodbye.  Music has the unique ability to tie us to our own histories.  This band and their songs are tightly woven into the fabric of Canada. Their music is quite literally the soundtrack to so many lives over the past thirty years.  Is there a more important, a more quintessentially Canadian band or artist than The Hip? I seriously doubt it.

This was not just for Canadians though.  The arena holds approximately 19,000 people for a concert and I would guess that, from the number of Sabres hats and “I Remember Buffalo” t-shirts that I saw, at least a couple thousand people from Western New York made the short trip up the QEW with us.  In fact, we ran into a few people that we know at the hotel.

My friend Jon was part of our group and although he lives in Buffalo, he is originally from Kingston, Ontario, which is of course The Hip’s hometown too.  Jon’s brother and sister in-law met us for a few beers before the show and were regaling us with stories about the band.  His brother has close ties to the band and their families and it was fascinating to hear about them(I learned that they call hockey pucks “Road Apples” in Kingston, which I’m guessing is where the band got that album title).  Kingston is a relatively small town(population 170,000 according to the interwebs) and I can only imagine that the last six months have hit them particularly hard.

After getting “primed” for the show in our hotel room, we walked over to the arena around 7.  It was announced that the show would start promptly at 8:30 and there was no opening act.  The first thing that struck me as we entered was that there was minimal security.  You can hardly go anywhere around here these days without getting “wanded” and pat down in an all too personal way.  Easy there, fella,  we’re not dating!  There was nothing like that at this arena.  They scanned our tickets and in we went. Once inside the arena, it was also quickly evident that we were no longer in the States.  There were full bars everywhere with mixed drinks.  There was a smoking section outdoors!  Hell, there was even a food stand selling poutine.


It’s hard to describe the atmosphere inside the arena before the show.  There was a seriously good vibe to it.  Like a great family reunion(for those that like being around their families). It reminded me of the last time the Sabres were really great in the playoffs, ’05-06 and ’06-07.  I would go out to bars to see some of their playoff games and strangers were talking to and high-fiving each other.  People were looking out for each other and had no qualms about starting a friendly conversation with you.

8:30 and the lights went down.  The band came on stage to a deafening roar from the crowd and immediately tore into At the Hundreth Meridian.  I like to think that this was a shout out from the band to all of their Buffalo fans in attendance since this was the closest show to us and the song famously mentions Buffalo.  It’s a brilliant little lyric that will outlive us all.

I remember, I remember Buffalo
And I remember Hengelo
It would seem to me I remember every
Single fucking thing I know

I just looked it up and according to this website, the reference is to their show at UB in 1993 where some idiot threw a shoe and hit Gord in the head.  He immediately walked off of the stage and the show was over.  That was my first Hip show.

Here is the amazing set list:

I went into this show with no expectations regarding the set-list.  Whichever albums they would choose to highlight were just fine with me.  As it turned out, we got four songs each from Day For Night, Phantom Power, Fully Completely, and World Container, along with three from Trouble at the Henhouse and a pair from Road Apples.  CBC recently ranked the Hip albums and had World Container as second to last.  I happen to love that album because it has some special meaning for me and so was happy to hear the four songs they chose from the 2007 release.

There were so many highlights and more than a few extremely poignant moments.  So many of their songs can be interpreted as relating to their current circumstances. Courage, the second song of the night, is an obvious example.  #CourageforGord has been a trending hashtag for weeks now.  I found Scared to be a particularly poignant song last night.

Okay, you made me scared, you did what you set out to do
And I’m not prepared, you really had me going there for a minute or two
He said, you made me scared too, I wasn’t sure I was getting through
I got to go, it’s been a pleasure doing business with you

There were so many moments, so many highlights, that I’d be here writing all day if I tried to cover them all.  The crowd was standing and dancing from start to finish.  There were times when the crowd was so loud in their adoration for the band that I thought the roof would start to crumble.  Every ounce of energy and effort that the band gave was given back to them 1000 fold by their loving fans.  I expect that this will be the only concert I ever attend where so many tears were shed.

A couple more points and then I’ll leave it for now. Near the end, Gord told a great story about the first time they ever played in Hamilton to a crowd of zero.  Yes, that’s right.  Not one person showed up and they told Gord Sinclair to keep playing his bass while they went to collect their fee, otherwise they would not get paid.  They made $325 that night. Great story.

The second to last song was Fiddlers Green and if pressed to pick only one highlight of the evening, that would be it for me.  I don’t think that I ever saw them play this song before.

September seventeen
For a girl I know it’s Mother’s Day
Her son has gone alee
And that’s where he will stay
The wind on the weathervane
Tearing blue eyes sailor mean
As Falstaff sings a sorrowful refrain
For a boy in Fiddler’s Green

His tiny knotted heart
Well, I guess it never worked to good
The timber tore apart
And the water gorged the wood
You can hear her whispered prayer
For men at masts that always lean
The same wind that moves her hair
Moves her boy through Fiddler’s Green

Nothing’s changed anyway
Nothing’s changed anyway
Any time today

He doesn’t know a soul
There’s nowhere that he’s really been
But he won’t travel long alone
No, not in Fiddler’s Green
Balloons all filled with rain
As children’s eyes turn sleepy mean
And Falstaff sings a sorrowful refrain
For a boy in Fiddler’s Green

I just read Jeff Miers’ review of the show and as always, he beautifully summed up the evening.

Tragically Hip’s Hamilton show a poignant affair

Gord’s final words to the crown:

“It was a lot of fun. That is the main idea. None of it will last much longer than the particular phone you’re shooting it on. And that’s OK. I’m not anti-phone or anything.”

And then he paused dramatically.

“But, uh, it will be the little feelings here and there that pop up. OK?”


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