TORONTO – The Tragically Hip’s second Toronto show on the Man Machine Poem tour on Friday night was nothing short of pleasure and business.
Looking long and lean, The Hip’s frontman Gord Downie walked on stage at the Air Canada Centre wearing a now-signature flashy purple suit and hat as bandmates Paul Langlois, Rob Baker, Gord Sinclair and Johnny Fay saluted the chanting sold-out crowd.
Grouped tightly around Downie on stage, the band opened up the show at 8:37 p.m. Downie launched into the band’s 1992 hit “Courage,” sparking a four-song set from the Fully Completely album.
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Fist-pumping the air and pretending to urinate on Fay’s drum set, Downie looked like he always has — energized.
“Let’s get some f–king courage!” the 52-year-old singer shouted towards the end of the first song, after raising issues around First Nations rights.
“Locked in the Trunk of a Car,” “Eldorado” and “At the Hundredth Meridian” got the crowd singing loud as Downie strutted on stage before moving into the Man Machine Poem album.
Though fans seemed to quiet down a bit (and took washroom breaks) through “In A World Possessed By The Human Mind,” “In Sarnia,” and “What Blue,” it was “Machine” that got the crowd moving and Downie sweating. Like football Kennedy style, gone are the days of Downie yelling into the mic. The man is singing. Singing deep, with range and hitting every note.
The Hip announced the Man Machine Poem tour in May, following the announcement that Downie had been diagnosed with incurable brain cancer. The tour has been widely described as the band’s final go-around, something The Hip hasn’t said itself.
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What the group did say is this tour is for Downie, and “for all of us.”
After a short break, Downie reemerged wearing a silver suit with a Jaws movie T-shirt underneath. His bandmates now further apart on the 360-degree stage, the Hip launched into another four-song set, this one from the 2002 album In Violet Light — “The Dire Wolf,” “Use It Up,” “It’s a Good Life if You Don’t Weaken” and “Throwing Off Glass.”
The Day For Night set was the highlight of the 25-song show. As the band played a longer intro to “Grace, Too,” Downie acted on stage, using his arms to move his legs across the stage as he gestured to the crowd.
With their mobile phones in hand, the boisterous crowd pointed towards downtown during the iconic verse.
“Him? Here? Now? No!,” Downie yelled as he had a short boxing bout with the mic stand — something he has done so often in the past.
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The Hip moved into “Greasy Jungle” before playing the sombre, emotional “Scared” — a song with a powerful last line that has seemed to grip this tour on the rare occasion the song has played.
With lighters in the air, fans — some arm and arm, others hugging, many crying — listened intently to Downie eloquently drag out “I gotta go, it’s been a pleasure doing business with you.”
The Hip rounded out the set out with the chorus-less “Nautical Disaster.”
Downie quickly changed suits again before moving into four tracks from the 1998 album Phantom Power.
Between encores, Downie was left alone on stage to a Earth-shaking roar in the arena, as the singer stared longingly into the camera, blowing monumental big screen kisses to the crowd, kisses that were deep and far from meaningless, to play off Downie’s lyrics.
The Hip ended the show with mainstream hit “Ahead By a Century” and though Downie didn’t say much to the crowd (and hasn’t said much on this tour), he thanked the nearly 20,000 in the arena.
“And it just disappears. It just disappears. And that’s okay, too,” were Downie’s last words as he walked off stage.
As the crowd chanted “Downie! Downie! Downie!” many looked longingly at the large screen that displayed the Canada flag as if to collectively say to Downie and the band: “It truly has been a pleasure doing business with you.”
Locked In The Trunk Of A Car
At The Hundredth Meridian
In A World Possessed By The Human Mind
The Dire Wolf
Use It Up
It’s A Good Life If You Don’t Weaken
Throwing Off Glass
New Orleans Is Sinking
Boots Or Hearts
Blow At High Dough
Ahead By A Century