Let me start off by saying that I’m writing this as someone who is not a fan of the Tragically Hip. By that I mean, I don’t wait in eager anticipation for each new release, but I do possess their double volume greatest hits album. I enjoy their sound, but they are not formative to me in terms of musical taste, in the way that the Soul Stirrers, Blind Boys of Mississippi, Johnny Cash, The King Singers or Placido Domingo have been.
Nevertheless, when I saw on Twitter that Melissa Martin of the Winnipeg Free Press had a ticket to give away, to tonight’s show at Shaw Park, I jumped at the chance to go (thank you once again Melissa). This is one of the beauties of living downtown (or should I say, downtown(ish). I was able to get the information, walk to Shaw Park, pick up the ticket, and only have to miss a few minutes of the opening set done by Broken Social Scene.
Once I arrived, picked up my ticket, and headed up to the concourse I found myself dealing with two long lines headed in opposite directions. At first I thought these were lines stretching out from the food concessions and turning into one big long line. As I looked closer though, I could see that the food stands were doing very little business, and that these two lines were simply lined up for the beer concessions. I’m not kidding in the least when I say this line was at least 100 people long. Now, I enjoy the odd beer, but there is no way you would ever get me to stand in line for half to three-quarters of an hour to buy a beer, especially at ball park prices. I thought of buying a water, but at $3.50 for a 500ml bottle, I decided dehydration was worth the risk(I am a McKenzie after all), plus the weather had turned a fair bit milder by this time.
Broken Social Scene was the opening act for the Hip and I must admit I was only half paying attention to them, which meant I was like a good percentage of the people in attendance. Here is a photo of the infield seating during their set.
As the concourse beer lines were big, so were the infield lines.
The sound for the Broken Social Scene was a little on the weak side, so it made it difficult to hear them back towards the end of the bleachers, however they did end their set with a piece that included a tuba, which got them extra marks in my books.
At 9:15 the Hip took the stage. I’m not going to go through a complete list of all of what they sang, because many of the songs they performed were unfamiliar to me (remember, I’m not a huge Hip fan). Having said that here are a few of my observations.
The first one is that the Hip came to play. This was evident from the first song that they sang, which they entered into with strong, tight insturmentals and powerful vocals from lead singer Gord Downie. Unfortunately, for someone sitting at the back, the vocals on the opening song were quite muddy and throughout the concert there was a struggle with understanding, which is rather unfortunate given that Downie is such a good songwriter. This may have also been due to the fact that the stage was pointed to what would be the home plate area of the ballpark and I was seated about halfway down the third base line, and the number of speakers pointed in our direction was quite a bit smaller than those directed at the center.
However, it’s a rock ‘n roll show in a large outdoor venue, and so lyrical clarity is never going to be one of its strong suits. There are however, a few things I look for in any show, rock ‘n roll or not. For example, did they short-change the people as to the length of the show. In this case the answer is absolutely not. The band took the stage at 9:15 and didn’t finish until over 2 hours later, with only minimal time in between for banter and comment from the stage.
Another thing I look for is whether or not the band is together. This again was the case. While I mentioned earlier that I was disappointed that I couldn’t make out all of Downie’s words, in many ways this would have been a great concert if there had been no words and we had simply been able to listen to the instrumentalists play.
Thirdly, and in many ways to me the most important, is energy. Did I get the feeling that the performers were giving all they had throughout the show. Having some experience in standing up in front of crowds, I know how difficult it is to maintain one’s energy and enthusiasm over a long period of time, and two hours of performing is a long period of time. Yet at no time did the band seem to flag or waver. True they did take down the tempo a couple of times, but in many ways it takes more energy to put a down tempo song across than it does to put an up tempo one across. Throughout the show, the commitment of the band to the music never wavered, finishing with three encores that were every bit as full of life as the first song they did.
The one thing that surprised me was that the crowd seemed rather laid back. Given that I saw many people there that were my age and older perhaps this shouldn’t come as a surprise, my I was expecting a bit more intensity from the crowd.
This is definitely an act I would like to catch again sometime. I must admit, I wasn’t aware they were even coming to town until a day or so ago. I very much appreciated the free ticket, but if they come again, I think I want to make sure I can get something more front and center.