Although they came from the west, the Tragically Hip’s performance in Thunder Bay affected the crowd like the east wind—it blew right through them. Their two-hour performance of newer songs that was perfectly matched with older hits was met with enthusiasm by the crowd at Fort William Gardens. The Hip’s music was made for hockey arenas and Gord Downie was clearly at home, stating that it’s “good to be back in the old barn.”
Downie and his bandmates must have slept well during the drive from Brandon because they came out with guns blazing and maintained the fervor for the entire show. Ever the improviser, Downie danced with his microphone stand and then pitched it off the stage early in the set. It broke, so he handed the base to a guy in the front row and proceeded to twirl the pole like a baton. This is what Canadians have come to expect from The Hip—Downie’s showmanship and often cryptic banter, backed by hard-hitting guitar and drums. And let’s not forget guitarist Paul Langlois’ back-up voices, which are equally iconic as guitarist Rob Baker’s long, flowing hair.
The crowd erupted and most people rose to their feet with the opening riff of the older and more familiar tunes. Late in the set, the band ripped into “Courage” followed by “New Orleans is Sinking” and closed with a heavy rendition of “Fire in the Hole.” Desperate for an encore, the unrelenting audience chanted “Hip, Hip, Hip!” until the band returned to the stage for a five-song encore that can only be described as awesome.
The Hip is touring with the Arkells—a five-piece band from Hamilton that has previously played at the Outpost, Black Pirates Pub and Crocks. The crowd favoured songs from their 2009 album Jackson Square, such as “Ballad of Huge Chavez” and “Oh, The Boss Is Coming!”. Their performance of “The Champagne Socialist” incorporated a few lines from Neil Young’s “Ohio” and frontman Max Kerman stated “Thank you, Neil, for showing us the way” towards the end of their set. Although local fans are accustomed to seeing the band in smaller venues, they delivered an arena-sized stage presence with ease and were a perfect opener for one of Canada’s most revered bands.