In the winter of 1999 the Tragically Hip toured to promote Phantom Power. I was living in Vancouver and a friend suggested that we go to Seattle to see them at a small venue rather than the stadium they were playing in BC. (Google tells me the concert was March 30 at the Paramount Theatre; the set list is even online, which kind of boggles my mind…) At 22 we felt terribly smart, sophisticated and cool and to be going to see the Hip in a small theatre.
This was over 15 years ago and my memories of the concert are hazy (other than that it was excellent). What stands out the most was the break. The theatre was full of other Canadians who had travelled to Seattle for the chance to see their favourite band in a smaller venue than they’d ever play at home. At the break people were getting restless and all of a sudden some guys with Canada flag capes… you know the type, they come out on Canada Day and during Olympic gold metal hockey games… these guys are beer fuelled, loud and VERY patriotic. A chant of “hip, hip hip… “ started to grow and soon the cape dudes were standing up, and running down the aisles, capes fluttering like patriotic superheroes, working up the crowd until we all stood up and burst into… O Canada. We sang the entire thing. With gusto.
Looking back on it now, the whole thing seems incredibly obnoxious. But at the time, it was a wonderful experience to be surrounded by proud Canadians, listening to a band that was “ours” and feeling that sense of being part of something. Listening to Phantom Power evokes strong nostalgia for that winter in Vancouver. We were on the edge of adulthood, living a life filled with new freedoms and few responsibilities. We didn’t think twice about driving to another country to see a rock band who sang unapologetically about home.
I attended that concert with my now-husband. When we heard the news about Gord Downie this week he said (along with countless people across the country), “we should go see them”. Alas our summer holidays are already booked and we will be away for all of the Ontario dates. Maybe it’s for the best though, maybe our Hip concert experience should remain in that little theatre in the US with the Canada Flag cape guys, the spontaneous national anthem and the memory of one of our “most Canadian moments” – which wasn’t even in Canada. Thanks Hip.