Ilya S. Savenok, Getty Images The sad news came across late Wednesday afternoon…
- Posted on Jul 2nd 2011 1:15PM by Richard Trapunski
Richard Trapunkski, AOL
As much as they've tried to make it in other markets, Gord Downie and his band have remained flag-bearers for Canadian music -- often literally. Even at foreign festivals, Hip crowds tend to be whole seas of red and white. Seeing the Hip is basically a patriotic act, so when they assembled a Canada Day mini-fest at Toronto's Downsview Park it looked like a scene straight out of 'FUBAR': shirtless dudes draped in flags, police officers posing with Moosehead prop ears (somehow Molson missed the boat on sponsorship) and bleached blonde women in "Canadian Hottie" t-shirts.
Oddball rapper Buck 65 had the unenviable task of leading off the afternoon bill with the crowd still filtering in. But he also had another matter to contend with, as he told Spinner before the show: "I ate something that makes me feel a bit funny." Decked out in a white suit and baseball cap, he managed to keep his composure throughout the set, even sprinkling in some impressively limber dance moves here and there, but you could still hear the occasional "we want Gordie" shout from the audience, an unfortunate occurrence that persisted throughout the day.
Hey Rosetta!'s brand of orchestral rock threatened to be too stately for the environment, but their layered six-piece arrangements played well to the back of the field and seemed to win over some fans. It helps that the Newfoundland group practically bleeds Canadiana with earnest stage presence and lyrics that reference, among other things, the Trans-Canada Highway.
As much as the Hip are flag-bearers for Canada, Broken Social Scene are flag-bearers for Toronto. BSS tends to put on its own annual summer blowout, often on Toronto Island (a short ferry ride from the downtown core), but this year they were happy to let the Hip take the reins. "Today's not our day," admitted Andrew Whiteman before the set. "It's the Hip's."
The band did indulge in some of the rafter-reaching bravado for which its known (bombast is practically in their DNA), but otherwise they carried themselves with an atypical lightness. Tracks like 'Cause = Time' and "7/4 (Shoreline)' took on a jammier quality, while a cover of Modest Mouse's 'The World at Large' and a why-the-hell-not version of the Beastie Boys' 'Funky Boss' featuring Buck 65 on turntables suggested they were grateful for the rare opportunity to play a hometown show that they didn't have to carry.
It's difficult to see the reason for including Weezer on a Canada Day bill, but they're always good for a fun set. It's hard not to get into the spirit of pop hits like 'Say It Ain't So,' 'Island in the Sun' and 'Buddy Holly,' especially with Rivers Cuomo running through the crowd, smashing guitars and passing around beach balls. They even played their new and uncanny version of Radiohead's 'Paranoid Android,' a track that showed they have rock chops beyond their usual power-pop mode.
But it was only once the Tragically Hip took the stage that the crowd truly came alive. Gord Downie fed off the energy, using some Jagger-esque stage strut to punch up rockier tunes like 'New Orleans Is Sinking.' This was the Hip's audience and they had them around their finger, playing hit after hit of songs that have practically bled into the national consciousness over the last two decades.
There were moments where they seemed less like the main attraction and more like one piece of a communal Canadian concert experience. By the time the band had finished the instrumental intro to 'Blow at High Dough,' the audience had already sung the first verse. Sing-along versions of 'Ahead by a Century' and 'Bobcaygeon' (especially the famous "that night in Toronto" line) brought out people's lighters -- not cell phones -- and turned strangers into quick campfire buddies.
As fireworks erupted at stage left, even the most hardened cynics had their arms around their neighbour, singing a peon not to Canadian music but to Canada itself. Like them or not, the Tragically Hip belong to Canada, and at least on this night, Canada belonged to the Hip.