What The CBC Failed To Catch
  What The CBC Failed To Catch
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I was one of the lucky 7,000 people inside the rink on August 20 for the final show of the Man Machine Poem Tour. When I watched the event on a television the following day, I was struck by how sad the whole thing seemed. The CBC broadcast featured many close-ups of teary-eyed fans, long frames of Gord Downie holding back emotion and highlighted the moments of missed lyrics and unreachable registers. In the building, it was very different. In fact, it was perfect. Not an off-note was noticed, nor was anyone sad within my sight. Quite the opposite was true. It was loud, it was joyous and it was physical.

By physical, I mean that everyone stood for the entire show. Everyone bopped when songs picked up and swayed when songs slowed down. Everyone sang along with every word and reached skyward as the circulating Canadian flag passed overhead. Everyone seemed to be moving and jumping and singing and sweating. It was like a small U.S. club gig writ large. Instead of a bar room full of diehards, this was a hanger full of Hip Heads. That building had the feelings of intimacy and intensity in abundance. I turned to strangers behind and in front and found willing sing along partners. It was like 7,000 pilgrims had found their Mecca and wanted their idols on stage to know it. The energy in that arena was palpable and it was forcefully projected towards the stage.

It began like no other show and stayed that way. I arrived in Kingston’s Market Square just after 10am. I did two tv interviews and a twitter thing of some sort. By the time that was over, about 400 people were milling about, some had already staked out their spots near the front of the big screen tv. By 7:30pm, over 25,000 people jammed that square. Drones flew overhead, every road was closed, men with guns were visible on the rooftops. It felt like Canada Day in Ottawa when downtown streets are converted into party space. Except this felt bigger, tighter and harder to navigate while shoulder to shoulder with thousands. And then, the Prime Minister showed up.

Somehow, everybody knew he was there. The whole crowd turned towards him. The PM, three RCMP officers, his friend and advisor Gerry and his photographer Adam, formed a single file line and began walking from the square and towards the arena. Trudeau was in the middle of the line. People lost their shit. I’m not exaggerating. Grown women shrieked, men in biker vests tilted their phones for the perfect shot and, in an incredibly Canadian moment, thousands of people figured out where he was walking and spontaneously and politely formed him a huge receiving line. People didn’t push or shove, they stood 10 feet in front of he and his entourage and patiently waited for the PM to approach... selfie sticks at the ready.

Trudeau bounced from side to side, sliding in for the selfie and then sliding across to the other side of the receiving line for another. It was like slalom, he just effortlessly breezed his way through the massive crowd by literally gliding back and forth between the two straight and orderly lines of people waiting to greet him. I shook his hand and said “thank you for coming, Prime Minister.” He said, “thank you” and floated right into the next outstretched arm.

Once inside the arena, it was hot. It was sweltering actually. The A/C was either off or inefficient. As was the case on this tour, a recorded message by Rob Baker gave people a five-minute warning and urged them to take their seats. Shortly after that, the Prime Minister took his seat near the last row, stage right. People stood up, maybe to catch a glimpse of him, but they stood up. Then, with everybody standing and looking in his direction, which was easy to spot because of all the cell phone light, somebody started to sing O Canada. Soon enough, everybody was serenading the Prime Minister of Canada with a sweaty rendition of the national anthem. I’m tellin’ ya, he was the toughest act The Hip ever had to follow.

The show was incredible live. It was damn near delirium in there. My friend told me he thought he was going to pass out, and I could relate. I was stone sober, needing to drive Kingston-Toronto afterwards, but I felt elevated, free and completely uninhibited. I’m usually reticent to sing at the top of my lungs and leap up at appropriate moments, when Blow At High Dough kicks in, for instance. I’m over 6ft tall and I’ve got a big voice. “Am I blocking somebody’s view?” “Am I screaming in that girl’s ear?” But, on this night, there was no need for any of that. My whole section was shouting it from the housetops, if I hadn’t been jumping around, it would have been noticed. At one point, during the Ry Cooder ramble in 100th Meridian, a guy one row down and three seats over realized that he and I were the only ones who seemed to be signing along to every word of that rant (even Gord screwed it up). So, he reached up and over, grabbed my shirt, pulled me close to his imaginary microphone, and we both sang the “eulogy” part at ear splitting decibels. I smiled. I was smiling all night. It was an ecstatic concert.

That joy, that pandemonium, they didn’t seem to come across on the CBC. Two other missed moments stand out in my mind. During Scared, “truth be told, they can live a long, long while...” the place popped! There was a noticeable ovation. During Fireworks, “this one thing doesn't have to go away...” it happened again! People, so diehard that they knew which words were coming and what they now meant, cheered when optimistic lines for Gordie appeared in songs. It was spontaneous and it was bloody heartfelt.

When the show ended, my ears were ringing, people were filing out, and so many of us were still smiling. A guy, who brought an inflatable killer whale out during New Orleans Is Sinking (how much more diehard can you get!?) started to pass it around the exiting masses. People were still partying, as they would do deep into the square and long into the night.

If you saw the show on tv, you saw something special, maybe even a little sad. But know that in the building, that hot, sweaty, delirious building at 1 The Tragically Hip Way in Kingston, it was an unending vibe of love, support, togetherness and joy.

The more distant I get from that night, the more I want to go back.