Tag Archives: Gord Downie

No Dress Rehearsal

“I scored a gig as the lead singer with a school band … not necessarily for my singing ability but rather for my sheer memory power. I could memorize huge quantities of lyrics — mostly the Doors.” — Gord Downie

“Come in, come in, come in, come in
From thin and wicked prairie winds come in
It’s warm and it’s safe here and almost heartening
Here in a time and place not lost on our imagination” Gord Downie The Darkest One

“Don’t you want to see how it ends?” Gord Downie The Depression Suite

We all knew this day was coming, but it doesn’t make it any easier for those of us who consider ourselves fans of Gord Downie and the Tragically Hip. This blog may be named after an Arcade Fire song, but it could just as easily have been named after one of the dozens of Tragically Hip songs that have made up the soundtrack of my life over the past 30 years or so. “Ahead by a Century” might have been a good one, or maybe I would have called it “Behind by a Century” to poke fun at my late adoptiveness of most things pop cultural. “Little Bones” could describe my little nuggets of insight that I share with you here, less and less frequently it seems these days. All things have a lifespan, as we are reminded of today. Over the course of this blog, a Maritime theme has organically built itself its own organic mythology, so maybe “Nautical Disaster” would also be a good choice. While we might have our heads on the east coast, our bodies firmly remain on the prairies, so “100th Meridian” or “Wheat Kings” would be obvious choices, too. “Springtime in Vienna” has a vaguely John Irvingish feel about it. (Not that I am comparing myself to John Irving, obviously. I don’t think I’ve ever even mentioned bears or SISTER KISSING on here, and I don’t intend to start.)

I guess what I am saying is that like many Canadians today, we are grieving the loss of someone who made a huge impact on many of our lives through his music. I’ve poured out my feelings at least three times already on this blog, so I don’t have much left for today. “Their Music at Work“, “Up to Here” and “Armed with Will and Determination” are all about the Tragically Hip in one way or another. In fact, I feel a weary emptiness that is passing for grief this morning. When I heard the news, I went to put on “The Grand Bounce”, his solo album from 2010 which begins with that great anthem, “The East Wind”. Those opening lines of welcome, “Hello again my friends, I’ve come to see you again…”

After a couple of songs, I switched over to “We are the Same”, an album that is near to my heart. It was released the same month that our daughter was born, and it was on regular rotation that first year of diapers, bottles, sleepless nights and uncertain anxiety. None of the songs from that album ever get played in concert, but that album contains some of my favourites. “Morning Moon”, which evokes that melancholy feeling of being down at a cottage past labour day. “Honey Please” which is so joyous and makes those wonderful references to “all the stars in the county, burning bright” at the end. And the remarkable, “The Depression Suite”, which resonated with me immediately for obvious reasons. I can’t stop quoting that line, “Don’t you want to see how it ends?”

I’m sure I’ll get to the big hits later on this week, probably starting with that awesome live album “Live between Us” recorded in 1996 at the height of their powers. Starting strong with “Grace, Too”, it rolls on right through many of their iconic hits like “Blow at High Dough” “Ahead by a Century” “New Orleans is Sinking” “Fully Completely” and “Scared”. It also features some of Gord Downie’s off beat stage banter, which some people hated but I always kind of enjoyed. If “New Orleans is Sinking” becomes the one song the Tragically Hip are remembered for (and why not? It’s perfect), then “Scared” may be my personal favourite of all of them, if I had to choose just one. (Of course, if I think about their legacy of songs left behind for more than 5 seconds, I am sure to shout out “Wheat Kings!” or “Bobcaygeon!” or “Fireworks!” or even “Poets!” or any other number of songs that are inside me forever. Jesus! “50 Mission Cap!” “38 years old and never kissed a girl!” Don’t make me pick! Lists are tricky. I’ll stick with “Scared” for now, if only because when they played that as one of the encores at their last Kingston concert a year ago, that was the moment when I broke inside).

I’m not saying anything different from what many of us are feeling today, and I am sure we all have our favourite songs, favourite Gord moments that we can conjure. Special nights with friends, road trips, concerts in the ’90s, images of Canadiana supported by a strong beat and bass-line, early mornings alone with just you and your music, moments of melancholy made just a little easier when you heard Gord Downie ask, “Are you? Are you going through something? Are you? Are you going through something? Because, I, I, I, I, I am too.”

Rest peacefully, Gord Downie.

You got to see how it ends. You meant the world to me. Bring on the requisite strangeness.

By Jeff Lemire

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Armed with Will and Determination…

“Don’t you want to see how it ends?” The Tragically Hip

On Saturday, August 20th, The Tragically Hip played the last concert of their Man, Machine Poem tour to a crowd of 6000 in Kingston, and to a throng of millions across Canada and around the world. 

Most of this story is well-known to friends of this blog, but for those dear readers from away, simply put: The Tragically Hip is to Canada what U2 is to Ireland, or Bruce Springsteen is to America. 

I’ve talked about them before, and the reason this concert in particular was so important was that it was very likely the last time they would perform together. Their lead singer, Gord Downie, was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer a few months ago, and yet amazingly the band decided to head out on the road one last time.  Tickets to the shows sold out immediately, and I could write an entirely separate blog post about the frustrations of using Ticketmaster’s new captcha system. “Click on all the pictures that have sandwiches.” And one of the pictures is of a hamburger. Now you and I reasonably know a hamburger is PROBABLY not a sandwich, but does the algorithm that created this question know it? I pondered the question for far too long and my session timed out. I logged in a second time and the question was “Click on all the pictures with trees” and I kid you not: there was a picture of a hedge. A GOD DAMNED hedge! Is a hedge considered a tree for the purposes of proving I wasn’t a robot to get tickets? I gambled and said “no” but guess what? I was told I did it wrong and was presented with the sandwich question again but this time there were different pictures and one of them was a HOT DOG, and I knew it was settled law from fake internet justice that a hot dog was not a sandwich, BUT DID TICKETMASTER LISTEN TO JUDGE JOHN HODGMAN? Again, I was probably overthinking things, but the result was the same. A time out. And no tickets.

So you can imagine my excitement when the CBC announced they would be broadcasting the last concert live on ALL PLATFORMS. 

Between that announcement and the night of the concert, a number of public venues announced they would be showing the concert. A few of us decided that going to our city’s largest park would probably be the best experience. I’m really glad we did.

It was a perfect late summer evening, a bit of autumn coolness in the air. Campfire weather. We got down early and found a spot nice and close to spread our blankets. Before long, the screen came to life. Since it was on the CBC’s main channel, (Heck, it was on ALL of CBC’s channels), that meant the CBC was cutting away from their Olympics coverage. To give up 3 hours on the last night of the Olypmics (when many of the biggest events get resolved) just shows you what a big deal this was. 

Before we knew it, it was time. Two couples in our group had small children with them, and they will be able to tell them one day that they were, (in a way) at the last Tragically Hip concert. We decided to not bring our daughter. At 7, she’s at a funny in-between age where she’s too young to really get much out of the concert, but too old to sit quietly. She’d be bugging us to take her to the playground the whole time. And why not? That’s 7 year olds should be doing. As it was, she watched some of the concert at home with her babysitter. She asked me today, “Did you watch the concert with the man who was…..(she struggled for the right word)….sick?” I told her we did. “Was he wearing a top hat with feathers?” I burst out laughing at this, because that was a pretty good description of Gotd Downie’s attire.

Back to the park: the concert began with a blistering rendition of “50 Mission Cap” and we were off. I’m sure everyone who saw it has their own favourite moments. For me, I loved the one-two punch of “Wheat Kings” and “At the 100th Meridian” early on as a shout out to our part of the country. “Wheat Kings” is my wife’s favourite of theirs, so I’m glad she got to hear it one last time. As the night progressed, the sky darkened and something magical happened. The constellations began to reveal themselves one star at a time just about when the band played “Bobcaygeon” and the darker it got, the less it felt like we were watching a TV broadcast and more like we were actually at their concert. The crowd cheered, danced, and clapped as if we were all there (or that they were here) and it was hard to not imagine that Gord Downie could hear us, 1500 miles away in a different time zone. A couple of paper lanterns were launched from behind us somewhere, and they provided a beautiful yet poignant counterpoint to the activities below. 

By the end of the concert, most people were standing, and I was a little worried that our stuff was going to get trampled. People were already walking over our blankets and I was concerned that I’d be blocking the view of the people behind me, so I did my best to “hold the fort” but in the end I couldn’t see the screen anymore and I noticed there no longer was anyone immediately behind us, so I managed to stand and still keep a eye on our stuff. 

Late into the concert, another favourite moment happened. The band played “Scared”. If I designed their set list, I would have ended with this one, since its last line is “It’s been a pleasure doing business with you”. But it was an earlier that got to me that night. It was the:

“Tests have shown that suspicious are hostile. Their lives need not be shortened. Truth be told, they can live a long, long while”. For some reason, I forgot those were the actual words. I thought they were altered by the band on the night, and was so surprised that they fit so appropriately, considering the circumstances.

As the concert winded down, the spell was suddenly broken when the feed suddenly dropped during the final encore. The screen went dark and everyone screamed and laughed in disbelief. Luckily the concert returned within seconds and we heard the end of “Ahead by a Century”. It brought us all back to reality and helped cushion the inevitable  blow when the band took their final bows. 

POSTSCRIPT:

My Mom went to a neighbourhood pizza place with her neighbours to watch the concert. I was skeptical that she knew even a single song of theirs, but I couldn’t wait to get her take on it. I called her the next morning. She tends to yell into the phone these days, and we’ve all gotten used to holding the phone away from our ears when we talk to her. Our daughter has even figured out how to put grandma on speaker phone.

“Wasn’t that just great?!” she exclaimed. 

“What a concert! I mean I don’t pretend to know all their songs, but I knew about half of them.”

Half of them? Wow! That’s way more then I would have estimated for her. Her favourite?

“The one about Tom Thomson! Three Pistols! I love that line about the aboriginal girl visiting the grave.” What was she TALKING about? After our conversation I had to look up the lyrics. Was she referring to the “his bride of the northern woods” line? I couldn’t believe I was having a song discussion with my Mom.

“He’s kind of like a poet, isn’t he?” she said apologetically. “He’s eccentric, but in a good way. His stage movements were like interpretative dance. I just wish I knew more of the words of the songs”.

And then my Mom hit me with, “I wish he played that song about that 30 year old who never kissed anyone. I like that one”. Holy shit! How did my Mom know about “38 Years Old” a deep cut from the “Up to Here” album? Had she been playing that cassette in our car all those years ago too? I was impressed she knew that one and told her so. She said, “well this old girl knows a few things, you know”. She does. Sometimes I really think she’s ahead by a century, a century at least. No time is ever enough.

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Up To Here

“Don’t you want to see how it ends?” The Depression Suite, The Tragically Hip

 

I’ve had it up to here with terrible news involving musicians this year. We started off with the stinging news of David Bowie’s seemingly sudden death in January, then learning that he had been secretly battling cancer for quite some time. Then in April, we received the frankly shocking news of Prince dying from God knows what, fittingly at home in his palace/recording studio Paisley Park.

This week’s news somehow hits the hardest. I’m not sure why. We, as a nation, found out that Gord Downie, the front man for The Tragically Hip, has incurable brain cancer. I say, “as a nation”, because I can’t think of any other band that seems to encapsulate our weird “Canadianness” than The Tragically Hip, and by extension, their leader Gord Downie. It’s fitting that as a nation we received this news together, and are all processing it in our own way this week. I’m not saying that every Canadian was a fan of the Tragically Hip. (Jesus, I’m already using the past tense here. FUCK IT. I’m not saying every Canadian IS a fan of The Tragically Hip, but you’d be hard pressed to find someone who grew up here in the ’90s and ’00s who hadn’t at least heard of them, right?)

They have been consistently putting out albums and touring so regularly over the last 25+ years that you almost start to take them for granted. In fact, this past Monday, we had plans to meet friends for an outing in the country. (Something seemingly simple that was way more complicated, but that’s a story for another time). The sun was shining and the sky was blue. It was the May Long Weekend, that most Canadian of long weekends, and I was wanting to really get into summer mode. The seersucker was one, the birks were ready. I picked out two albums and played them over and over before heading out. One was Coldplay’s X&Y (no comments, please. I actually LIKE Coldplay, and that album, more than any of their others, makes me think of summer for some reason), and the other one was “Live Between Us’ by, (you guessed it, friends), The Tragically Hip. I love that album, because it’s sort of like a “best of” without being a “best of”, and you get a taste of some of Gord Downie’s weirdo stage presence, like how he suddenly snippets a Jane Siberry song at one point. (And it’s not even a WELL KNOWN Jane Siberry song, actually. I love that moment.) Also, speaking of “best ofs”, the Tragically Hip’s “Best of” album is a two disc thing cheekily called “Yer Favourites”.

It’s hard to describe The Tragically Hip’s broad appeal, but for me they seem to be doing two things at once. (At LEAST two things, but let’s stick with two).

For one, they are a straight ahead rock band, the kind that you’ll hear dude-bros play at their campsites all summer long and wouldn’t be out of place on a demolition site or a Winnipeg social. You know how early Radiohead, like The Bends album, sounds like a pretty great straight ahead rock band? (and then they went all funny and artsy with OK Computer, Kid A and forward and now we have to PRETEND we are into them to be cool?), well The Tragically Hip’s sound really hasn’t  changed a whole lot since their debut in the late ’80s. I’ve been listening to Now for Plan A a lot this week in the car. It’s their most recent album (not the one that is about to be released, the one before that), and I was stuck at how layered and nuanced the sound was, and yet you can still really rock out to it. The Tragically Hip never lost that. So, that’s the first thing.

But the second thing they are doing as describing and commenting on Canadian history, geography and culture while actually becoming a part of Canadian history, geography and culture while they are doing it. They write and sing about weirdo intellectual stuff, and that endears them to me quite a bit. They sing a song about Tom Thomson and the Group of Seven, (Three Pistols) for God’s sake. They dedicate a song (Courage) to Canadian writer and professor Hugh MacClennan. They write a beautifully mournful tribute to David Milgaard (Wheat Kings), who was wrongfully convicted and imprisoned for 23 years. This happens to be my wife’s favourite Tragically Hip song. They even wrote a song about an imaginary line that runs north/south just west of Brandon, MB (The 100th Meridian), and I remember the night we pulled over on the side of the highway, excitedly thinking we found the 100th meridian, but later finding out it was just the 97th meridian. Stupid meridian.

I’m just scratching the surface here, but infusing their songs with so called “Canadian Content” never really feels forced, it just seems like a natural by-product of a creatively fertile mind that belongs (present tense, fuckers!) to a poet who genuinely loves and cares about this country of ours and its identity.

A few years ago, Joseph Boyden invited The Tragically Hip to visit Attawapiskat, that doomed indigenous community on the shores of James Bay, and they performed a concert in nearby Fort Albany. At that time, a housing crisis there was making the news, but in more recent months a much sadder story has surfaced over a rash of teen suicides in that community. Let me just say something about Joseph Boyden. He’s my favourite living indigenous Canadian author. Why do I feel like I need to add “indigenous” to that description? It’s like Royal Tenenbaum introducing Margot as his “adopted daughter”. Screw that, Joesph Boyden is my favourite living Canadian author, and his invitation to The Tragically Hip resulted in a very meaningful visit and the last song on their last album, Goodnight Attawapiskat, was inspired by it. Joseph Boyden wrote a haunting article about Attawapiskat in Macleans recently, and I’d like to link to it here. I forced my wife to read it (I’m the WORST), and on the strength of that she is now reading Boyden’s first novel, Three Day Road, so: mission accomplished? (I’m resisting a rant that has been simmering for a few weeks about the attention and support the fires of Fort McMurray have received and the support (or lack thereof) and attention (or lack thereof) that the community of Attawapiskat has received in comparison, but I’ll leave that for another day. Today is for Gord Downie).

Many people will cite 1992’s Fully Completely as the album that first got them into The Tragically Hip. It had those great songs like Courage, 50 Mission Cap, 100th Meridian, and Wheat Kings. Me being me, I was a little slow to the party. The first album I ever bought was 1994’s Day for Night. That album starts with the great Grace, too which they defiantly played on Saturday Night Live, even though they were told it was too long for network tv. They changed the first line from “We’re fabulously rich.” to “We’re the Tragically Hip”, and it was a great moment. Dan Ackroyd introduced them. To this day they often open their shows with this song (or if not open, then play it in the number two spot). That SNL moment was probably the deepest they ever penetrated into the American market, and somehow that makes them ever more dear to us as Canadians. We’ve all heard stories about friends who have gone down to the States and seen The Tragically Hip play small bars and nightclubs with only a few hundred people, all the while filling arenas back home. When Gord Downie’s health news broke Tuesday, many Americans expressed confusion as to why so many people were responding so passionately about someone seemed like an unknown to them. He wasn’t an unknown to us. It felt like a family member got the diagnosis.

Even though I didn’t buy an album til ’94, my one concession to hipsterdom was that we had an old cassette copy of their first album, Up to Here, in our car. No one knows how that cassette got in there. Neither my brother nor I ever remembering buying it, but we played the hell out of it in high school and beyond. It had all those great early songs: New Orleans is Sinking, Blow it High Dough, and of course, 38 Years Old. Years later, my brother was living in Belleville, and we were driving around the countryside near Kingston, and we passed Millhaven Prison, and I turned to him and said, “From The Tragically Hip song!” and we started singing, “Two men broke loose, in ’73. From Millhaven maximum security…” he remembered the cassette too. Part of the fun is when you travel through across Canada and you see some of the things referenced, like Prince Edward County near Kingston, where many of my wife’s ancestors lived and are buried. Also, I can’t tell you how excited I was when I discovered Bobcaygeon was a real place.

Through the ’90s and ’00s, they reliably produced an album every few years and seemed to be constantly touring. I wouldn’t have identified myself as a Tragically Hip fan then, although I always sort of kept tabs on them. In fact, it took me over 20 years until I actually saw them live, because I always put it off for a future date. That opportunity happened first in 2010 at the Winnipeg Folk Fest, where Gord Downie appeared by himself in support of his solo album, The Grand Bounce. They played a lot of this album on the CBC, which had recently abandoned their classical programming for modern Canadian content, and it was this album more than anything else that got me back into the Tragically Hip. It was the only time I’ve been to the Folk Fest where the weather was perfect, and I will always remember this lovely workshop in the afternoon that featured Gord Downie and fellow Kingstonite, Sarah Harmer. The following year, my wife and I had our first full Tragically Hip experience, when they played outside in a baseball stadium. Although their most recent album was We Are The Same, I don’t remember them playing a single song off that album. My wife was a little disappointed, as she loved (loves!) the heck out of that album. Most of the songs are quieter, more introspective, so I can sort of see how they wouldn’t really transfer to a stadium concert setting. (think of the dudebros!). At least they did play Wheat Kings, as an encore at the end. The band themselves, though, were really solid and together and I got to see a bit of Gord Downie, the showman, firsthand. Someone this week described him as a cross between Leonard Cohen and Bono, and who am I to disagree? The following year, we saw them again, at a music festival in Niagara-on-the-Lake. The REAL reason we were going was to see The New Pornographers and Death Cab for Cutie, but the Tragically Hip were the headliners. We were all pretty “rocked out” by the time they took the stage, but I remember hanging back by the food carts, eating a late supper, with the sound of Gord Downie and The Tragically Hip as our soundtrack. Ben Gibbard, the lead singer of DCFC, and Gord Downie, seemed to have a particularly close connection during the festival, and a few months later a FRIEND OF MBM was in Toronto to see Ben Gibbard perform a solo show. She saw Gord Downie at the show, and Ben played My Music @ Work as a tribute. I even wrote about this way back in 2012.

So, where does all this leave us?

A terminal cancer diagnosis.

A farewell summer tour.

It doesn’t seem fair that Cher gets like 12 farewell tours, and The Tragically Hip are granted just one, especially when less than a week ago, as I listened to Live Between Us, I was thinking that they would just go on and on and on.

I’m still processing the news, as I am sure a lot of you are too.

They are coming through town one more time in August. Apparently Gord Downie is well enough to do this, and maybe this is the best thing for him, for the band, and for the fans.

Or not.

I’m conflicted. I don’t know if I deserve to go to this concert. I don’t know if I qualify. I’m not sure I am even what you’d call a fan. Maybe more of an admirer? Will I regret not going? Will I regret going? It will be sad, surely. But will it also be a outpouring of love and a celebration of almost three decades of music? A double middle-fingered FUCK YOU to cancer? A mix of everything? Tickets don’t go on sale for another week, so I have some time to mull it. I’ve gone from, “I HAVE to be there.” to “I’m okay if I don’t go.” to “I’d rather not go, if it’s all the same to you.” right back to “I HAVE to be there.”

Let’s just see what tomorrow brings.

 

 

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Their music at work: The DCFC/Tragically Hip Connection

“Everything is bleak. It’s the middle of the night. You’re all alone and the dummies might be right. You feel like a jerk. Your music at work. Your music at work”. The Tragically Hip

Full disclosure: I’m full of cold medicine. I’m not quite all alone: my daughter’s asleep in the other room. It IS the middle of the night, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the dummies were right after all, but it’s not ALL bleak, not all, anyway. Not yet.

On Ben Gibbard’s recent solo concert in Toronto, he covered The Tragically Hip’s “My Music at Work”. Quite an interesting choice. Not the first Tragically Hip song that comes to mind, that’s for sure. I can’t imagine hearing this song any other way than the way I know it, and yet after listening to a few seconds of Ben Gibbard’s stripped down, acoustic take on Youtube, he owned it. Like a lot of Gord Downie’s lyrics, you can make of them what you will. I like to think of this song as a meditation on song writing and the creative process. I love how he can take a trite radio station slogan, “Your Music at Work” and turn it into something broader: “Your music, working.” For such an intelligent and complex songwriter as Ben Gibbard is, it begins to make perfect sense why he would select this song out of the 30 years worth of material to honour The Tragically Hip. And why honour them at all? What’s the connection here? I’d love to know the full extent of Ben Gibbard’s relationship with Gord Downie. Our friend Carol was at the recent Toronto show and can confirm that Gord Downie was in attendance. I can only weave bits and pieces from the ether, and make up the rest. Just like any other blog post from the crew at Mountains Beyond Mountains, yes?

We do know that Ben’s band mate, Chris Walla, was one of the producers on Gord Downie’s most recent solo album, “The Grand Bounce”. We also know that Death Cab for Cutie made a special appearance at a two-day festival this past summer over the Canada Day weekend, a festival organized and headlined by The Tragically Hip.

At first glance, you couldn’t think of two bands that could be more different: The Tragically Hip and Death Cab for Cutie. On the surface, the first is a loud, dumb bar band that sounds like they should be covering Harlequin or Loverboy. The second is an emo-infused group of sensitive sissies who like to talk about their feelings a lot.

I’m exaggerating, stereotyping and generalizing, of course. I’ve actually come to love and respect both of these bands in their own unique ways, and the fact that their two respective lead singers have a mutual and genuine friendship makes it all the more interesting.

I’ll start with “The Hip”, as I’ve known them for much longer. Growing up in Canada, you just couldn’t avoid hearing The Tragically Hip. In fact, I can’t even tell you the first time I heard one of their songs, or even which song it was. Their music is just around, you know? It was probably either “Twist my Arm”. “Blow at High Dough” or “New Orleans is Sinking”, and I probably heard them first at a wedding social or something. It wasn’t until 1994 rolled around and “Day for Night” was released that I really took notice. It was the first Hip CD I ever bought (or maybe my brother and I split it, I can’t remember) and I was blown away right from the very first notes of “Grace, Too”.

Instead of talking about it, why not check out a bit of it. Here’s Gord Downie and the band doing a little “Grace, Too”. For the record, not everyone in Canada likes them. My friend Ed cannot STAND them. Last year he was given free tickets to their concert, and he only stayed for the opening act, Broken Social Scene, and then took off before “Grace, Too” was even finished! Some people. Me? I kind of get a kick out of Gord Downie and his stage antics, but this is coming from a man who doesn’t think Bono has an ego.

But from 1994 to 2011, I had never seen them live. It was always something I meant to do, and there were lots of opportunities. Just one of those things. I wouldn’t say I was the biggest fan in the world. I bought the odd CD over the years, but I didn’t follow them slavishly. I just sort of kept tabs on them. So when it was announced that they were going to be doing an outdoor concert at our ballpark, I jumped at the chance to get tickets. This was especially great because their most recent album at the time, “We are the same” was more introspective and a little on the melancholy side, almost Death Cabby you could say, and my wife LOVED it. I brought it home from the library and was playing it around the house. “Who are these guys?” she asked. She couldn’t believe it when I told her. Needless to say, “We are the same” made it onto the iPod and into heavy rotation. Unfortunately for her, I don’t think they played a single song off their new album at that concert. You can hardly blame them. No one wants to hear a song about the wistful end of summer packing up a cottage or something called “The Depression Suite” at a rock show. They DID play “Wheat Kings” which aside from everything on “We are the same” is my wife’s favourite “Hip” song, so all was not lost.

Let’s jump over to Death Cab for Cutie. While the Tragically Hip has been a part of my subconscious for about 30 years, it’s hard to believe I’ve only known about Death Cab for Cutie for about a year. It all started last summer when a friend of ours gave us a ukulele. He just happened to have an extra one. It’s true, don’t ask. I played around with it for a few days, but it was really my wife that took a shine to it. “I’ve always wanted a ukulele! I could use this in my children’s story times!” This was news to me, but after an orientation session from our friend, Marla took to the internet to find tabs, chords and Youtube tutorials. She found some dude who was doing a version of “I will follow you into the dark” by Death Cab for Cutie and I guess the rest, as they say, is history. I don’t know which version Marla actually studied, but here’s one of the many out there: He’s actually pretty good, yes?

After that, CBC started playing a lot of stuff off their newest album, “Codes and Keys” and a friend of ours had a couple of their CDs that she lent to us. We got a couple more from the library and before we knew it we had 4 or 5 albums of this band that a month before neither of us had heard of.

It’s a strange feeling when you stumble upon a band that just feels “right”, that resonates with you. A band that has a sound that you feel like you’ve heard all along but is totally new to you. The same thing happened to me when I discovered Arcade Fire a couple of years back. It hadn’t happened again until Marla picked up the uke. DCFC soon became my default band. I would play them in the car all the time, often beginning my day with “Passenger Seat” and then putting the rest of shuffle. At home the question wasn’t whether we’d listen to DCFC, the question was “which album?” Marla would often just run them all from beginning to end in album order all afternoon. She didn’t know which songs belonged on which albums, but she knew the order. She was like a musical Rain Man. If I put them on shuffle, she instantly knew something was wrong.

In April of this year, Marla and our friend (the one who got us hooked) booked flights to Toronto to see DCFC at Massey Hall. You can read about it here. Just two months later, Marla was heading East again, this time with me and our daughter. The cover story was that we were going on a family vacation, but the timing was such that we were really planning to be in Niagara on the Lake for the Canada Day weekend.

Why? There was a music festival planned there. The first one of its kind in the Niagara region. The bands? Death Cab for Cutie and The Tragically Hip! (Also The New Pornographers, another favourite of Marla’s, and a  group neither one of us heard of: The Rural Alberta Advantage). We arranged to have  Marla’s relatives look after Audrey overnight and we headed to Niagara for the concert of a lifetime. We booked ourselves into a B&B nearby, so we could just enjoy ourselves. We intentionally missed the Rural Alberta Advantage, since they were on first and our B&B had an outdoor swimming pool. We arrived just in time to hear the exuberant opening notes of “Moves” by the New Pornographers. We were on our way! (Extra points if you can spot “Troy” in this video!)

We found a spot on the grass and just soaked in the reality that we were here in Southern Ontario at a music festival!  The New Pornographers were charming, fun, and full of energy. Even the sometimes elusive Neko Case was in attendance. “We’re wearing the same shirt!” Marla exclaimed when Neko appeared on the screens. More on that later. When their set ended, we Veroukised our way up to the very front of the stage. Well, almost to the very front. We were like 5 or 6 back, just where we wanted to be for DCFC. We texted our friend Carol back home that we were in position. “Give Ben a smooch from me!” she merrily texted back. We were so close that we WERE almost in smooching territory.

Back to Marla’s shirt: She didn’t know what to wear to an outdoor festival. She didn’t want to look square, so she thought all black would be the way to go, but then she thought it would be too hot and muggy. She went back and forth on it for a while before settling on a puffy white blouse with embroidery on the front. It didn’t exactly scream rock and roll, but it appeared that Neko Case was wearing the exact same thing, so it couldn’t be that bad, right? WRONG. A chap standing next us in the throng was enjoying a few LARGE marijuana cigarette and Marla lived in mortal fear that one of her puffy sleeves would rub up against this gentleman’s spliff, as it were, and set herself on fire. Appropriate, considering how many times fire is used as a recurring motif in DCFC lyrics, but it wouldn’t be the way we’d want to end our evening. As it turned out, the fears were unfounded because this dude soon moved on, but not before asking us what band he just saw. He didn’t believe us that a band could have a name like The New Pornographers. He then asked who was up next. He thought we were totally fucking with him. Death Cab for WHO? He shuffled far enough away to no longer be a threat.

Anyone that’s been up close at a concert will know the feeling. You’re waiting around for what seems like FOREVER for the band to come on, and then all of a sudden there they are in front of you and you can hardly believe. I’m not exaggerating when I say that their hour and a bit set was one of the most beautiful musical experiences I’ve ever had. They opened with “Home is a Fire” off of “Codes and Keys” and then I couldn’t believe it: the opening bass notes to “I will possess your heart”. Carol’s favourite song, and they played the full instrumental opening too. An odd choice for such a short set, but if I’ve learned anything about DCFC over the last year is that they don’t do the expected and they change things up as much for themselves as for their fans. I fumbled with the cell phone and tried to call home so that Carol could have a little listen. Ironically, she didn’t hear the phone because she was blasting DCFC on the stereo! A few songs later they played Marla’s favourite, “Grapevine Fires” and dedicated it to Gord Downie. Ben told a cute story about how he was told he was dressed like Gord Downie the other night at a different Tragically Hip show. Unconnected to this, back home, our friends independently came to the same conclusion that Ben has a very “Gord” look or feel about him. Or is it the other way round? It’s not just looks, its attitude, or something. Maybe these two bands aren’t as different as one might think at first glance. Anyone know more of the story?

At the end of “You are a tourist”, Ben tossed his guitar pick out into the crowd and it landed RIGHT AT MY FEET in the grass. I dove down, but some guy was already down there and had his hand on it. I had my hand on his and we rolled around for a few seconds, me filled with a bloodlust to wrest it from his grasp, but then I came to my senses. He had it fair and square, after all. I guess I thought it would have been an awesome thing to bring back for our friend, Carol. I asked to see it, and he let me, which was nice of him, considering I had him in a half-nelson seconds before. It was just a generic white guitar pick. In my mind, it if had said “DCFC” or “Ben” on it or something I was going to take it and run away, but luckily for everyone I just handed it back to him. I tried, Carol!

Here’s a taste of “We looked like giants”, their second last song of the day. It was a wonderful, improvisational full 10 minutes.. The good soul who was recording this stood right in front of us, and as the song played out, I acted as her de facto bodyguard, making sure no one would jostle her or knock her over. I’m glad to see our final result paid off. A snap-shot of a band totally in the moment, with Ben Gibbard *SPOLIER* even sitting down at a second drum kit towards the end. It still gives me shivers.

I have a feeling this was supposed to be the last song of the day, but the crowd’s response prompted the band to play an encore. Ben looked sheepishly into the wings, shrugged, and said something like “We’re outta time!” and then launched into a peppy, cheeky version of “The Sound of Settling” to cap it all off. Marla and I didn’t stop dancing and jumping the whole time, so we moved out of the sweet spot to make room for the hardcore “Hippers”. We grabbed some food and hung back as the main attraction took the stage. It was great to see “The Hip” again, and in control. Their songs so familiar, and yet I still count myself a casual fan. DCFC: the complete opposite. I’ve become fast friends with them, and yet I feel like they’ve been with me my whole life. All I know is that  they will be with me for the rest.

Brothers…

from different mothers?

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