In this month’s Classic Rock, behemoths of Canadian rock The Tragically Hip discuss singer and national hero Gord Downie’s tragic death from cancer in 2017, the national outpouring of grief that followed, the new material they’ve excavated since and the idyllic career they enjoyed over three decades as the quintessential Canuck rock act.
Here they look back at five key shows that got them up to here.
Playing with Nirvana
O’Cayz Corral, Wisconsin, July 7, 1989
In a period of hard touring ahead of their 1989 debut album Up To Here, The Tragically Hip found themselves supported by a little-known Seattle combo known as Nirvana.
Paul Langlois (guitar): “They were sleeping on the tables when we soundchecked. I remember going up and watching them, they seemed like almost metal, almost a metal band.”
Rob Baker (guitar): “We had 80 people come to see us and about 80 people came to see them. And they steamrolled us. We felt like a little country rock band coming on after them. They were awesome.”
The first major arena show
Maple Leaf Gardens, Toronto, December 16, 1991
On the tour for their second album Road Apples, The Hip supported Rush at the “Wembley Stadium of Toronto”.
Johnny Fay (drums): “[Gord] suggested we play songs that nobody's ever heard. I would say to him ‘maybe we know the middles, but we certainly don't know the beginnings or endings’, and he goes ‘doesn't matter, let's just go do it’. He was just unafraid.”
The festival headline show
Edenfest, Ontario, July 13, 1996
The three-day Edenfest festival in 1996 saw the ascendent Hip headline what was the largest musical event ever held in Canada at the time. 20,000 people broke in and the event bankrupted the promoter.
Langlois: “[I remember] almost not getting paid. We played Saturday night and the guy that was promoting it had a ‘heart attack’ on Sunday.”
Baker: “He got airlifted out.”
The festival from hell
Woodstock ’99, New York, July 24, 1999
The Hip played first on the bill on the Saturday of the ill-fated Woodstock 3.
Fay: “Horrible. A shitshow.”
Langlois: “You could see it going bad. We got out of there Saturday night but you could tell things were getting dirty and ugly. Some singers telling [the crowd] ‘set yourself on fire’, some of them were really trying to make it meaner out there and more dangerous for everybody.”
Baker: [whiney voice] “’White riot, I wanna riot of my own!’ They hadn’t seen enough people get hurt.”
The farewell gig
Rogers K-Rock Centre, Ontario, August 20, 2016
11 million people, one third of the Canadian population, watched on TV as Downie gave his final performance.
Baker: “I was sitting in the dressing room with [Gord] after and he was saying ‘you guys need to continue and find someone else and maybe we’ll do some more recording…’. He was thinking about what’s next, what can we do next.”
Our interview with The Tragically Hip appears in the new issue of Classic Rock, which is available to buy online. The 30th-anniversary deluxe edition of Road Apples is out now via Universal Music Canada/UMe.