Having seen the Tragically Hip perform a poorly attended concert in Kingston at Frontenac Secondary School in the 80's, it's safe to say that they actually had one helluva show tonight at the Ottawa Bluesfest with an incredibly engaged and packed audience. A major highlight at the time was their cover of "Money" by the Beatles since no one knew their soon to be legendary tunes yet.
The contrast between the two shows is astounding. One was partly filled with under-age drinkers, and this one was fully completely filled with both young and old drinkers. Lets face it, the chances are that the teachers who were supervising were probably drinking too ;)
Some kidding aside, the Hip have lasted this long and are still going strong. Their 8-bit three panelled light board was used as much as possible to highlight elements of the show from flashing "100" for "At The Hundredth Meridian" to spelling "HIP" that wasn't even needed to remind people to chant it for an encore. While there was quite possibly nearly the same sized crowd out for the other prog-country nights like the Dixie Chicks and the Zack Brown Band (a quick head count confirmed), this mass of fans seemed to feel like they were being played for by old friends.
There were so many people who had something to say tonight in the crowd, who had a story about seeing The Hip years ago in some pop-up show back in Kingston, previous Bluesfests in Ottawa and other intimate events (like the NAC - check out this fantastic vid from that night. Who holds a camera for an entire Hip show? Glad it was done though).
Having photo access tonight challenged any photographer to keep up with Gord Downie for the allotted 3-song window. The guitar techs were doing a final tuning while an upbeat arrangement was slowly building through the sound system. It was a seriously last second thing because as those guitars were placed back on their pedastels, the Hip rolled out, and Gord Downie obliged the crowd with a very thankful pose.
From there, the lights exploded (which made every photographer's lens happy) and then Gord began. While he was belting through "Grace Too", his poses started popping out. Without knowing how long he's been doing that for, it's at least clear that he's doing it for the benefit of all of the iPhones, Androids, point-and-shoots-, and SLR cameras pointing at him. But they had to be quick because he was firing off Bluesteel's without warning.
Gord isn't the only bandmember aware of how cool they can look in photos. Bobby Baker, held some very elegant stature while landing his guitar solos and riffs without overdoing it like some other bands.
Having 12 albums to choose from, it was great to hear a couple songs from their second album, yet the one that seemed to launch them, "Up To Here". "Blow at High Dough" and "New Orleans Is Sinking" are both great evidence of how far their professional performances have come. They rocked the fu@k out of those too.
From being a bar band to a full on international festival closer, The Tragically Hip have already built a fantastic road story and history.
The Tragically Hip
RBC Ottawa Bluesfest