The rock concert started with flag-waving fans breaking into a national anthem, "O Canada." The impromptu tribute by an emotional sold-out crowd that included Prime Minister Justin Trudeau began what was expected to be the final performance by the group known as Canada's Band and its lead singer and songwriter, dubbed Canada's unofficial poet laureate. The Tragically Hip's Gord Downie has been diagnosed with terminal brain cancer, and fans across Canada and abroad gathered Saturday at viewing parties to bid him farewell. The bluesy rock band is better known as The Hip, and Downie is known for penning paeans to Canadian life: about hockey and desolate small towns, about literature and the French explorer who named Canada. Being so defiantly Canadian might be why The Hip sent nine of its 13 albums to No. 1 in Canada, but none above the top 100 in the US, reports the AP.
After three decades together, The Hip returned Saturday to where they began as a college rock band, the Lake Ontario city of Kingston. Those who couldn't get into the Rogers K-Rock Centre massed nearby to watch on a giant screen. While the band was careful not to declare that its now-concluded 15-show "Man Machine Poem" tour would be its last, the concert had an aura that was both celebratory and somber. Despite being diagnosed with glioblastoma, the most aggressive cancerous brain tumor, an energetic Downie was in fine form as he and his band played an epic 30-song set, punctuated by three encores. Trudeau, on learning of Downie's diagnosis in May, tweeted that the singer "has been writing Canada's soundtrack for more than 30 years." Downie acknowledged Trudeau from stage, calling on him to act on behalf of Canada's indigenous people. "He's going to be looking good for about at least 12 more years. I don't know if they let you go beyond that. But he'll do it," Downie told concertgoers between songs. Trudeau could be seen in the audience mouthing "thank you." The band's biggest hit closed the show, "Ahead By A Century." Downie gestured as if sketching a portrait of the teary audience during the song's final notes. They then embraced, stood arm-in-arm as the crowd roared, and walked off stage.