His Music at Work: Canada Will Never Have Another Frontman Like Gord Downie

There was a moment during Wednesday night’s Tragically Hip show in Toronto when it felt like the Air Canada Centre was going to go explode.

The band launched into “Fifty-Mission Cap” and the 20,000 fans in attendance went absolutely batshit, screaming their lungs out with Gord Downie to every single lyric about Bill Barilko, the Leafs defenseman who disappeared months after scoring a Stanley Cup-winning goal in 1951. To a non-Canadian, the song may as well have been in Elvish. To every soul in the building, it may as well have been our national anthem.

It was a moment we all wanted to last forever. Because in that moment, the elephant in the room — that Downie is fighting terminal brain cancer and that the show, the first of three sold-out Toronto dates on the Hip’s Man Machine Poem tour, may very well be the last time we see the CanRock legends live — was completely forgotten. At this juncture in time, all that mattered was Gord the showman — warbling, lunging, cavorting, belting poetry about the minutiae of Canadian life, beguiling us all with his wild-eyed, madman charisma.

Only after the song, as the band exited the stage, leaving Downie free to soak in the crowd’s total adulation, did the harsh reality begin to seep in. As the frontman stood on stage alone, waving to the audience and seemingly attempting to lock eyes with each and every one of us, it was the first instance in the two-hour, career-spanning set that felt like a bittersweet farewell. For a brief minute, we were reminded that life isn’t ours, we are property of life.

So we cheered for Gord, louder than I’ve ever heard a crowd in Toronto cheer for anything.

And then, the band returned for an encore. And then another one. So we danced, and we roared, and we cried some more, as each song triggered inevitable memories of hockey games, and road trips, and summers by the lake. And when Gord sang “That night in Toronto” during “Bobcaygeon,” we sang with him as loud as we possibly could. When The Hip play their final show in Kingston, ON, on August 20th, I implore you to catch the CBC’s live broadcast of it and sing along, too. Sing until you lose your voice. Because Canada will never have a frontman like Gord Downie again. Nor will we have a moment like this again. Savour it.