Saturday, August 20, 2016

We All Have A Favourite Tragically Hip Story - This Is Mine

It was a Friday night.

The Canucks were in town.

The Hip were in town.

It was Canada-Day-in-October here in DC.

I looked at the half-dozen or so different iterations of Vancouver Canucks jerseys in my closet, and pulled out the goldenrod, Flying-V for maximum obnoxiousness.  One of the ugliest, yet most distinctive jerseys in the history of pro sports, its high visibility turned out to be a catalyst for one of my favourite nights out in DC, ever.

Meeting up with Ana & Scott before the game, I was already feeling pretty festive. The Canucks only play in DC once per season, and to have the game lining up with The Hip’s seemingly annual visit to the 9:30 Club made for a perfect double feature. 

Looking around the arena, I saw a handful of Canucks jerseys scattered around the crowd, but not many – certainly nothing like what you see at Penguins, Flyers, or (oddly) Sabres games.

The puck dropped and two minutes in, Daniel Sedin scored to give the Canucks a 1-0 lead.  Right around then is when things got nutty.

I can’t remember if it was me jumping out of my seat when the goal was scored, or something else that triggered it, but I do remember Scott tapping me on my arm and saying “Hey, that guy over there seems to know you…”

I glanced one section over to the right, and standing there, arms spread wide, wearing the same goofball grin I hadn’t seen in 8 years, was Chad, with his old sidekick Regier right there next to him. 


“Chad!  Holy $#!^ What the #&@^ are you doing here?”

<at that point, someone else sitting in my section asked me to watch the cursing. Chad and I decided we would meet on the concourse at intermission>

The first period ended with the Canucks up 2-1, at which point we got the download.
Chad, and Regier had been following the Canucks around on an Eastern road trip as it’s cheaper to see the Canucks this way than it is trying to get tickets back home.  They’d seen them in Detroit and a few other cities already.  DC was the last stop on the trip.

As we stood on the concourse, getting caught up on our lives and revisiting old UBC stories, I got it in my head that I wanted to call my old roommate, Matt, just to let him know that this crazy thing had happened.

Me: “Matt! It’s Brian – I’m at the Caps game tonight.  The Canucks are in town, and you’ll never guess who I ran into one section over: Chad and Regier!”

Matt: “Wow, that’s really crazy that you just called me just now.  I’m actually at the hospital – Jo just went into labour.”

Me: <silence as brain explodes>

After stumbling through some congratulations and sharing the news with the rest of the hockey-watching crew, we noted that the intermission was coming to an end.

Wanting to lock in a way to keep the party going, Chad made the first move.

“We should hang out after the game – Do you guys have plans?”

Did we have plans?  I couldn’t believe what was just about to fall into place…

“Uh… well… you’re not going to believe this, but we’re actually going to go see The Tragically Hip right after this”

Needless to say, Chad and Regier decided they would join us.

The Canucks won the game 3-2, but by the time the game ended, its outcome was totally inconsequential to me.  This night was all about riding this incredible wave of happy coincidences as far as it would take me.

We arrived at The 9:30 Club for the show, picked up a couple of extra tickets for Chad and Regier, and staked out mine and Liz’s favourite spot along the mezzanine stairs.

A bit of context for Canadian readers – The 9:30 Club is the best live music venue in DC. It has capacity for about 1000 people. The Hip would play there frequently to an audience made up almost exclusively of Canadian expats.  The idea that, as a Canadian expat, you get access to see one of your favourite, arena-filling bands in that kind of venue is an underrated perk of living abroad.

I can’t remember what The Hip opened with (edit: it was Yer Not the Ocean – thanks internet!), but they played New Orleans next, during which I looked back to see Chad on the phone with his wife, gloating about where he was at that moment.  And why not?  This was certainly a night worth gloating about.  I’ve seen The Hip play several times since that crazy night, and every show has been great, but nothing will ever top the amazing confluence of circumstances that made this particular night possible.

As a Canadian living amidst so much of the USA’s mythologized history and ideology, the constant assimilatory pressure of US culture can sometimes threaten to overwhelm competing elements of one’s personality.  Even other Canadians get erroneously claimed by Americans simply because that’s their default view of things: I once got into a heated debate with someone who was 100% sure that Barenaked Ladies were from Boston.

But The Hip could never be mistaken for anything else but Canadian.  There are too many inside jokes, and deep-cut references that only Canadians can claim.  It has probably harmed their prospects of “Making It” in the US over the years, but we’ve never cared. That very quality, that unapologetic Canadianness has always made them a key touchstone for me, and for nearly every other Canadian living far from home, the opening strains of every Track 1 serving as a reminder of where we all came from and what we all share.

The Tragically Hip will never play The 9:30 Club again. As they embarked on their final tour across Canada, Liz and I gave serious thought to flying back to Vancouver or Toronto to take in one last show.  But after thinking long and hard about it, worried that a nosebleed seat at the top of an arena wouldn’t deliver what we were hoping for, we decided that we would prefer to make this night our last great memory of The Hip. 

He sang, 'I'll die before I quit'
And this guy's the limit
Stares into the queer of the firefight

It can't be Nashville every night

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