KINGSTON, Ontario (AP) — A delirious sold-out crowd and countless Canadians on live TV watched the final concert by rock band The Tragically Hip, whose lead singer and songwriter Gord Downie has been diagnosed with terminal brain cancer.
The band, an indelible part of Canada’s national identity with songs about hockey, small towns and Canadian literature, ended its 15-show “Man Machine Poem” tour Saturday night in its hometown of Kingston, Ontario.
Thousands of fans — including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau — watched The Hip’s final show at the Rogers K-Rock Centre, the city where the band began in the early 1980s. The concert was also broadcast live on national TV.
Trudeau’s official photographer tweeted a photo of the prime minister and Downie embracing before the concert.
“Well, you know, prime minister Trudeau’s got me, his work with First Nations. He’s got everybody. He’s going to take us where we need to go,” Downie said from the stage.
“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 nodding and mouthing “thank you.”
In a brief interview with the Canadian Broadcasting Corp., Trudeau reminisced about how he used to enjoy the band’s music during his high school and university years. He said the band remains anchored in Canada in so many ways through their lyrics and music.
While The Hip became one of Canada’s most beloved rock bands, lasting success in the U.S. was elusive — outside of border cities like Buffalo, N.Y., where viewing parties of the concert’s Canadian broadcast were held.
Despite being diagnosed with glioblastoma, the most aggressive cancerous brain tumor, in December, an energetic Downie was in fine form as he and his bandmates played an epic 30-song set loaded with hits and punctuated by three encores.
Downie, who started the show wearing a metallic silver suit and hat with a “Jaws” T-shirt underneath, hugged and kissed his bandmates before they stepped on stage to open with “50 Mission Cap,” followed by “Courage (for Hugh MacLennan),” ”Wheat Kings” and “At the Hundredth Meridian,” all off the 1992 breakthrough album “Fully Completely.”
The Hip then segued into songs from their latest album, “Man Machine Poem,” before running through tracks from “Music @ Work,” ”Road Apples,” ”Phantom Power,” ”Up To Here,” ”Day For Night” and “Trouble at the Henhouse.”
The show was closed out by fan favorite “Ahead By A Century.”
Downie gestured as if he was sketching a portrait of the teary audience as the band — rounded out by guitarists Rob Baker and Paul Langlois, bassist Gord Sinclair and drummer Johnny Fay — played the final notes of the song.
They then embraced, stood arm-in-arm as the crowd roared, and then walked off stage for good.
Before performing one song, Downie seemed to reference the outpouring of support from fans in the wake of his diagnosis.
“Thank you, people, for keeping me pushing and keeping me pushing,” he said, which prompted a “Gordie!” chant from the audience.