“We won’t talk about the weather, we won’t talk about the weather.”
No sooner had Tragically Hip frontman Gord Downie uttered these words during an improvised rant-rap prefacing the first verse of the band’s “Grace, Too,” than the massive crowd assembled at the Outer Harbor Concert Series site felt the first drops of rain that cut short the band’s show at the same site two weeks back. And guess what? The crowd didn’t react in horror, but rather, cheered the rain’s arrival. It was that kind of night.
As it turned out, the Hip would beat the rain this time around, delivering a full 120-minute set in defiance of the gusts of wind and precipitation that came and went all night long. The band was not contractually obligated to do a makeup date, but wanted to make its love for its massive Buffalo fan base apparent by coming back to town to set matters straight, this time as part of a previously scheduled bill that included Canadian roots rockers Lowest of the Low and Celtic-punk ravers Flogging Molly.
Many fans made a day of it, fearing traffic issues on the way and arriving a few hours prior to the 6 p.m. opening of the venue’s gates – yours truly among them. Fans picnicked and partied and made the pilgrimage from points south of the venue, all along Fuhrmann Boulevard. This felt more like a festival than a run-of-the-mill rock show, and a jubilant air pervaded, weather issues be damned.
Things kicked off a bit earlier than expected, based on promoters’ desires to make sure the whole show fit in before the expected arrival of worse weather.
The Lowest of the Low, fronted by area favorites Ron Hawkins and Stephen Stanley, hit the boards running and offered a short but torrid set highlighted by classics like “Rosy and Grey,” “Eternal Fatalist,” and “For the Hand of Magdalena,” but also featuring a few surprises, among them an inspired reading of the Hawkins solo tune “Straightjacket Love.”
Flogging Molly, fronted by the devilishly charismatic Dave King, tore through a set blending traditional Irish music with the raw, visceral wallop of punk rock. The band’s “Selfish Man” was a highlight, a rapid-fire up-tempo romp that had the crowd – by now, a massive throng – pogoing with fists raised above their heads. The band showed its sensitive side with the windswept, wistful ballad “Whistles the Wind,” but what Flogging Molly does best is high-speed punk with Celtic melodies, and set-closer “Seven Deadly Sins” offered a prime example of the idiom.
Smoking sets from both bands, but at its heart, Friday night was all about the Hip, and the band did not disappoint. The set list was a dream one for hard-core fans, offering a perfect balance between new songs and revered classics from its 25-year-long catalog. Twin epics opened the show in the form of the new “At Transformation” and the sprawling, majestic crowd favorite “Grace, Too.”
Downie, a fiery performance artist as well as a deeply emotive singer, was in rare form, strutting about the stage like a deranged peacock, doing pantomimed battle with his microphone stand, and engaging the crowd with his charismatic improvised asides. His performance could be seen as a master class in how to front a rock band.
Another new song, the yearning infused “Man Machine Poem,” segued into the fist-pumping, R.E.M.-like folk-rocker “In View.” And then came the surprising addition of the rarely played “Daredevil,” and a string of classics including “Gift Shop,” “Ahead By A Century,” “Poets,” “Fully Completely” - a showcase for the lock-step precision of rhythm section partners Gord Sinclair (bass) and Johnny Fay (drums) – “Fire In the Hole,” “Courage,” and “Little Bones.”
An incredible show by any estimation, but a particularly inspired one considering the circumstances. On Friday, the Hip did right by their fans and gave us one of the strongest shows of the summer concert season.