It’s been a week now since I saw my favourite band live in Manchester and I feel I ought to write it up even though no one has heard of them or could care less really.
We arrived in Manchester and checked in at our hotel really easily. After a short wander round the Christmas markets and tea at Pizza Express, we walked about a mile south to the University Campus.
Academy 3 is a small room on the top floor of the Union Building. It had a low ceiling, a bar, a sound-desk, and just about enough room for 400 Canadians. Hip singer Gordon (Gord) Downie described it as “a bunker” during this show. It sure felt like that, particularly as the sound came at us like a wall of noise.
The reference to Canadians in the previous paragraph was intentional to reflect the ethnic diversity of the crowd. Basically, it was full of Canadians. They had an unofficial Canadian uniform on – beards, check shirts or hockey jerseys. I went to the loo during the interval and as I walked back to ‘our spot’ I didn’t hear a single British accent. It was like going to a gig in a foreign country like, er, Canada.
When we arrived there was a queue. I was surprised and checked with the doorman that we were in the right place. The Canadians in front of us were very interested in the fact that we weren’t Canadian. The girl in the group had been to several Hip concerts before, but all massive festivals. Afterwards she said this was the best gig she’d ever been too.
The band did two set lists, coming on as their own support act, and taking a half hour break in-between. If you are at all interested in what they sound like, you can hear a lot of their stuff on their website. However, even though I’ve listened to them over and over, they were something else again live. Gord Downie is a cross between a comedian and an utter mentalist, naturally entertaining and a little bit scary.
Trying to start the gig with a new song (Love is a First) and expecting people to know the words and sing along form the get go was ambitious, and didn’t really work. But things picked up after that with a rendition of Courage (the opening track of their stand out album Fully Completely).
They played a number of my favourite songs, including Bobcaygeon during a couple of acoustic numbers at the beginning of the second set, and an amazing version of At the Hundredth Meridian, which included a rambling monologue between Gord and the crowd, which was very amusing. He also held up a flag someone threw on the stage that had a Maple Leaf superimposed over a St George’s Cross, and had a tangential conversation with the person who threw it about nationalism that was three hundred years out of date, and also how he couldn’t use it as a handkerchief.
Oh, yeah, that was another thing. He sweats a lot. So he was constantly wiping his face and head with handkerchiefs that were tossed onstage by the roadies. Whenever he threw them, used, out into the crowd, there would be surge of people trying to get to them like desperate bridesmaids trying to get the bouquet at a wedding.
The gig ended on a high note with the band playing New Orleans is Sinking and the crowd jumping along. We bade farewell to the Canadians we’d met in the queue and who were driving back to York that night, and made our way back to the Travelodge, psyched up and ready for the next stop on our tour…