Fighting Fighters? Yeah, right! 

Hip hit Whistler with two surprise shows

No one paid much attention when it was announced the Fighting Fighters were coming to play the Boot Pub on Monday. No one had heard of them. No one knew their music. No one cared.

But when Monday morning rolled around, the Fighting Fighters’ gig was the hottest event in the Sea to Sky corridor. Tickets to Monday night’s event didn’t even go on sale to the public, and tickets to a second show added Tuesday sold out in approximately half an hour.

The reason behind the sudden change? The name was revealed to be an alias for inarguably the most popular Canadian band of the last two decades – none other than the Tragically Hip. The Kingston, Ont. quintet, fronted by enigmatic singer Gordon Downie, who also enjoys a healthy solo and poetry writing career, maintain a fevered following from their dedicated Canadian fans and regularly sell out arena and stadium venues in major Canadian centres. So it’s no wonder that they had to keep things covert to play a mini-capacity venue like the Boot.

While fairly new to these parts, the band’s use of aliases for small venue gigs is legendary in their Ontario stomping grounds, becoming almost a sport for fans and radio stations to break the code beforehand. According to Boot manager Paul McNaught, the band set up last week’s performance – swearing all who knew to secrecy – while in town at the end of August for Downie’s straight-billed solo show at Garfinkel’s. It was always the intention to donate proceeds from the $20 per ticket appearance to charity. In light of the tragic events of recent weeks, the Victims of the Rutherford Creek Bridge Disaster non-profit society became the obvious choice.

The cliché line when reviewing bands is that they played a combination of new material and old favourites. But in the case of the Hip, every song is a favourite. During Tuesday night’s performance earlier rockers like Blow at High Dough, and Little Bones were as familiar as the national anthem and the crowd drowned Downie out with a hearty singalong. But the energy level for newer Hip anthems such as Music @ Work, and Poets remained charged. Even the plaintive social ballad Wheat Kings was anything but a lull.

And Downie remains the most charismatic figure in Canadian music, able to convey epic volumes simply by his white knuckle grip on the Mic stand, before breaking out with maniacal gesture-dancing. Who is he? Just when we think we know, we don’t. It’s impossible to stop watching him.

His intensity was magnified by the intimacy of the surroundings. A small-venue Hip show is less a band versus audience event and more a homogenous entity of fans, sweat, music, and Canadian soul. There’s something so unbelievably special about seeing a group, that could very well sell out GM Place tomorrow, close enough to reach out and touch true fans packed into a neighbourhood pub, stoked grins on their faces, arms around each others’ shoulders, beers raised in the air.

We’re a jaded generation, convinced no one does anything simply for love and creativity anymore. But watching Canada’s biggest band perform in the Boot Pub inspires the belief, if just for two nights, that there are still those out there willing to go to any lengths, even an alias billing, just to keep it real.

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