There was a whole lotta of green at the Blue Rodeo concert at the Tribute Community Centre in downtown Oshawa Saturday Feb 11 2017. The iconic country rockers delivered a well crafted show from across their three decade catalogue with an emphasis on the early albums and their latest, 1000 Arms.
But from where I was, the show was a distant experience, seen through a hazey green of envy. The show was a distant experience and I found myself envious of the throngs upfront on the floors and side seating who seemed to be having a blast. The folk around me merely sat politely, seemingly bored, quietly waiting for the band to pump it up and maybe get a hit or two in before the expected “Lost Together” encore with openers The Sadies.
In all my years going to the TCC I have never felt the space to be so cavernous. Even though Blue Rodeo must have been close to selling out the Centre, they are not an arena band any more. They are most definitely not a Saturday night arena band and most most definitely they are not a Saturday night in Oshawa arena band. They may have filled it with fans but not with voices. The sit-down acoustic sets including the ballad, “One Night Left In Heaven” didn’t help nor did drummer Glenn Milchem’s placement behind a plexiglass blind, but it’s still a necessity I imagine given Greg Keelor’s hearing issues of past.
Having said all that when the show was cranking it was rocking. Who knew Jim Cuddy could shred a guitar and when he sang “After The Rain’ he morphed into Paul McCartney. Keelor for his part spent much of his time off to his side of the stage with an acoustic and it was Cuddy who carried the show, with a couple of solos at the piano and the aforementioned jamming.
Guest Jimmy Bowskill (The Sheepdogs) on mandolin and pedal steel, replacing Bob Egan, just underlined how Blue Rodeo have an ear for talent and Bowskill had several solos of his own, as did keyboardist Mike Boguski who took “Diamond Mine” in to The Doors territory. Colin Cripps’ solos were sublime, adding a whole other layer to those we have come to expect from Keelor.
Blue Rodeo are nothing if not generous with the spotlight and they share it to great effect for their songs and the acts they favour. It is their sharing which has helped build a tight music community right across Canada, one that includes Sarah McLachlan, Ron Sexsmith, Justin Rutledge as well as Oshawa alt-country act, Cuff The Duke. Cuddy referenced this community in his intro to the new album’s title track; those many, many many arms have come in handy given what has been happening to Gord Downie and John Mann and the support they require dealing with their respective illnesses.
The show began with the two leads on “Heart Like Mine” from their debut Outskirts. They also played “Rose Coloured Glasses” and of course “Try” from the same record. Lost Together from 1992 was mined with “Fools Like You”, “Is It Me” and “Western Skies” getting an airing and of course its no Blue Rodeo gig without the title track. Same goes for the big hits from the band's masterpiece Five Days In May. Casino gave up “You’re Everywhere” and “What Am I Doing Here” but for every upbeat strum-along like “Head Over Heels” there were more slower numbers, “Bad Timing”, “Cynthia”, “Disappear’ and “Dust to Gold”. Overall too many slow numbers rolled for the venue involved.
After three decades Blue Rodeo have a deep well of songs to draw from but they tossed in a few songs from other folks. Along with a cover of Dean Martin’s “Little Ol’ Wine Drinker Me.” sung by bassist Basil Donovan, Lee Hazlewood’s “The Railroad” was covered and Keelor said they were going to cover The Sadies “Palace of Gold” but that’s a BR track, The Sadies just made it their own.
The Sadies had their own album to plug. Northern Passages was released the day before and they ran through a few of the tracks. The four-piece have moved from being an instrumental backing band to bona fide songwriters. The songs they played from the new record are among their strongest yet, the Motorhead riff-off, “Another Season Again” just roars.
The lions of Blue Rodeo don’t roar as loudly these days but there’s every reason they will be around for another season and more. And do take the opportunity to see them. Check in on them when they come to your town, regardless of venue. They have given us so much it may be our turn to carry them and give them a break when they show their age occasionally.