Still vital after all these years
Blue Rodeo has provided the soundtrack for a generation of Canadians
It’s hard to believe that Jim Cuddy and Greg Keelor are now in their sixties.
Keelor, at 62, is looking a little grizzled, but he always has. It’s who he is.
But there’s Cuddy, standing up on stage in his embroidered black cowboy shirt and skinny jeans, looking not a day over 55, maybe even 50. He’s 61 and can still play the part of a babe magnet.
There they were, still doing their wonderful Blue Rodeo thing Thursday night, playing to the first of two near-capacity crowds at the FirstOntario Concert Theatre (you know it as Hamilton Place), entrancing an audience of almost 2,200 fans, pretty much the same age, if not a little younger.
Blue Rodeo has provided much of the soundtrack for an entire generation of Canadians, especially the ones who came of age in the late ’80s and early ’90s when the band was at its creative best, spinning out a form of alt-country-rock that is distinctly ours, well before American bands like Wilco caught on to the concept.
Cuddy and Keelor have come to terms with their place in Canadian music history. They know the fans need to hear the old singalong f avourites, mixed with a couple of old rarities and maybe a couple of new tunes just to prove the band is still relevant.
That’s what Blue Rodeo delivered Thursday, performing more than 25 songs drawn from nine of their 15 studio albums, some — the opening number “Heart of Mine, the fan favourite “Rose-Coloured Glasses,” and their breakthrough hit “Try” — dating back 30 years to the debut LP “Outskirts.”
They performed only three songs from their well-reviewed new album “1000 Arms” — the title track, “Superstar” and “I Can’t Hide This Anymore.” All three were enthusiastically received by the audience, but it was the older tunes they came to hear.
The pattern is a f amiliar one to Blue Rodeo fans, a Keelor song, followed by a Cuddy song, then another Keelor, another Cuddy. Their voices are as good as ever, maybe better, especially Cuddy’s as he amply displayed behind the piano for “After the Rain.”
Keelor has spent much of the past few years playing at the side of the stage, troubled by an ear malady that forced him to stay clear of the amps and trade his ragged electric guitar for an acoustic.
It was very good to see him occasionally wandering to centre stage Thursday night, harmonizing with Cuddy, and then, near the end of the two-hour long set taking full control for his rendition of Lee Hazelwood’s “The Railroad,” segueing into “Is It You” and “What Am I Doing Here.”
For the past four years, Hamilton native Colin Cripps has provided the electric guitar duties once sup- plied by Keelor. On Thursday, resplendent in a rhinestone-encrusted white Nudie suit he demonstrated he has become the third upfront member of the band, adding not just immaculate guitar licks, but also some fine vocal harmonizing.
“He’s never been nominated for Hamilton guitarist of the year,” Cuddy told the audience in mock wonderment after he and Cripps had performed a charming acoustic version of “One Light Left in Heaven. “I think we should start a petition.”
Added Keelor: “I think we should name a bridge after him.”
It was a polite Hamilton audience, staying seated, listening appreciatively to the songs, perhaps showing their age. It wasn’t until 20 songs in when Keelor told them that it was OK to get up and dance to Cuddy’s “Til I Am Myself Again” that they stood up and started singing along.
That opened the zipper. Keelor and Cuddy didn’t even bother trying to sing the great Canadian anthem “Hasn’t Hit Me Yet.” They just sat back and listened as the audience took control.
Then came the encores — “Try,” just as fresh as it was in 1987. Then a rare vocal by bassist Bazil Donovan, covering Dean Martin’s 1967 country hit “Little Ole Wine Drinker Me,” and another Keelor anthem “Lost Together.”
Blue Rodeo returned to FirstOntario Concert Theatre Friday night for a repeat performance.
Cuddy and Keelor have come to terms with their place in music history.
Jim Cuddy and Greg Keelor sing in harmony opening the show with "Heart Like Mine."