Still vi­tal after all these years

Blue Rodeo has pro­vided the sound­track for a gen­er­a­tion of Cana­di­ans

The Hamilton Spectator - - A&E - GRA­HAM ROCK­ING­HAM grock­ing­ham@thes­pec.com 905-526-3331 | @Rock­atTheSpec

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.

GARY YOKOYAMA, THE HAMIL­TON SPEC­TA­TOR

Jim Cuddy and Greg Keelor sing in har­mony open­ing the show with "Heart Like Mine."

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