Blue Rodeo, a band that is one of a handful of legacy-holding national treasures, returned to Vancouver for a two night stint at the Orpheum Theatre. I was there for night one, and was in the room for just a few minutes before their set began. The stage set-up was lush, befitting the opulent room they were in. A wall of ruched drapes caught well-placed coloured lights behind the band, and large fringed lamps created a horseshoe shape for them to perform within. The band members were outfitted in the same sort of country shirts and Canadian tuxedos as always – actually another part of their timelessness. It sure doesn’t feel, or really look, like “Hasn’t Hit Me Yet” was first on the airwaves over twenty years ago! It was a few songs in before the band addressed the audience, and then it was basically to tell us that they were going to be mostly playing older songs, not too many new ones, but were about to play a new one. It was called “Superstar.” This tour is designed mostly to promote the Live at Massey Hall album they recently released, so it’s no wonder a lot of the material was going to dip into their extensive and well-loved back catalog.
As keys player Mike Boguski readied himself for a switch over to playing accordion, singer/guitarist Jim Cuddy, looking a bit breathless, chuckled at the audience and went, “woo, it’s so dry here, huh?,” a reference to the absolute downpour that was happening outside that hadn’t let up all day. Welcome to Vancouver! Throughout various songs, whenever anyone in the band performed a solo on his particular instrument (which happened a lot!), there would be a spotlight placed on that person. They are obviously comfortable on stage, with each other and with the material, and seem to play around a bit, but subtly. These songs are a part of them, and each year going by, they seem more and more genuine, if that’s even possible. The distinct vocal delivery of Cuddy and Greg Keelor is always a joy – between Cuddy’s twangy, country-kissed voice, and Keelor’s rugged and raspy one, a lot of bases are covered, and yet both voices are so definitively Blue Rodeo. Gorgeous purple-green lights lit up the drapes, and the crowd really chimed in singing along to “5 Days In May.” Boguski cracked out a serious piano solo in this tune as well. Everyone left the stage then except Boguski and Keelor, for a soft rendition of “Dark Angel.” After the band returned to the stage, their version of “Disappear” ended in such a beautiful buildup, the lights punching on at just the right time, and Cuddy and guitarist Colin Cripps strolling to the front of the stage while playing, grinning at the clapping crowd.
They relayed a few more little stories about various songs as the night went on – “1000 Arms,” about a bi-polar coffee shop owner who needed the whole community to help run the shop; “The Flame,” about an obsession, but with a happy ending, Keelor explained, pausing for effect – “the heroine gets burned at the stake and reunited with her god;” “What Am I Doing Here,” about, “the shittiest show we’ve ever played” at a fair near Buffalo where they were headlining a high school Battle of the Bands. In response to crowd members periodically shouting out titles of some of their hit songs, Cuddy deadpanned, “Oh that’s a good idea. We didn’t think to play those songs.” Basically, be patient, grasshoppers, and you will be rewarded.
It was a warm show, as it always is when a band with this kind of heritage rolls through town. The audience was polite and seated, and didn’t get to their feet until urged by Cuddy quite late in the set, just after the mellow “Bad Timing” and just before “Til I Am Myself Again.” Cuddy really started to cavort with the folks at the stagefront, and many people in the theatre began leaving their seats towards the back to crowd into the aisles towards the front of the room and dance. He also took a turn on the piano for “Try,” one of the songs that had been hollered out to the band earlier in the evening. They ended the main set with “Diamond Mine,” appropriately lighting the room up with bright blue-white light at the chorus.
They didn’t leave us waiting long for the encore. Cuddy and Keelor came out alone for “Til I Gain Control Again.” Then Keelor addressed the audience, calling upon what he termed the Greater Vancouver Mixed Choir, to sing “Hasn’t Hit Me Yet.” The band simply played (Cuddy on mandolin here), and the audience carried the first two verses in chorus. It was quite lovely, and the band was smiling ear to ear looking around. That’s gotta be some feeling. They kicked in for the last half of the song to really bring it home. Then it was time for a celebration – it was Colin Cripps’ birthday! We were informed that he has always lived in the shadow of Wayne Gretzky, who shares the same birthday, so out came opener Terra Lightfoot with a cake ablaze with candles. A crew member merely introduced as Sean (sp??) also had a birthday that day, and he popped out at the back of the stage for a quick wave. The audience sang happy birthday to them both, Cripps blew out the candles, and then Lightfoot remained on stage, bringing the rest of her band out, to chime in singing “Lost Together.” This is far and away my favourite Blue Rodeo song (I’m sure I’m not alone there, especially since they ended the entire show with this song!), one of my earlier solid memories of music videos that really started to turn me round the corner onto this rock road, and hearing it live here again is like the band grabbing my heart in their country-kissed Canadian grip and shattering it into a billion tiny bits. Lightfoot and her band gang-vocalled along to most of the song, but Lightfoot herself took over a verse to sing solo. I have seen her before and she’s a delightful singer, but on this verse, it seemed like she couldn’t pick a key to stick to and it was a little disconcerting. Regardless, it was heart-stopping. There were about four guys behind me trying to get the whole room (I assume) into a clap-along for the song but no one was buying it and it was actually just annoying. It was Bazil Donovan’s time to shine here with a bass solo. Everyone who was standing at near the front of the stage got out of his way and a bright spot shone down on him. All too soon, the song was done, after Keelor’s last raspy wail of We are lost together, together, together… the band waved and departed the stage one last time.