Blue Rodeo plays the first of two shows at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre in Vancouver on Friday night with guest Ron Hawkins and The Do Good Assassin. The group is celebrating their 30th year together. This tour is promoting their 15th studio album ‘1000 Arms’ which sees the band return to their root sounds of the early albums.
Ron Hawkins and The Do Good Assassins
The show opens as Ron Hawkins walks up to the microphone on a dark stage. He has a big white Gretsch guitar and strikes a commanding presence. Starting with just a fiddle player for the first song, the rest of The Do Good Assassins join him onstage and, for over half an hour, they create a warm, feel-good atmosphere. Songs from his new album ‘Spit Sputter and Sparkle’ like ‘City of Lies’ and ‘Swamp’ are great examples of that. He has a sound that is not unlike Blue Rodeo and many songs are filled with lyrics that remind you of bittersweet observances. At one point, he gets the house lights up to see what he’s been hearing ‘out there’. ‘I see a lot of beautiful people having fun!’, and the connection is made. Great stuff!
The boys hit the stage greeted with loud cheering and get right into it. ‘Hearts Like Mine’ and ‘Fools Like You’ lead things off. Jim Cuddy and Greg Keelor take turns on lead vocal and their voices compliment each other so well, one of the best combinations in Canadian music with a close second going to the Bare Naked Ladies. The band is playing tight tonight and sound so good, ten shows into their cross-country tour of ‘1000 Arms’. The setlist tonight has almost every standard hit and a few pleasant surprises like ‘Western Skies’ and ‘Bad Timing’.
Jim introduces the title track to the album with a story he heard on a podcast about a woman with bipolar disorder. She wanted to run a coffee shop and did so. She became a local favourite with her bright coloured clothes and hand-painted bicycle. The people around her would help out when her bipolar flared up. The community’s ‘helping arms’ is the theme that Jim is attracted to. He refers to musicians in particular, like Gord Downie (The Tragically Hip) and John Mann (Spirit of the West) who both have serious health issues that everyone has rallied around, supported, and shared their love. It’s a great song. So are ‘Hard to Remember’ and ‘Superstar’, more songs from the album. Even better, there is a definite throwback sound to the early albums.
One reason that Blue Rodeo has lasted over thirty years, won a bazillion Junos, sold millions of albums, and gained millions of loyal fans across this nation is their sound. The harmonies and the Cuddy/Keelor call-and-answer style of songs resonate with the Canadian soul. There is something joyful in the harmonies, something so beautiful you can’t help but smile. It’s feel-good music and there is much more coming. Three acoustic guitarists gather around a central microphone for ‘Over Me’ and it is perfect. Jim takes to the piano for ‘This Town’ and his powerful vocals take over.
Then, there is a moment. A single red spot on Greg. “Our love…” and the crowd is up as one. ‘Diamond Mine’ gets them dancing and a wicked keyboard solo by Mike Boguski shows off yet another ‘diamond’ in this band. The lighting effect of little white lights projecting up to the ceiling creates a diamond field of stars is the sky. “I Am Myself’ brings the crowd to the front of the stage and the boys are having fun now. Big smiles, Jim playing right up front, signing an album cover, it’s all fun. ‘5 Days in May’ with its classic harmonica intro, get the last of the stubborn sitters up and movin’. Colin Cripps plays a fantastic solo that is as loud as his suit (see image). Jim plays mandolin on “Hasn’t Hit Me Yet’ and the crowd sings the whole first verse by themselves. Blue Rodeo loves it!
The encore starts with ‘Try” and is incredible. For a rare treat, Jim has original member Bazil Donovan come out from the corner of the stage where he’s been hiding all night to sing ‘Little ‘Ol Wine Drinker Me’. But not the Dean Martin version you might remember from Dad’s record collection. This is a thumping honky tonk that rocks. For the last song, Blue Rodeo brings back guest Ron Hawkins and The Do Good Assassins to join them on ‘Lost Together’. It is the perfect sing-along anthem so close out a show that screams Canadian.