Of late Blue Rodeo concerts have come to mean the beginning of summer in Montreal. Thursday night was the first night of three near sold out shows at Theatre St. Denis for one of Canada’s most successful bands. Jim Cuddy and Greg Keelor have formed one of Canada’s most successful and profitable “marriages”. Blue Rodeo have been together for 20 years and through all the changes in the world and the music industry it is quite an accomplishment to stay together and stay relevant in the fickle music industry. Even though they occasionally go off and record solo albums; they are no way as successful as the music they make together. Cuddy and Keelor share songwriting duties, trade guitar solos and share the lead vocal duties; they are a true example of a partnership of equals.
I have always wondered why Blue Rodeo have enjoyed immense success here in Canada and never really broken through anywhere else, when it finally hit me at their show last night. They are a band that is steeped in Canadiana and apparently that does not transfer well. The sound, the way they look and the lyrics they write are “Canadian”; they are definitely a reflection of what it means to be Canadian. The no-frills rock sound, blue jeans and western shirts, and references to Canadian places like Lake Ontario seem to lead to huge popularity here and nowhere else. Blue Rodeo does not have to even play a note to win over most crowds they play for in Canada, but the band still puts in the effort every night to entertain the crowd. A concert with Gregg Keelor (lead vocals/guitar), Jim Cuddy (lead vocals/guitar/harmonica/piano), Bazil Donovan (vocals and bass), Glenn Milchem (drums), Bob Egan (slide guitar and guitar), and James Gray (keyboards) is pretty much a “sure thing” when it comes to entertainment value. They are nothing if not a consistent band; you will never get a bad show from them.
From the second song onward the enthusiastic crowd was up dancing in the aisles at Theatre St. Denis. The band interwove a few songs from their new album “Are You Ready” with their classics such as, “Try”, “‘Til I Am Myself”, and “5 Days in May”. It’s hard not to like this band between Keelor’s great guitar playing, Jim Cuddy’s great smile and his obvious enjoyment of what he is doing, and the fact that Glenn Milchem is one of the more technically sound drummers in Canadian rock. Greg Keelor was in fine form on this evening. He was wearing a Scotland t-shirt, was not chewing his usual mouthful of gum, and told a few funny stories about the lyrics or meanings behind songs. During “Hasn’t Hit Me Yet” he came out to the edge of the stage and prompted the crowd to sing the first verse and chorus. He must have thought that we did a good job because he gave us the thumbs up. During their entire 2 hour 15 minute set, Blue Rodeo gave the crowd exactly what they came for, a night of sing-a-longs and dancing.
Opening band Matt Mays and El Torpedo, from Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, is another example of how Blue Rodeo always seems to pair up with new and enjoyable Canadian artists (see Sarah Harmer, Nathan Wiley, Ron Sexsmith). The band, which has two albums under their belt, plays laidback blue collar rock ‘n’ roll. Their 45 minute set included such numbers as “Stand Out at Sundown”, “Lost Souls”, “It’s All Over Now”, and their radio hit “Cocaine Cowgirl”. There were a few numbers that did harken back to Mays’s solo days within the alt-country genre, but for the most part the five man band’s sound was fueled by the crunchy guitar playing of Mays and Jarrett Murphy. Matt Mays has a great rock voice and the girls seem to like him as a few from the crowd were offering to take him for a ride in their Ferraris. They are a band who will probably be headlining their own shows at Theatre St. Denis in the future.
Heart Like Mine
‘Til I Am Myself
Palace of Gold
Are You Ready
Just Like a Vacation
5 Days in May
‘Til I Gain Control Again
What Am I Doing Here
Head Over Heels
Someone To Keep Me Company (Basil Donovan of vocals)
Can’t Help Wondering Why
Hasn’t Hit Me Yet
You’re Everywhere (with Matt Mays)
Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues (Bob Dylan cover sung by Matt Mays)
Rose Coloured Glasses